Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to ESk Geisl 43VII

[All]: Sts 43-50 are occupied with the story of the fate of King Óláfr’s sword Hneitir ‘cutter’. According to Óláfs þáttr Geirstaðaálfs (Flat 1860-8, II, 6-9; Fms 4, 37-8), this sword had belonged to Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr. When he died, it was buried with him, but he later appeared in a dream to Hrani Hróason and instructed him to break into the burial mound, take the sword, and give it to Ásta, then in labour with the birth of her son, S. Óláfr, who received it from his mother at the age of eight. Some versions of Óláfs saga report that after killing a huge boar with the sword, Óláfr changed its name from Bæsingr ‘son of an exiled mother’ to Hneitir ‘cutter’, þvíat honum þótti þat hneita önnur sverð fur hvassleika sakir ‘because it seemed to him to outdo other swords where sharpness is concerned’ (Fms 4, 57-8). The story of what happened to Hneitir after S. Óláfr’s death is the longest miracle account in Geisl and is not found in any of the prose legends. Einarr may well have known of it from oral tradition (see Chase 2005, 41-2 and nn. 121-6) and Snorri Sturluson evidently knew it from Einarr’s drápa, which he mentions specifically in Hkr (ÍF 28, 369-71). Hneitir is there said to have been picked up after the battle at Stiklestad by a Swedish soldier and to have passed down in his family until it came into the possession of a member of the Varangian guard in Byzantium. The sword was bought by the Byzantine emperor after it appeared to have miraculous powers and was hung over the altar of a church the Varangians had dedicated to S. Óláfr.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Fms = Sveinbjörn Egilsson et al., eds. 1825-37. Fornmanna sögur eptir gömlum handritum útgefnar að tilhlutun hins norræna fornfræða fèlags. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  3. Chase, Martin, ed. 2005. Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli. A Critical Edition. Toronto Old Norse and Icelandic Studies 1. Toronto, Buffalo and London: Toronto University Press.
  4. Flat 1860-8 = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and C. R. Unger, eds. 1860-8. Flateyjarbók. En samling af norske konge-sagaer med indskudte mindre fortællinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt annaler. 3 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  5. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  6. Internal references
  7. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ 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 [check printed volume for citation].
  8. Not published: do not cite (MberfII)
  9. Not published: do not cite (ÓGeirII)
  10. Martin Chase 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Einarr Skúlason, Geisli’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 5-65.


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