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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gautreks saga (Gautr) - 41

Gautreks saga (Gautr)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Margaret Clunies Ross

verse introduction manuscripts contents

Gautreks saga ‘The Saga of Gautrekr’ (Gautr) has been transmitted in two major Icelandic versions, a longer and a shorter. Ranisch (Gautr 1900, xviii-xl) argued for the first time that the shorter version is probably the older of the two, at least in its present form, and this view has been supported more recently by Chesnutt (2009). In the view of this editor, though, the case for the prior status of the shorter version has not been proven conclusively; both versions probably contain early elements, especially in the poetry, and both are likely to have been reworked by later compilers or editors.

The subject-matter of the shorter version (Gautr 1900, 50-73) is mainly about King Gauti of Götaland (Old Norse Gautland) in Sweden, his adventures among a group of backwoods peasants, the Dalafíflar ‘Valley-fools’, his son Gautrekr and the latter’s dealings with a certain Gjafa-Refr ‘Gifts-Refr (Refr = “Fox”)’, who eventually marries Gautrekr’s daughter. This narrative is built up from oral traditions and fairytale elements (Gautr 1900, lix-lxxxiii; Mitchell 1991, 55-8) and may have been influenced by oriental animal fables that had made their way to Scandinavia (Wikander 1964). A version of the story of Refr must have been known to Saxo Grammaticus, writing at the end of the twelfth century (cf. Saxo 2015, I, viii. 16. 1-4, pp. 620-5). Confirmation that legends about Gautrekr are of some antiquity is also provided by RvHbreiðm Hl 55-6III, which commemorate Gautrekr for his generosity, while Hl 54/1-4III seem to draw on the same sources as Gautr 8 (see Note there). The age of the shorter Gautr is debated, but cannot be later that its oldest ms. fragment, AM 567 XIV γ 4° (567XIV γ) of c. 1400, and, according to Chesnutt (2009, 96-7), is likely to be perhaps fifty years earlier. Various mss of the shorter version contain eight stanzas, six of them in the Dalafíflar section of the text, and the remaining two in the so-called Gjafa-Refs þáttr ‘Tale of Gifts-Refr’. These stanzas are also found in mss of the longer version, except that Gautr 3 is only in 164hˣ and Gautr 8 is lacking in papp11ˣ. These mss are described in more detail below.

The shorter version of Gautr is only loosely linked to the subject-matter of the longer version (Gautr 1900, 1-49), which deals primarily with the life-history of the legendary hero Starkaðr and his close but troubled relationship with his companion Víkarr, king of Agðir (Agder) in southern Norway, which culminates in Starkaðr’s sacrifice of Víkarr to the god Óðinn. Manuscripts of the longer version use the two parts of the shorter version, the so-called þættir of the Dalafíflar and Gjafa-Refr, as an envelope to enclose the so-called Víkars þáttr. This latter is a prosimetrum based upon a poem of thirty-three stanzas in its longest manifestation, named in the prose text (Gautr 1900, 31) as Víkarsbálkr ‘Víkarr’s Section’ (StarkSt Vík), which is distributed throughout the prose narrative to provide supporting evidence for Starkaðr’s life-history. The stanzas are an autobiographical retrospective monologue, often referred to as an ævikviða ‘life poem’, attributed to Starkaðr, who, the saga audience is led to believe, composed Vík towards the end of his life. Vík is extant only in mss of the saga’s longer version.

The longer version of Gautr is likely to have been put together from an existing version of the shorter Gautr and a version of Víkars þáttr, probably no earlier than some time in the fourteenth century. The oldest complete ms. of the longer version, the compilation AM 152 fol (152), is dated c. 1500-25 (on its scribes’ identity, see Stefán Karlsson 1970a and Driscoll 1992, xiii n. 2), but there is also a single leaf of an earlier fragment from c. 1400 (see below). However, some version of Starkaðr’s ævikviða is likely to have existed well before an unknown author created the prosimetrum we now know. The concept of Starkaðr as a poet informs several of the poems Saxo attributes to Starcatherus, including his death-song (Saxo 2015, I, vi. 8. 4-9. 20, pp. 416-47), and is also in play in SnSt HtIII, where a variant of fornyrðislag is named Starkaðarlag (SnE 2007, 38), in TGT, where a fragment of poetry (StarkSt Frag 1III), said to be in bálkarlag ‘section’s metre’, is ascribed to Starkaðr, and in both versions of Skáldatal, where Starkaðr is represented as the first poet at the dawn of historical memory. As to the age and authenticity of the original Icelandic version of Starkaðr’s poem, Ranisch was of the view that it is unlikely to have been older than the late eleventh or early twelfth century (Gautr 1900, cvi-cix), and drew some parallels in wording and title with Ívarr Ingimundarson’s Sigurðarbálkr (Ív SigII), datable to after its subject, Sigurðr slembidjákn’s, death in 1139. Finnur Jónsson, on the other hand, thought the poem could not be older than the thirteenth century (LH II, 159). The present editor’s view is that elements of the poem probably go back to an oral substrate, one that also informed Saxo’s Latin version. Its age is difficult to determine. The poem has been reworked and probably added to (though compilers subtracted stanzas as well); some of the metrical irregularities of the stanzas in the form in which they are presented in the extant mss are clearly of late date and we see the common addition of personal pronouns and other forms that characterise fourteenth-century and later versions of fornyrðislag poetry and make its lines unmetrical (see further Section 6 of the Introduction to this volume).

