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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þorf Lv 1I

Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Þorfinnr munnr, 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. 845.

Þorfinnr munnrLausavísur


The stanza (Þorf Lv 1) belongs to the genre of ekphrasis or picture-describing literature (see Introduction to Þjóð HaustlIII; Poole 2007a). Its prose context places it in the reign of Óláfr Haraldsson (d. 1030), and it is dated c. 1025 in Skj. Its attribution to Þorfinnr munnr is shared by ÓHÆ (NRA52) and the articuli from Styrmir Kárason preserved in Flat (ms. Flat), so that ‘Þormóðr’ (ms. ‘Þormor’) in ÓHLeg (DG8) seems to be in error. There is some divergence between the Flat text and that of NRA52 and DG8; NRA52 is seriously defective; and none of the texts makes instant sense – all of which makes interpretation difficult, especially in ll. 2-4. Flat, however, has a somewhat better text on the whole and is adopted here as main ms. The stanza is also preserved in ms. 141ˣ of Fóstbrœðra saga (Fbr), but the version seems to be copied directly from Flat and is not of independent value.

text and translation

Geisli stendr til grundar
Gunnar jarðar munna;
ofan fellr blóð á báðar
benskeiðr, en gramr reiðisk.
Hristisk hjǫrr í brjósti
hringi grœnna lyngva,
en folkþorinn fylkir
ferr við steik at leika.

{Geisli {jarðar Gunnar}} stendr til {grundar munna}; blóð fellr ofan á {báðar benskeiðr}, en gramr reiðisk. Hjǫrr hristisk í brjósti {hringi grœnna lyngva}, en folkþorinn fylkir ferr at leika við steik.
‘The sunbeam of the land of Gunnr <valkyrie> [SHIELD > SWORD] stabs into the ground of jaws [HEAD]; blood flows down onto both wound-ships [SWORDS], and the prince grows angry. The sword quivers in the breast of the ring of green heathers [SERPENT], and the battle-daring leader proceeds to amuse himself with roasting.

notes and context

Seated in his high-seat with Þorfinnr (‘Þormor’ presumably for Þormóðr in ÓHLeg) in front of him, King Óláfr Haraldsson tells the skald to compose about the scene on the wall-hangings. Þorfinnr looks and, seeing Sigurðr’s slaying of the dragon depicted there, speaks this stanza.

The stanza describes the slaying of the dragon Fáfnir, guardian of the Rhine-gold, by the legendary Vǫlsung hero Sigurðr Fáfnisbani ‘Slayer of Fáfnir’, which is narrated in Fáfn, SnE 1998, I, 46 and Vǫlsunga saga (Vǫls 1965, 30-2). References to the same story are intercalated with praise of King Haraldr Sigurðarson in the C11th Illugi Har 2II. — [1-4]: (a) The construal adopted here follows that of Kock (NN §781; Skald). It is slightly forced, especially in its reference to báðar benskeiðr ‘both wound-ships [SWORDS]’, since ‘ship’ as a base-word of a sword-kenning is unparalleled, and the reference to two swords corresponds to nothing in the legend of Sigurðr. ‘Both’ would make sense if referred to the two edges of a sword-blade, and Kock seems to imply that by referring to grammatically pl. terms for ‘sword’ such as þremjar ‘cutters’ (Þul Sverða 11/1III, and see Note; also LP: þremjar), but benskeiðr ‘wound-ships’ would seem more likely to denote whole swords. (b) The analysis by Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) is also problematic, however. He emends jarðar to jarðir in l. 2, and ben- to baugs- and s(k)eiðr to seiðs in l. 4. This gives munna seiðs grundar ‘jaws of the fish of the ground [SNAKE]’ and (báðar) jarðir baugs ‘(both) lands of the ring [ARMS]’, which fit well in context, but at the price not only of heavy emendation but also of a highly counter-intuitive word order, in which seiðs and jarðir are detached from their clauses.



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.

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