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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar — Hfr ErfÓlI

Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson, Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar’ 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. 400.


Twenty-three full stanzas and five helmingar are edited here as Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar ‘Memorial drápa for Óláfr Tryggvason’ by Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld ‘Troublesome-poet’ Óttarsson (Hfr ErfÓl). The poem concerns King Óláfr’s last battle at Svǫlðr (c. 1000; see entry for Óláfr Tryggvason in ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume), with final stanzas on the skald’s response to his loss.

Hallfreðar saga (Hallfr, ÍF 8, 192-4) relates that Hallfreðr is in Iceland when he hears the news of the king’s death. He sails to Norway and reaches Sognsjór (Sognefjorden) on the ‘Winter Nights’ (in mid-October), where he enquires about Óláfr’s fall and composes his poem. It is called Óláfs drápaDrápa about Óláfr’ or equivalent in several medieval sources (ÓT 1958-2000, II, 265; ÍF 8, 194; Hallfr 1977, 42, 102), though the M text of Hallfr (Hallfr 1977, 42) refers merely to kvæði því einu, er hann orti um Óláf konung ‘that certain poem which he composed about King Óláfr’, and ÓT (1958-2000, II, 292) speaks more generally of kveðskap(r) Hallfreðar ‘Hallfreðr’s poetry’ in the prose introduction to st. 22. The presence of a stef ‘refrain’ in sts 23 and 28 confirms that the poem is a drápa, but the term erfi (-drápa, ‑kvæði) which would distinguish it as a memorial poem is not applied to it in any medieval source.

All the stanzas in the Text below are attributed to Hallfreðr in at least one medieval source, and none appear to be lausavísur (the contrary view in van Eeden 1945a is unconvincing). Variant readings in ÓT (1958-2000, II, 258 n., 268 n.) give sts 2 and 7 to Hallar-Steinn due to confusion with his Rekstefja (HSt Rst), but the absence of Rst’s distinctive tvískelft metre and the testimony of most mss are against this attribution (see further Notes to sts 2 [All], 7 [All]). There are no reasons for suspicion about the poem’s authenticity as a whole (pace Sveinbjörn Rafnsson 2005, 407), though objections have been raised to individual stanzas. The helmingr edited in Skj B as st. 26 is probably an inferior (oral?) variant of the present edition’s st. 26a/1-4, with which it shares its last two lines, and it is printed in SkP V as Hfr ErfÓl 26bV (Hallfr 7; see Note to st. 26a/1-4 below). In sts 18 and 22, however, the repetitive content and unusual kennings that aroused Krijn’s suspicions (1931, 121-2) are for others the hallmark of Hallfreðr’s deeply felt emotion and the poem’s artfulness (Petersen 1935, 24-6; Fidjestøl 1982, 110), and Krijn’s arguments are not sufficient to deem these stanzas inauthentic against the witness of the mss.

Almost all that survives of ErfÓl is cited in a single sequence, interspersed with prose and the stanzas of other skalds, in ÓT’s account of the battle of Svǫlðr and its aftermath. The exceptions are the stanzas containing the stef (sts 23 and 28), and st. 26bV, a variant of st. 26a/1-4 (noted above). Stanza 28 seems to have entered the tradition via Þiðreks saga (Þiðr; see Context to st. 28), and is also in one ms. of ÓTOdd and in Hallfr. Substantial sections of the poem are also preserved in Fsk, ÓTOdd and Hkr, and these texts’ greater age suggests they have priority over ÓT as sources for the shared stanzas. It is not certain which of Fsk, ÓTOdd, and Hkr is primary, but both ÓTOdd and Hkr could have taken all their stanzas from Fsk (except st. 19; but see Fidjestøl 1982, 24), and Fsk uniquely preserves st. 23. Fsk is therefore taken here as representing the earliest surviving textual tradition of ErfÓl, and given textual priority where appropriate. SnE quotes two helmingar, sts 6/5-8 and 25/5-8; 6/5-8 is in the version of SnE in ms. A only (see SnE 1998, I, lxiv-lxv; Guðrún Nordal 2001, 57-64, 232-4).

