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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sturla Þórðarson (Sturl)

13th century; volume 2; ed. Kari Ellen Gade;

1. Hrynhenda (Hryn) - 21

Skj info: Sturla Þórðarson, Islandsk skjald og historiker, 1214-84 (AII, 101-29, BII, 112-36).

Skj poems:
1. Þverárvísur
2. Þorgilsdrápa
3. Hrynhenda
4. Hákonarkviða
5. Hrafnsmál
6. Hákonarflokkr
7. En drape om Magnús lagaböter
8. Lausavísur

The life of Sturla Þórðarson (Sturl) is chronicled in Sturlunga saga (Stu). He was born on 29 July 1214 as the second son of Þórðr Sturluson and his concubine Þóra, and he was the younger brother of Óláfr hvítaskáld Þórðarson (Ólhv). In his early years he spent much time with his uncle, the poet, historian and lawspeaker Snorri Sturluson (SnSt, d. 1241), and later he took an active part in the events that played out before and after the collapse of the Icel. Commonwealth. Sturla was lawspeaker in Iceland 1251-2 and lawman, appointed by the Norw. king, 1272-82. In 1263 he went to Norway where he met King Magnús lagabœtir ‘Law-mender’ Hákonarson (d. 1280). After an initially very cool reception, the king commissioned him to write the saga of Magnús’s father Hákon Hákonarson (d. 1264) and also that of Magnús himself. Sturla later became the retainer (hirðmaðr, skutilsveinn) of Magnús and brought the law code Járnsíða ‘Ironside’ from Norway to Iceland in 1271. The story of Sturla’s journey to Norway in 1263 and his dealings with Magnús is recounted in Sturlu þáttr (StÞ), preserved in a version of Stu. In addition to the sagas of Hákon Hákonarson (Hák) and the no longer extant saga of his son Magnús lagabœtir (only two leaves are preserved in AM 325 X 4°), Sturla is the author of Íslendinga saga (Ísls) and of a redaction of Landnámabók (Ldn, in AM 107 folˣ = Stˣ). Some scholars believe that he may have been responsible for the extant redaction of Kristni saga (Kristni) (see LH 1894-1901, II, 98-105, 717-43), and he is also mentioned as an informant by the author of Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar (Gr; see ÍF 7, 157, 226, 289). Like his uncle, Snorri, and his brother, Óláfr, Sturla was a prolific poet. According to Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 260, 272, 279, 384-96), he composed poems in honour of the Norw. kings Hákon Hákonarson and Magnús lagabœtir Hákonarson, and also about the Swed. jarl Birgir Magnússon (d. 1266). Nothing is preserved of Sturla’s panegyrics to the latter, but two sts from his poetry to Magnús are recorded in Hák (see Magnússdrápa (Sturl Magndr) below). The bulk of Sturla’s poetic oeuvre about Hákon Hákonarson is interspersed with the prose in Hák: Hrynhenda (Sturl Hryn), Hákonarkviða (Sturl Hákkv), Hrafnsmál (Sturl Hrafn) and Hákonarflokkr (Sturl Hákfl). In addition to these encomia, Sturla composed poetry about events and dignitaries in Iceland: namely Þverárvísur (Sturl ÞvervIV) and Þorgilsdrápa (Sturl ÞorgdrIV), both of which have been edited in SkP IV. That is also the case with his lvv. (Sturl Lv 1-4IV). One fragment which earlier eds assigned to Hryn (earlier st. 22) has been edited in SkP III as Sturl FragIII. Sturla died on 30 July 1284 and was buried in the Church of S. Peter at Staðarhóll.

Hrynhenda — Sturl HrynII

Valgerður Erna Þorvaldsdóttir 2009, ‘ Sturla Þórðarson, Hrynhenda’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 676-98. <> (accessed 5 July 2022)

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Skj: Sturla Þórðarson: 3. Hrynhenda, 1262 (AII, 102-8, BII, 113-18); stanzas (if different): 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 22

in texts: Flat, Hák

SkP info: II, 676-98

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Sturla Þórðarson’s encomium in hrynhent metre about King Hákon Hákonarson (Sturl Hryn) is assumed to be the first of four long poems (Sturl Hryn, Hákkv, Hrafn, Hákfl) which Sturla composed about King Hákon and the only one he composed while the king was alive, as he addresses him directly. In 1263 Sturla Þórðarson was summoned to Norway by King Hákon, and the most likely reason for this was the conflict between Sturla and the chieftain Hrafn Oddsson, who had been appointed the king’s representative in the Borgarfjörður area in 1261. Sturla himself had previously been placed in charge of the area by Jarl Gizurr Þorvaldsson. Their struggle for power reached its climax when Sturla and his son attempted to attack Hrafn at Stafholt in the spring of 1263 but failed to capture him (Helgi Þorláksson 1988; Magnús Stefánsson 1988). Sturla had therefore every reason to fear that he would not be welcome at the Norw. court. According to Sturlu þáttr (StÞ) in Sturlunga saga (Stu), Sturla had composed poems for Hákon and his son Magnús, a kind of hǫfuðlausn ‘head-ransom’ to win their favour (Stu 1988, II, 764). Scholars agree that the poem about King Hákon, now known as Hrynhenda, was composed in Iceland in the summer of 1263 (Sveinn Skúlason 1856, 601; LH 1894-1901, II, 100; Hermann Pálsson 1988, 68). When Sturla arrived in Norway, Hákon had already left for Scotland and the Western Isles, leaving his son Magnús in charge of the state. With the help of the Norw. chieftain Gautr á Mel, Sturla was permitted to recite his poem before the young king and queen, thus earning their respect and friendship.

