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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ótt Hfl 8I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 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. 750.

Óttarr svartiHǫfuðlausn

Enn brauzt, éla kennir
Yggs gunnþorinn, bryggjur
(linns hefr lǫnd at vinna)
Lundúna (þér snúnat).
Hǫfðu hart of krafðir
— hildr óx við þat — skildir
gang, en gamlir sprungu
gunnþinga járnhringar.

{Gunnþorinn kennir {éla Yggs}}, brauzt enn bryggjur Lundúna; hefr snúnat þér at vinna {lǫnd linns}. Skildir, hart of krafðir, hǫfðu gang, en {gamlir járnhringar gunnþinga} sprungu; hildr óx við þat.

{Battle-daring master {of the storms of Yggr <= Óðinn>}} [BATTLES > WARRIOR], you further broke the wharves of London; it has turned out for you to win {the lands of the serpent} [GOLD]. Shields, hard pressed, had movement, and {old iron-rings of battle-meetings} [MAIL-SHIRTS] sprang apart; battle increased at that.

Mss: (226r) (Hkr); Holm2(7r), J1ˣ(129v), J2ˣ(121v-122r), 325VI(6rb), 73aˣ(20r), 78aˣ(19r), 68(6r), 61(80ra), 75c(3r), 325V(8va), 325VII(2r), Bb(126vb), Flat(80rb), Tóm(96v) (ÓH, ll. 1-4); W(87) (FGT, ll. 5-8)

Readings: [1] brauzt: ‘brꜽtz’ 325VII;    éla: engla 325V    [2] Yggs: ‘ygs’ Holm2, J1ˣ, 68, 75c, 325VII, Bb, Flat, Tóm, ‘uggs’ 78aˣ, Ygg 61;    gunn‑: so Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, veðr‑ Kˣ, 75c, 325V, 325VII, Bb, Flat, Tóm, veðrs 68, 61;    ‑þorinn: ‑róinn 61    [3] linns: linds J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325V, Bb, linn 68;    lǫnd: lǫnd or land 325VI, 325V, land 78aˣ    [4] Lundúna: ‘lundana’ J1ˣ, ‘lvndvno’ 68, Lundúnar 325V;    snúnat: ‘snuþat’ Holm2, ‘snvnna’ Bb, ‘snunar’ Flat    [8] ‑þinga: ‑þings W

Editions: Skj AI, 291-2, Skj BI, 269, Skald I, 138, NN §§727, 728; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 18, IV, 108-9, ÍF 27, 16-17 (ÓHHkr ch. 13); ÓH 1941, I, 45 (ch. 23), Flat 1860-8, II, 19; FGT 1972a, 226-7, FGT 1972b, 20-1.


In ÓH and Hkr, fighting in support of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred), Óláfr and his Norwegian force gain control of London Bridge and the River Thames, so the citizens surrender and accept Aðalráðr. FGT cites the stanza with the words, Skáld eru hǫfundar allrar rýnni eða málsgreinar, sem smiðir [smíðar] eða lǫgmenn laga. En þessa lund kvað einn þeira eða þessu líkt ‘the skalds are authorities on all writing or speaking, just as craftsmen on their craft and lawyers on the law. One of them made a poem somewhat as follows’ (FGT 1972b, 20); on this passage see Clunies Ross (2005a, 154-5).

