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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson (Hfr)

10th century; volume 1; ed. Diana Whaley;

III. Hákonardrápa (Hákdr) - 9

Skj info: Hallfrøðr Óttarsson vandræðaskáld, Islandsk skjald, død ved 1007. (AI, 155-73, BI, 147-63).

Skj poems:
1. Hákonardrápa
2. Óláfsdrápa
3. Óláfsdrápa, erfidrápa
4. Eiríksdrápa
5. Lausavísur

Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld ‘Troublesome-poet’ Óttarsson (Hfr) was brought up in Vatnsdalur, northern Iceland, probably in the 960s. He is the subject of Hallfreðar saga (Hallfr), which survives both as a continuous text (ÍF 8, 133-200) and interpolated into ÓT. The main strands of the saga are Hallfreðr’s unhappy relationship with Kolfinna Ávaldadóttir, his travels as trader, fighter and poet, his conversion to Christianity and his devotion to Óláfr Tryggvason, and all these aspects of his life occasioned poetry which partially survives.

Fragments of an early drápa for Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (r. c. 970-c. 995) are extant (Hfr HákdrIII; ÍF 8, 151), but the greater part of Hallfreðr’s court poetry, and the poetry edited in this volume, concerns King Óláfr Tryggvason (c. 995-c. 1000): Óláfsdrápa (Hfr Óldr) and Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar (Hfr ErfÓl). Like other Icelanders, Hallfreðr accepted Christian baptism under the influence of Óláfr. The difficulty, for a poet and pagan, of this switch of religious allegiance is the theme of Hfr Lv 6-10V, and is, according to the sagas, alluded to in his nickname vandræðaskáld, lit. ‘Poet of difficulties’. The sagas agree that the name was bestowed by the king, though they differ about the precise reason (ÓTOdd 1932, 125-6; Hkr, ÍF 26, 331-2; Hallfr, ÍF 8, 155; ÓT 1958-2000, I, 387). Hallfreðr is attributed with a lost Uppreistardrápa ‘Restoration drápa’ (?), supposedly composed to atone for his journey into pagan Gautland (Västergötland, ÍF 8, 178). He is also credited in Hallfr (ÍF 8, 194-5) with an encounter with Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (r. c. 1000-c. 1014) and in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 257, 266, 280) with poetry for him; this is vestigially preserved in Eiríksdrápa (Hfr EirdrV). The saga also shows Hallfreðr presenting a flokkr to the Danish jarl Sigvaldi (ÍF 8, 168) and a poem to the Swedish king Óláfr Eiríksson (ÍF 8, 177-8), but no traces of these survive.

The marriage of Kolfinna, the love of Hallfreðr’s youth, to Gríss Sæmingsson provoked Hallfreðr both early and later in life to compose strikingly inventive stanzas which intertwine themes of yearning love and rivalry (Hfr Lv 1-3, 15-24V), and his níð against Gríss led to legal proceedings and indirectly to the killing of Hallfreðr’s brother Galti (Ldn, ÍF 1, 224; ÍF 8, 189-90). In the course of an adventure in Västergötland (Hfr Lv 12-14V), Hallfreðr met and married Ingibjǫrg Þórisdóttir, who died young, but not before bearing two sons, Auðgísl and Hallfreðr. According to Hallfr (ÍF 8, 196-9), Hallfreðr himself died at the age of nearly forty, from a combination of illness and injury as he sailed through the Hebrides; he was buried on Iona (cf. Hfr Lv 26-7V).

Hákonardrápa (‘Drápa about Hákon’) — Hfr HákdrIII

Kate Heslop 2017, ‘ Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson, Hákonardrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 212. <> (accessed 4 July 2022)

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 

for reference only:  2x 

Skj: Hallfrøðr Óttarsson vandræðaskáld: 1. Hákonardrápa, omkr. 990 (AI, 155-6, BI, 147-8); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

in texts: LaufE, Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 212

notes: refs from EM transcr.

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The nine helmingar edited here, Hallfreðr Óttarsson’s HákonardrápaDrápa about Hákon’ (Hfr Hákdr), are rich in visual imagery and complex, often punning mythological references, but contain no historical realia such as personal names, toponyms, or names of battles. All are attributed to Hallfreðr in their sole source, Skáldskaparmál (Skm), and commonalities of style and subject-matter and the presence of extended metaphors sustained across multiple stanzas are a strong argument that they do in fact belong to a single poem, usually identified with the Hákonardrápa Hallfreðr is said in his saga (Hallfr ch. 5, ÍF 8, 151) to have composed for Hákon jarl inn ríki ‘the Mighty’ Sigurðarson (see Note to st. 1/3 below).

