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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Arn Þorfdr 14II

Diana Whaley (ed.) 2009, ‘Arnórr jarlaskáld Þórðarson, Þorfinnsdrápa 14’ 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. 244-6.

Arnórr jarlaskáld ÞórðarsonÞorfinnsdrápa

text and translation

Ýmisst vann sá * unnar,
— írsk fell drótt — þás sótti,
Baldr, eða brezkar aldir
— brann eldr — Skotaveldi.

{Sá* Baldr unnar} vann ýmisst, þás sótti brezkar aldir eða Skotaveldi; írsk drótt fell; eldr brann.
‘That Baldr <god> of the sword [WARRIOR = Þorfinnr] won diverse [triumphs], as he attacked the British people and the realm of the Scots; the Irish troop fell; fire blazed.

notes and context

In Orkn (Flat only), eight years pass after the battle off Rauðabjǫrg, during which Þorfinnr uncomplainingly allows Rǫgnvaldr Brúsason to hold two thirds of the isles. Their summers are spent harrying, sometimes together and sometimes independently. In the text of LaufE in ms. 21 6 7 IIˣ, the helmingr is cited to illustrate ‘biodelldr’ as a gold-kenning (though it is not clear how this works).

The text as it stands in Flat is clearly corrupt, and that in 21 6 7 IIˣ is still more so, so that the focus here is on the Flat text. The chief problems are that the verbs unni and brá both require objects but do not both have them, and that Baldrs in isolation makes no sense. Since the problems are so closely interrelated two analyses are presented complete here, both possible but not entirely satisfactory; (a) is the one followed above. (a) Skotaveldi ‘the realm of the Scots’ (l. 4) could grammatically be construed as object to any one of the verbs unni ‘loved’ (l. 1), sótti ‘attacked’ (l. 2) or brá ‘changed, moved quickly’ (l. 4). Sótti Skotaveldi ‘attacked the realm of the Scots’ gives the best meaning, though brá Skotaveldi in the sense ‘ravaged Scotland’ is also conceivable, and is assumed by Finnur Jónsson (LP: bregða) and by Kock (NN §831), who assumes sótti to be intransitive. The co-ordinated noun phrase eða brezkar aldir ‘and the British people’ (l. 3) is here construed with Skotaveldi, as object of sótti (so Finnur Jónsson 1934, 45). That the conj. eða (ms. ‘edr’) precedes brezkar aldir, the first of the co-ordinated phrases, is not a difficulty: cf. the placing of ok Danmǫrk allri ‘and the whole of Denmark’ in Arn Magndr 7/2. Brezkar aldir could alternatively be subject, along with írsk drótt ‘Irish troop’ (l. 3), of fell ‘fell’ (l. 2) (so Skj B; the meaning of brezkr is discussed below). If sótti brezkar aldir eða Skotaveldi ‘he attacked the British people and the realm of the Scots’ is construed together, brá ‘changed’ is left without an object, and brá eldr is also metrically suspect, juxtaposing two vowels at the syllable boundary, so that on two counts emendation to the intransitive brann eldr ‘fire blazed’ is expedient. An original brann could have been ‘corrected’ to brá by someone who mistakenly read the l. brann eldr Skotaveldi as a syntactic unit and found the intransitive brann incompatible with the object Skotaveldi. The problems of the remaining object-less verb unni and the isolated Baldrs are perhaps best solved by Finnur Jónsson’s emendation of ms. ‘sa er unne ... balldrs’ to sá unnar ... Baldr ‘that Baldr of the sword’ (Skj B and 1934, 45). This would be an acceptable warrior-kenning built on the familiar pattern with a god’s name, here Baldr, as base-word, and fortunately the reading Baldr is confirmed by 21 6 7 IIˣ. The determinant unnr m. ‘sword’ is a rare word, which de Vries (AEW) connects with vinna ‘do, perform’ or ‘win’. It is attested in HelgÓl Lv ll. 3-4IV (C10th) ítrtungur unnar ‘sword’s bright tongues’, i.e. ‘sword-blades’, and possibly in Þorb Lv 2V (C14th). (b) Under the second analysis the ms. text is preserved but unni is assumed to have the implied object ‘battle’, so that sás unni ... þás sótti means ‘the one who bestowed/loved [battle] when he attacked’ (so Finnbogi Guðmundsson, ÍF 34, 59 n.). Brá in brá eldr Skotaveldi is understood as ‘destroyed’. Two interpretations of ms. balldrs are compatible with this analysis. (i) Finnbogi construes it with eða brezkar aldir and offers the ingenious (though unsubstantiated) conjecture that aldir Baldrs refers to the Norse-Gaelic settlers of western Scotland—Baldr was the most Christ-like figure in Norse paganism and would thus symbolise the mixed religion of these people. (ii) Eldr Baldrs could be an (otherwise unparalleled) variant on the kenning formula ‘Óðinn’s flame’ meaning ‘sword’ (Meissner 157). Hence eldr Baldrs brá Skotaveldi could be construed as a wittily concise reference to ravaging Scotland with fire (eldr) and the sword (eldr Baldrs).



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: Arnórr Þórðarson jarlaskáld, 5. Þórfinnsdrápa 14: AI, 346, BI, 318-19, Skald I, 161, NN §831; Flat 1860-8, II, 411, Orkn 1913-16, 62, ÍF 34, 59 (ch. 22); Whaley 1998, 246-8.


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