Notes: [All]: According to Sigv Víkv 4-5, after further raiding in the Baltic, Óláfr sailed back west, to places that have been located in Denmark and the Netherlands. Both poems (Víkv 6-9, Hfl 8-11) then depict Óláfr’s fighting in England. In particular, Hfl 8-10 follow Víkv 6-8 closely in specifying the three locations of London, Ringmere Heath, and Canterbury. The konungasǫgur claim that these campaigns were in the company of the Danish leader Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’ and the Scandinavian sources tally well with the ASC’s account of Þorkell’s campaigns of 1009-12, even though Óláfr himself is not mentioned in English sources. The claim of Snorri Sturluson (ÓH and Hkr) that Óláfr was fighting in support of King Aðalráðr (Æthelred) at this early stage is probably erroneous: see Note to st. 13 [All]. For detailed discussion of Óláfr’s campaigns in England, and the stanzas and sagas in which they are recorded, see Campbell (1998, 76-82) and Turville-Petre (1969, 10-13); on Þorkell, see Keynes (1980, 216-22). — [1-4]: The syntax and kennings in these lines can be construed in a variety of ways. (a) Kock (NN §727), followed here, adopts gunnþorinn, the reading of Holm2 and other A- and C-class mss of ÓH, takes linns as a determinant for lǫnd (‘the lands of the serpent [GOLD]’), and reads kennir éla Yggs, gunnþorinn ‘master of the storms of Yggr [BATTLES > WARRIOR], battle-daring’. A reference to gold is fitting since in the pre-Norway stanzas of Hfl the emphasis is precisely on Óláfr’s viking exploits and his consequent accumulation of booty (see e.g. sts 7 and 11). (b) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B also adopts gunnþorinn, but assumes an elaborate warrior-kenning, kennir linns éla Yggs ‘master of the serpent of the storms of Yggr <= Óðinn> [BATTLES > SWORD > WARRIOR]’. However, this involves complex syntax and a statement that Óláfr won lǫnd ‘lands’ in England, and there is no evidence of this. (c) ÍF 27 follows interpretation (b), refining it by retaining the reading veðrþorinn and reading kennir linns éla, Yggs veðrþorinn ‘master of the serpent of battles [SWORD > WARRIOR], daring in the weather of Yggr [BATTLE]’. The assumption that él ‘storm’ alone can mean ‘battle’, is, however, problematic. — [2] Yggs : bryggjur: The rhyme is indebted to Sigv Víkv 6/4 Yggs Lundúna bryggjur. — [2] bryggjur ‘the wharves’: Or possibly ‘bridges’. For discussion of the use of bryggja see Note to Sigv Víkv 6/4 and Jesch (2001a, 51 n. 9). Jesch notes, citing Fell (1981b, 115), that if the term here means ‘bridge’, then it shows a semantic loan from the cognate OE brycg; but that the traditional meaning of ON bryggja, ‘wharf, jetty’, is perfectly possible here, and favoured by the fact that bryggjur is pl. whereas only one bridge is known from the time. — [4] Lundúna ‘of London’: Þorkell’s attack on London is recorded in the ASC (s. a. 1009), though only the C text names him (Ðurkilles here ‘Þorkell’s army’). For discussion of the form of the p. n. see Townend (1998, 52-7). — [5-8]: Skj B takes járnhringar ‘iron-rings’ to be the subject of hǫfðu (gang) ‘had (movement)’ and skildir ‘shields’ to be the subject of sprungu ‘sprang apart’, whereas Kock (NN §728) and this edn take skildir as the subject of hǫfðu and járnhringar as the subject of sprungu. ÍF 27 follows Kock in terms of subjects and verbs, but like Skj B attaches gunnþings ‘of battle-meeting’ (for gunnþinga pl.) to hart of krafðir, giving ‘hard pressed in battle-meeting’. Kock’s view is preferable, in assuming that the groups of words before and after en ‘and’ each form a discrete clause. — [5] krafðir ‘pressed’: From krefja ‘to crave, make a demand of’. The translation ‘hard pressed’ is taken from Ashdown (1930, 220). — [7] gamlir; sprungu ‘old; sprang apart’: As ÍF 27 notes, there seems to be a clear echo here of Sigv Víkv 14/3-4: gamlir sprungu geirar ‘old spears shattered’. Armour used in an English campaign appears to be described as forn ‘ancient’ in Anon Liðs 2/4. — [8] járnhringar gunnþinga ‘iron-rings of battle-meetings [MAIL-SHIRTS]’: The line (gunnþinga járnhringar in ms. order) raises a question of syllable count. W, the sole ms. of FGT, has sg. gunnþings here, and writes a clearly disyllabic ‘éärn’ for the first element of járnhringar, which might suggest a disyllabic form, though Hreinn Benediktsson’s view (FGT 1972a, 226 n.) is that ‘the accent and the diaeresis are surely later additions’. The First Grammarian comments that kveðandin skyldi hann til at slíta eina samstǫfu í sundr ok gøra tvær ór, til þess at kveðandi haldisk í hætti ‘the meter forced him [the poet] to split one syllable into two, so that the meter might remain intact’ (FGT 1972b, 20-1, trans. Haugen). However, the gen. pl. reading -þinga in the konungasǫgur mss supplies the necessary six syllables for the line and so is followed here, whereas Skj B adopts W’s archaic reading, as do Skald and ÍF 27. Skj B and ÍF 27 both translate járnhringar as ‘swords’. Hringr ‘ring’ often stands for ‘sword’ in skaldic diction (see Note to Þhorn Harkv 1/1), as does járn ‘iron’; cf. Kock’s (NN §728) klingor utav järn ‘blades of iron’. Rainford (1995, 66) argues instead that the gunnþinga járnhringar which sprungu ‘sprang apart’ are mail-shirts; this view is adopted here. For the use of hringr and járn in terms for mail-shirts see further Falk (1914b, 175-7), and compare OE hringīren ‘ring-iron, mail-shirt’ in Beowulf l. 322 (Beowulf 2008, 13). The construction appears to be a kenning, although it does not match the most stereotypical kennings for ‘mail-shirt’ (Meissner 165).


