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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Rloð Lv 1VIII (Ragn 1)

Rory McTurk (ed.) 2017, ‘Ragnars saga loðbrókar 1 (Ragnarr loðbrók, Lausavísur 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 626.

Ragnarr loðbrókLausavísur

Hætt hefi ek leyfðu lífi,
litfögr kona, — vetra
vá ek at foldar fiski
fimtán gamall — mínu.
Hafa skal ek böl, nema bíði
bráðráðinn mér dauði
heiðar lax til hjarta
hringlegnum vel smjúga.

Ek hefi hætt leyfðu lífi mínu, litfögr kona; fimtán vetra gamall vá ek at {fiski foldar}. Ek skal hafa böl, nema dauði, bráðráðinn mér, bíði smjúga vel til hjarta {hringlegnum lax heiðar}.

I have risked the life allotted to me, fair-complexioned woman; at the age of fifteen I attacked {the fish of the earth} [SNAKE]. I shall encounter disaster, unless the death imminently destined for me succeeds in creeping to the heart {of the ring-coiled salmon of the heath} [SNAKE].

Mss: 1824b(54v), 147(100r) (ll. 5-8) (Ragn); 762ˣ(1r)

Readings: [2] litfögr: so 762ˣ, ‘li[…] faugr’ 1824b;    vetra: ‘vitra’ 1824b, mínu 762ˣ    [4] mínu: vetra 762ˣ    [5] Hafa: ‘[…]fa’ 147;    ek: om. 762ˣ;    bíði: so 147, ‘bite’ 1824b, 762ˣ    [6] ‑ráðinn: so 147, ‘rra[…]inn’ 1824b, ‘‑rakinn’ 762ˣ;    dauði: so 147, ‘ðauda’ 1824b, dauða 762ˣ    [7] heiðar lax (‘heidar lags’): ‘hei(d) […]gs’(?) 147;    til hjarta: so 762ˣ, ‘til hjata’ 1824b, ‘ti(l) (h)iarta’(?) 147    [8] ‑legnum: ‘‑leygím’ 1824b, ‘liugum’ 147, ‘‑leyginn’ 762ˣ;    smjúga: so 147, ‘smiughí’ 1824b, ‘smiughu’ 762ˣ

Editions: Skj AII, 232, Skj BII, 251, Skald II, 130, NN §§1448, 1449, 2366; FSN 1, 240 (Ragn ch. 2), Ragn 1891, 179 (ch. 2), Ragn 1906-8, 119, 176, 195-6 (ch. 3), Ragn 1944, 22-4 (ch. 3), FSGJ 1, 228 (Ragn ch. 3), Ragn 1985, 107 (ch. 3), Ragn 2003, 15 (ch. 3), CPB II, 346.

Context: Ragnarr, son of the King of Denmark, recites this stanza to Þóra, daughter of a jarl in Götaland, just after killing a snake that had belonged to her but had become unmanageably large. He wins Þóra in marriage by this exploit, and they have two sons, Eiríkr and Agnarr. Þóra later dies.

