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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Stefnir Lv 1I

Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Stefnir Þorgilsson, Lausavísur 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. 448.

Stefnir ÞorgilssonLausavísur


This stanza of trenchant accusation (Stefnir Lv 1) has the distinction of existing in both Latin and Old Norse (fornyrðislag) versions, and this Introduction serves for both. The Old Norse text is preserved in a range of prose sources (see below). The Latin counterpart is preserved only in ÓTOdd (mss 310, Holm18), where it precedes the Old Norse version; it is edited as Oddr Snorrason Lausavísa (OSnorr Lv) in this volume. The authorship of the two versions and the relationship between them remain uncertain, but if the medieval attributions are correct, the Old Norse version is primary, composed by Stefnir at the beginning of the eleventh century, while the Latin stanza is from the pen of Oddr Snorrason himself and hence a precious remnant of Oddr’s original Latin saga, probably composed between 1180 and 1200 (Andersson 2003, 4). In ÓTOdd (Holm18; ÍF 25, 308) the Latin stanza is cited with the introductory words, Ok þetta hefir gert Oddr munkr á latínu ‘And the monk Oddr has produced this in Latin’, then the Old Norse stanza with the introductory words, Ok at váru máli þýðisk þetta svá ‘And in our language this means’, and followed by a remark that it was composed by the Icelander Stefnir about Sigvaldi jarl. In ms. 310 (ÍF 25, 310), no skald is named; the text merely says that the Latin stanza was ritat ‘written’ about Sigvaldi jarl, then introduces the Old Norse version with Þat segir svá ‘That is to say’. Baetke (1970) took the Holm18 introduction to mean that the Old Norse stanza too was composed by Oddr, and that is possible, but there is nothing to show that gert could not refer merely to translation from the Old Norse. Further, Stefnir is credited with the Old Norse stanza not only in Holm18 but also in Fsk, Kristni (ascribing the information to Ari Þorgilsson) and ÓT, facts that Baetke has to go to some lengths to explain away (as shown by Andersson 2003, 21; cf. also Biography above).

The internal evidence of the two versions is inconclusive. Both are deftly effective in their own way, and there are few differences between them that could point to the priority of one or the other. Details which might favour the priority of the Old Norse text include the use of Old Norse forms of personal names in the Latin stanza (see OSnorr Lv 1/5, 1/7 and Notes), and in the Old Norse stanza itself the fine couplet ll. 3-4, centring on niðrbjúgt ‘down-curved’, and sveik ‘tricked, betrayed’ (l. 6), which could be seen as more pointed than its Latin counterpart seduxit ‘drew aside’ or ‘enticed’. The end-rhyming stefna (l. 2) has multiple semantic resonances: taking aim, heading for a place, and making a legal summons, and it may also play on the name of Stefnir himself (as suggested by Finnur Jónsson in Kristni 1905, 44). Conversely, it is conceivable that the rare name Stefnir could be an extrapolation from stefna, and that stefna could be seen as forced by metrical constraints, as argued by Gottskálk Þór Jensson (2006 and pers. comm., gratefully acknowledged) as part of the case for the priority of the Latin. He finds several of the Latin readings superior and notes, among other things, the elegant parallelism of ll. 5-6 and 7-8 in the Latin. However, both because a conclusive case has not been made against the attribution to Stefnir (and his existence) and in line with the general policy of respecting medieval evidence, the Old Norse stanza is attributed to Stefnir in this edition and the Latin taken as a later translation by Oddr.

The Old Norse text is preserved in ÓTOdd, Fsk, Kristni and ÓT, in the mss listed below. The 310 ms. of ÓT is taken as the main ms.

text and translation

Munkat nefna,         — nær munk stefna:
niðrbjúgt es nef         á níðingi —
þanns Svein konung         sveik ór landi
ok Tryggva son         á tálar dró.

Munkat nefna, þanns sveik Svein konung ór landi ok dró {son Tryggva} á tálar; munk stefna nær: nef á níðingi es niðrbjúgt.
‘I will not name the one who tricked King Sveinn from his realm and drew the son of Tryggvi [= Óláfr] into a trap; I will aim close: the nose on the traitor is down-curved.

notes and context

ÓTOdd cites the stanza as part of the long-term build-up to the battle of Svǫlðr, in the context of a meeting in which Óláfr Tryggvason accepts an assurance from Sigvaldi jarl of Jómsborg that there is no plan to ambush him. In Fsk too, the setting is the prelude to the battle of Svǫlðr, but the immediate context is the moment when Óláfr Tryggvason finds his ships hemmed in by those of Sigvaldi jarl. In Kristni and ÓT the stanza is spoken when Stefnir has travelled to Rome and back to Denmark following the loss of his liege Óláfr Tryggvason. ÓT specifies that he comes upon Sigvaldi jarl and on seeing him speaks the stanza. Kristni and ÓT follow the stanza by saying that Sigvaldi thought he recognised an allusion to himself in it and had Stefnir executed (solely for that reason, according to ÓT); Kristni adds, svá hefir Ari enn gamli sagt ‘so Ari the Old has said’. In ÓTOdd (Holm18) the retribution is not immediate; Sigvaldi resolves to trap Stefnir, and this leads into the episode containing Stefnir Lv 2.

For the sea-battle at Svǫlðr (c. 1000) and other skaldic poetry associated with it, see the entry on Óláfr Tryggvason in ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. — In this reading, acc. sg. þanns ‘the one who’ (l. 5) is object of munkat nefna ‘I will not name’ (l. 1). The dat. sg. variant þeim er (normalised þeims) would have níðingi ‘traitor’ (l. 4) as its antecedent, giving a smoother construction in which ll. 2-4 are not intercalated, and qui in the Lat. version gives the same construction (see Note to OSnorr Lv 1 [All]). The intercalary, however, has the fortunate effect of imitating an aside. — [7-8]: Cf. OSnorr Lv 1/7-8 et filium Tryggva | traxit in dolo ‘and drew the son of Tryggvi on treacherously’ (and see Note). Sigvaldi jarl plots with Óláfr’s Norwegian, Danish and Swedish enemies to persuade Óláfr Tryggvason that no forces are gathering against him; as a result Óláfr disbands his army (ÍF 25, 306-11). He is therefore undermanned when battle comes at Svǫlðr.



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: Stefnir Þórgilsson, Lausavísur 1: AI, 153-4, BI, 146, Skald I, 80ÓTOdd 1932, 194-5, ÍF 25, 308, 310; Fsk 1902-3, 122 (ch. 22), ÍF 29, 151 (ch. 24); Kristni 1905, 44, ÍF 15, II, 38 (ch. 13); ÓT 1958-2000, II, 305 (ch. 263), ÍF 15, II, 108, Flat 1860-8, I, 500.


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