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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035

8. Volume Introduction

1. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages — a new edition (MCR)
2. The poetry in this volume (DW)
3. Sources for skaldic poetry cited in the kings’ sagas: manuscripts, facsimiles and editions (KEG)
4. Biographies (KSH)
5. Metres and poetic diction (DW)
6. How to use this edition (MCR)

(Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 > 8. Volume Introduction > 4. Biographies)

4. Biographies (KSH)

This section offers a brief overview of the lives of the kings and jarls of Norway, and of other Scandinavian rulers and dignitaries who lived in the period to c. 1035 and are commemorated in the poetry edited in SkP I; the Biographies are in alphabetical order. (A chronological list of rulers of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and England is given in Section 2 of this Introduction.) Section 4.1 ‘Ruler biographies’ presents lives of all the Norwegian rulers from Rǫgnvaldr heiðumhæri Óláfsson in the late ninth century to c. 1035; for the still more shadowy figures who preceded Rǫgnvaldr, see Þjóð Yt, Yng (ÍF 26, 9-83) and HN (MHN 97-103). Biographies of kings of Denmark and Sweden follow; only those who figure significantly in the events, and the skaldic poetry, of the period are covered. Section 4.2 then provides ‘Biographies of other dignitaries’; here only individuals about whom extant poems were composed are included. The focus in the biographies is primarily on events recorded in the poetry, above all major battles such as those at Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden, c. 885-c. 890), Fitjar (c. 961), Svǫlðr (c. 1000), Nesjar (1016), Á in helga (Helgeå, c. 1026), and Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad, 1030). The biographies are far from exhaustive, and the nature of the sources is such that a great deal remains highly uncertain, including crucial dates and the extent and depth of territorial control attained by individual rulers. Much of what follows must therefore be taken more as a summary of traditions than as established fact. On problems of chronology, see Ólafía Einarsdóttir (1964), and summary in Andersen (1977, 80-3). Following each biography, references to primary Norse sources are given, then the skalds listed for each ruler in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 251-86), and finally ‘Events documented in poetry’, a list of stanzas or part-stanzas describing particular events or topics. Included here is a small amount of relevant poetry preserved outside the kings’ sagas, and hence to be found in other volumes of SkP, which are indicated with a superscript Roman numeral (e.g. Skúli SvǫlðrIII, preserved chiefly in SnE and edited in SkP III). The caveat should be noted that, while the poetry contains a wealth of proper names and specific details, in many cases other evidence is needed to attach a stanza to a particular event. For instance, Gsind Hák 8 describes a fierce advance by a warrior king, but the hero is only identified as Hákon góði by the (justifiable) assumption that the stanza is from the poem Hák, and the enemy are only identified as Gamli Eiríksson and his brothers by the medieval prose context. Further historical and cultural information is provided in the Introductions, Contexts, and Notes to the respective stanzas, and in the Indices at the end of this volume. For the sigla of the individual sagas and compendia, see ‘General Abbreviations’ above.

The Biographies are greatly indebted to the primary sources and to modern sources from which further information, and especially bibliography, can be obtained. Among these are Andersen (1977), Krag (2003b), and entries for the individual kings in RGA, MedS and Auty et al. (1977-99). Hkr 1991, III (the Lykilbók ‘Key’) contains a number of useful maps and genealogical tables.

In accordance with the overall practice of SkP, and reflecting the Old West Norse dialect of most of the written sources, personal names are normalised to their standardised Old Icelandic forms of c. 1200, irrespective of the date or provenance of the subject. For instance, the name of Kálfr Árnason (d. c. 1050-1) appears thus, although the vowel lengthening in Icelandic that produced Kálfr did not take place until c. 1200, and the names of Sveinn tjúguskegg and Eiríkr Eymundarson appear thus, although Danish and Swedish respectively. The names of poets listed in Skáldatal are given in the normalised form used throughout SkP, which may or may not be identical to that given in the Skáldatal manuscripts. For translations of poets’ nicknames, see the skald Biographies preceding the editions in this volume, and for the nicknames of rulers, see their Biographies in this section. Place names are normally given both in the form found in the Old Norse sources and in their modern form, where this is known and differs from the Old Norse.

(expand subsections)

4.1. Ruler biographies

4.2. Biographies of other dignitaries

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