Notes: [1-4] leyfðu lífi mínu ‘the life allotted to me’: I.e. ‘my allotted life’. Kock’s understanding of the p. p. leyfðu ‘allowed, allotted’ (NN §2366) is preferred here to Finnur Jónsson’s ‘(my) praised (life)’ (mit lovpriste liv, Skj B). Not only is the meaning chosen here well attested elsewhere, as Kock shows; Ragnarr’s heroic career, of which the slaying of Þóra’s serpent is only the beginning, can hardly be assumed at this stage to have accumulated much praise. — [2, 4] fimtán vetra gamall ‘at the age of fifteen’: Lit. ‘fifteen years old’. No ms. has the word vetra (gen. pl.) ‘years’ in l. 2, but its correctness can be inferred both from 1824b’s ‘vitra’ and the exchange in 762ˣ between mínu (l. 2) and vetra (l. 4). Fifteen, as Olsen (Ragn 1906-8, 195) notes, was the age of majority in medieval Norway from the beginning of the C11th onwards, whereas in Iceland it was sixteen; earlier the age of majority in Scandinavia had apparently been twelve (Herrmann 1922, 69). Ragnarr’s slaying of the snake may thus be seen as an important stage in his development as a hero; cf. McTurk (1991a, 35-7, 71-82). — [3] vá ek at fiski foldar ‘I attacked the fish of the earth [SNAKE]’: It is not necessary to follow CPB and Kock (NN §1448; Skald) in treating this line on its own as an intercalary clause, with the adverbial phrase vetra … fimtán gamall ‘at the age of fifteen’ modifying Hætt hefi ek ‘I have risked’ rather than vá ek ‘I attacked’, but such a reading is perfectly possible. Kock refers in this context to Glúmr Gráf 4/6-8I, which seems to justify the reading offered here. — [5-8]: These lines are among the most corrupt and difficult among the stanzas of Ragn. Problems include whether to read bíði or bíti in l. 5; ‑ráðinn or ‑rakinn and dauði or dauða in l. 6, and how to interpret the syntax of ll. 7-8 and the reading of l. 8 understood here as ‑legnum. The present ed. prefers a relatively simple and tentative interpretation, and owes a long-standing debt to Jón Helgason for the one offered here.  (a) Olsen’s text (Ragn 1906-8, 195), which in its understanding of the word-sequence differs from the present edn only in taking vel together with hafa ‘have’ rather than with bíði … smjúga ‘succeeds in creeping’, adopts from 147 the readings bíði, bráðráðinn and dauði (as does the present edn) and emends (also as here) to ‑legnum (m. dat. sg.) in l. 8, and produces the meaning: ‘I shall courageously suffer (vel hafa) misfortune, unless the death so swiftly caused by me (dauði bráðráðinn mér) [to the snake] creeps to the heart of the coiled serpent’. He takes mér here as a dat. of agency, which leads to the somewhat odd idea of a death already caused not necessarily taking place, or taking time to do so. (b) Valdimar Ásmundarson (Ragn 1891) adopts the form bíti in l. 5, placing commas after it and after ek in that line; reads ‑rakinn and dauða (as does Rafn; cf. ‑rakin CPB) in l. 6, placing a comma at the end of the line; and further emends to ‑leginn in l. 8, thus apparently giving the somewhat awkward meaning: ‘I shall have death rapidly realised (bráðrakinn) for me, unless misfortune (böl) strikes (bíti) – successfully pierces (vel smjúgi) to the heart – the coiled (hringleginn) serpent (heiðar lax)’. (c) Örnólfur Thorsson (Ragn 1985), whose text differs from Valdimar’s only in adopting the forms bráðráðinn ‘imminently destined’ and dauði, nom., ‘death’ in l. 6 and in having a comma only at the end of that line, seems to offer an interpretation that is hardly less awkward: ‘I shall have misfortune, unless the death imminently destined for me strikes – pierces to the heart – the well-coiled (vel hringleginn) serpent’. Both eds appear to be using the verb smjúga in the transitive sense ‘pierce’ (cf. Krm 7/7-8), here sharing its acc. object (heiðar lax) with bíti, rather than in the intransitive sense ‘creep (through an opening)’. (d) Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) restores the text (prose word order) as follows: hafa skalk vel dauða bráðrakinn mér; hringleginn heiðar lax smýgra til hjarta, nema bǫl bíti ‘I shall courageously suffer death, however suddenly (unexpectedly) realised for me it may be; the coiled serpent will not creep to my heart, unless a misfortune befalls me’; his reading of these lines is adopted wholesale by Guðni Jónsson (FSGJ). (e) Kock (NN §1449) objects to the disjointed word order of the half-stanza (when written out as verse) that this interpretation involves, and to the lameness of the interpretation itself, particularly in the second sentence. His own text (Skald) reads as follows: Fár skal, bǫls nema bíti | bráðráðinn mér dauði | heiðar lax til hjarta | hringleginn vel smjúga ‘Not many a (i.e. not a single) coiled serpent shall creep to my heart, unless some ominous death (bǫls … dauði), hastily ordained for me (bráðráðinn mér), may strike (bíti)’. Both Finnur and Kock take bíti ‘strike’ as intransitive rather than transitive, even if Finnur’s translation, medmindre en ulykke rammer mig ‘unless a misfortune befalls me’, takes transitive form. Kock (NN §1449) admits the possibility of better interpretations than the one he offers, and it does seem that he has been needlessly influenced by the saga prose in his interpretation of the stanza. — [5, 8] bíði … smjúga ‘succeeds … in creeping’: For bíða + inf. in the sense ‘succeed in, manage to’, Olsen (Ragn 1906-8, 195) refers to Hávm 41/6 (NK 23): ef þat bíðr at verða vel ‘if things are going to work out’. The absence in the present instance of the inf. marker at (‘to’ + inf.) may be noted, cf. Note to 23/5-6, below. Bíði is subj. following nema ‘unless’. — [8] hringlegnum ‘ring-coiled’: Emended here to m. dat. sg., agreeing with lax ‘salmon’ in l. 7, the latter understood as dat. of the possessor of a body part (hjarta ‘heart’). This description does not necessarily refer to the fact that, in the saga prose (Ragn 1906-8, 117), the snake is described as encircling Þóra’s bower; in Hávm 86/4 (NK 30), the phrase ormi hringlegnom ‘coiled snake’, also in the dat. sg., clearly refers to a snake in general terms.


  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. CPB = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and F. York Powell, eds. 1883. Corpus poeticum boreale: The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue from the Earliest Times to the Thirteenth Century. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. Rpt. 1965, New York: Russell & Russell.
  7. NK = Neckel, Gustav and Hans Kuhn (1899), eds. 1983. Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern. 2 vols. I: Text. 5th edn. Heidelberg: Winter.
  8. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  9. McTurk, Rory. 1991a. Studies in Ragnars saga loðbrókar and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues. Medium Ævum Monographs new ser. 15. Oxford: Society for the Study of Mediæval Languages and Literature.
  10. Ragn 1906-8 = Olsen 1906-8, 111-222.
  11. Ragn 1944 = Eskeland, Severin, ed. and trans. 1944. Soga om Ragnar Lodbrok med Kråka-kvædet. Norrøne bokverk 16. 2nd ed. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget. [1st ed. 1914].
  12. Ragn 1985 = Örnólfur Thorsson 1985, 101-53.
  13. Hermann, Paul. 1922. Erläuterungen zu den ersten neun Büchen der dänischen Geschichte des Saxo Grammaticus. 2. Teil, Kommentar. Leipzig: Engelmann.
  14. Ragn 1891 = 2nd edn (pp. 175-224) of Ragn as ed. in Valdimar Ásmundarson 1885-9, I.
  15. Ragn 2003 = Ebel, Uwe, ed. 2003. Ragnars saga loðbrókar. Texte des skandinavischen Mittelalters 4. Vol. II of Ebel 1997-2003.
  16. Internal references
  17. 2017, ‘ Anonymous, Ragnars saga loðbrókar’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 616. <> (accessed 18 September 2021)
  18. Rory McTurk (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Poems, Krákumál 7’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 730.
  19. Not published: do not cite ()
  20. Alison Finlay (ed.) 2012, ‘Glúmr Geirason, Gráfeldardrápa 4’ 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. 252.

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