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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Glymdrápa — Þhorn GldrI

Þorbjǫrn hornklofi

Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þorbjǫrn hornklofi, Glymdrápa’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 73.


The nine (complete or incomplete) stanzas of Glymdrápa ‘Clangour-drápa’ (Þhorn Gldr), the earliest known skaldic praise-poem in regular dróttkvætt, illustrate events in the life of Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ Hálfdanarson (r. c. 860-c. 932; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume). The poem’s title, attested in Hkr (ÍF 26, 101), alludes either to its frequent references to the sounds of battle (LH I, 424-5; Paasche 1957, 185), or to its use of additional rhyme to enhance the resonance of some stanzas (Paasche loc. cit.; Kreutzer 1977, 61), or to both features (Fidjestøl 1982, 221; Naumann 1998, 239). It is striking that the poem’s battle-kennings and metaphors primarily convey the acoustic effect of battle. Stanza 1 alone contains three battle-kennings whose base-words denote noise of some kind, and further terms for noise are gnýr (st. 2/2), hlymr (st. 2/4), dynr (sts 4/4, 5/4) and rymr (st. 7/2). The verbs gjalla (st. 5/7) and glymja, both ‘resound’ (st. 7/2), and the noun sǫngr ‘song’ (st. 7/7) also emphasise the din of war, and in st. 5/1 it is said that arrows ‘roared’ (gnúðu). Stanza 4 interweaves two metaphors playing on the conceit of battle as a conversation of weapons (see Note to st. 4 [All]).

Only seven full stanzas and two half-stanzas of Gldr are preserved. The narrative context of the poem differs in each of the prose works, as does the way the individual helmingar are combined. Hkr transmits almost all the stanzas of Gldr, associating them with a series of different events, all but the last of which precede the climactic battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden, c. 885-c. 890): (1) the fight against the Orkndœlir (sts 1 and 2); (2) the battle at Sólskel (Solskjel) (st. 3/5-8 and st. 4, a single helmingr, as one stanza); (3) the battle against Arnviðr and Sǫlvi (st. 5); (4) the campaign in the Götaälv (sts 6 and 7); (5) the voyage to the British Isles (st. 8). ÓT cites only st. 8, likewise in the context of a military expedition to the British Isles. Fsk contains only sts 3, 4 and 5, and it cites these in the context of the battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr. Flat (HarHárf) gives an unusual combination of stanzas, namely sts 3; 9 + 5/1-4; 5/5-8 + 4/1-4, and places these in the context of a victory by Haraldr over the forces of Mœrr (Møre) and Raumsdalr (Romsdalen). SnE (Skm) contains sts 2/5-8, 3/1-4 and 5/1-4 (on LaufE see below).

Gldr is missing both its introduction and its conclusion. Some scholars have considered it possible that st. 9, with its general praise of the king, was the poem’s stef ‘refrain’ (see Note to st. 9 [All]). The other eight stanzas depict battles, albeit with few details; it is presumably for this reason that the sequence of the stanzas varies from one prose work to another. The ordering in the present edition is essentially that of Hkr, the only text to contain virtually all of sts 1-8. Hkr lacks st. 3/1-4, however, and for sts 3-4 the Fsk ordering is preferred (see Note to st. 3 [All]).

When the prose contexts are set aside, it is difficult to discern from the few surviving stanzas whether the poem is about a single campaign or about several independent battles. Whereas Fidjestøl (1982, 217; cf. Reichardt 1928, 255-6) thinks it possible to read the poem as depicting a continuous campaign, Holtsmark (1927, 13-53) assumes it depicts separate events from Haraldr’s reign. She demonstrates that pairs of stanzas from the poem, analogous in form and content, each describe an historical event (assuming that the configuration in Hkr is correct). Thus sts 1-2 are about Haraldr’s campaign against thieves and bandits on land and along the coast, and sts 4-5 may deal with a conflict between Haraldr and kings from Mœrr (Møre). In sts 6-7 there follows a warlike expedition sunnan haf ‘south across the sea’. It is unclear whether the designation of Haraldr as andskoti Gauta ‘adversary of the Gautar’ in st. 7/6 supports the inference that he invaded Gautland (Götaland), because such a circumlocution might have been used independently of the immediate context (see Notes to sts 6/2, 7/6). The same applies to events being localised to Scotland on the basis of the kenning þverrir Skota ‘destroyer of the Scots’ in st. 8/6. Even Fidjestøl (1982, 217), though he assumes a continuous campaign, must admit a historisk sprang ‘historical leap’ between sts 7 and 8. This supports the argument that the poem depicts separate events.

Gldr cannot be dated with certainty, though it was probably composed during Haraldr hárfagri’s lifetime, since he is addressed directly in st. 9. The fact that part of the poem concerns a military expedition to the British Isles has led many scholars to date it after Haraldr had established his pre-eminence in Norway at the battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (ÍF 26, 120-1), thought to have occurred either in the period c. 870-5 or c. 885-90. Most scholars therefore believe that the composition dates to c. 890 (LH I, 426; de Vries 1964-7, I, 147; Naumann 1998, 238).

