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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sjólfr Lv 1VIII (Ǫrv 34)

Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Ǫrvar-Odds saga 34 (Sjólfr, Lausavísur 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 848.



The following twenty-five stanzas belong to an episode in Ǫrv in which Oddr, disguised as Víðfǫrull ‘Widely-travelled’ (so ms. 7) or Næframaðr ‘Bark-man’ (the other mss), visits the court of one King Herrauðr in Húnaland ‘Land of the Huns’. He engages in various trials of strength with the king’s men, culminating in a drinking contest with two of the king’s retainers, Sjólfr and Sigurðr, in the course of which Oddr drinks them under the table. As the king’s men challenge Oddr to drink off horns full of ale, each one speaks a stanza, insulting or denigrating his rival, and Oddr replies with two equally insulting stanzas in return. At first two stanzas from Sjólfr and Sigurðr (one each) are balanced by two in return from Oddr, but, as the challengers become more and more affected by alcohol, their ability to compose poetry fails and Oddr has the floor to himself. The last sixteen stanzas constitute a monologue in which Oddr attacks his rivals’ reputation and boosts his own. Earlier editors have proposed that some of these later stanzas, in which Oddr alludes to a number of his earlier adventures, originally belonged in a version of his Ævidrápa older than that which is found in existing mss, and that these stanzas were adapted to the altercation between Oddr and Sjólfr and Sigurðr by adding lines insulting these men every so often. This argument applies to Ǫrv 49, 52 and 54-8 (Ǫrv 1892, notes to 82, 83 and 84; Boer 1892b, 135-7).

The exchange begins as a kind of mannjafnaðr ‘comparison of men’, in which the merits and failings of individual men are weighed up and compared, but degenerates into something approaching a senna ‘flyting’ or ‘quarrel’, in which standard formulae, suggesting a rival’s cowardice in battle, sexual deviance or low social status, are uttered by each contestant about his opponent. Other examples of mannjafnaðr and senna occur in the Poetic Edda corpus, in Hárb, Lok and the Helgi poems (especially HHj and HHund II). For analysis of the poetic conventions in play in these genres, see Clover (1979) and, in particular, Lönnroth (1979), who has drawn attention to what he calls the ‘double scene’ of Oddr’s drinking contest in the saga. According to the narrative it is observed by the king, his daughter Silkisif, and her foster-father, Hárekr; Lönnroth argues that the saga audience also participated vicariously in the scenes of drinking and verse-capping which would have been familiar to them from their own experience.

These stanzas occur in mss 7, 344a, 343a and 471; a reduced set is in 173ˣ. Ms. 7 is taken as main ms. for this part of the edition, except that 343a is preferred on grounds of sense and metre for Ǫrv 40. Most of the stanzas are in the metre fornyrðislag, though some are of irregular length.

text and translation

Oddr, klauftu eigi         at orrostu
— hrökk hjálmat lið —         Hamðis skyrtur.
Guðr geisaði,         gekk eldr í bæ,
þá er á Vinðum         vá sigr konungr.

Oddr, klauftu eigi {skyrtur Hamðis} at orrostu; hjálmat lið hrökk. Guðr geisaði, eldr gekk í bæ, þá er konungr vá sigr á Vinðum.
‘Oddr, you did not cleave the shirts of Hamðir <legendary hero> [MAIL-SHIRTS] in battle; the helmeted band retreated. Battle raged, fire penetrated farms when the king won a victory over the Wends.

notes and context

After challenging Oddr to reveal his name, the king’s retainer Sjólfr offers him a drinking horn full of ale and speaks this stanza.

Sjólfr calls Oddr by his name, after having learnt it for the first time. The stanza takes the form of a standard challenge to Oddr’s manliness and his willingness to participate in fights, while asserting the speaker’s own prowess and experience, in this case in battles that King Herrauðr led against the Wends and in which, by implication, Sjólfr participated but Oddr did not.



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: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], E. 10. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Ǫrvar-Oddssaga VII 1: AII, 297, BII, 317, Skald II, 169; Ǫrv 1888, 159, Ǫrv 1892, 78, FSGJ 2, 311; Edd. Min. 65.


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