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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Eskál Lv 3I

Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2012, ‘Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Lausavísur 3’ 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. 333.

Einarr skálaglamm HelgasonLausavísur

text and translation

Þat kvað jarl at æri
unnviggs fyr haf sunnan,
þás á seima særi
sárelda spor vôru:
‘Ǫllungis hefr illa,
eybaugs, ef skalt deyja,
— víst hyggjum þat — viggja
valdr, þinn faðir haldit.’

Jarl kvað þat at {æri {unnviggs}} fyr sunnan haf, þás {spor {sárelda}} vôru á {særi seima}: ‘Faðir þinn hefr haldit ǫllungis illa, ef skalt deyja, {valdr {viggja {eybaugs}}}; hyggjum þat víst.’
‘The jarl said that to the messenger of the wave-steed [SHIP > SEAFARER = Þorleifr skúma] south of the sea, when tracks of wound-fires [SWORDS > WOUNDS] were upon the wounder of riches [GENEROUS MAN]: ‘Your father has undergone extreme hardship if you must die, ruler of steeds of the island-ring [SEA > SHIPS > SEAFARER]; we [I] think so certainly.’

notes and context

After the battle of Hjǫrungavágr (Liavågen), many men on both sides are killed or wounded. The Icelandic skald Þorleifr skúma Þorkelsson has hit the Jómsvíkingr Vagn Ákason a blow with his club, and in return Vagn has wounded Þorleifr with a spear. Þorleifr is dying of this wound in a tent, where he is visited by Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (or, in Fsk, Hákon jarl), who exclaims that Þorleifr’s father would suffer a great loss if he died. Einarr skálaglamm hears these words and they move him to compose a verse (þá verðr honum Einari vísa á munni ‘then a verse is in Einarr’s mouth’). After he declaims it, Þorleifr falls down dead. In Fsk, the stanza is attributed to Þorleifr skúma himself, but this is unlikely to be correct, if the narrative of the majority mss is heeded. In LaufE, ll. 1-4 are cited in a section illustrating terms for wounds.

For the sea-battle at Hjǫrungavágr (c. 985) and other skaldic poetry associated with it, see the entry on Hákon jarl Sigurðarson in ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. — [2] fyr sunnan haf ‘south of the sea’: Although Liavågen is south of Hákon jarl’s power-base at Lade (ON Hlaðir) in Trøndelag, the phrase is more likely to refer to Norway, across the sea from Iceland (Skj B adds the explanation i Norge ‘in Norway’). This is appropriate to the Icelandic origins of both Einarr and Þorleifr skúma, but does not sit well with the claim of the prose sources that the stanza was uttered at the battle itself. — [4] spor sárelda ‘tracks of wound-fires [SWORDS > WOUNDS]’: Adopting 7’s reading spor ‘tracks’ for the base-word of this tvíkent (‘doubly modified’) kenning allows one to construe it as referring to wounds (which are already in play in sárelda ‘of wound-fires’). This is evidently how it was understood by Magnús Óláfsson in LaufE, since ll. 1-4 are preceded there by a remark that wounds can be referred to as fet eda spór jarnana ‘feet or tracks of iron (weapons)’. Ólafur Halldórsson (Jvs 1969, 217) has argued that the other ms. variants perhaps suggest an original reading more like spôr ‘prophecies’. This could form a battle-kenning with sárelda, but ‘battle’ would fit the context less well, and spôr, as a noun consisting of a long syllable in metrical position 4 in the line, would be irregular. Ólafur suggests a punning connection (ofljóst) with a base-word for ‘wave’, from spô via boði ‘messenger, announcer’, a word that has another sense ‘breaker on hidden rocks’, hence ‘wave’. A kenning with the sense ‘wave of wound-fires’ could then have the referent ‘blood’, giving ll. 3-4 the sense ‘when blood flowed (lit. was) around him’.



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: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, 4. Lausavísur 3: AI, 132, BI, 124-5, Skald I, 70, NN §§1888, 2240; Fms 11, 144-5, Jvs 1879, 89, Jvs 1882, 121, Jvs 1962, 39, Jvs 1969, 191, 217, Flat 1860-8, I, 195; Fsk 1902-3, 103 (ch. 20), ÍF 29, 137 (ch. 22); LaufE 1979, 391.


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