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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Rloð Lv 1VIII (Ragn 1)

Rory McTurk (ed.) 2017, ‘Ragnars saga loðbrókar 1 (Ragnarr loðbrók, Lausavísur 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 626.

Ragnarr loðbrókLausavísur

text and translation

Hætt hefi ek leyfðu lífi,
litfögr kona, — vetra
vá ek at foldar fiski
fimtán gamall — mínu.
Hafa skal ek böl, nema bíði
bráðráðinn mér dauði
heiðar lax til hjarta
hringlegnum vel smjúga.

Ek hefi hætt leyfðu lífi mínu, litfögr kona; fimtán vetra gamall vá ek at {fiski foldar}. Ek skal hafa böl, nema dauði, bráðráðinn mér, bíði smjúga vel til hjarta {hringlegnum lax heiðar}.
‘I have risked the life allotted to me, fair-complexioned woman; at the age of fifteen I attacked the fish of the earth [SNAKE]. I shall encounter disaster, unless the death imminently destined for me succeeds in creeping to the heart of the ring-coiled salmon of the heath [SNAKE].

notes and context

Ragnarr, son of the King of Denmark, recites this stanza to Þóra, daughter of a jarl in Götaland, just after killing a snake that had belonged to her but had become unmanageably large. He wins Þóra in marriage by this exploit, and they have two sons, Eiríkr and Agnarr. Þóra later dies.

[5-8]: These lines are among the most corrupt and difficult among the stanzas of Ragn. Problems include whether to read bíði or bíti in l. 5; ‑ráðinn or ‑rakinn and dauði or dauða in l. 6, and how to interpret the syntax of ll. 7-8 and the reading of l. 8 understood here as ‑legnum. The present ed. prefers a relatively simple and tentative interpretation, and owes a long-standing debt to Jón Helgason for the one offered here.  (a) Olsen’s text (Ragn 1906-8, 195), which in its understanding of the word-sequence differs from the present edn only in taking vel together with hafa ‘have’ rather than with bíði … smjúga ‘succeeds in creeping’, adopts from 147 the readings bíði, bráðráðinn and dauði (as does the present edn) and emends (also as here) to ‑legnum (m. dat. sg.) in l. 8, and produces the meaning: ‘I shall courageously suffer (vel hafa) misfortune, unless the death so swiftly caused by me (dauði bráðráðinn mér) [to the snake] creeps to the heart of the coiled serpent’. He takes mér here as a dat. of agency, which leads to the somewhat odd idea of a death already caused not necessarily taking place, or taking time to do so. (b) Valdimar Ásmundarson (Ragn 1891) adopts the form bíti in l. 5, placing commas after it and after ek in that line; reads ‑rakinn and dauða (as does Rafn; cf. ‑rakin CPB) in l. 6, placing a comma at the end of the line; and further emends to ‑leginn in l. 8, thus apparently giving the somewhat awkward meaning: ‘I shall have death rapidly realised (bráðrakinn) for me, unless misfortune (böl) strikes (bíti) – successfully pierces (vel smjúgi) to the heart – the coiled (hringleginn) serpent (heiðar lax)’. (c) Örnólfur Thorsson (Ragn 1985), whose text differs from Valdimar’s only in adopting the forms bráðráðinn ‘imminently destined’ and dauði, nom., ‘death’ in l. 6 and in having a comma only at the end of that line, seems to offer an interpretation that is hardly less awkward: ‘I shall have misfortune, unless the death imminently destined for me strikes – pierces to the heart – the well-coiled (vel hringleginn) serpent’. Both eds appear to be using the verb smjúga in the transitive sense ‘pierce’ (cf. Krm 7/7-8), here sharing its acc. object (heiðar lax) with bíti, rather than in the intransitive sense ‘creep (through an opening)’. (d) Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) restores the text (prose word order) as follows: hafa skalk vel dauða bráðrakinn mér; hringleginn heiðar lax smýgra til hjarta, nema bǫl bíti ‘I shall courageously suffer death, however suddenly (unexpectedly) realised for me it may be; the coiled serpent will not creep to my heart, unless a misfortune befalls me’; his reading of these lines is adopted wholesale by Guðni Jónsson (FSGJ). (e) Kock (NN §1449) objects to the disjointed word order of the half-stanza (when written out as verse) that this interpretation involves, and to the lameness of the interpretation itself, particularly in the second sentence. His own text (Skald) reads as follows: Fár skal, bǫls nema bíti | bráðráðinn mér dauði | heiðar lax til hjarta | hringleginn vel smjúga ‘Not many a (i.e. not a single) coiled serpent shall creep to my heart, unless some ominous death (bǫls … dauði), hastily ordained for me (bráðráðinn mér), may strike (bíti)’. Both Finnur and Kock take bíti ‘strike’ as intransitive rather than transitive, even if Finnur’s translation, medmindre en ulykke rammer mig ‘unless a misfortune befalls me’, takes transitive form. Kock (NN §1449) admits the possibility of better interpretations than the one he offers, and it does seem that he has been needlessly influenced by the saga prose in his interpretation of the stanza.



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. 2. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Ragnarssaga loðbrókar I: AII, 232, BII, 251, Skald II, 130, NN §§1448, 1449, 2366; FSN 1, 240 (Ragn ch. 2), Ragn 1891, 179 (ch. 2), Ragn 1906-8, 119, 176, 195-6 (ch. 3), Ragn 1944, 22-4 (ch. 3), FSGJ 1, 228 (Ragn ch. 3), Ragn 1985, 107 (ch. 3), Ragn 2003, 15 (ch. 3), CPB II, 346.


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