In the prose of Gautr, the title Víkarsbálkr is applied specifically to the section of Starkaðr’s poem that tells of the death of Víkarr (Gautr 1900, 31), but modern editors have applied it to all thirty-three stanzas in which Starkaðr recounts his life-history, even though not all of them have to do with Víkarr. The use of the term bálkr ‘section, list, partition’ in poem titles most likely refers to the fact that their subject-matter can be divided into distinct sections (see SnSt Ht 97III, Note to [All]). Also significant is the fact that extant poem titles ending in ‑bálkr trace an individual protagonist’s biography (Ív SigII) or autobiography (StarkSt Vík, Svart Skauf).

There are many extant mss of Gautr, the majority of them post-medieval. The three main mss of the longer version are AM 152 fol (152), of c. 1500-25, AM 590 b-c 4°ˣ (590b-cˣ) of c. 1600-1700, and Holm papp 11 8°ˣ (papp11ˣ) of c. 1650. In addition, there is a single leaf extant of the vellum ms. AM 567 XIV α 4° (567XIVα), which may have provided the exemplar for 590b-cˣ (Chesnutt 2009, 93). The oldest witness to the shorter version of Gautr is also fragmentary and also dates from c. 1400; this is AM 567 XIV γ 4° (567XIV γ). It contains the first four stanzas of Gautr. The other principal witnesses to the shorter text all date from the seventeenth century. They are AM 194 c folˣ (194cˣ), written by Jón Erlendsson of Villingaholt (d. 1672), its sister ms. Holm papp 1 folˣ (papp1ˣ), and AM 164 h folˣ (164hˣ), written by Björn Jónsson of Skarðsá (d. 1655). This last ms. is a conflation of the version of 152 and a no longer extant version of the shorter Gautr (on relations between the younger mss, see Gautr 1900, xiii-xvii; Chesnutt 2009, 95-7). In this ms. Gjafa-Refs þáttr comes before Dalafífla þáttr.

All editions of Gautr to date have been based on the longer version of the saga, except for that of Ranisch (Gautr 1900), which contains both versions; the longer version in Gautr 1900 is based on 590b-cˣ, but with critical apparatus from other mss; the shorter has parallel texts of 194cˣ, 164hˣ and, where it exists, 567XIV γ. The editio princeps of Gautr was that of Olaus Verelius (Gautr 1664) and this was in fact the first printed edition of any Icelandic saga in the original language. Verelius considered Gautr and other fornaldarsögur set in Sweden to be evidence of the antiquity of the Gothic (= Swedish) language and culture in Scandinavia, and undertook to publish editions of these ‘Gothic’ texts. His edition was based on papp11ˣ. Rafn’s edition (FSN 3, 1-190) was based on 590b-cˣ, and he was followed in this by Valdimar Ásmundarson (1885-9, 3, 3-38), though in this latter case the editor made a collation of 590b-cˣ with ÍBR 6 folˣ, dated 1680, and written by Magnús Jónsson. Guðni Jónsson’s edition and reprints (FSGJ 4, 1-50) follow the same tradition of using 590b-cˣ (for a fuller discussion, see Chesnutt 2009, 93-5).

The present edition of the stanzas in Gautr uses the principal ms. witnesses of both the longer and the shorter prose versions where appropriate, although, as mentioned earlier, the shorter version does not contain Vík and is thus of no use as a witness to the majority of the stanzas. Previous editors of the poetry (as distinct from the prosimetrum) have separated the stanzas that are in the shorter Gautr (but also in the longer version) from the stanzas of Vík. In Edd. Min. Vík appears as item V well before the other stanzas, which are a separate item XXII, entitled Die Geizhalsstrophen ‘The Miser-stanzas’. In Skj and Skald the eight stanzas found in the shorter Gautr come first in the section entitled Af Gautrekssaga, and include the two stanzas in Gjafa-Refs þáttr, even though these come after Vík in the longer version of the saga. Skj and Skald then follow with Vík, thus producing an order that does not conform to any ms. However, for convenience, it has been retained in the present edition.

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