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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þórarinn loftunga (Þloft)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Matthew Townend;

1. Hǫfuðlausn (Hfl) - 1

Skj info: Þórarinn loftunga, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 322-7, BI, 298-301).

Skj poems:
1. Hǫfuðlausn
2. Tøgdrápa
3. Glælognskviða

Few biographical facts are known about Þórarinn loftunga ‘Praise-tongue’ (Þloft). In introducing Þórarinn’s service to King Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great), Snorri Sturluson (ÍF 27, 307; cf. ÓH 1941, I, 473) records in general terms that he was an Icelander and a great poet (skáld mikit) who had spent a great deal of time with kings and other chieftains. Knýtl (ÍF 35, 124) gives a similar portrait, and adds that Þórarinn was gamall ‘old’ when he first came to Knútr. However, all of Þórarinn’s extant poetry derives from his service to Knútr and his son Sveinn, and these are the only monarchs for whom Þórarinn is recorded as a poet in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 258, 267). Þorm Lv 10/1-2 also refers to Knútr rewarding Þórarinn with gold over a long period (for the anecdote in which it is quoted see ÓHLeg 1982, 124-8; ÓH 1941, II, 799-804), and his pre-Knútr career must remain hypothetical. Parts of three poems are preserved: Hǫfuðlausn (Hfl) and Tøgdrápa (Tøgdr) for Knútr, and Glælognskviða (Glækv) for Sveinn, probably composed in this order, and between c. 1027 and 1034; for circumstances of composition and preservation see individual Introductions below. The evidence of the poems suggests that Þórarinn entered Knútr’s service in either England or Denmark, accompanied him on his journey to Norway in 1028, and after 1030 remained at Sveinn’s court in Norway at least until c. 1032. For previous discussions of Þórarinn’s career see LH I, 601-3, Malcolm (1993), and Townend (2005, 256-7).

Hǫfuðlausn — Þloft HflI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘ Þórarinn loftunga, Hǫfuðlausn’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 849. <> (accessed 23 May 2022)


Skj: Þórarinn loftunga: 1. Hǫfuðlausn, o. 1026 (AI, 322, BI, 298); stanzas (if different): [v]

in texts: Flat, Hkr, ÓH, ÓHHkr

SkP info: I, 849

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Only two lines now survive of Þórarinn’s Hǫfuðlausn ‘Head-ransom’ (Þloft Hfl) for King Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great). They are preserved solely in Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga in the Separate (ÓH) and Hkr (ÓHHkr) versions (here jointly designated ÓH-Hkr), where they are said to be the poem’s stef ‘refrain’. The ‘head-ransom’ story supposedly behind the poem is narrated in both ÓH-Hkr and more fully in Knýtl (ÍF 35, 124-5), even though Knýtl does not quote any of the poem. According to the story, Þórarinn originally composed for Knútr something short of a full-scale drápa, described variously as a flokkr in ÓH-Hkr, as fár vísur ‘a few verses’ in Knýtl, and as a dræplingr ‘short drápa’ in both sources. The king’s anger at this insufficient tribute dictated that Þórarinn must compose a full drápa (specified as a þrítug drápa eða lengri ‘a thirty-stanza drápa or longer’ in Knýtl) by the following day, or lose his life. Both sources record Hǫfuðlausn as being the title of the resultant poem, and fifty marks of silver as the reward for it – a figure specified in Þórarinn’s Tøgdrápa (Tøgdr 7/1, 3; see Note). With so little of Þórarinn’s poem surviving, it clearly cannot be dated by internal references; however, Hfl evidently precedes his Tøgdr, which has a probable date of c. 1029, so a date of c. 1027-8 seems plausible (see further Townend 2001, 157). For better-preserved ‘head-ransom’ poems see Egill HflV and Ótt Hfl, and Introductions to those.

For the mss used in this edn, see below. Holm2 is the main ms.

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