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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bragi Rdr 3III

Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 3’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 31.

Bragi inn gamli BoddasonRagnarsdrápa

text and translation

Knátti eðr við illan
Jǫrmunrekkr at vakna
með dreyrfáar dróttir
draum í sverða flaumi.
Rósta varð í ranni
Randvés hǫfuðniðja,
þás hrafnbláir hefndu
harma Erps of barmar.

Jǫrmunrekkr knátti eðr at vakna við illan draum með dreyrfáar dróttir í {flaumi sverða}. Rósta varð í ranni {hǫfuðniðja Randvés}, þás {hrafnbláir of barmar Erps} hefndu harma.
‘Jǫrmunrekkr then awakened with an evil dream among the blood-stained troops in the eddy of swords [BATTLE]. There was tumult in the hall of the chief kinsmen of Randvér [= the dynasty of the Goths], when the raven-black brothers of Erpr [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] avenged their injuries.

notes and context

This stanza is preserved in two sources, the Skm section of SnE (R, , C) and FoGT (W). In Skm (SnE 1998, I, 50-1) the stanza is the first of a sequence of four stanzas and a stef, specifically ascribed to Rdr, and these stanzas are cited at the end of a long passage recounting various narratives about the legendary Niflungar and their descendants, among whom were the brothers Hamðir and Sǫrli. The Rdr stanzas are introduced thus: Eptir þessum sǫgum hafa flest skáld ort ok tekit ymsa þáttu. Bragi hinn gamli orti um fall Sǫrla ok Hamðis í drápu þeiri er hann orti um Ragnar loðbrók ‘Most poets have composed [poetry] based on these stories, and have used various parts [of them]. Bragi the Old composed about the death of Sǫrli and Hamðir in the drápa that he composed about Ragnarr loðbrók’. In FoGT (FoGT 1884, 129), which is only preserved in W, its anonymous author cites the stanza on its own as an example of the rhetorical figure of ekbasis, or digression, and introduces it with the words (normalised): Ebasis er af ganga efnisins, þá er skaldit reikar afvegis, sem Bragi skald gerði, þá er hann setti í þá drápu, er hann orti um Ragnar konung, þær vísur er segja um fall Sǫrla ok Hamðis sona Jónakrs konungs ok Guðrúnar Gjúkadóttur, er þeir fellu fyrir mǫnnum Erminreks konungs, ok er sjá vísa ein af þeimEkbasis is a departure from the subject-matter, when the poet drifts off course, as Bragi the poet did, when he inserted into the drápa that he composed about King Ragnarr, those stanzas that tell about the death of Sǫrli and Hamðir, sons of King Jónakr and Guðrún daughter of Gjúki, when they fell before the men of King Jǫrmunrekkr, and this stanza is one of them’.

The first of four stanzas in which Bragi depicts the vengeance carried out by the brothers Hamðir and Sǫrli, sons of Guðrún Gjúkadóttir and King Jónakr, upon the Gothic king Jǫrmunrekkr, the historical Ostrogothic ruler Ermanaric (d. 375 AD), because he had their sister, his wife Svanhildr, put to death for supposed adultery with his own son Randvér. The brothers attack Jǫrmunrekkr in his hall and maim him, but fail to kill him, whereupon the Goths turn upon Hamðir and Sǫrli, and kill them by pelting them with stones. This legend is also the subject of the eddic poem Hamð (see Dronke 1969, 159-242 for a comparison of this and other sources), which tells that Svanhildr was torn apart by wild horses and Randvér was hanged (Hamð 2-3, 17). Skm prefaces the citation of Bragi’s stanzas with a prose account of the legend (SnE 1998, I, 49-50). See Vǫls chs 41-4 (Vǫls 1965, 74-8) and Saxo 2005, I, 8, 10, 9-14, pp. 550-4, for other accounts. Finch (1993a) details the linking of this legend to the Vǫlsung-Niflung family, with which Ragnarr loðbrók was sometimes connected. For the historical record, see Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum gestarum libri qui supersunt XXXI, ch. 3 (Rolfe 1948-52, III, 394-6) and Jordanes, Getica (Mommsen 1882, ch. XXIV, §§129-30). Rdr reveals a somewhat anti-heroic attitude to its subject-matter, st. 3 beginning in medias res with Jǫrmunrekkr awakening from a drunken sleep to chaos in his own hall.



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 3: AI, 1, BI, 1, Skald I, 1, NN §§1909A, 2507; SnE 1848-87, I, 370-3, II, 576, III, 59, SnE 1931, 134, SnE 1998, I, 50; SnE 1848-87, II, 208, FoGT 1884, 129, FoGT 2014, 14-17, 77-9.


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