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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Arn Þorfdr 8II

Diana Whaley (ed.) 2009, ‘Arnórr jarlaskáld Þórðarson, Þorfinnsdrápa 8’ 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. 238-40.

Arnórr jarlaskáld ÞórðarsonÞorfinnsdrápa

Þrima vas þvígit skemmri;
þat vas skjótt, at spjótum
mætr við minna neyti
minn dróttinn rak flótta.
Gall, áðr grams menn fellu,
gunnmôr of her sôrum;
hann vá sigr fyr sunnan
Sandvík; ruðu branda.

Þrima vas þvígit skemmri; þat vas skjótt, at mætr dróttinn minn rak flótta spjótum við minna neyti. {Gunnmôr} gall of sôrum her, áðr menn grams fellu; hann vá sigr fyr sunnan Sandvík; ruðu branda.

The battle was none the briefer for that; it happened swiftly that my precious lord put them to flight with spears [and] with a smaller company. {The battle-gull} [RAVEN/EAGLE] screamed above the wounded host, before the ruler’s men fell; he won victory south of Sandwick (Sandvík); they reddened swords.

Mss: 332ˣ(24-25), Flat(131rb), 48ˣ(344v marg) (Orkn)

Readings: [1] Þrima: Þruma Flat, Þrima 48ˣmarg;    þvígit: þeygi Flat, þvígit 48ˣmarg    [2] at: með Flat, at 48ˣmarg    [5] Gall: so Flat, gól 332ˣ, 48ˣmarg;    fellu: so Flat, ‘foli’ 332ˣ, ‘fǫli’ 48ˣmarg    [6] of (‘um’): und Flat, um 48ˣmarg

Editions: Skj AI, 345, Skj BI, 317, Skald I, 161, NN §§828, 829; Flat 1860-8, II, 406, Orkn 1913-16, 48, ÍF 34, 48 (ch. 20); Whaley 1998, 234-6.

Context: The men of Orkney overrun Karl’s flagship before it can be rowed free. Karl, with the few survivors on his ship, leaps onto another and flees, with Þorfinnr in pursuit.

Notes: [1-4]: The helmingr is difficult, as no interpretation adequately explains the contradiction between þrima vas þvígit skemmri ‘the battle was none the briefer for that’ (l. 1) and þat vas skjótt ‘it happened swiftly’ (l. 2). It is possible that því(git skemmri) originally referred to some action of Þorfinnr’s enemies which was described in a previous st., now lost. — [2, 3, 4] þat vas skjótt, at mætr dróttinn minn rak flótta ‘it happened swiftly that my precious lord put them to flight’: The best overall assumption seems to be that at dróttinn minn ‘that my lord’ explains þat vas skjótt ‘it happened quickly’ (so also Skj B and ÍF 34, 48). However, it entails that the consecutive at spjótum do not form a unitary phrase ‘by/near spears’, and the scribal emendation to með in Flat may result from a feeling that they ought to. See the following Note. — [2] spjótum ‘with spears’: (a) This is construed above with the cl. rak flótta in which it is embedded, hence ‘put (them) to flight with spears’. (b) The alternative is to take it with þrima vas þvígit skemmri ‘the battle was none the briefer’ (l. 1) (so Björn Magnússon Ólsen 1909a, 296). This analysis entails the separation of at ‘that’ from the cl. it introduces, and, although it might explain þvígit skemmri (‘the battle was none the briefer with spears’, i.e. ‘for all the number of spears’), it does not explain how, after a long battle, Þorfinnr ‘swiftly’ routed his enemies. — [5] gall; fellu ‘screamed; fell’: ‘Foli’ in 332ˣ is, as Ólafur Halldórsson (1964, 148) points out, a mis-spelling of fǫli, i.e. fœli, 3rd pers. sg. pret. subj. of fela ‘hide, entrust, bury’. This is established by fǫli in 48ˣmarg. But there is no suitable object to this verb (Björn Magnússon Ólsen’s suggestion being eccentric, 1909, 296-7), so that the reading must be rejected in favour of the variant fellu. The variant gall ‘screamed’ not gól ‘sang’ must accordingly be chosen in order to complete the skothending. This is the best solution, but not a perfect one, since it would be difficult to account for the presumed corruption of fellu to fœli. — [5, 6] menn grams; sôrum her ‘the ruler’s men; the wounded host’: In view of Arnórr’s usual practice of emphasising the enemy’s losses, these phrases are best taken as references to Scots, while the victorious hann of l. 7 is doubtless Þorfinnr. — [8] Sandvík ‘Sandwick’: Etymologically ‘Sandy bay’, the p. n. is quite common, with examples in Shetland and mainland Scotland. The chief Orcadian Sandwick is an inlet and parish on the west coast of Mainland, but since sts 6-8 all seem, on internal evidence and from Orkn, to refer to the same battle, the one off Deerness (Dýrness) on the east coast, it seems that this Sandvík must be just north of Deerness (see st. 6/4 and Context to st. 6). — [8] ruðu branda ‘they reddened swords’: (a) This is taken as a cl. complete in itself (so also Kock, NN §829). The understood subject must be Þorfinnr and his men (the minna neyti ‘smaller company’ of l. 3). Another probable example of a pl. verb lacking an explicit subject is brenndu ‘burned’ in st. 11/1. (b) Ruðu has an explicit subject if áðr grams menn fellu ‘before the ruler’s men fell’ (l. 5) and ruðu branda ‘they reddened swords’ are read together as a single sentence, ‘before the ruler’s men fell, they reddened their swords’ (so Skj B, marking off grams menn by commas so that it is subject to ruðu); but it is rare for a subordinate cl. beginning with áðr ‘before’ to precede its main cl. (c) Ólafur Halldórsson (1964, 149-50, followed by Finnbogi Guðmundsson, ÍF 34, 48) emended to ruðum ‘we reddened’, but this seems unnecessary, and there is no other mention of Arnórr’s presence at this battle.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. Whaley, Diana, ed. and trans. 1998. The Poetry of Arnórr jarlaskáld: An Edition and Study. Westfield Publications in Medieval Studies 8. Turnhout: Brepols.
  6. 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.
  7. ÍF 34 = Orkneyinga saga. Ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson. 1965.
  8. Björn Magnússon Ólsen. 1909a. ‘Om nogle vers af Arnórr jarlaskáld’. ANF 25, 289-302.
  9. Ólafur Halldórsson. 1964. ‘Nokkrar spássíugreinar í pappírshandritum frá 17. öld’. Skírnir 138, 131-55.
  10. Orkn 1913-16 = Sigurður Nordal, ed. 1913-16. Orkneyinga saga. SUGNL 40. Copenhagen: Møller.
  11. Internal references
  12. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Orkneyinga saga (Orkn)’ 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].

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