Despite its early date Gldr satisfies all the demands for the arrangement of the hendingar in fully developed dróttkvætt metre. Moreover it displays an additional use of internal rhyme (Kuhn 1983, 282). The skothending of an odd line is frequently connected to the aðalhending of the following even line. This creates a special rhyme scheme, most often with repetition of the last word of the skothending (dunhent), e.g. in st. 6/1-2 Grennir : gunni | gunnmôs : sunnan (likewise in st. 8/1-2 and st. 8/3-4; or without repetition of the last word in st. 6/5-6 and st. 5/7-8). In other cases the hending continues onto a word in the next line, but this word is not part of that line’s hending scheme: st. 1/1-2: heiði : réð | hjaldrskíðs : galdra; st. 3/1-2: hrjóðr : tíðar | harðráðr : bǫrðum. In st. 5/3-4 three different hendingar are interwoven: rauð fnýsti ben blóði | bryngǫgl í dyn Skǫglar. Here a triple hending (ben | bryn : dyn) is inserted in among the normal hendingar (rauð : blóði | gǫgl : Skǫglar). A further characteristic of Gldr, noted by Reichardt (1928, 224-7) and Kuhn (1969b, 67-9), is that Þorbjǫrn consistently creates a coherent unit of the two helmingar by subordinating the second helmingr syntactically to the first, with l. 5, where present, beginning with áðr ‘before’, or þás ‘when’.

The mss used in the present edition of Gldr are: the Hkr mss , F, J1ˣ, J2ˣ (for sts 1-2, 3/5-8, 4-8); the Fsk mss FskBˣ, FskAˣ (for sts 3-5); Flat (for sts 3-5 and 9); the ÓT mss 61 (for st. 8/1-4), 54, Bb (for st. 8); the SnE mss R, , W, U, A, C (for sts 2/5-8, 3/1-4, 5/1-4 or subsets of these); and 761aˣ, which is here independent from the other mss (see ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume). Stanza 5/1-4 is also included in LaufE (1979, 382-3) but the text, being copied from W, is not of independent value and is not used in this edition. The mss selected as main mss are for sts 1-2, 3/5-8 and 4-8; R for st. 3/1-4, since Hkr only contains ll. 5-8 of st. 3; and Flat (HarHárf) for st. 9, since it is the unique source.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Fidjestøl, Bjarne. 1982. Det norrøne fyrstediktet. Universitet i Bergen Nordisk institutts skriftserie 11. Øvre Ervik: Alvheim & Eide.
  3. Kreutzer, Gert. 1977. Die Dichtungslehre der Skalden: Poetologische Terminologie und Autorenkommentare als Grundlage einer Gattungspoetik. 2nd edn. Hochschulschriften: Literaturwissenschaft 1. Meisenheim am Glan: Hain.
  4. Vries, Jan de. 1964-7. Altnordische Literaturgeschichte. 2 vols. 2nd edn. Grundriss der germanischen Philologie 15-16. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  5. Kuhn, Hans (1899). 1983. Das Dróttkvætt. Heidelberg: Winter.
  6. LH = Finnur Jónsson. 1920-4. Den oldnorske og oldislandske litteraturs historie. 3 vols. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Gad.
  7. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  8. Paasche, Fredrik. 1957. Norges og Islands litteratur indtil utgangen av middelalderen. 2nd, rev. edn by Anne Holtsmark. Oslo: Aschehoug.
  9. Reichardt, Konstantin. 1928. Studien zu den Skalden des 9. und 10. Jahrhunderts. Palaestra 159. Leipzig: Mayer & Müller.
  10. Kuhn, Hans (1899). 1969b. ‘Die Dróttkvættstrophe als Kunstwerk’. In Gellinek 1969, 63-72. Rpt. in Kuhn (1899) 1969-78, IV, 95-104.
  11. Holtsmark, Anne. 1927. Þórbjørn Hornklofes Glymdrápa. Oslo: Aschehoug & Co.
  12. Naumann, Hans-Peter. 1998. ‘Glymdrápa’. In RGA, 12, 238-40.
  13. Internal references
  14. Edith Marold 2017, ‘Snorra Edda (Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál)’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  15. 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].
  16. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘Flateyjarbók (Flat)’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. clxi-clxii.
  17. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘Fagrskinna (Fsk)’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. clix-clxi.
  18. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘The Greatest Saga of Óláfr Tryggvason / Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar in mesta (ÓT)’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. clxiii-clxvi.
  19. Not published: do not cite (SkmIII)
  20. Not published: do not cite (HarHárfII)
  21. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Laufás Edda (LaufE)’ 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].

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Information about a text: poem, sequence of stanzas, or prose work

This page is used for different resources. For groups of stanzas such as poems, you will see the verse text and, where published, the translation of each stanza. These are also links to information about the individual stanzas.

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