The order in which stanzas are quoted in ÓT is our only evidence for their original sequence and should be deviated from only when there are good reasons for doing so. The ÓT order is editorially modified in the Text as follows (largely following Fidjestøl 1982, 109-10, 171; for alternative reconstructions, see Guðbrandur Vígfússon and Möbius 1860, 207-10; van Eeden 1945a; Ohlmarks 1958, 462). The order of the first three stanzas reflects that of the earliest sources, Fsk and ÓTOdd, whereas Skj follows ÓT. The present edition has also moved st. 17, which ÓT places in final position, to the end of the battle-description proper, immediately before the stanzas describing the conflicting accounts of Óláfr’s last moments. Internal evidence suggests that st. 27, the penultimate stanza in ÓT, is in fact the poem’s conclusion (cf. Árni Magnússon’s comment in 761bˣ, 175v), and the placement of st. 17 at the end of the ÓT sequence is probably a consequence of its citation as a parallel for Hókr Eirfl 8. The two stanzas which contain the poem’s stef, sts 23 and 28, are not cited in ÓT, but Fsk’s placement of st. 23 makes sense and is followed here. There is no compelling external or internal evidence for the position of st. 28 and it is accordingly placed last.

The deictic þar ‘there’ in st. 1/1 and the absence of conventional poem-opening formulas suggest that some stanzas are missing from the beginning of the poem. Fidjestøl (1982, 106) suggests that a set of stanzas on Óláfr’s early viking career attributed to Hallfreðr in Fsk and ÓTOdd could have been part of this lost opening section, since such resumés are common in the beginnings of erfidrápur (Fidjestøl 1989a, 484). Evidence either way is, however, lacking, so the ‘viking’ set is edited as a separate poem, Hfr Óldr, in the present volume, as in Skj. See further Introduction to Hfr Óldr.

The following mss are used in this edition: the ÓT mss 61, 53, 54, 325VIII 2 g, Bb, 325VIII 2 b and Flat (for sts 1-22, 24-7 or subsets of these); the Hkr mss , F, J1ˣ, J2ˣ and 325VIII 1 (for sts 1, 3, 10, 16, 18, 20-2 or subsets of these); the Fsk mss FskAˣ (for sts 1, 3, 10, 16, 18, 20-3) and FskBˣ (for sts 1, 3); the ÓTOdd mss Holm18, 310 and 4-7 (for sts 1, 3, 10, 16, 18/1-4, 19, 28 or subsets of these); the SnE mss R, , U, A, B (supplemented by 744ˣ where B is illegible) and C (for sts 6/5-8 (A only) and 25/5-8); the Hallfr mss M and Flat, and the Þiðr mss 178ˣ, 177ˣ and 100ˣ (for st. 28). The marginal variants 22ˣmarg, representing the Hkr tradition, are also cited where available (for sts 16, 18, 20-2; see Note to st. 16 [All]). The copy of the poem in Árni Magnússon’s anthology in 761bˣ is almost entirely from extant sources, and is not used, though Árni’s marginalia are occasionally of value and are mentioned above or in Notes. The readings of papp18ˣ and 521ˣ, transcripts of the K ms. of Hkr, have been examined for this edition, but are not included in the Readings below since they either duplicate and confirm the readings of , or are clearly secondary. Similarly, the Fsk transcripts 51ˣ, 302ˣ, 52ˣ and 301ˣ are not used except that 52ˣ and 301ˣ are used in addition to FskAˣ in st. 23, since it is preserved only there.

