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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (Ólhelg)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Russell Poole;

Lausavísur (Lv) - 9

Skj info: Óláfr Haraldsson enn helgi, Norsk konge 1015-30 (AI, 220-3, BI, 210-12).

Skj poems:

See ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. Óláfr (Ólhelg) is credited with the nine lausavísur edited below, and, in one branch of tradition, with Liðsmannaflokkr (Anon Liðs): see the Introductions to these.

Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 > 8. Volume Introduction > 4. Biographies > 4.1. Ruler biographies > 4.1.a. Kings and jarls of Norway > 9. Óláfr II inn helgi Haraldsson (r. c. 1015-1030)

Óláfr helgi (S. Óláfr) was the son of Haraldr grenski ‘from Grenland’, a petty king in south-east Norway, and Ásta Guðbrandsdóttir. The younger saga tradition makes Óláfr a great-great-grandson of Haraldr hárfagri (q. v.), though as with similar claims about Óláfr Tryggvason (q. v.) this has been doubted by some scholars (see Andersen 1977, 115; Krag 1989; Krag 2002). Óláfr’s father died around the time of his birth (usually dated to 995, though quite possibly earlier), and Óláfr grew up with his mother and his stepfather Sigurðr sýr ‘Sow’, in Hringaríki (Ringerike). Óláfr apparently began his viking career at the traditional age of twelve, with raids around Scandinavia and the Baltic; he also fought in England, sharing the proceeds of some very large Danegeld payments, in France (he was baptised in Normandy), and seemingly in Spain. His career in England ‘has given an astonishing amount of trouble to English historians’ (Campbell 1998, 76). In 1015 he set out for Norway, with the intention of reclaiming his ancestral lands and spreading Christianity. By this time Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (q. v.) had been summoned to England to fight in Knútr’s army, and his son Hákon jarl Eiríksson (q. v.) was in control, together with his uncle Sveinn jarl Hákonarson (q. v.). Óláfr landed at Selja (Selje) in southern Sogn. He captured and subjugated Hákon in Sauðungssund (Sauesund) c. 1015; Hákon departed for England shortly afterwards. Sveinn jarl, supported by the chieftains Erlingr Skjálgsson (see ‘Biographies of other dignitaries’ below) and Einarr þambarskelfir ‘Paunch-shaker’ (?) seems to have resisted Óláfr, for instance by burning down the Christian settlement of Niðaróss (Nidaros, Trondheim). Óláfr eventually defeated Sveinn’s forces at the battle of Nesjar (peninsulas between Langesundsfjorden and Tønsbergfjorden, Vestfold, Norway) on Palm Sunday 1016. Sveinn fled east, and did not return to Norway.

