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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon (Sv) 2II

Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Anonymous Lausavísur, Lausavísur from Sverris saga 2’ 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. 843-4.

Anonymous LausavísurLausavísur from Sverris saga

Esa, sem kolvið kljúfi
karl, sás vegr at jarli.

Esa, sem karl, sás vegr at jarli, kljúfi kolvið.

It is not as if the fellow who strikes at the jarl is cleaving wood for charcoal burning.

Mss: 327(24v), Flat(149vb), 304ˣ(195v), E(85v), 81a(12vb) (Sv)

Readings: [1] Esa (‘Era’): Erat Flat, 81a, Jafnt er 304ˣ;    kolvið: ‘kolfwid’ 81a    [2] vegr at: ferr með Flat

Editions: Skj AI, 602, Skj BI, 602, Skald I, 293, NN §2552; ÍF 30, 72 (ch. 47), Sv 1920, 50, Flat 1860-8, II, 575, E 1916, 299, Sv 1910-86, 56.

Context: King Sverrir Sigurðarson quotes this couplet in a speech to his men before the battle of Ilevollene (27 May 1180). He tells them that it will not be as if they are going to the forest to chop wood when they exchange blows with Magnús Erlingsson’s district chieftains, and that it is no shame to deal and receive great blows. According to Sverrir, the couplet was originally recited by a farmer when he was accompanying his son down to the warships.

Notes: [All]: This st. is unusual in that, even though we do not know who composed it, we know the identity of the person who recited it (so also Anon (Sv) 3 and 6 below). Sverrir uses this particular st. as a prelude to a stirring speech, packed with proverbs and verbal references to eddic and skaldic poetry, that reports the ensuing conversation between the father and the son (ÍF 30, 72-3): Svá sagði einn búandi er hann fylgði syni sínum til herskipa ok réð honum ráð, bað hann vera hraustan ok harðan í mannraunum, ‘ok lifa orð lengst eftir hvern,’ sagði hann. ‘Eða hvernig myndir þú hátta ef þú kœmir í orrostu, ok vissir þú þat áðr at þar skyldir þú falla?’ Hann svarar: ‘Hvat væri þá við at sparask at hǫggva á tvær hendr?’ Karl mælti: ‘Nú kynni nǫkkurr maðr þat at segja þér með sannleik at þú skyldir eigi þar falla?’ Hann svarar: ‘Hvat væri þá at hlífask við at ganga fram sem bezt?’ Karl mælti: ‘Í hverri orrostu sem þú ert staddr þá mun vera annathvárt at þú mun falla eða braut komask, ok ver þú fyrir því djarfr, því at allt er áðr skapat. Ekki kømr ófeigum í hel ok ekki má feigum forða. Í flótta er fall verst.’ ‘So a farmer said when he accompanied his son down to the warships and gave him advice, and told him to be brave and fierce in hardship, “and fame lives the longest after every man,” he said. “But how would you behave if you were in battle and you knew in advance that you would fall there?” He answers: “What would then prevent one from striking blows on both sides?” The old man said: “Now, someone would be able to tell you in truth that you would not fall there.” He answers: “What would then hold one back from advancing as best you can?” The old man said: “In every battle you are in it will happen that you either fall or get away. And for that reason you must be brave, because everything is ordained in advance. Nothing brings death to those not so destined, and nothing can save those destined to die. The worst is to fall in flight.”’ This particular part of Sverrir’s speech is repeated almost verbatim by his grandson, King Hákon Hákonarson, prior to the battle of Oslo against Duke Skúli Bárðarson on 21 April 1240 (see Hák, E 1916, 601). — [1] kolvið ‘wood for charcoal burning’: Lit. ‘coal-wood’. — [2] jarli ‘the jarl’: The identity of this jarl is not mentioned, but if the event to which Sverrir refers took place earlier, it could well be Jarl Erlingr skakki, Magnús’s father. Erlingr fell at the battle of Kalvskinnet against Sverrir the year before (9 June 1179).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. Sv 1920 = Indrebø, Gustav, ed. 1920. Sverris saga etter Cod. AM 327 4°. Christiania (Oslo): Dybwad. Rpt. 1981. Oslo: Norsk historisk kjeldeskrift-institutt.
  5. Flat 1860-8 = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and C. R. Unger, eds. 1860-8. Flateyjarbók. En samling af norske konge-sagaer med indskudte mindre fortællinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt annaler. 3 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  6. E 1916 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1916. Eirspennill: AM 47 fol. Nóregs konunga sǫgur: Magnús góði – Hákon gamli. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske historiske kildeskriftskommission.
  7. ÍF 30 = Sverris saga. Ed. Þorleifur Hauksson. 2007.
  8. Sv 1910-86 = Kjær, Albert and Ludvig Holm-Olsen, eds. 1910-86. Det Arnamagnæanske haandskrift 81a fol. (Skálholtsbók yngsta) indeholdende Sverris saga, Bǫglungasǫgur, Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar. Oslo: Den norske historiske kildeskriftkommission and Kjeldeskriftfondet.
  9. Internal references
  10. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar (Hák)’ 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].
  11. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Anonymous Lausavísur, Lausavísur from Sverris saga 3’ 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, p. 844.

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