  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. Fell, Christine E. 1981b. ‘Víkingarvísur’. In Dronke et al. 1981, 106-22.
  7. Jesch, Judith. 2001a. Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  8. FGT 1972a = Hreinn Benediktsson, ed. 1972. The First Grammatical Treatise. University of Iceland Publications in Linguistics 1. Reykjavík: Institute of Nordic Linguistics.
  9. 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.
  10. ÓH 1941 = Johnsen, Oscar Albert and Jón Helgason, eds. 1941. Saga Óláfs konungs hins helga: Den store saga om Olav den hellige efter pergamenthåndskrift i Kungliga biblioteket i Stockholm nr. 2 4to med varianter fra andre håndskrifter. 2 vols. Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond skrifter 53. Oslo: Dybwad.
  11. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  12. Hkr 1893-1901 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1893-1901. Heimskringla: Nóregs konunga sǫgur af Snorri Sturluson. 4 vols. SUGNL 23. Copenhagen: Møller.
  13. Beowulf 2008 = Fulk, Robert D., Robert E. Bjork and John D. Niles, eds. 2008. Klaeber’s Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg. 4th rev. edn of Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, ed. Fr. Klaeber. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.
  14. Campbell, Alistair, ed. 1998. Encomium Emmae Reginae. Edition of 1949 with a supplementary introduction by Simon Keynes. Camden Classic Reprints 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  15. Clunies Ross, Margaret. 2005a. A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics. Cambridge: Brewer.
  16. Falk, Hjalmar. 1914b. Altnordische Waffenkunde. Videnskapsselskapets skrifter, II. Hist.-filos. kl. 1914, 6. Kristiania (Oslo): Dybwad.
  17. ASC [Anglo-Saxon Chronicle] = Plummer, Charles and John Earle, eds. 1892-9. Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. Rpt. 1952.
  18. Townend, Matthew. 1998. English Place-Names in Skaldic Verse. English Place-Name Society extra ser. 1. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.
  19. FGT 1972b = Haugen, Einar, ed. 1972. The First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology. 2nd edn. London: Longman.
  20. Ashdown, Margaret. 1930. English and Norse Documents Relating to the Reign of Ethelred the Unready. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  21. Rainford, Jessica. 1995. ‘Óláfr Haraldsson, King and Saint of Norway, and the Development of Skaldic Style (ca.1015-ca.1153)’. D. Phil. thesis. University of Oxford.
  22. Turville-Petre, Gabriel. 1969. ‘Scaldic Poetry: History and Literature’. In Bekker-Nielsen 1969, 7-20.
  23. Keynes, Simon. 1980. The Diplomas of King Æthelred ‘the Unready’ (978-1016): A Study in Their Use as Historical Evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  24. Internal references
  25. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ 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].
  26. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘The Separate Saga of S. Óláfr / Óláfs saga helga in sérstaka (ÓH)’ 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, pp. clxxvi-clxxix.
  27. Not published: do not cite (ÓHHkrI)
  28. Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Anonymous Poems, Liðsmannaflokkr 2’ 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. 1018.
  29. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 14’ 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. 553.
  30. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 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. 539.
  31. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 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. 541.
  32. R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Þorbjǫrn hornklofi, Haraldskvæði (Hrafnsmál) 1’ 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. 94.
  33. Not published: do not cite ()

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