Óláfr converted the inland regions of Norway to Christianity, often by force, and brought them under centralised rule, while his bishops, many of them English, introduced church law and ecclesiastical administration. He won the support of northern and western coastal magnates including Erlingr Skjálgsson and Einarr þambarskelfir, and became the first king to rule directly over most of the territory of modern Norway. But by the early 1020s Knútr was king of both England and Denmark, while Óláfr allied with the Swedish king Ǫnundr (Jákob) Óláfsson, whose sister Ástríðr he had recently married. Óláfr and Ǫnundr fought Knútr’s fleet at the estuary of Á in helga (Helgeå) c. 1026, but the outcome of the battle was inconclusive. Helgeå is usually located in Skåne, but Uppland has also been suggested (Gräslund 1986; Moberg 1987 favours Skåne, while envisaging later action in Uppland; see further Note to Ótt Knútdr 11/3). Knútr responded by cultivating the Norwegian chieftains. Erlingr Skjálgsson turned against Óláfr and engaged with him at Bókn (Bokn in Boknafjorden, Rogaland) in December 1027 (1028 in some sources). Despite surrendering, Erlingr was killed by the king’s party. Óláfr’s support in the country collapsed after that and he fled to Jarizleifr (Jaroslav of Kiev-Novgorod), another brother-in-law. Knútr then claimed the Norwegian crown and reinstated Hákon Eiríksson as his jarl in Norway. But when Hákon drowned at sea in 1029, Óláfr returned from Russia to reconquer his kingdom. He enjoyed the support of Swedish troops supplied by Ǫnundr, and of the Árnasynir, Þorbergr, Finnr and Árni, his young half-brother Haraldr Sigurðarson (later harðráði ‘Hard-ruler’) and the Orcadian Rǫgnvaldr jarl Brúsason. The opposition, however, constituted the largest force the country had ever seen, according to the sagas. Norwegian magnates including Þórir hundr ‘Dog’, Hárekr ór Þjóttu ‘from Þjótta (Tjøtta)’ and Kálfr Árnason (dissenting from his brothers) had been antagonised by Óláfr and/or recruited by Knútr, and took command of a large army of aggrieved farmers from Trøndelag and elsewhere (see further Andersen 1977, 123-8, 129-32 on the factors leading to the conflict). The two sides met at the iconic battle of Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad) in inland Trøndelag (some 70 kilometres north-east of Trondheim) on 29 July 1030. Óláfr was killed and his army routed. Sources differ as to who dealt the king his fatal wounds (McDougall and McDougall 1998, 87), but Þórir hundr and Kálfr Árnason are prominent among those mentioned. Óláfr’s body was secretly moved to Niðaróss (Trondheim), where miracles were soon associated with it (see Turville-Petre 1951a, 159-64). After a year, the body was exhumed and found to be uncorrupted. Óláfr’s remains were duly enshrined near the high altar of the church at Niðaróss, and his cult flourished (see Cormack 1994, 143-4). Óláfr’s posthumous nickname inn helgi ‘the holy, Saint’ replaced an earlier nickname digri ‘the Stout’.

See Anon Nkt 25-31II (c. 1190); Theodoricus (MHN 21-3; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 19-23, 25-6, 29-31); HN (MHN 109, 119-24; Kunin and Phelpstead 2001, 23-5); Ágr (ÍF 29, 24-32; Ágr 2008, 34-47); Fsk (ÍF 29, 167-201; Finlay 2004, 133-58); ÓHLeg 1982; ÓHHkr (ÍF 27; Hollander 1964a, 245-537). Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261, 274) lists as Óláfr’s poets: Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv), Óttarr svarti (Ótt), Bersi Skáld-Torfuson (Bersi), Þórðr Kolbeinsson (ÞKolb), Þorfinnr munnr (Þorf), Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld (Þorm) and Hofgarða-Refr (RefrIII). Ms. 761ax alone (U being in error here) names Gizurr svarti (gullbrárskáld, Gizsv) and Þórðr Sjáreksson (ÞSjár), as well as Skapti Þóroddsson (SkaptiIII), by whom no poetry for Óláfr survives.

