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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to StarkSt Vík 30VIII (Gautr 38)

[7] þöglan þul ‘a silent poet’: This line is in kviðuháttr. The adj. þǫgull ‘silent, discreet’ expresses a quality regarded as praiseworthy in early Nordic society, and is associated with the qualities of wisdom and discretion; cf. Hávm 6/4, 15/1. Here, however, the phrase þögull þulr implies a negation of a poet’s normal function of praising his patron at court. The sense to be attributed to þulr here is debatable (see Halvorsen 1976a, and, most recently, Poole 2010a). Where it occurs in the Poetic Edda corpus it usually means ‘wise man, sage’ (cf. LT: þulr), and frequently refers to supernatural beings who have lived a long time, as Starkaðr also has (e.g. Hávm 5-6 (NK 39): at három þul | hlæðu aldregi ‘never laugh at a hoary sage’). The noun’s other possible meaning, ‘poet’, is (probably) supported by Hávm 111/1-2 (NK 34): Mál er at þylia | þular stóli á ‘It is time to recite on the poet’s [or sage’s] seat’ (at the beginning of the Loddfáfnir section of Hávm) and by two examples in the skaldic corpus, Rv Lv 29/1II, where Rǫgnvaldr uses the word of himself, and HaukrV Ísldr 18/5IV, where it is used of Þorleifr jarlsskáld. ON þulr and its cognate, OE þyle (cf. Beowulf ll. 1165, 1456, where it is used of Unferð, spokesman for the Danish king Hroðgar and formal challenger of Beowulf, and in vernacular glosses where it is given as equivalent to Lat. orator ‘orator’ or scurra ‘buffoon, jester’), both seem to have covered the roles of ‘spokesman, sage’ and ‘poet’ at the courts of kings, and then perhaps in Old Norse to have later lost the sense of ‘spokesman, sage’, to judge by the two skaldic examples, which are of C12th date (or possibly later, in the case of Ísldr). Thus the external evidence could support either meaning in Gautr 38/7. The poem itself in its present form is probably no earlier than the two skaldic examples, but its creator could have been drawing on older material or he could have been consciously archaising. In support of the sense ‘poet’, Starkaðr refers to himself in the following stanza (Gautr 39/8) as greppr jöfurs ‘the prince’s poet’, and this role is supported by external evidence, particularly from Saxo, where it is claimed (Saxo 2015, I, vi. 5. 6, pp. 382-3) that Óðinn made Starkaðr famous both for his strength of spirit and also for his poetry: non solum animi fortitudine, sed etiam condendorum carminum peritia ‘not only for the strength of his spirit, but also for his knowledge of the songs needing to be composed’ (ed.’s translation), the implication being that Óðinn endowed Starkaðr with the power of certain kinds of poetry, probably magical, in order to bring about Víkarr’s death. Poole (2010a, 253-6) offers a review of the Old Norse representation of Starkaðr as a þulr.


  1. Bibliography
  2. NK = Neckel, Gustav and Hans Kuhn (1899), eds. 1983. Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern. 2 vols. I: Text. 5th edn. Heidelberg: Winter.
  3. LT = La Farge, Beatrice and John Tucker. 1992. Glossary to the Poetic Edda, based on Hans Kuhn’s Kurzes Wörterbuch. Skandinavistische Arbeiten 15. Heidelberg: Winter.
  4. Poole, Russell. 2010a. ‘Þulir as Tradition-Bearers and Prototype Saga-Tellers: Þat er opt gott, er gamlir kveða’. In Quinn et al. 2010, 237-59.
  5. Halvorsen, Eyvind Fjeld. 1976a. ‘Þulr’. KLNM 20, 402-3.
  6. Saxo 2015 = Friis-Jensen, Karsten, ed. 2015. Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes. Trans. Peter Fisher. Oxford Medieval Texts. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon.
  7. Internal references
  8. Not published: do not cite (HaukrV ÍsldrIV)
  9. Not published: do not cite ()
  10. Not published: do not cite (HaukrV Ísldr 18IV)
  11. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2009, ‘Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson, Lausavísur 29’ 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, pp. 605-6.
  12. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Gautreks saga 38 (Starkaðr gamli Stórvirksson, Víkarsbálkr 30)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 281.
  13. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Gautreks saga 39 (Starkaðr gamli Stórvirksson, Víkarsbálkr 31)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 283.
  14. Not published: do not cite ()


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