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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigv ErfÓl 2I

Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Erfidrápa Óláfs helga 2’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 666.

Sigvatr ÞórðarsonErfidrápa Óláfs helga

Upplǫnd fekk til enda
ôss gneista ok þar reisti
kristnihald, þats heldu
hverr veitir sverðs beita.
Áðr stýrðu þeim eyðar
ellifu fyrr hella
mildings máls, en guldu
menn vísliga gísla.

{Ôss gneista} fekk Upplǫnd til enda, ok reisti þar kristnihald, þats {hverr veitir {beita sverðs}} heldu. {Ellifu eyðar {máls {mildings hella}}} stýrðu þeim áðr fyrr, en menn guldu gísla vísliga.

{The god of the sword} [WARRIOR = Óláfr Haraldsson] got the whole of Opplandene, and established Christianity there, which {each benefactor {of the swingers of the sword}} [WARRIORS > GENEROUS MAN] maintained. {Eleven destroyers {of the speech {of the lord of the cave}}} [GIANT > GOLD > GENEROUS MEN] ruled it [Opplandene] previously, but men wisely gave hostages.

Mss: Flat(86vb) (Flat); 761bˣ(291vb)

Readings: [1] til: om. Flat, ok 761bˣ    [2] ok: om. 761bˣ    [3] þats (‘þat er’): þar er 761bˣ    [5] þeim: því Flat, 761bˣ

Editions: Skj AI, 257, Skj BI, 239, Skald I, 124, NN §§657, 2777; ÓH 1941, II, 768, Flat 1860-8, II, 68; Jón Skaptason 1983, 157, 301-2.

Context: Styrmir (inn fróði ‘the Wise’ Kárason) is cited as having reckoned up, j sinne bok ‘in his book’, six kings who had ruled in Norway in addition to the five already mentioned (see Note to l. 6 below). The citation is followed by a statement that King Óláfr took hostages from the lendir menn ‘landed men, district chieftains’ and farmers.

Notes: [1-4]: The helmingr may be corrupt, being preserved in only two mss and containing several metrical irregularities. In l. 1 (Type A2l) the frumhending (first part of an internal rhyme) is in position 2 on a syllable with secondary stress (though the same feature occurs in st. 21/1, which curiously also seems to refer to Opplandene, by a pun); l. 2 has elision on ‑a ok in a Type D4 line; l. 3 has alliteration on the second element of the cpd kristnihald, and l. 4 violates Craigie’s Law (on which, see Gade 1995a, 29-30) by having a long nominal syllable (sverðs) in position 4. The interpretation of these lines is also uncertain. (a) This edn tentatively follows Kock (NN §657) in keeping the readings of Flat, though a word such as til still needs to be added in l. 1 (see also Note to l. 5, below). Kock’s interpretation involves reading ‘os næista’ (Flat), ‘os neista’ (761bˣ) as ôss gneista, lit. ‘god of the spark’ and assuming that gneisti is a heiti for ‘sword’ and that the whole makes a warrior-kenning. Kock adduces several parallels, including kennings with brands or elds as determinant, both of which can mean ‘sword’ as well as ‘fire’; cf. also Þul Sverða 8/1, 2, 7III and Note to 8/1III. The word ôss ‘god’ is both rare as a base-word (Meissner 264) and unexpected in Sigvatr’s poetry (by contrast with the avowedly pagan Edáð Banddr 8/7), though he does make use of individual gods’ names as base-words in kennings. It is conceivable that there is also a subtext here that Óláfr, the saint to be, is an ôss ‘god’ of the light of Christendom, with the word gneisti translated literally as ‘spark, fire’ (cf., e.g., the light imagery in ESk Geisl 1-3VII). Also problematic is veitir beita sverðs ‘benefactor of the swingers of the sword [WARRIORS]’ which Kock glosses as hövding eller bonde ‘chieftain or farmer’. This stretches the meaning of veitir somewhat, as it usually means ‘giver’ and in kennings is normally qualified by a word for treasure or weapons (Meissner 306). (b) Despite these difficulties, Finnur Jónsson’s alternative interpretation (Skj B; also Jón Skaptason 1983) is less convincing because it requires two further emendations (of hverr to hvers and beita to beitar in l. 4) and highly unnatural word order. — [3, 4] hverr veitir ... heldu ‘each benefactor ... maintained’: The pairing of the sg. subject hverr veitir ‘every benefactor’ with pl. verb heldu ‘maintained’ follows the logic of sense, rather than strict grammatical concord (cf. NS §66b Anm. 1, 2). As in st. 1/2, metrical considerations may also be in play. — [5, 6] áðr fyrr ‘previously’: This appears to be a tautologous construction. Kock (NN §2777) emends adv. fyrr ‘before’ to fyrri on metrical grounds (referring to NN §2502C), but fyrri was originally an adj., only becoming an adv. at a later stage (LP: fyrri 5), and it is not clear what the adj. would qualify. The adv. fyrr is therefore retained in this edn. — [5] þeim ‘it’: The emendation (from því n. dat. sg.) is required because the antecedent of the pron., Upplǫnd ‘Opplandene’ is pl. ‘It’ is used in the translation since the reference is to a region. — [6] ellifu ‘eleven’: Snorri Sturluson (ÓH 1941, I, 155; ÍF 27, 107), following Ótt Hfl 19, mentions five kings who had ruled in Norway before Óláfr defeated them all. ÓHLeg (1982, 72) mentions eleven kings but does not cite any stanza. The citation of Styrmir which introduces this stanza (see Context above) repeats an earlier statement also ascribed to Styrmir that King Óláfr had taken the kingdoms of eleven kings in Opplandene away from the Swedish King Óláfr (Flat 1860-8, II, 67). — [7-8] en menn guldu gísla vísliga ‘but men wisely gave hostages’: The Context (above) mentions the taking of distinguished hostages, though it explains neither the circumstances of this nor the reasons for it. The circumstances may be those referred to in ÓHLeg (1982, 72), in which Óláfr captures eleven kings and gives them the option of living or dying. Some choose to submit to him, others are blinded and exiled, but there is no mention of hostages.


  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. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Gade, Kari Ellen. 1995a. The Structure of Old Norse dróttkvætt Poetry. Islandica 49. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  8. 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.
  9. NS = Nygaard, Marius. 1906. Norrøn syntax. Kristiania (Oslo): Aschehoug. Rpt. 1966.
  10. ÓH 1941 = Johnsen, Oscar Albert and Jón Helgason, eds. 1941. Saga Óláfs konungs hins helga: Den store saga om Olav den hellige efter pergamenthåndskrift i Kungliga biblioteket i Stockholm nr. 2 4to med varianter fra andre håndskrifter. 2 vols. Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond skrifter 53. Oslo: Dybwad.
  11. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  12. Jón Skaptason. 1983. ‘Material for an Edition and Translation of the Poems of Sigvat Þórðarson, skáld’. Ph.D. thesis. State University of New York at Stony Brook. DAI 44: 3681A.
  13. Internal references
  14. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘The Legendary Saga of S. Óláfr / Helgisaga Óláfs konungs Haraldssonar (ÓHLeg)’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. clxxiii.
  15. Elena Gurevich (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Þulur, Sverða heiti 8’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 804.
  16. Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Einarr Skúlason, Geisli 1’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 7.
  17. Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Eyjólfr dáðaskáld, Bandadrápa 8’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 467.
  18. Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 19’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 765.

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