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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

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.

Mss: (657r), F(73rb), E(56v), J2ˣ(354v-355r), 42ˣ(46r) (Hkr); H(123v), Hr(81ra) (H-Hr)

Readings: [2] ugg‑: ygg‑ J2ˣ;    hvatir: hvarir E;    glugga: ‘glygga’ J2ˣ    [3] því: þat H, Hr;    nennt: ‘næitt’ 42ˣ, ‘næmt’ Hr;    á: at Hr    [4] kaf: ‘kas’ H    [5] sôu: sá all;    yðrar: so F, H, Hr, yðra Kˣ, urðar E, J2ˣ, 42ˣ    [6] hungrs: ‘huguns’ Hr    [7] vág‑: varg F, ‘vog’ Hr;    ‑fýl*ingi: fylvingi Kˣ, E, J2ˣ, ‘‑fylfingi’ F, ‘‑fylvangi’ 42ˣ, ‘‑fyglingi’ H, ‘‑fylíungi’ Hr    [8] bǫrðuð: bǫrðusk H, Hr

Editions: Skj AI, 534, Skj 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).

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).

Notes: [All]: 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. — [All]: 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). — [All]: 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. — [2] ugglaust ‘fearlessly’: Skj B takes this adv. with the following cl. (því vas nennt ugglaust ‘that was accomplished fearlessly’ (ll. 2-3), which creates an unnecessarily complex w. o. (see NN §3238). — [3] því vas nennt ‘that was accomplished with vigour’: The verb nenna ‘achieve, perform, accomplish sth. with vigour’ takes the dat. (see LP: nenna 1). — [4] í kaf ‘beneath the water’: Lit. ‘into the water’ (kaf n. is in the acc. here). — [5-8]: The second helmingr focuses on the efforts of Erlingr and his men. — [5] sôu (3rd pers pl. pret. indic.) ‘saw’: The restoration of the older form of the verb is necessary from a metrical point of view. As it stands in the mss, the l. is hypometrical. — [6] á jǫrnum ‘[standing] on the irons’: Taken here to refer to the iron beam on which Auðun and the other men were standing while they were hacking away at the planking of the warship. The anchor-stock (akkerisstokkr) is the vertical piece on the top of the anchor which protrudes in the opposite direction to the anchor-flukes (see Falk 1912, 79). However, it is inconceivable that the Norsemen could have been standing on an anchor-stock, because anchors were small and a ship would have carried quite a few of them (see Pryor and Jeffreys 2006, 210-11). It is possible that what the Norsemen mistook for an anchor-stock was the spur of the ship, a ‘long wooden beam, perhaps sometimes sheathed in iron, attached to the stempost … and suspended by a chain or coupling from its head’ (Pryor and Jeffreys 2006, lvi, see also pp. 203-4, 448). Orkn (ÍF 34, 225) mentions that the warship had a protective iron covering (járnafarit), and the compiler of that saga, if he knew Þorbjǫrn’s poem, most likely interpreted jǫrnum as iron covering. However, there is no evidence that Mediterranean warships had such protective covers (John H. Pryor, pers. comm.). Skj B separates the prep. from the following noun. Finnur construes á ‘on, at’ with vélar ‘cunning’ (su á vélar yðrar ‘looked at your cunning’), and he takes jǫrnum as an instr. dat. lit. ‘with irons’ with the second cl. of the helmingr, translated as I slog ovenfra med jærn skibets skanser ned ‘You struck the ship’s fortifications down from above with iron’. However, a proclitic prep. cannot be separated from the following nominal phrase (see NN §902). The quantity of the vowel in jǫrnum (rather than jrnum) is established by the internal rhyme -arn- : -ǫrn (see ANG §133b.2). Note that there is no vowel alliteration on the j-. — [7] vágfýl*ingi (m. dat. sg.) ‘of the sea-fulmar [SHIP]’: Dat. of possession. Fýlingr ‘fulmar’ (by emendation) is taken here as the base-word in a kenning for ‘ship’. According to LP: fýling, the word is attested as a f., but is more likely to be a m. noun (taken as a m. dat. sg. here). A fulmar is an arctic bird (Fulmarus glacialis). For comparable kennings for ‘ship’, see Meissner 208, 216. The emendation also restores the internal rhyme (-ýl- : -él-). The last part of the cpd as it stands in the mss is difficult to make sense of, and the different spellings of the word show that the various scribes had problems recognising the word they were copying. Fylvingr (so , E, J2ˣ) is the name of a sword (see LP: fylvingr), and according to Meissner (222), it denotes the prow of the ship (brandr), but that explanation is not obvious. Kock (NN §348A) derives fylvingr from the adj. fǫlr ‘pale’. In his opinion, fylvingr denoted sth. of a dark brown or dark grey colour, either ‘sword’, ‘ship’, ‘staff’ or ‘nut’ (the latter is f., fylving). The problem with that explanation is that fylv- in the meaning ‘dark’ is otherwise not attested in ON. — [8] vígskǫrð ‘embrasures’: Lit. ‘battle-openings’. The word is attested in poetry only here. A vígskarð was an opening in the palisades or walls of a fortress through which the defenders could shoot at the enemy (see LP: vígskarð; Fritzner: vígskarð). Finnur’s translation skanser ‘earthworks, fortifications’ (see Note to l. 6 above) is not quite clear. — [8] ofan ‘in the upper part’: For this meaning, see Fritzner: ofan 3. Ofan usually means ‘from above’ (see Fritzner: ofan 1; so Skj B), but the present interpretation is warranted by both prose narratives (see Context above and Note to [All]).


  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. Fms = Sveinbjörn Egilsson et al., eds. 1825-37. Fornmanna sögur eptir gömlum handritum útgefnar að tilhlutun hins norræna fornfræða fèlags. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. 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.
  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. ANG = Noreen, Adolf. 1923. Altnordische Grammatik I: Altisländische und altnorwegische Grammatik (Laut- und Flexionslehre) unter Berücksichtigung des Urnordischen. 4th edn. Halle: Niemeyer. 1st edn. 1884. 5th unrev. edn. 1970. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  9. Falk, Hjalmar. 1912. Altnordisches Seewesen. Wörter und Sachen 4. Heidelberg: Winter.
  10. Fritzner = Fritzner, Johan. 1883-96. Ordbog over det gamle norske sprog. 3 vols. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske forlagsforening. 4th edn. Rpt. 1973. Oslo etc.: Universitetsforlaget.
  11. ÍF 34 = Orkneyinga saga. Ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson. 1965.
  12. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  13. F 1871 = Unger, C. R., ed. 1871. Fríssbók: Codex Frisianus. En samling af norske konge-sagaer. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  14. E 1916 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1916. Eirspennill: AM 47 fol. Nóregs konunga sǫgur: Magnús góði – Hákon gamli. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske historiske kildeskriftskommission.
  15. Pryor, John H. and Elizabeth M. Jeffreys. 2006. The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy ca 500-1204. The Medieval Mediterranean People, Economies and Cultures, 400-1500. Leiden and Boston: Brill.
  16. Internal references
  17. 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].
  18. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Orkneyinga saga (Orkn)’ 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].
  19. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2009, ‘Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson, Lausavísur 24’ 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, p. 602.

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