The main mss for the Text in the present edition are as follows. Where a stanza appears in Fsk, the main ms. is almost always from this textual tradition, for the reasons given above. FskBˣ is therefore the main ms. for st. 3, and the inferior FskAˣ for the remaining stanzas (sts 10, 16, 18, 20-3), missing from FskBˣ due to a lacuna in its exemplar. In st. 1, where Fsk’s text is clearly corrupt, the ÓTOdd tradition is given priority, and in this edition ms. Holm18 is the main ms. rather than 310 as in Skj A, both because Holm18’s text of the stanza is superior, and because it is favoured in the most recent edition of ÓTOdd, that of Ólafur Halldórsson in ÍF 25 (see ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume). The earliest source for st. 19 is ÓTOdd, and here again Holm18 is the main ms. The Þiðr ms. 178ˣ supplies the base text for st. 28, as Holm18 is usually thought to have taken this stanza from Þiðr (so Þiðr 1905-11, lv; ÓTOdd 1932, xv), and Flat is assumed to have it from (an inaccurate recollection of) Holm18 (Hallfr 1977, lxxxii-iv). Finally, where a stanza is only in ÓT, 61 is the main ms. where possible (for sts 2, 4, 11-15, 17, 25, 26a, 27); however it has a lacuna where sts 5-9 are normally cited and omits st. 24. The main ms. for st. 24 is 53, a sister ms. to 61 for this part of the ÓT text, while for sts 5-9 it is 54, as 53 has an interpolated text here, most closely related to the Flat redaction (ÓT 1958-2000, III, ccxc-ccxci, cccxlix), and lacks sts 6, 8 and 9.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj A = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15a. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. A: Tekst efter håndskrifterne. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1967. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  4. Fidjestøl, Bjarne. 1982. Det norrøne fyrstediktet. Universitet i Bergen Nordisk institutts skriftserie 11. Øvre Ervik: Alvheim & Eide.
  5. Guðrún Nordal. 2001. Tools of Literacy: The Role of Skaldic Verse in Icelandic Textual Culture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.
  6. ÓTOdd 1932 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1932. Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar af Oddr Snorrason munk. Copenhagen: Gad.
  7. SnE 1998 = Snorri Sturluson. 1998. Edda: Skáldskaparmál. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. 2 vols. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  8. ÓT 1958-2000 = Ólafur Halldórsson, ed. 1958-2000. Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar en mesta. 3 vols. EA A 1-3. Copenhagen: Munksgaard (Reitzel).
  9. SkP V = Poetry in Sagas of Icelanders. Ed. Tarrin Wills, Kari Ellen Gade and Margaret Clunies Ross. Forthcoming.
  10. Möbius, Theodor. 1860. Edda Sæmundar hins fróða. Mit einem Anhang bisher ungedruckter Gedichte. Leipzig: Hinrichs.
  11. ÍF 8 = Vatnsdœla saga. Ed. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson. 1939.
  12. Þiðr 1905-11 = Bertelsen, Henrik, ed. 1905-11. Þiðriks saga af Bern. SUGNL 34. Copenhagen: Møller.
  13. Hallfr 1977 = Bjarni Einarsson, ed. 1977. Hallfreðar saga. RSÁM 15. Reykjavík: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar.
  14. Eeden, W. van. 1945a. ‘De volgorde der strophen in Hallfreðr’s Erfidrápa en Haldórr’s Eiríksflokkr’. Neophilologus 30, 127-8.
  15. Fidjestøl, Bjarne. 1989a. ‘Erfidrápa (Erblied)’. In RGA, 7, 482-6.
  16. Ohlmarks, Åke. 1958. Tors skalder och Vite-Krists. Trosskiftestidens isländska furstelovskalder, 980-1013. Stockholm: Geber.
  17. Petersen, Sven Aage. 1935. ‘Hallfred Vandraadeskjald Óttarsons Arvedrapa over Olaf Tryggvason. En oversættelse og tolkning.’ Studier fra sprog- og oldtidsforskning, udgivne af Det Filologisk-Historiske Samfund 45, 1-35. Copenhagen: Branner.
  18. ÍF 25 = Færeyinga saga; Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar eptir Odd munk Snorrason. Ed. Ólafur Halldórsson. 2006.
  19. Þiðr = Þiðreks saga af Bern.
  20. Sveinbjörn Rafnsson. 2005. Óláfs sögur Tryggvasonar: um gerðir þeira, heimildir og höfunda. Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan.
  21. Internal references
  22. 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].
  23. 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].
  24. 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.
  25. 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.
  26. Not published: do not cite (HallfrV)
  27. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar by Oddr Snorrason (ÓTOdd)’ 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. clxxiv-clxxv.
  28. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘(Biography of) Óláfr Tryggvason’ 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. 383.
  29. Rolf Stavnem 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallar-Steinn, Rekstefja’ 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. 893.
  30. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson, Óláfsdrápa’ 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. 387.
  31. Not published: do not cite (Hfr ErfÓl 26bV (Hallfr 7))
  32. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2012, ‘Halldórr ókristni, Eiríksflokkr 8’ 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. 484.

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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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