Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þjóðólfr ór Hvini, Ynglingatal’ 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. 3.
Ynglingatal ‘Enumeration of the Ynglingar’ (Þjóð Yt) in its present form enumerates twenty-six generations of Swedish and Norwegian rulers from Fjǫlnir to Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr ‘Elf of Geirstaðir’, focusing on their manner of death and in some cases on their burial-place. The final extant stanza, st. 27 in the present edition, refers to a living ruler named Rǫgnvaldr heiðumhár ‘High with Honours’ (later ninth century; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume and Note to st. 27/7 on the variant form heiðumhæri). All the preserved stanzas are contained in Yng (the first saga in Hkr), where they are cited to illustrate and authenticate the prose narrative. Stanza 26 is also preserved in Óláfs þáttr Geirstaðaálfs (ÓGeir). The name of the poem is attested in several prose works: in the Prologue to Hkr (ÍF 26, 4) and in Yng (ÍF 26, 83), in ÓGeir (Flat 1860-8, II, 6), in the Þáttr af Upplendinga konungum (Hb 1892-6, 457) and in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261, 273). A helmingr preserved only in TGT and ascribed there to ‘Þjóðólfr’ is printed tentatively as Yt 38 in Skj, but it is unlikely to belong to Yt or to be the work of Þjóðólfr ór Hvíni; see Þjóðólfr FragIII.
The prose narratives within which the stanzas are cited in Yng (and which are summarised in the Contexts below) have a variable relationship with the stanzas. Frequently they add no further detail, although the Prologue to Hkr mentions the ‘accounts of learned men’ (sǫgn fróðra manna, ÍF 26, 4) as additional sources for the lives of the Ynglingar. In some cases there are discrepancies, major or minor, between prose and verse. A prose account of the origin of kings in the Latin Historia Norwegiæ (HN) also closely resembles the materials of Yt (see Kunin and Phelpstead 2001, 12-14, 88-92 for text and notes), though again there are discrepancies.
Past editors have arranged the extant stanzas in various ways. Finnur Jónsson’s editions (Hkr 1893-1901, I, 25-85; Yng 1912; Skj BI, 7-14, followed by Skald I, 4-9) observe the principle of allowing twelve-line stanzas while splitting sixteen-line stanzas in two. The result is that some kings are the subject of two, others of only one stanza. Based on the twenty lines devoted to Aunn (st. 13), three eight-line stanzas were postulated for each king (LH I, 437; Schück 1905-10, 5-6; Noreen 1912b), and the rest was assumed to have been lost. Noreen (1921, 23-6) and S. Lindqvist (1921, 159-60) argue extensively against this theory, with Noreen proposing twelve-line stanzas as a rule, though in Yt 1925 he accepted sixteen-line stanzas. Åkerlund (1939, 128-9) presumed a formal entity consisting of four lines which he called helming, and this notion led scholars to conjoin any four-line units about the same ruler into a single stanza. ÍF 26 follows this divisional scheme, as does the present edition. The result is that the number of lines per stanza varies between eight, twelve, sixteen and twenty lines, and the unity of the stanzas consists only in their content, the death and burial of a particular king. The phenomenon of stanzas of varying length can also be observed in other kviðuháttr poems such as Eyvindr’s Háleygjatal (Eyv Hál) and Þórarinn loftunga’s Glælognskviða (Þloft Glækv); cf. Gade (2005).
The poem observes the rules of the kviðuháttr metre with few exceptions (see ‘Skaldic metres’ in General Introduction); for an extensive examination of the metre see Nerman (Yt 1914, 105-35) and Åkerlund (1939, 125-32). It is characteristic of the style of Yt that a line constitutes a logical unity, the components of which are more closely connected to one another than to other parts of the stanza (Åkerlund 1939, 158-67; NN §§1008C, 1009). This is also a reason why Yt, unlike other poems in kviðuháttr, without exception observes the four-line unit boundary (Åkerlund 1939, 40-5, 200). It is furthermore typical of Yt that variations on the content of a given four-line unit, or of certain periphrases appearing in it, occur in other four-line units of the same stanza (on this see among others Neckel 1908, 401-2 and Marold 1983, 144‑50).
