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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon (ÓT) 2I

Kate Heslop (ed.) 2012, ‘Anonymous Lausavísur, Lausavísur from Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar in mesta 2’ 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. 1084.

Anonymous LausavísurLausavísur from Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar in mesta


These two stanzas (Anon (ÓT) 2-3) are preserved only in ÓT ch. 212 (ÓT 1958-2000, II, 133-4), transmitted in 61, 53, 54, 62, Bb and Flat. The saga attributes them to an anonymous old man in a boat (nǫkkvi, hence nǫkkvamaðr ‘man in a boat’ in ÓT, and in Skj) whom Óláfr Tryggvason and his men encounter while on a missionary voyage in southern Norway. The nǫkkvamaðr speaks his stanzas in the course of a conversation with the king, at the end of which he capsizes his boat and disappears into the sea. The anecdote is typical of those in which the missionary king encounters and bests a representative of the pagan religion, usually Óðinn or Þórr. The nǫkkvamaðr lacks obvious divine attributes, but it is possible that he is a giant. Indications of this are the saga’s references to his superhuman size and strength; his calling himself the son of Harðráðr (see Note to Lv 2/6); and the fact that he rows for the cliffs when confronted by Óláfr (see Perkins 1999 on the association of supernatural beings with prominent landmarks on the Norwegian coast). Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 466) took the stanzas as authentic, dating them c. 998, but there is no sure internal evidence either way. Lv 2-3 are edited here by Kate Heslop.

text and translation

Of fjarri stendr errinn
— ormr brunar døkkr at nǫkkva —
hôr með hyggju stóra
hlýri minn ok vinnur.
Ef værim hér hárir
Harðráðs synir báðir
— snákr skríðr, þars brim blíkir —
brœðr tveir, né þá flœðim.

Hôr errinn hlýri minn með stóra hyggju ok vinnur stendr of fjarri; døkkr ormr brunar at nǫkkva. Ef værim hér, báðir hárir synir Harðráðs, tveir brœðr, né flœðim þá; snákr skríðr, þars brim blíkir.
‘My tall, bold brother, with [his] great mind and achievements, stands too far off; the dark serpent rushes towards the boat. If we had been here, both the grey-haired sons of Harðráðr, two brothers, we would not have fled then; the snake glides where the surf glistens.

notes and context

(See Introduction above.) The wild-eyed nǫkkvamaðr ‘man in a boat’ rows away with superhuman speed toward some cliffs; with great effort King Óláfr and his men close the distance. The king addresses the nǫkkvamaðr and he replies in prose and then verse.

[2] døkkr : nǫkkva: The aðalhending is inexact if the two vowels have their etymological value. It is possible that the two sounds would have been sufficiently close for the rhyme to be acceptable if the stanza dates not from the C10th but from the C13th or later (cf. Note to SnSt Ht 73/2III), but definite conclusions cannot be built on this point. — [5-8]: The conditional ef-clause precedes the main clause flœðim þá ‘we would not have fled then’. This situation is the most common exception to the normal ordering of skaldic helmingar, with main clause first (Kuhn 1983, 190-1).



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [X], I. B. 10. En nordmand, nǫkkvamaðr a: AI, 179-80, BI, 169, Skald I, 91, NN §§1963, 1964, 2247B; Fms 2, 181, Fms 12, 51, SHI 2, 167-8, ÓT 1958-2000, II, 133 (ch. 212), Flat 1860-8, I, 396.


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