Events documented in poetry: Óláfr’s voyages to Denmark (Ótt Hfl 3) and the Baltic (Ótt Hfl 4); his early raids on vikings off ‘Sótasker’ in Sweden (Sigv Víkv 1), on Sweden and Gotland (Ótt Hfl 6, 7), Eysýsla (Saaremaa, Sigv Víkv 2; Ótt Hfl 7), the Finnar (Sigv Víkv 3), Suðrvík (Søndervik in Jutland, Sigv Víkv 4), ‘Kinnlimasíða’ (Sigv Víkv 5), London (Sigv Víkv 6; Ótt Hfl 8), Súðvirki (Southwark, Sigv Víkv 6), Hringmaraheiðr (Ringmere Heath, Sigv Víkv 7; Ótt Hfl 9), Kantaraborg (Canterbury, Sigv Víkv 8; Ótt Hfl 10), the ‘Partar’ (Sigv Víkv 8); ‘Nýjamoða’ in England (Sigv Víkv 9), the English (Ótt Hfl 11), ‘Hringsfjǫrðr’ and ‘Hóll’ in France (Sigv Víkv 10), ‘Gríslupollr’, ‘Fetlafjǫrðr’, ‘Seljupollar’ and ‘Gunnvaldsborg’, all in Spain (Sigv Víkv 11-13), Leira (Loire), ‘Varrandi’, Peita (Poitou) and Túskaland (Touraine), all in France (Sigv Víkv 14; Ótt Hfl 12); Óláfr’s assistance to King Æthelred (Ótt Hfl 13); his return to his ancestral lands in Norway (Ótt Hfl 14-16); his capture of Hákon jarl’s warship in Sauðungssund (Sauesund) c. 1015 (Sigv Víkv 15; Ótt Hfl 16); the battle of Nesjar c. 1016 (Sigv Nesv; Bersi Ólfl); Óláfr’s hanging of captured Swedes (Sigv ErfÓl 1); his acquisition of power in Upplǫnd (Opplandene, Sigv ErfÓl 2); his retribution against opponents in Hedmark (Ótt Hfl 17); his driving out of opponents and consolidation of territory (Ótt Hfl 18-19); his establishment of order in Norway (Sigv Óldr; Sigv ErfÓl 4-6); his rule over Shetland and Orkney (Ótt Hfl 20); his bid to annexe Grímsey resisted (Eþver Lv 1); Óláfr refuses a demand from Knútr (Sigv Lv 12); launching of the ship Visundr ‘Bison’ (Sigv ErfÓl 3); Óláfr sails a fleet south and, in alliance with King Ǫnundr of Sweden, attacks Denmark (Anon (ÓH); Sigv Knútdr 3-6); Knútr sails a great fleet through Limafjǫrðr (Limfjorden, Sigv Knútdr 7-8) and prevents them from plundering (Sigv Knútdr 9); the battle of Á in helga (Helgeå) c. 1026 (ÞSjár Róðdr; Sigv Knútdr 9 (?); Ótt Knútdr 11); Óláfr’s retainer Hárekr sails defiantly past Knútr’s fleets (Hár Lv 1-2); the bribing of Norwegian magnates by Knútr’s men (Sigv Lv 13-15); Óláfr’s fleet outnumbered by Knútr’s (Sigv Lv 16-17); Jǫkull Bárðarson gets command of Óláfr’s captured ship (Jǫk Lv 1), but later loses his head (Jǫk Lv 2); the power of Óláfr’s opponents Erlingr Skjálgsson and Dala-Guðbrandr (Sigv Erl); the power and prowess of Erlingr (Sigv Erlfl 9-10); Óláfr’s defeat of Erlingr at Bókn (Bokn) c. 1027 (Ólhelg Lv 6-7; Sigv Erlfl; BjHall Kálffl 1-2); Óláfr goes into exile in Garðar (Russia, BjHall Kálffl 3); the battle of Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad) in 1030 (Sigv ErfÓl 7-20; Gizsv Lv 1; Þorf Lv 2; Þorm Lv 18-25); Kálfr’s role in the battle (BjHall Kálffl 5); overview of Óláfr’s reign (Sigv ErfÓl 21-2). Events following Óláfr’s fall: distress at his death (Sigv ErfÓl 26; Sigv Lv 18, 20-4); Óláfr’s sanctity, and the miracles at his shrine (Sigv ErfÓl 23-5; Þloft Glækv 3-8); news of his son Magnús Óláfsson (Sigv Lv 25); Óláfr’s widow Ástríðr raises Swedish support for her stepson Magnús (Sigv Ást); Magnús’s return to Norway (Sigv Lv 28-9; BjHall Kálffl 6, 7); Álfhildr’s jealousy of Queen Ástríðr (Sigv Lv 30). Events of a more informal or individual kind: Sigvatr’s journeys, as Óláfr’s emissary, to Gautland (Västergötland) c. 1019 (Sigv Austv) and England c. 1025-7 (Sigv Vestv); Óláfr’s dealings with the poet Sigvatr (Sigv Lv 2-7, 9-11, 19); Óláfr’s dealings with the poets Óttarr svarti (Ótt Lv 1), Bersi Skáld-Torfuson (Bersi Lv) and Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld (Þorm Lv 15-16); his dealings with Brynjólfr úlfaldi (Brúlf Lv); Sigvatr exchanges a sword for a pilgrim’s staff (Sigv ErfÓl 27). Dating from c. 1153, ESkúl GeislVII, a hagiographical drápa of seventy-one stanzas, commemorates the battle of Stiklastaðir (in sts 14-17) and catalogues the miracles of Óláfr. Óláfr himself is credited with several lausavísur: on Halldórr Rannveigarson’s poor horsemanship (Ólhelg Lv 1, to which HalldR Lv is a riposte); love for a woman/women (Ólhelg Lv 2, 4, 5, 8-9); a message to stir up a certain Karli (Ólhelg Lv 3); the killing of Erlingr Skjálgsson (Ólhelg Lv 6-7). See also Introduction to Anon Liðs. The attribution of Anon (Vǫlsa) 13 to Óláfr is presumably not intended to be taken seriously. See also Biographies of Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson and Sveinn Álfífuson.


