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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Arn Þorfdr 21II

Diana Whaley (ed.) 2009, ‘Arnórr jarlaskáld Þórðarson, Þorfinnsdrápa 21’ 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. 254-5.

Arnórr jarlaskáld ÞórðarsonÞorfinnsdrápa

Hvárntveggja sák hǫggva
hirð á Péttlandsfirði
— ór þrifusk mein at meiri —
mínn auðgjafa sína.
Sær blezk, en dreif dreyri
døkkr á saumfǫr kløkkva;
skaut á skjaldrim sveita;
skokkr vas blóði stokkinn.

Sák {hvárntveggja auðgjafa mínn} hǫggva hirð sína á Péttlandsfirði; mein ór þrifusk at meiri. Sær blezk, en døkkr dreyri dreif á kløkkva saumfǫr; sveita skaut á skjaldrim; skokkr vas stokkinn blóði.

I watched {both my wealth-givers} [GENEROUS MEN] hack down their own retainers in the Pentland Firth; our [my] pain grew the more. The sea churned, and dark blood dashed on the pliant nail-row; gore spurted on the shield-rail; decking was spattered with blood.

Mss: Flat(132rb), R702ˣ(40r) (Orkn)

Readings: [1] Hvárntveggja: Hvortveggi R702ˣ;    sák (‘sa ek’): sá R702ˣ;    hǫggva: ‘ho᷎gna’ R702ˣ    [2] Péttlands‑: ‘fetlandz’ R702ˣ    [3] ór (‘uor’): mér R702ˣ    [4] ‑gjafa: ‑gjafi R702ˣ    [5] blezk: so R702ˣ, ‘blerr’ Flat    [6] saumfǫr: ‘rvmspo᷎r’ R702ˣ;    kløkkva (‘klocka’): ‘klockri’ or ‘klockvi’ R702ˣ    [7] skjaldrim sveita: skjǫldin hvíta R702ˣ    [8] skokkr: skokk R702ˣ;    stokkinn: stokkin R702ˣ

Editions: Skj AI, 347-8, Skj BI, 320-1, Skald I, 162; Flat 1860-8, II, 415, Orkn 1913-16, 71, ÍF 34, 68-9 (ch. 26); Whaley 1998, 260-2.

Context: Þorfinnr, hard pressed in the battle off Rauðabjǫrg, retires for a short time and then rejoins the fighting, now with the support of Kálfr Árnason and his six crews. He brings up his ship against Rǫgnvaldr’s in a fierce struggle.

Notes: [All]: Uncharacteristically, R702ˣ contains many nonsensical readings while Flat has a superior text and is therefore adopted as the main ms. — [1-2, 4] sák hvárntveggja auðgjafa mínn hǫggva hirð sína ‘I watched both my wealth-givers [GENEROUS MEN] hack down their own retainers’: (a) The 1st-pers. mode of the Flat reading matches that of l. 3 and Arnórr’s known presence at this battle; this is also adopted in Skj B. (b) The R702ˣ readings are also viable, giving ‘each of my wealth-givers watched his retainers being hacked down’. — [2] Péttlandsfirði ‘Pentland Firth’: This is the first record of the name Péttlandsfjǫrðr in ON, which commemorates the Picts, the early inhabitants of mainland Scotland, south across the Firth from Orkney. — [5] blezk ‘churned’: Flat’s ‘blerr’ is not a known verbal form; but the R702ˣ variant blezk (‘blezt’) would be 3rd pers. sg. pret. indic. of blandask ‘mix’ and would give good sense. The usual construction is blandask e-u or blandask við e-t, so that here one must assume either that blóði ‘with blood’ is implied, or that blezk simply means ‘blended with itself, churned’. — [6] á kløkkva saumfǫr ‘on the pliant nail-row’: (a) Saumfǫr, lit. ‘stitch-row’, the row of nails along each strake, is recorded in ON prose although not elsewhere in poetry, and it occurs in ModIcel. It is kløkkr ‘pliant’ in the sense that it gives with the motion of the ship in heavy seas. Lie (1954, 158-9 and n. 7) took saumfǫr as a pars-pro-toto expression for ‘ship’ here, which may be justified since, as Jesch points out (2001, 140), it is the wood rather than the nails that give pliability. (b) The R702ˣ variant ‘rvmspo᷎r’ is obscure, though rúm n. is a compartment of a ship, the space given to each pair of oars. — [7] skjaldrim ‘the shield-rail’: The outside of the gunwale, on which shields were hung. On the evidence of the Gokstad and Skuldelev 5 ships, it seems that this was a narrow ledge attached to the top strake (Jesch 2001a, 141). — [8] skokkr ‘decking’: As a nautical term, skokkr is confined to skaldic poetry, and in none of the six contexts in which it occurs is its precise reference clear. But, partly on the basis of etymology and partly by inference from the use of skokk in Swed. dialect, it appears that skokkr is virtually synonymous with þiljur, designating the loose decking planks on the bottom of the ship (see Lindquist 1928; Ljunggren 1939, 26-8; Jesch 2001a, 151-3). See also Bǫlv Hardr 4/8, 5/8, 8/5 and Kolli Ingdr 4/7.


  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. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. Jesch, Judith. 2001a. Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  5. Whaley, Diana, ed. and trans. 1998. The Poetry of Arnórr jarlaskáld: An Edition and Study. Westfield Publications in Medieval Studies 8. Turnhout: Brepols.
  6. Flat 1860-8 = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and C. R. Unger, eds. 1860-8. Flateyjarbók. En samling af norske konge-sagaer med indskudte mindre fortællinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt annaler. 3 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  7. Lindquist, Ivar. 1928. ‘En fornisländsk sjöterm skokkr’. In Brøndum-Nielsen et al. 1928, 385-94.
  8. ÍF 34 = Orkneyinga saga. Ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson. 1965.
  9. Lie, Hallvard. 1954. ‘Naglfar og Naglfari’. MM, 152-61. Rpt. in Lie 1982, 332-41.
  10. Ljunggren, Karl Gustav. 1939. ‘Anteckningar till Skírnismál och Rígsþula’. ANF 54, 9-44.
  11. Orkn 1913-16 = Sigurður Nordal, ed. 1913-16. Orkneyinga saga. SUGNL 40. Copenhagen: Møller.
  12. Internal references
  13. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Bǫlverkr Arnórsson, Drápa about Haraldr harðráði 4’ 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. 289-90.
  14. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Kolli inn prúði, Ingadrápa 4’ 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. 531.

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