In its surviving form the poem has three topics: a ruler’s protection of his subjects (st. 1); his steadfast endurance of a storm of missiles in battle at sea (sts 2-4); and his conquest of territory (sts 5-8). Each of these is treated in terms of a single metaphor (respectively, a mighty tree sheltering saplings, a hailstorm, and the seduction of a woman), which is borne both by the kennings themselves and by adjectival and verbal elements which extend their imagery (e.g. the ruler is described in st. 1 as rœkilundr brumaðr hári ‘heeding-tree, budded with hair’; see Lie 1957 for an analysis of this feature). Much critical attention has focused on the hieros gamos ‘sacred marriage’ (Maier 1999) depicted in sts 5-8, in which the poem’s dedicatee plays the part of Óðinn who seduces Jǫrð (and so, via ofljóst ‘too transparent’, conquers jǫrð ‘land’), ríkismôlum stála ‘with sovereign speeches of swords’ (for other instances of this topos in tenth- and eleventh-century poetry see e.g. Eyv HálI, Edáð Banddr 3I, Gsind Hákdr 5I, ÞjóðA Sex 3II). Some have seen this as evidence for an ancient ritual involving a marriage between the ruling jarl and a female figure personifying his realm (Frank 1978; Ström 1981; 1983; Steinsland 1991; Sundqvist 2005a), while to others it is purely figurative (Frank 2007; Sonne 2008), and draws on Christian ideas of Jerusalem as the bride of God (Strömbäck 1975). The great variety of phenomena embraced by the concept hieros gamos (cf. Maier 1999; see Frank 2007 for a selection of instances) complicates attempts to use comparative data to elucidate the possible ritual background to skalds’ use of this topos. Within the poem, on the other hand, it is clearly one of a series of rhetorical strategies which coordinate the poem’s metaphorical/mythical and referential/earthly levels. Ideologically it is particularly significant insofar as it implicates the poem’s protagonist in a system of mythic family relations.

Both the Möðruvallabók and the Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar in mesta redactions of Hallfreðar saga give a brief account of the young skald’s first trip to Norway, undertaken in order to perform a praise poem – not quoted in the saga – before Hákon jarl, er þá réð Nóregi ‘who then ruled Norway’ (Hallfr ch. 5, ÍF 8, 151). The poem, which most manuscripts add was a drápa, is well-rewarded, and Hákon invites Hallfreðr to spend the winter with him, after which he returns to Iceland (Hallfr ch. 5, ÍF 8, 151). When next Hallfreðr travels to Norway Hákon is dead and Óláfr Tryggvason is king. Heimskringla reports Hallfreðr’s response to Óláfr Tryggvason’s invitation to join his retinue (ÍF 26, 331): Ek var fyrr hirðmaðr Hákonar jarls ‘I was formerly Hákon jarl’s retainer’.

Other than these two narrative sources, no external evidence links Hallfreðr to Hákon. He is not listed among Hákon’s skalds in Skáldatal (cf. SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 266), and HaukrV Ísldr 12IV does not name the tveir dǫglingar ‘two lords’ for whom Hallfreðr is said to have composed. Some have accordingly been suspicious of the link to Hákon. Fidjestøl (1982, 102-3) calls the poem Dikt om ein jarl ‘Poem about a jarl’ and suggests it may have been composed for Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (r. c. 1000-c. 1014); CPB assigns all nine helmingar, and the editors of the Arnamagnæan edition of SnE sts 1 and 4, to an unattested poem about Rǫgnvaldr jarl Úlfsson (CPB II, 95-6; SnE 1848-87, III, 480-1); cf. also Sonne (2008), Mundal (2009). However, sufficient internal evidence exists to justify support of the attribution in the narrative sources. Two helmingar (sts 4 and 7) are quoted in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 81) as instances of kennings of the rúnar konungs ‘king’s confidants’ type for jarlar ok hersir ok hirðmenn ‘jarls and hersir and retainers’, which supports the idea that this is a poem for a nobleman rather than a king (although such kennings are occasionally used of kings, cf. Meissner 362). Hákdr also repeatedly echoes Einarr skálaglamm’s Vellekla (Eskál Vell1; see Notes to sts 1, 2, 3; von See 1977a) and Tindr Hallkelsson’s Hákonardrápa (Tindr Hákdr1; see Notes to sts 2, 4, 5), both poems addressed to Hákon, in what seems to be a conscious display of poetic rivalry on the part of Hákon’s new skald. And the profusion of pagan references, compared with their almost complete absence from e.g. Hallfreðr’s Erfidrápa (Hfr ErfÓl1), suggests that, if genuine (and there is no reason to think otherwise), Hákdr predates Hallfreðr’s conversion to Christianity at the hands of Óláfr Tryggvason.