Lausavísur — Ólhelg LvI

Russell Poole 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson, Lausavísur’ 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. 516.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9 

Skj: Óláfr Haraldsson enn helgi: Lausavísur (AI, 220-3, BI, 210-12); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 9 | 10 | 11

SkP info: I, 518

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Ólhelg Lv 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson, Lausavísur 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. 518.

Bǫls, þats lind í landi
landrifs fyr ver handan
golli merkð við galla
grjótǫlnis skal fǫlna.
Þann myndak við vilja
valklifs, meðan lifðak,
— alin erumk bjǫrk at bǫlvi
bands — algrœnan standa.

Bǫls, þats {lind {landrifs}}, merkð golli, skal fǫlna í landi fyr handan ver við {galla {grjótǫlnis}}. Myndak vilja {þann við {valklifs}} standa algrœnan, meðan lifðak; {bjǫrk bands} erumk alin at bǫlvi.

It is a misery that {the linden-tree {of the land-rib}} [STONE (steinn ‘jewel’) > WOMAN = Steinvǫr], distinguished with gold, must grow pale in a land across the sea with {the affliction {of the stone-mackerel}} [SNAKE > WINTER]. I would wish {that tree {of the falcon-cliff}} [ARM > WOMAN] to stand fully green as long as I lived; {the birch of the headband} [WOMAN] is born to bring me misery.

Mss: Flat(186vb), Bb(128rb) (ÓH); papp10ˣ(48rb), 743ˣ(88v) (LaufE, ll. 5-8)

Readings: [3] merkð við: með Bb;    galla: galli Bb    [4] ‑ǫlnis: ‘olna’ Bb    [7] alin erumk: almkrok Bb, alin eru papp10ˣ, 743ˣ    [8] bands: bannar Bb, brands papp10ˣ, 743ˣ;    ‑grœnan: ‘‑granann’ Bb

Editions: Skj: Óláfr Haraldsson enn helgi, Lausavísur 4: AI, 220-1, BI, 210-11, Skald I, 110, NN §§595, 2773A; Fms 5, 226-7, Fms 12, 111, ÓH 1941, II, 683, 695, Flat 1860-8, III, 237; LaufE 1979, 293, 376.

Context: In Flat, Óláfr meets some Norwegian merchants in England. He enquires after a woman called Steinvǫr who was said to have been his girlfriend. The merchants report that she is now married to Þorvarðr galli ‘Flaw’, a farmer living north of Staðr (Stad) in Norway. King Óláfr speaks the stanza, and he and the merchants part company. The account in Bb agrees, except that the newly married couple are named Steinunn and Þorvaldr (galli). In LaufE, ll. 5-8 are cited to illustrate the use of masculine-gender tree-names in kennings for ‘woman’. 

