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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þskakk Erldr 1II

Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Þorbjǫrn skakkaskáld, Erlingsdrápa 1’ 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, pp. 631-4.

Þorbjǫrn skakkaskáldErlingsdrápa

text and translation

Hjoggu øxar eggjum
ugglaust hvatir glugga
— því vas nennt — á nýju
Norðmenn í kaf borði.
Eyðendr sôu yðrar
arnar hungrs á jǫrnum
vágfýl*ingi vélar;
vígskǫrð ofan bǫrðuð.

Hvatir Norðmenn hjoggu ugglaust glugga á nýju borði í kaf eggjum øxar; því vas nennt. {Eyðendr hungrs arnar} sôu vélar yðrar á jǫrnum {vágfýl*ingi}; bǫrðuð vígskǫrð ofan.
‘The brave Norwegians fearlessly struck openings in the new ship-side under the water with the edges of the axe; that was accomplished with vigour. The destroyers of the eagle’s hunger [WARRIORS] saw your cunning [standing] on the irons of the sea-fulmar [SHIP]; you struck embrasures in the upper part.

notes and context

During Erlingr’s expedition to Palestine with Jarl Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson of Orkney (1152) they encountered a warship (drómundr ‘dromon’) in the Mediterranean. When they engaged in fighting, the crew on the ship pelted the Norsemen with weapons and rocks and poured boiling pitch and oil on them from the superior height of the warship. Erlingr’s ship was too close to its side to be hit by the defensive torrents, and he and his men eventually captured the enemy ship by striking openings in the ship-sides above and below the water: Þá hjoggu þeir Erlingr raufar á drómundinum, sumar í kafi niðri, sumar uppi á borðunum, svá at þeir fóru þar inn ‘Then Erlingr and his men struck openings in the dromon, some down below the water, some up on the planking, so that they could get in there’ (ÍF 28, 324).

This whole episode has fictional overtones, and it is difficult to reconstruct (both from the prose and the poetry) what actually did take place during the attack. — The event is also described in Orkn (ÍF 34, 223-8; see also Rv Lv 24-6). Both prose texts identify the ship as a drómundr ‘dromon’, a Byzantine warship or merchantman (so also Rv Lv 24-6). However, the episode as related in the Norse sources shows that the ship under attack cannot have been a dromon; rather it must have been a large sailing ship (see Pryor and Jeffreys 2006, 411-18). — Both narratives agree that the Norsemen struck openings in the lower and the upper parts of the warship, but, while Hkr basically paraphrases the poetry (see Context above), Orkn offers a more detailed account of these events which has a bearing on the interpretation of the st. (ÍF 34, 225): Þar er þeir Erlingr hǫfðu at lagt, hekk akkeri mikit á drómundinum, ok var krœkt fleininum á borðit, en leggrinn vissi ofan at skipi Erlings. Auðun inn rauði hét stafnbúi Erlings. Honum var lypt á akkerisstokkinn, en síðan heimti hann sér fleiri menn, svá at þeir stóðu sem þeir máttu þrøngst á stokkinum ok hjuggu þaðan borðin, sem þeir máttu, ok var þat hǫggvit miklu efst ‘Where Erlingr and his men had come alongside, there was a large anchor hanging from the dromon, and one fluke was fastened on the gunwale but the shank was pointing down towards Erlingr’s ship. Auðun inn rauði (‘the Red’) was the name of Erlingr’s forecastle-man. He was lifted up onto the anchor-stock and then he pulled up more men to him, so that they stood as cramped as possible on the stock and struck blows at the planking with all their might. And they were striking at the very top of the planking’. Erlingr and his men then boarded the upper deck of the warship through these openings, while Rǫgnvaldr and his men, who had been striking openings down by the waterline, entered the lower deck. — [1-4]: The first helmingr focuses on the activities of Rǫgnvaldr and his men, striking openings in the planking down by the waterline. — [5-8]: The second helmingr focuses on the efforts of Erlingr and his men.



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: Þórbjǫrn skakkaskáld, Erlingsdrápa 1: AI, 534, BI, 515, Skald I, 252, NN §§348A, 992, 3238; ÍF 28, 324-5 (Hsona ch. 17), F 1871, 337, E 1916, 197; Fms 7, 232 (Hsona ch. 17).


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