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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hǫrðr Lv 4VIII (HjǪ 43)

Richard L. Harris (ed.) 2017, ‘Hjálmþés saga ok Ǫlvis 43 (Hǫrðr/Hringr, Lausavísur 4)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 534.


Eyðaz mun sæmd þín,         ef líkr skal ek vera
aumum illþræli,         er ekki prýðir,
ragr í hverja taug,         nema vakta mat svínum,
halr inn hrafnsvarti         í hrævar skrúði.

Sæmd þín mun eyðaz, ef ek skal vera líkr aumum illþræli, er ekki prýðir, ragr í hverja taug, nema vakta svínum mat, inn hrafnsvarti halr í skrúði hrævar.

Your honour will be destroyed, if I must be like a poor wretched slave, whom sobbing adorns, craven in every fibre, only good to look after food for swine, the raven-black fellow in the clothing of a corpse.

Mss: 109a IIIˣ(280v), papp6ˣ(59r-v), ÍBR5ˣ(104) (HjǪ)

Readings: [1] Eyðaz: lægjast corrected from Eyðaz below the line in another hand papp6ˣ    [2] ef líkr skal ek vera: ef skal ek líkr vera ÍBR5ˣ    [6] vakta: reiða corrected from vakta above the line in another hand papp6ˣ;    svínum: svína papp6ˣ, ÍBR5ˣ    [8] í hrævar: so with í written above the line in another hand papp6ˣ, ‘hræduar’ 109a IIIˣ, ÍBR5ˣ

Editions: Skj AII, 340-1, Skj BII, 362-3, Skald II, 196, NN §2840; HjǪ 1720, 73, FSN 3, 512, FSGJ 4, 237, HjǪ 1970, 59, 109, 177.

Context: The prose text prefaces this stanza by stating that King Hringr becomes angry at the stanza Hjálmþér had just spoken and utters this one in response.

Notes: [All]: Compare Hjálmþérsrímur IX, 70-1 (Finnur Jónsson 1905-22, II, 65) with this stanza. — [All]: Presumably this stanza is to be understood semi-humorously, but the idea that Hjálmþér’s honour would have been destroyed if his companion was really a swineherd rather than a king depends on a set of beliefs about early Nordic society that was deeply held (cf. Meulengracht Sørensen 1983). These would normally inhibit men of high social status from consorting with the lower orders, who were deemed to be inherently cowardly and craven (ragr, l. 5). However, according to the saga, Hjálmþér had treated Hǫrðr as his trusted companion during a series of adventures and had been carrying the corpse of his supposed slave on his back for two days. In this stanza there are several allusions to the supposed slave’s cowardly and unmanly behaviour that could have dishonoured Hjálmþér. — [2]: Skj B and Skald improve this line to ef ek skal glíkr vera.  — [4] er ekki prýðir ‘whom sobbing adorns’: In this edn ekki is understood as the m. noun ekki ‘sobbing, sorrow, grief’ but it is also possible to read it, as Finnur Jónsson does in Skj B, as hvem intet pryder ‘whom nothing adorns’, though the point of the clause in this sense is not entirely clear, whereas in the sense proposed here it adds to the image of the craven slave who can do nothing but blubber, ironic in context because Hǫrðr/Hringr was, according to the saga narrative, nobler, braver and more effective than his two companions. Ekki ‘sobbing, sorrow’ is found in rímur (cf. Finnur Jónsson 1926-8, 74). — [6] vakta ‘look after’: All mss have vakta ‘look after, watch over’ here, but it does not alliterate and is a late adoption into Old Norse from Middle Low German (see AEW, ONP: vakta). The additional hand of papp6ˣ crosses out vakta and adds reiða ‘spread, toss’ above the line, and this reading has been adopted by most eds and may well have been the original one. — [8] í skrúði hrævar ‘in the clothing of a corpse’: Only papp6ˣ has hrævar ‘of a corpse’, but it is almost certainly correct, as it conforms to the saga narrative’s information that Hjálmþér carried the apparently dead Hǫrðr on his back for two days, an act that was necessary to break the spell under which King Hringr had been placed. The í ‘in’ is regarded here as an emendation, as it appears only as an additional reading in papp6ˣ. Skj B and FSGJ present hrævarskrúði as a cpd; Kock (NN §2840 and Skald) adopts the reading í hræðfarskrúði (based on 109a IIIˣ’s and ÍBR5ˣ’s ‘hræduar’) and suggests that this cpd could be derived from hræða ‘frighten’ and fǫr ‘journey’.


  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. FSN = Rafn, Carl Christian, ed. 1829-30. Fornaldar sögur nordrlanda. 3 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. AEW = Vries, Jan de. 1962. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 2nd rev. edn. Rpt. 1977. Leiden: Brill.
  7. Finnur Jónsson. 1926-8. Ordbog til de af samfund til udg. af gml. nord. litteratur udgivne Rímur samt til de af Dr. O. Jiriczek udgivne Bósarímur. SUGNL 51. Copenhagen: Jørgensen.
  8. ONP = Degnbol, Helle et al., eds. 1989-. A Dictionary of Old Norse Prose / Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog. 1-. Copenhagen: The Arnamagnæan Commission.
  9. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  10. Meulengracht Sørensen, Preben. 1983. The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society. Trans. Joan Turville-Petre. VC 1. [Odense]: Odense University Press.
  11. Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1905-22. Rímnasafn: Samling af de ældste islandske rimer. 2 vols. SUGNL 35. Copenhagen: Møller.
  12. HjǪ 1720 = Peringskiöld, Johann, ed. 1720. Hialmters och Olvers saga, Handlande om trenne Konungar i Manahem eller Sverige, Inge, Hialmter, och Inge, samt Olver Jarl och om theras uthresor til Grekeland och Arabien. Stockholm: Horn.
  13. HjǪ 1970 = Harris, Richard L., ed. 1970. ‘Hjálmþérs saga: A Scientific Edition’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Iowa.

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