Notes: [All]: The kenning elements in the stanza are capable of more than one analysis, and l. 3 galli is a particular difficulty (see Notes below to ll. 1, 2; 3, 4; 5, 6). A related question is whether the Steinvǫr and Þorvarðr galli of the prose contexts to Lv 2 and 4 are historical and referred to in the stanza or whether they are later, fictitious figures extrapolated from the stanza. A girl named Steinvǫr is also mentioned (in the ofljóst form Grjótvǫr) and located north of Staðr (Stad) in Anon Liðs 9, a stanza associated with Óláfr in ÓHLeg and Flat; but she does not figure elsewhere in Óláfr narratives and may be a mere stereotypical ‘girl back home’. The name in Stein- may be prompted at least in part by the association of women with stones in the Óláfr stanzas (see Notes to ll. 1, 2 and 3, 4). Similarly, Þorvarðr/Þorvaldr galli is not recorded elsewhere and his existence may be inferred from galli ‘affliction’ in the stanza (see Note to ll. 3, 4 below). — [1, 2] lind landrifs ‘the linden-tree of the land-rib [STONE (steinn ‘jewel’) > WOMAN = Steinvǫr]’: The kenning assumed here (as by Kock in NN §595) has many parallels, using either the word steinn ‘stone’ or other terms for ‘stone’ (Meissner 414-15), including (Lofn) landrifs in Bjarni Frag 5/3III. Such kennings appear to work by ofljóst, since ON steinn can also mean a jewel, gem-stone or stone in a necklace (LP: steinn 2), and terms for jewels are common as determinants of woman-kennings. Meanwhile, the idea of ‘stone’ in landrifs ‘land-rib’ is continued by the word grjót- ‘stone’ in l. 4, and cf. Note to Lv 4/7. For Finnur Jónsson’s analysis of the kenning, see Note to ll. 3, 4. — [1] í landi ‘in a land’: The idea of the beloved now being in another man’s land is emphasised by the echo in landrifs (l. 2), and cf. Note to Lv 8/7-8. — [3-4] við galla grjótǫlnis ‘with the affliction of the stone-mackerel [SNAKE > WINTER]’: (a) This interpretation follows Kock (NN §595) in taking galli as a common noun. Kennings representing winter as the harm or misery of snakes are common, and Meissner 109 cites two (though not this) with galli as their base-word; its sense in these kennings is ‘affliction, harm’ rather than the more usual ‘fault, flaw’. (b) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B treated galla as a reference to the woman’s husband and arranged the words of ll. 1-4 as follows: Bǫl’s þats grjótǫlnis landrifs lind … skal fǫlna … við Galla ‘It is a misfortune that the woman … must grow pale … with Galli’. He took grjótǫlnir ‘stone-mackerel’ to denote ‘snake’, the landrif ‘land-rib [STONE]’ of the snake as ‘gold’, and the lind ‘lime-tree’ of gold as ‘woman’ (LP: grjótǫlnir). However, as seen in the Note to ll. 1-2, the woman-kenning lind landrifs is already complete, and although numerous kennings represent gold as the resting-place of serpents or dragons, base-words meaning ‘stone, rock’ are all but unparalleled (cf. Meissner 237-9). (c) Finally, it is possible that galli is a pun: part of the kenning assumed under (a), but also alluding to a man named Galli (cf. NN §2773A). — [5]: The line closely resembles Bbreið Lv 1/1V (Eb 24). — [5, 6] við valklifs ‘tree of the falcon-cliff [ARM > WOMAN]’: (a) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B combined the words bjǫrk bands valklifs so as to obtain a woman-kenning ‘birch of the band of the arm’, leaving við ‘tree’ as a half-kenning or uncorrected metaphor for ‘woman’ (presumably discounting the commentary in LaufE). But band ‘(head-)band’ is a standard determinant in woman-kennings in its own right (Meissner 416) without need for the extra determinant valklifs. (b) Kock’s simpler construction (NN §595) is therefore followed here, with valklifs ‘falcon-cliff [ARM]’ defining við ‘tree’ and bands ‘head-band’ defining bjǫrk ‘birch’. As to the first of these kennings, the determinant ‘arm’ or ‘hand’ occurs frequently (Meissner 420) but the base-word við(r) is exceptional. As noted in LaufE (see Context above, and cf. SnE 1998, I, 40), the norm is for m. tree names to serve as base-words in kennings for men and f. ones in kennings for women (for a clear exception see Anon (LaufE) 1/4III). Viðr valklifs is thus one of three women-kennings in the stanza with tree-heiti as base-words (cf. lind ‘linden-tree’ l. 1, bjǫrk ‘birch’ l. 7), and participates in the dominant idea of the pity that the flourishing (algrœnan ‘fully green’, l. 8) girl may grow pale (fǫlna, l. 4) in winter (with another man?). — [7] erumk alin at bǫlvi ‘is born to bring me misery’: Lit. ‘is born as a misery to me’. Cf. GunnlI Lv 12/1, 4V (Gunnl 19) Alin vas rýgr at rógi bǫrnum fira ‘the woman was born to [cause] strife among the sons of men’; cf. also Mgóð Lv 2/1-2II .

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