All of Sturla’s poetry about King Hákon is preserved in Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar (Hák), which Sturla himself wrote. The poetry in this saga should not be regarded as sources for the narrative, but rather as a vital part in the structure of the story, a means to deepen the king’s image. The main themes of Hryn are Hákon’s foreign affairs, his magnificent fleet and the expansion of the Norw. state during his reign. Special attention is given to the king’s successful foreign policy and friendly relations with other monarchs. The structure of the poem mirrors the expansion and the ever-growing importance of Norway in the C13th. The poem reflects this expansion, as Sturla broadens the horizon little by little in each st. It starts at a crucial point in Hákon’s reign, at his coronation in the king’s hall in Bergen in the summer of 1247. Hákon had been king of Norway for thirty years already, but his rule had been marred by internal strife and a struggle for power, mainly between himself and his father-in-law, Jarl and Duke Skúli Bárðarson. By opening Hryn with the coronation in 1247, Sturla manages to avoid any reference to the problems between the the king and his father-in-law, because Skúli Bárðarson died in 1240. Sturla then expands the horizon bit by bit, first looking east toward the border with Sweden and describing the marriage of Hákon inn ungi ‘the Young’, Hákon’s son, to the daughter of the Swed. Jarl Birgir Magnússon. He then looks south and describes the warfare against the inhabitants of Halland (then a part of Denmark) in the 1250s. The narrative is interrupted with st. 13 about the journey of Hákon’s daughter, Kristín, to Spain where she was to be married to one of the brothers of King Alfonso X of Castile and León in 1257. The following five sts, sts 14-18, describe Hákon’s magnificent fleet on his journey to Denmark in 1256-7, before Sturla again returns to the story of the reception of Kristín and the royal entourage in Spain (st. 19). The poet sums up the main themes in the last two sts of Hryn, stating that the realm and influence of Hákon stretch from Greenland in the far north all the way south towards the shores of North Africa.

Hryn got its title from its hrynhent metre but the name is not mentioned in any of the mss. Twenty-one sts are preserved in Sturla’s Hryn and the order of the sts is the same in all mss. The present numbering follows that of the mss, but in Skj, Skald and Fidjestøl (1982, 175) st. 13 is given as st. 18. Konráð Gíslason also rearranges the order of the sts in his Efterladte skrifter (1895-7, I, 77-8, 84-6) without mentioning the order of the sts in the mss. In the present edn, the first st. about Princess Kristín’s journey to Spain is st. 13, breaking up the narrative of King Hákon’s second expedition to Denmark in 1256-7, which is described in sts 12 and 14-18. The two sts about the princess’s journey frame Sturla’s description of the splendid Norw. fleet, and answer the question of why the Spaniards wanted this alliance between the Spanish and the Norw. courts. The Norw. fleet was the largest in Europe at the time, and King Alfonso X needed the naval strength of King Hákon to be able to back up his claim on Sicily and proceed with plans for a crusade to Morocco (Gelsinger 1981, 62-67). See also Note to st. 13 [All] below.

Hryn is preserved in full in mss F and Flat. The last two sts are missing from E and 81a because these mss are not complete. There are fourteen sts from Hryn in 8, five in 304ˣ and four in 325VIII 5 c, which is the only leaf left of Gullinskinna (G). AM 42ˣ (a C17th paper copy of G), contains one st. from Hryn, and two sts are found in 325X. One couplet in hrynhent is attributed to Sturla in LaufE and was believed to belong to Hryn because of the metre. It is printed at the end of the poem in Skj and Skald but not included in Konráð Gíslason’s commentary to the poem, although he believed it may have belonged to it (Konráð Gíslason 1895-7, I, 69-89). That couplet has been edited as Sturl FragIII in SkP III.

No clear stemma exists for the mss of Hák (see Section 4 in Introduction to this vol.), but the five main mss seem to fall into two groups. F and E derive from the same archetype, and Flat, 81a and 8 are related (Hák 1910-86, xxxii). The poetry, however, does not appear to follow this stemma, nor can a stemma be established for it. F and E are the oldest mss of Hák and F has been chosen as the main ms. in the present edn. The scribe of F is more accurate than the scribe of E and seems to have had a better understanding of the verse he was copying. F contains all the sts whereas the end of Hák, including the last two sts of Hryn, is missing in E.

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