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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Innsteinn Innkv 1VIII (Hálf 14)

Hubert Seelow (ed.) 2017, ‘Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka 14 (Innsteinn Gunnlaðarson, Innsteinskviða 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 317.

Innsteinn GunnlaðarsonInnsteinskviða


The long poem called Innsteinskviða ‘Poem of Innsteinn’ (Innkv) (Hálf 14-37), falls into three parts, each separated by prose links. The first part comprises Hálf 14-28, the second Hálf 29-33, and the third Hálf 34-7. The poem’s main subject, the night-time burning of a troop of warriors inside a hall by a treacherous opponent, finds a parallel in other heroic poetry, such as the Old English Fight at Finnsburh and the telling of the same tale in Beowulf ll. 1063-1159 (cf. Beowulf 2008, 180-91, 273-90). The first, and longest, part is cast in the form of a dialogue between King Hálfr, son of Hjǫrleifr, now a renowned leader with a specially tough but chivalrous warrior band, the Hálfsrekkar ‘Hálfr’s Champions’, and his loyal follower and chief adviser, Innsteinn. The background narrative is told sparingly in the saga: after eighteen years of successful warfare, Hálfr and his men return to Hǫrðaland (Hordaland), where a certain King Ásmundr, who has married Hálfr’s mother Hildr after Hjǫrleifr’s death and fostered their two sons, swears oaths of loyalty to Hálfr and ‘becomes his man’ (gerðiz hans maðr), inviting him and half his champions to a feast. Innsteinn suspects Ásmundr’s motives and tries to dissuade Hálfr from attending the feast, proposing instead that they should set fire to Ásmundr’s hall, but Hálfr is reluctant to withdraw and insists on going, invoking the high standards of honourable heroic behaviour that he claims Ásmundr abides by, though Innsteinn (and the audience) know differently. Thus the dialogue between these two characters creates a gap between ideal and reality for the audience that imparts a sense of tragic foreboding to the poem. Even when Innsteinn reveals the contents of his three prophetic dreams, Hálfr tries to explain them away in a rational manner, reminiscent of a similarly rationalising dismissal of prophetic dreams in Am 11-29. Stanzas 14-28 are cited without prose interruption except for the designation of the speaker.

text and translation

Upp mundum vér         allir ganga,
skatna beztir,         af skipum várum,
láta brenna         bragninga sveit
ok Ásmundar lið         aldri týna.

Vér, beztir skatna, mundum allir ganga upp af skipum várum, láta brenna sveit bragninga ok lið Ásmundar týna aldri.
‘We, the best of warriors, should all go up from our ships, let the band of men burn and [make] the troops of Ásmundr lose [their] lives.

notes and context

This stanza is introduced by the words: En annan morgin, er kóngr bjózt ok sagði at helmingr liðs skyldi eptir vera á skipum, Innsteinn kvað … ‘But the following morning, when the king made himself ready and said that half the troops were to remain aboard the ships, Innsteinn said …’.

Innsteinn makes no bones about proposing to subject Ásmundr to the same fate as he believes Ásmundr has in store for Hálfr 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: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], E. 6. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Hálfssaga VI 1: AII, 258-9, BII, 278-9, Skald II, 146; Hálf 1864, 16, Hálf 1909, 99, FSGJ 2, 108-9, Hálf 1981, 117, 179; Edd. Min. 33.


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