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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hfr ErfÓl 8I

Kate Heslop (ed.) 2012, ‘Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld Óttarsson, Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar 8’ 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. 413.

Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld ÓttarssonErfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar

Upp sǫgðu lǫg — lagðisk
líf skjótt firum — hlífa
gnóg til gumna feigðar
gǫlkn við randar bǫlku.

{Gǫlkn hlífa} sǫgðu upp lǫg, gnóg til feigðar gumna, við {bǫlku randar}; líf lagðisk skjótt firum.

{Monsters of shields} [AXES] proclaimed the laws, enough for the doom of warriors, at {the walls of the rim} [SHIELDS]; life was quickly laid aside for men.

Mss: 54(64rb), Bb(100ra), Flat(64va) (ÓT)

Readings: [1] lagðisk: ‘lo᷎gþiss’ 54, ‘lęgiss’ Bb, ‘lo᷎gdar’ Flat

Editions: Skj AI, 161, Skj BI, 152, Skald I, 83, NN §475; SHI 2, 305-6, ÓT 1958-2000, II, 269 (ch. 250), Flat 1860-8, I, 484.

Context: Óláfr’s Norwegians hold the Swedes’ ships with grappling hooks as they had the Danes’, and overrun them: Saugdu suerd þeirra eín log aullum Suium þeim er þeir komu hoggum vid ‘Their [the Norwegians’] swords spoke one law to all the Swedes they landed blows on’.

Notes: [1] sǫgðu upp lǫg ‘proclaimed the laws’: The usual phrase in the sagas for the formal recitation of the laws at the Alþingi (Íslendingabók, ÍF 1, 16). The personification of weapons (here, axes proclaiming the law) is rare, though cf. ÞGísl Búdr 6/3, 11/4, and Note to Hókr Eirfl 4/6. — [1] lagðisk ‘was laid aside’: This emendation seems to have been first proposed by Sveinbjörn Egilsson (SHI 2). ‘Lo᷎gþiss’ (so 54) and ‘lo᷎gdar’ (so Flat) may be inflected forms of lǫgðir ‘stabber’ here, while Bb has ‘lęgiss’, gen. sg. of lœgir m. ‘sea’. However, neither gives sense with líf skjótt firum ‘life quickly for men’. The rare use of leggjask in the sense ‘to cease, lay aside’ may have confused scribes and led to corruption. — [4] gǫlkn ‘monsters’: The kinship of this word with base-words of axe-kennings such as flagð ‘troll-woman’ and gýgr ‘giantess’ suggests an axe-kenning (and so Meissner 148) rather than a sword-kenning, as implied by the prose context. The two other skaldic instances of galkn, in Hókr Eirfl 7/4 and Anon (Gunnl) 2/4V (Gunnl 2), also combine it with words for ‘shield’. The exact meaning and etymology of galkn are uncertain (ÍO, AEW: galkn). — [4] við bǫlku randar ‘at the walls of the rim [SHIELDS]’: (a) Bǫlkr here seems most likely to function as the base-word of a shield-kenning (Reichardt 1928, 57-8), perhaps specifically one denoting the shield-wall (ONP: bǫlkr, balkr 3 ‘wall of people’; and cf. hnitvegg ‘clash-wall’ [SHIELD], st. 7/6). (b) Both Finnur Jónsson (in LP: 1. bǫlkr 2) and Kock (NN §475) suggest randar bǫlku means ‘shield section [of the laws]’, cf. erfðabǫlkr ‘inheritance section’. Kock takes this with the main clause, which thus becomes an extended metaphor: ‘axes’ law’, proclaimed við randar bǫlku ‘in accordance with the “shield section”’, results in imminent death (for the shield-bearers, presumably). While undeniably attractive, and supported e.g. by Ohlmarks (1958, 447), this interpretation is rather tenuous. Við bǫlku ‘in accordance with the [law-]section’ is otherwise unknown (ONP: bǫlkr, balkr 4). (c) In Skj B Finnur Jónsson construes bǫlkr randar as a battle-kenning (most likely ‘storm of the (shield)-rim’, cf. LP: 2. bǫlkr ‘storm’), and takes við randar bǫlku with the intercalary clause, which produces ‘life soon ended for men in the 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. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  6. AEW = Vries, Jan de. 1962. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 2nd rev. edn. Rpt. 1977. Leiden: Brill.
  7. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  8. 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.
  9. ONP = Degnbol, Helle et al., eds. 1989-. A Dictionary of Old Norse Prose / Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog. 1-. Copenhagen: The Arnamagnæan Commission.
  10. ÍO = Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon. 1989. Íslensk orðsifjabók. Reykjavík: Orðabók Háskólans.
  11. ÍF 1 (parts 1 and 2) = Íslendingabók; Landnámabók. Ed. Jakob Benediktsson. 1968. Rpt. as one volume 1986.
  12. ÓT 1958-2000 = Ólafur Halldórsson, ed. 1958-2000. Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar en mesta. 3 vols. EA A 1-3. Copenhagen: Munksgaard (Reitzel).
  13. SHI = Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1828-46. Scripta historica islandorum de rebus gestis veterum borealium, latine reddita et apparatu critico instructa, curante Societate regia antiquariorum septentrionalium. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp etc. and London: John & Arthur Arch.
  14. Reichardt, Konstantin. 1928. Studien zu den Skalden des 9. und 10. Jahrhunderts. Palaestra 159. Leipzig: Mayer & Müller.
  15. Ohlmarks, Åke. 1958. Tors skalder och Vite-Krists. Trosskiftestidens isländska furstelovskalder, 980-1013. Stockholm: Geber.
  16. Internal references
  17. Not published: do not cite (ÍslbIV)
  18. Not published: do not cite (Anon (Gunnl) 2V (Gunnl 24))
  19. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2012, ‘Halldórr ókristni, Eiríksflokkr 4’ 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. 477.
  20. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2012, ‘Halldórr ókristni, Eiríksflokkr 7’ 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. 482.
  21. Emily Lethbridge (ed.) 2012, ‘Þorkell Gíslason, Búadrápa 6’ 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. 947.

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