The anonymous Eiríksmál ‘Words about Eiríkr’ (Anon Eirm) is a dialogue commemorating King Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’ Haraldsson (see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume). Though Eiríkr had been baptized, Fsk (ÍF 29, 77) relates that after his death, his wife Gunnhildr konungamóðir ‘Mother of kings’ had this panegyric composed in his memory, svá sem Óðinn fagnaði hónum í Valhǫll ‘as if Óðinn were welcoming him to Valhǫll’. The poem has traditionally been dated to 954 or shortly thereafter. Eirm resembles Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Haraldskvæði (Þhorn Harkv) and Eyvindr skáldaspillir’s Hákonarmál (Eyv Hák) in important ways, and the three are regarded as forming a group of early eddic praise-poems. Eyv Hák is widely held to have been modelled on Eirm (see Introduction to Hák).
The first of the nine extant stanzas is quoted in SnE, where the composition is given the name Eiríksmál. Otherwise the work is preserved, titleless, only in the A class transcripts of Fsk (henceforth collectively ‘FskA transcripts’), copied from the lost vellum Fagrskinna. The poem appears there (ÍF 29, 77) after a brief account of Eiríkr’s defeat and death in England, in battle against one King Óláfr, said to be a tributary of Játmundr (Eadmund, who ruled England 939-46).
The details of Eiríkr’s last battle, however, are contested. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC), he was expelled by the Northumbrians in 954, during the reign of Eadmund’s brother Eadred. In the Historia regum attributed to Symeon of Durham, completed in 1129 (ed. Arnold 1882-5, II, 197), Eiríkr is said to have been killed by one Maccus (i.e. Magnús), son of Olaf (probably Cuaran, i.e. Sihtricson, known to Middle English romance as Havelok; or possibly Guthfrithson). In Roger of Wendover’s Flores historiarum (1235; ed. Coxe 1841-2, I, 402-3) which draws on some ancient Northumbrian annals, Eiríkr is said, in an entry wrongly dated 950, to have been betrayed treacherously by Earl Oswulf of Bamburgh and killed by Earl Maccus at lonely Stainmore in the Pennines, where Yorkshire and Westmorland meet near Kirkby Stephen. With him, according to Roger, fell his brother Rǫgnvaldr (Reginaldus, perhaps the man mentioned in Hkr, ÍF 26, 154) and a son Hárekr (Hæricus, otherwise unknown, but see ÍF 26, 154, where the Hárekr who fell with Eiríkr is said to have been a son of Guthormr).
In part because the poem is introduced with the phrase ok hefr svá ‘and it begins thus’ in the FskA transcripts, it has usually been assumed that the extant stanzas are a fragment. Lie (1958), for example, envisages an original composition of twenty stanzas (a drápa tvítug), though he sees the extant stanzas as forming a satisfactory whole. Hollander (1932-3, 250, supported by de Vries 1964-7, I, 141) points out that the similar Eyv Hák, introduced by a comparable phrase in Hkr, appears to be preserved there entire. The narrative of Eirm seems to have reached a sufficient conclusion with Eiríkr’s arrival at Valhǫll (Hák ends at a similar juncture), and even the shortness of the final stanza (st. 9) is not conclusive evidence for incompleteness, as this may have been used as a terminal device (von See 1961b, 99-100). The only other very notable ground for suspecting incompleteness is that Eiríkr’s offer in st. 9 to identify the five kings he mentions goes unfulfilled, though Jón Helgason (1953, 119), who considers the work a fragment (as does Harris 1984), does not suppose the five were ever named in the poem. That the five kings are named in the prose of Hkr (ÍF 26, 154, where the poem itself is not cited) does not prove that Snorri knew more of the poem (though this is argued by Storm 1873, 123 and Kreutzer 1989b, 55), since the names in Hkr could be a later fabrication. (Cf. Larsen 1943-6, II, 315, remarking that the poet did not know the five names.) Yet the argument of Seeberg (1979) that the mention of five kings is a biblical convention, and thus the five are imaginary and could not be identified, fails to account for the expectation raised by Eiríkr’s offer to name them. If, on the other hand, the important point is the number of kings rather than their names (see Note to st. 8/4-6), we need not assume the loss of any material at the end of the poem. And if any has been lost, it is not likely to have been much, since the narrative ground covered in Ásgarðr, home of the gods, is also slight in Eyv Hák, which is generally believed to have been composed in imitation of Eirm (see the Introduction to Hák), and Hák would have seemed a pale imitation, and thus not very complimentary of King Hákon, if it gave less weight to this than Eirm. There is no reason, at all events, to assume that the poem contained detailed description of the battle, as Schier (1967a, 1914) does in arguing for an eschatalogical motif.
