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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ragnarsdrápa — Bragi RdrIII

Bragi inn gamli Boddason

Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 27.

 

A majority of scholars, going back to Gísli Brynjúlfsson (1860), have considered all but a small number of the stanzas (extant mainly in mss of SnE) ascribed to Bragi Boddason (see his Biography above) to belong to a single dróttkvætt drápa, named Ragnarsdrápa ‘Drápa about Ragnarr’ (Bragi Rdr), describing mythic and legendary scenes on a decorated shield. It has been assumed that Rdr comprised some introductory stanzas (of which two helmingar remain), four full stanzas and a stef ‘refrain’ on the subject of the legendary Hamðir’s and Sǫrli’s killing of the Gothic tyrant Jǫrmunrekkr, another group of four full stanzas and stef about the valkyrie Hildr and the Hjaðningar, a single stanza (presumed to be the remains of another group of four stanzas and stef) about Gefjun’s acquisition of the island of Sjælland (Zealand) from the Swedish king Gylfi, and a group of six helmingar on the god Þórr’s fight with the World Serpent, Miðgarðsormr. Skj, followed by Skald, adds to this number a helmingr (numbered 20) on another of Þórr’s deeds, his throwing of the giant Þjazi’s eyes up into the sky where they became stars. Thus twenty full or half-stanzas have conventionally been ascribed to Rdr, based on the assumption, following Gísli Brynjúlfsson, that the kind of ornate shield Bragi describes as having been presented to him by his patron, Ragnarr, would have had four sections and four legendary or mythological subjects. There is little evidence to support this hypothesis; the only extant near-complete skaldic ekphrasis, Þjóðólfr ór Hvini’s Haustlǫng ‘Autumn-long’ (Þjóð Haustl), has two subjects, while the incomplete Úlfr Uggason’s Húsdrápa ‘House-drápa’ (ÚlfrU Húsdr) has three surviving subjects.

However, there is no doubt that what survives of Rdr is an ekphrasis, a poem that describes in words what the poet can see in a visual medium, usually on a precious object or on a splendid building (see further Clunies Ross 2006b; 2007; Fuglesang 2007). Along with Þjóð Haustl (c. 900) and ÚlfrU Húsdr (c. 980), Rdr is one of only three known ekphraseis in early Norse poetry, although other surviving fragments of poems on mythological subjects may also have belonged to this genre. Húsdrápa describes wood-carvings (or possibly paintings) of mythological narratives on the walls of a splendid hall in Iceland (see ÚlfrU Húsdr Introduction). Like Haustl, Rdr describes scenes painted on an ornate shield, presented to the poet by his patron. In each case the stef or refrain reminds the audience of that connection, naming the patron (Ragnarr, Þorleifr) and the shield, the latter by means of elaborate kennings. Many characteristics of the diction of Rdr indicate its status as ekphrasis: the use of direct address to an audience, the many references to the shield itself, and the compressed but vivid narrative detail of the main section of the poem.

Although SnE is the main source for Bragi’s stanzas, Snorri only identifies the Jǫrmunrekkr (3-8) and Hildr stanzas (9-12) as specifically belonging to Rdr. In the first case (SnE 1998, I, 50-1), the stanzas are quoted as a block, and introduced by the explanatory statement Bragi hinn gamli orti um fall Sǫrla ok Hamðis í drápu þeiri er hann orti um Ragnar loðbrók ‘Bragi the Old composed about the death of Sǫrli and Hamðir in the drápa (poem with a refrain) that he composed about Ragnarr loðbrók’. In the second case (SnE 1998, I, 72-3) sts 9-12, also quoted as a sequence, are introduced thus: Eptir þessi sǫgu orti Bragi skáld í Ragna<r>sdrápu loðbrókar ‘Based on this story [the battle of the Hjaðningar] Bragi the poet composed [poetry] in Ragnarsdrápa loðbrókar’. Each of these sequences has a stef that mentions a Ragnarr and his gift of a shield together with a multitude of stories depicted on it. Thus both internal and external evidence confirms that sts 3-12 belong to Rdr.

