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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon (Ragn) 8VIII (Ragn 38)

Rory McTurk (ed.) 2017, ‘Ragnars saga loðbrókar 38 (Anonymous Lausavísur, Lausavísur from Ragnars saga loðbrókar 8)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 699.

Anonymous LausavísurLausavísur from Ragnars saga loðbrókar


These three stanzas in fornyrðislag, all spoken by a trémaðr ‘wooden man’ and quoted in the final chapter (20) of the Y-redaction (preserved in 1824b) of Ragn, a chapter that apparently did not form part of the X-redaction (preserved in 147), clearly belong together in the Y-redaction, although Ragn 38 on the one hand and Ragn 39-40 on the other may originally have been mutually independent; see the Context of Ragn 38 and Note to [All] there. For archaeological evidence of anthropomorphic wooden figures with cult associations, dating from the medieval period and earlier, see the carved head, possibly of one-eyed Óðinn, in Hegge stave-church in Norway, illustrated in Holtsmark (1992, 99), and cf. Andersson et al. (2004, 70-3), and Capelle (1995).

text and translation

Þat var fyrir löngu,         er í leið megir
Heklings fóru         hlumtungum
fram um salta         slóð birtinga;
þá varð ek þessa         þorps ráðandi.

Þat var fyrir löngu, er megir Heklings fóru í leið {hlumtungum} fram um {salta slóð birtinga}; þá varð ek ráðandi þessa þorps.
‘It was long ago when the sons of Heklingr went on their way with oar-handle tongues [OAR BLADES] over the salt track of sea-trout [SEA]; then I became the ruler of this habitation.

notes and context

Two versions of this stanza exist, in the texts of two separate sagas, Ragn and Hálf. In Ragn the followers of Ǫgmundr inn danski ‘the Dane’ go ashore on the island of Samsø and find an ancient trémaðr ‘wooden man’, who speaks three stanzas. In this, the first of them, he claims to have occupied his present position ever since the time of a naval expedition in the distant past. In ch. 2 of Hálf a prospective settler on his way to Iceland spends the night near where King Ǫgvaldr of Rogaland had been buried in a mound after he had been defeated in battle by a viking named Hæklingr, and the traveller hears this stanza (Hálf 2) spoken from within the mound, presumably by the ghost of Ǫgvaldr.

A stanza that is almost certainly a variant of this one occurs in ch. 2 of Hálf (as preserved in ms. 2845; see Hálf 1981, 170-1 and n. 13). A normalised version of this stanza (= Hálf 2) is presented here (with emendations of Seelow (Hálf 1981, 109) adopted in ll. 2-3) and discussed in the following Notes:

Þat var fyr löngu,        er leiðangr
höldar hundmargir        Hæklings reru.
Sigldu um salta        slóð birtinga;
þá varð ek þessa        þorps ráðandi.

Prose order: Þat var fyr löngu, er hundmargir höldar Hæklings reru leiðangr. Sigldu um salta slóð birtinga; þá varð ek ráðandi þessa þorps. Translation: It was long ago when innumerable warriors of Hæklingr were rowing the naval levy. They sailed over the salt track of sea-trout [SEA]; then I became the ruler of this habitation. — Most previous commentators have seen this fornyrðislag stanza as not belonging originally to Ragn or together with the two stanzas that follow in the same metre. An exception is Poole (1991, 20-2), who argues that the three stanzas show ‘excellent narrative progression’ and that the second and third stanzas ‘cannot stand independent of the first’. A potential problem with this view is posed by the name-forms Heklingr (1824b), Hæklingr (possibly Hœklingr) (2845), which are unique to the immediate contexts in which they occur in these mss and cannot certainly be regarded (as Olsen, Ragn 1906-8, 221, believed they could) as byforms of Hœkingr (possibly Hækingr), which is recorded in a þula (Þul Sea-kings 1/3III) as a sea-king’s name; hœkingr is also recorded in Þul Sverða 7/7III as a heiti for ‘sword’ (in previous eds of this stanza, CPB is the only one to have the form Hœkings, without the <l>). If the forms with and without the <l> cannot be regarded as different forms of the same name, then the megir Heklings ‘sons (or kinsmen) of Heklingr’ of ll. 2-3 cannot necessarily be taken as a kenning for ‘seafarers, (sea)warriors’, and the possibility must be considered that Heklingr/Hæklingr is the name of a specific person, for all that the phrase heldr hundmargir ‘excessively numerous’ in 2845 strongly suggests a military force rather than the sons or descendants of one man. However, the prose context of the stanza in Hálf mentions a viking named Hæklingr who defeated King Ǫgvaldr in battle. If the name is that of a specific person, the stanza would seem to be out of place in Ragn, where no character of that name appears. While there is nothing else in the stanza itself that is particularly inconsistent with its occurrence in Ragn, and while the episode of which it forms part in H́álf has little connection with the remainder of that saga (Hálf 1981, 109), it seems on balance safest to regard the stanza as being more appropriately placed in Hálf than in Ragn. That said, it must further be noted that, as Seelow has shown (Hálf 1981, 164-5), the chapter of Hálf in which the stanza occurs is one of those that are unlikely to have formed part of that saga until Hálf acquired its final form in the C14th, though the episode containing the stanza may well have had an independent oral existence earlier. This means that if it was borrowed from Hálf into Ragn (where it occurs only in the Y-redaction, preserved in 1824b), the borrowing must have taken place after the time of the Y-redactor (second half of the C13th) and may even be the work of the scribe of 1824b (c.1400). Alternatively, the Y-redactor may have acquired it from a source other than Hálf. — [2-4]: Skj B and Skald follow 1824b in l. 2 (er í leið megir ‘when on their way sons …’) but in l. 3 follow 2845 (heldr hundmargir), switching back to 1824b for l. 4 (Hœklings fóru), though Skj B reads Hœklings here (while Skald has Hæklings), and both read fóru ‘went’ for 2845’s ‘rreru’ (reru ‘rowed’; the initial letter of this latter word is unclear in 2845 and could be an <f>, see Hálf 1981, 170 n. 13).



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. 2. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Ragnarssaga loðbrókar XI 1: AII, 241, BII, 260-1, Skald II, 135-6; FSN 1, 298-9 (Ragn ch. 21), Ragn 1891, 223 (ch. 21), Ragn 1906-8, 174, cf. 221 (ch. 20), Ragn 1944, 130-1 (ch. 22), FSGJ 1, 285 (Ragn ch. 20), Ragn 1985, 152-3 (ch. 20), Ragn 2003, 68 (ch. 20); Hálf 1981, 109-10, 170-1 (Hálf), CPB II, 358-9; Edd. Min. lxxxii-iii, 93.


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