If the poem was performed before Hákon jarl (r. c. 970-c. 995) it must have been composed before 995. Solid evidence for a terminus post quem is lacking. Davidson (1983, 199-200, 481) and Marold (2005a, 110-18) see references to episodes in the battle of Hjǫrungavágr (Liavågen) in Hákdr (see Notes to sts 2/4 and 4/1, 4, also LH I, 548-9, Ström 1981). The position of st. 2 in Skm, where it is quoted immediately after helmingar from Eskál Vell and Tindr Hákdr referring to Hjǫrungavágr, may suggest that the compiler of SnE also thought Hfr Hákdr was connected with this battle. However, the battle of Hjǫrungavágr cannot be any more closely dated than Hákon’s reign, and Ohlmarks’s (1958, 428-9) attempt to link the poem with the battle of Limfjorden, c. 970, is not convincing. Although Hallfreðr is said in his saga to be twenty at the time of his Norwegian trip (Hallfr ch. 3, ÍF 8, 144), the saga’s chronology is too uncertain to allow a dating of the poem itself to be deduced from this information (cf. ÍF 8, xlv-li).

It is likely that some stanzas have been lost (there appears to be no stef, for instance, though cf. Wisén 1886-9, I, 196; Marold 2005a, 117-18), and the nature of citation in Skm means there is little external evidence for stanza order. Although retaining the sequence in which the helmingar occur in the ms. witness is the editor’s natural point of departure, it seems rather unlikely that this ordering has intrinsic significance when helmingar are cited in SnE to exemplify different kenning-types, as they mostly are here (cf. however Marold 2005a). The two helmingar edited here as st. 2 are an exception, as they are cited in sequence as examples of armour-kennings (and in A written as a single stanza). Furthermore, the second helmingr of st. 2 opens with a bound clause introduced by the adv. þaðan, so it seems reasonable to regard it not merely as following 2/1-4 in the poem as a whole, but as the second helmingr of a stanza whose first is 2/1-4, as Wisén (1886-9, I) suggests.

The stanzas may be divided into two sets on the basis of subject-matter and kennings: four helmingar (sts 5-8 below) describing the jarl taking the forested land of Norway comprise the ‘marriage’ set, and three helmingar (sts 2-4 below) depicting the jarl at war, with many armour-kennings, comprise the ‘battle’ set; st. 1, in which the jarl appears as a mighty tree protecting his subjects, is an ‘outlier’. Most previous editors present the two groups in sequence, while a minority (among them Skj) insert the marriage set into the battle set. The separation of st. 4 from the very similar sts 2/1-4 and 3 in Skj’s arrangement seems capricious, so a sequential arrangement has been preferred here, and ‘battle’ then ‘marriage’ perhaps makes slightly more sense than the reverse.

The ordering of the stanzas within the two sets is largely a matter of editorial taste and varies significantly in previous editions. The order of citation in Skm offers a few anchor points: sts 7 and 8 are cited in sequence and both exemplify mythological kennings for ‘earth’ (jǫrð), so Skm’s ordering is at least potentially meaningful; as noted above, the same is true for the helmingar of st. 2. And sts 3 and 4 repeat the movement from past-tense general statement to present-tense consequence seen in the two helmingar of st. 2 (the four-line sts 3+4 could, as Marold 2005a, 116 n. 15 suggests, be combined into a single eight-line stanza, though this is not done here). But there is no reason to prefer any particular position for the remaining two stanzas of the marriage set. The present editor shares Marold’s (2005a, 117-18) scepticism as to the presence of a narrative logic here (see however Lie 1957, 97; Frank 1978, 85-6; Davidson 1983), and Skj’s ordering of these stanzas is retained in the edition below (cf. Fidjestøl 1982, 104-5, 171). The ‘outlier’ has been placed at the beginning of the sequence as edited here.

Stanzas from Hákdr are transmitted only in the Skm part of SnE, in the following mss: R (main ms.), , W, U, A, B and C. Mss R, and W contain all stanzas, U has sts 1-3, 4-7, A sts 1-3, B sts 5-8, and C has sts 1-2. Because B is now damaged and difficult to read, 744ˣ has been used selectively. Stanzas 1, 5 and 7 were copied from W in the Y version of LaufE (mss 2368ˣ and 743ˣ), but that version has no independent value and has not been used in this edition.

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