The poem is in dialogic form, and in the mss the speakers are identified by kvað ‘said’ and a name at sts 1/1 (Óðinn), 3/1 (Bragi), 4/1 (Óðinn), 6/1 (Sigmundr), 6/3 (Óðinn), 7/3 (Óðinn), 8/1 (Sigmundr) and 9/1 (Eiríkr). It is not impossible that these identifying phrases were a part of the original text and/or used in oral performance. However, even if they are authorial (as argued by Sahlgren 1927-8, I, 12-16), they are extrametrical and disrupt the poetic form, and they are marked off in 761bˣ by vertical strokes. They have therefore been omitted in this edition; cf. Note to Eyv Hák 12 [All]. Similar extrametrical phrases introducing direct speech are found in the Heliand, Hildebrandslied and The Fight at Finnsburh, and widely in eddic poetry.
Hofmann (1955, 42-52) perceives extensive English influence on the diction of Eirm – not implausibly, given Eiríkr’s and Gunnhildr’s long residence in Northumbria, and given that the poem was quite likely composed in the British Isles, where Gunnhildr remained (in the Orkneys, according to Snorri) for some time after her husband’s death before going to Denmark. A few of the relevant items of vocabulary are remarked in the Notes. Kuhn (1942, 141) also supposes that Eirm was composed in Britain, though McKinnell (2001, 427) sees no influence of Old English upon the language of the poem, and Lindow (1989, 26-9) argues that it was composed in Denmark after Gunnhildr’s return there.
Stanzas 1-2 are composed in málaháttr, with the admixture of lines indistinguishable from fornyrðislag that frequently characterizes málaháttr (see ‘Eddic metres’ in General Introduction). The form of the remainder of the poem is ljóðaháttr, though the final stanza is half as long as normal. The metre thus evokes the context of eddic verse (see Gade 2002a, 861-3). Genzmer (1920, 157-9) indeed finds that Eirm has even fewer skaldic features than the earlier Þhorn Harkv (see Introduction to that poem), and he pronounces it entirely eddic in nature. For specific reminiscences of eddic verse in Eirm, see LH I, 447 n. 1; Sahlgren (1927-8, I, 25-31). Marold (1972, 21) suggests that the anonymity of the poet is attributable to eddic tradition, countering the argument of Wolf (1969, 10-11) that the poet’s name is suppressed because of an anti-Danish bias in the compiler of Fsk. Noreen (1926, 208-10) argued in favour of a suggestion by Guðmundur Þorláksson that Eiríkr’s skald Glúmr Geirason was the author.
The poem is found in the FskA transcripts, the best of which, for both prose and verse, is FskAˣ. The other two, 52ˣ and 301ˣ, are also taken into account below. There also exists a transcript of the stanzas only, copied from the vellum Fsk, in 761bˣ (c. 1700), corrected throughout by Árni Magnússon, on which the text below is based. Árni makes many superficial changes to the text itself (e.g. altering many examples of þ to ð) as well as some more substantial corrections (e.g. changing ‘suifiatle’ to ‘sinfiatle’, st. 5/1). In the margin he adds some further changes, e.g. ‘corr. Æriki’ connected with ‘Ærikr’ in the text, st. 4/4. That he puts these changes into the margin rather than making them in the text itself most likely means that the alterations to the text itself are based on collation with the ms., and so the non-marginal changes have been accepted here as authoritative. In addition, mss R, Tˣ, W, U and B of SnE (Skm) cite st. 1. Sahlgren (1927-8, I, 3-5) argues that the st. 1 readings of SnE are consistently superior to those of Fsk, and thus, because Fsk is unreliable, conjectural emendation should be freely employed in regard to the remaining stanzas. Yet while it may be true that Fsk is unreliable, his arguments about the superiority of SnE are not uniformly convincing, and unnecessary emendation is avoided in this edition.
Though only st. 1 is quoted in SnE, the first two stanzas are treated as one in Fsk 1902-3, 28, Kershaw (1922) and ÍF 29, 77-8. Indeed, st. 2 is the only stanza not marked in the FskA transcripts by an initial capital, and the fact that it shares málaháttr metre with st. 1, in contrast with the ensuing stanzas, perhaps speaks for this arrangement. Yet although the FskA transcripts indicate no stanzaic division after l. 10 in st. 1, they do begin a new stanza after l. 4, and R, too, capitalises the next word, ‘Vekþa’. Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 447) sees st. 1 as comprising fragments from two stanzas, though printing it as one in Skj. Given the uncertainties, the position has been taken here that less inconvenience will result to readers if the stanzaic divisions of Skj and Skald are retained.
The poem has been edited complete by Möbius (1860, 231), Gordon (1957, 148-9, 245) and Jón Helgason (1968, 21-3), and selectively in a number of anthologies, which are occasionally cited in the Notes below.