Indications that the two introductory helmingar belonged to Rdr are by no means as strong as those for sts 3-12. The evidence is circumstantial and (in the case of st. 2) internal and is discussed in the Notes. Two other fragments (here edited as Bragi Frag 5 and 6) attributed to Bragi celebrating generous patrons are cited in SnE, but are not conventionally associated with Rdr.

The remainder of Bragi’s stanzas are attributed to him in SnE and (in a few cases) in other sources but are not specifically associated there with Rdr. Of these, this edition only acknowledges sts 1-2, the two introductory helmingar, as reasonably likely to belong to Rdr. The stanza on Gefjun, given as Rdr 13 in Skj and Skald, is here treated more conservatively as Bragi Frag 1. The six helmingar on Þórr’s fishing expedition are treated as parts of a separate poem, Bragi Þórr, possibly part of a shield-poem or a poem descriptive of some other pictorial representation of the myth, while the helmingr on Þjazi (Skj’s Rdr 20) appears here as Bragi Frag 2.

Most scholars have accepted that Rdr and Bragi’s poetry generally are of ninth-century date and pointed to such features as the sporadic observance of hendingar, especially aðalhending in the even lines, and the relatively straightforward word order, while acknowledging that both diction and metre show the dróttkvætt stanza to be already fully operational by his time (cf. de Vries 1957). However, Marold (1986b), following the earlier views of Sophus Bugge (1894), has associated Rdr with the reconquest of Northumberland by the Danes 980-1015 and thus disputes its early date.

The normalised text of Rdr is here based on the Codex Regius of SnE, R, the basis for most modern editions of SnE. This ms. contains all stanzas ascribed to Rdr in this edition. In addition, the following mss of SnE contain all or some of the stanzas of Rdr: (all stanzas); W (sts 1-3, 8-12); U (sts 1-2); A (sts 1-2); C (sts 1-7). It should be noted that W’s text of st. 3 is cited, not in SnE, but in FoGT.

References

  1. Bibliography
  2. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. SnE 1998 = Snorri Sturluson. 1998. Edda: Skáldskaparmál. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. 2 vols. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  4. Bugge, Sophus. 1894. Bidrag til den ældste skaldedigtnings historie. Christiania (Oslo): Aschehoug.
  5. Fuglesang, Signe Horn. 2007. ‘Ekphrasis and Surviving Imagery in Viking Scandinavia’. Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 3, 193-224.
  6. Gísli Brynjúlfsson. 1860. ‘Bragi den gamles kvad om Ragnar Lodbrogs skjold’. ANOH, 3-13.
  7. Marold, Edith. 1986b. ‘Ragnarsdrápa und Ragnarssage. Versuch einer Interpretation der Ragnarsdrápa’. In Brogyanyi et al. 1986, 427-57.
  8. Vries, Jan de. 1957. ‘Les rapports des poésies scaldique et gaëlique’. Ogam 9, 13-26.
  9. Clunies Ross, Margaret. 2006b. ‘The Cultural Politics of the Skaldic Ekphrasis Poem’. In Evans et al. 2006, 227-40.
  10. Internal references
  11. 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].
  12. Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘The Fourth Grammatical Treatise’ 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].
  13. Edith Marold 2017, ‘(Biography of) Þjóðólfr ór Hvini’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 431.
  14. Not published: do not cite (RloðVIII)
  15. Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Þjóðólfr ór Hvini, Haustlǫng’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 431.
  16. Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Úlfr Uggason, Húsdrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 402.
  17. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 28.
  18. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Fragments 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 54.
  19. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 2’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 30.
  20. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Fragments 2’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 56.
  21. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Fragments 5’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 61.
  22. Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Þórr’s fishing’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 46.
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