The final stanza of Yt breaks off mid-sentence, and many researchers have also assumed that a substantial portion of the original poem is lost (see Åkerlund 1939, 127-9 for an overview of these claims). This may be suggested by the poem’s lack of a formal introduction such as that of Hál (Eyv Hál 1), a poem modelled on Yt, while the presumption that each king was the subject of the same number of stanzas has led at times to very high estimates of the number of stanzas lost. Where Yng contains material that goes beyond the poem this has been attributed in part to lost stanzas, in part to a tradition thought to have existed parallel to the poem (see further Åkerlund 1939, 125-6). Another indication is that the poem’s enumeration of twenty-six deceased rulers (twenty-eight if the pairs of brothers in sts 10-11 are counted as two each; see Schück 1905-10, 2-3; Jón Helgason 1953, 114; Krag 1991, 88) does not match the statement in the Prologue to Hkr (ÍF 26, 4) that the poem tells of the deaths and burial-places of thirty of Rǫgnvaldr heiðumhár’s ancestors. Because prose works name three divine predecessors before Fjǫlnir, with Yng naming Óðinn, Njǫrðr and Yngvifreyr and HN naming Yngvi, Njǫrðr and Freyr, many scholars have assumed that stanzas about these gods must have existed (Storm 1875, 58-9; Konráð Gíslason 1881, 187; LH I, 436). Others contend that such stanzas never existed and explain the presence of the gods’ names in the prose works as an addition of twelfth-century euhemerists (Baetke 1964, 96-103). The question of stanzas missing from the beginning of the poem is therefore highly pertinent to the question of sacral kingship in Scandinavia (see Baetke 1964, 85-103; Sundqvist 2002, 156-8). Further, whereas the Prologue states that the burial-place of each ruler is covered in Yt, the poem only specifies a place of burial for the Norwegian Ynglingar (Hálfdan, st. 22, Eysteinn, st. 23, Hálfdan, st. 24, and Óláfr, st. 26), while two Swedish kings are described as having been cremated on the banks of the Skúta (Skutån) (Vanlandi, st. 3) or the Fýri (Fyrisån) (Dómarr, st. 6), so that for twenty kings there is no information on their place of burial. The lack of burial information has been attributed to stanzas having been lost (LH I, 436-7). In principle this possibility certainly exists, but it may be the case that the bodies of some kings were never buried, for instance when a ruler died in a brenna ‘burning’ (sts 4, 17, 20, 21) or in a rockslide (st. 19). Nonetheless, it is striking that the place of burial is almost never given for the Swedish Ynglingar, but almost always for the Norwegian Ynglingar. This might be because the burial mounds of the latter kings were still known in Þjóðólfr’s time, whereas those of the former were not.
The question of the dating of the poem is controversial to this day (Åkerlund 1939, 3-79 gives an extensive account of the debate; also Krag 1991, 13-45). A traditional dating is to the second half of the ninth century (Finnur Jónsson 1895; Storm 1899, 130; Åkerlund 1939, 3-79), but the poem has also been dated to the tenth century (Jessen 1871, 20; Bugge 1894, 153), the eleventh century (Wadstein 1895a, 83-90) and the twelfth century (Neckel 1908a; Krag 1991, 13-46; Krag 2009).
Among the difficulties mentioned in connection with the ninth-century dating are inconsistencies in the biography of Þjóðólfr (noted by Åkerlund 1939, 7-8), and doubts about the historicity of Rǫgnvaldr on the grounds that there would not have been room for an independent ruler of Vestfold in the early ninth century, though this is itself contentious. Linguistic arguments have been brought for a late dating (Bugge 1894, 117-18; Wadstein 1895a, 83-4) or for an early dating (Andersson 1992, 487-8; Sapp 2000). Literary comparisons with eddic poetry (Bugge 1894, 119-23), with Eyv Hál (Wadstein 1895a, 84-90) and with the metre of other kviðuháttr poems (Neckel 1908a, 409-10; but see Åkerlund 1939, 27-40) are not decisive. Further arguments for a late dating rest on claimed anachronisms, specifically the influence of Christian learning (Bugge 1894, 122; Krag 1991, 52-67), but these have been countered (see Marold 1993d, 135; Meulengracht Sørensen 1993b, 214-15; Fidjestøl 1994, 194-7; Sandnes 1994, 230). A further argument against seeing Yt as a twelfth-century pastiche (so Krag 1991) is the likelihood that a poem of that date would have been addressed to Haraldr hárfagri rather than the obscure Rǫgnvaldr (Storm 1875, 70; Marold 1993d, 135; Norr 1998, 104). Overall, then, a convincing case has not been made against the authenticity of the poem as a ninth-century creation.
Icelandic historiographic literature regards the Ynglingar as the ancient ruling house of the Svíar (Svear), which propagated itself in Norway and from whom the historical Norwegian kings are descended, and this is borne out by the appearance of both Swedish and Norwegian rulers in the poem. The first twenty rule in Uppsala, and one ruler (Óláfr trételgja ‘Wood-cutter’, st. 21) still counts as Swedish though he ruled in Värmland. The last six kings are Norwegians who ruled in Vestfold. If one assumes the poem arose in the ninth century, it may have served to establish an ancient ancestral heritage for these Norwegian rulers, one that took advantage of the obvious prestige of the Uppsala kings.
Whereas the historiographic literature applies the name Ynglingar to this dynasty, the name, surprisingly, does not appear in Yt. Indeed, in skaldic poetry the plural form appears only in a very late stanza from Gautreks saga (StarkSt Vík 30/3VIII (Gautr 38)). However, the singular is used early on, several times, to designate a ruler: Haraldr hárfagri (Þhorn Harkv 4/7), Eiríkr blóðøx (Egill Arkv 3/2V (Eg 99)), Óláfr helgi (Ótt Hfl 20/8) and Hákon Sverrisson (Sturl Hákkv 1/7II). Although it seems that ynglingr can be used of rulers in general (LP: Ynglingar), these instances suggest that it was used mainly or exclusively for those who claimed Yngling descent. Instead of Ynglingar, the name Skilfingar is used in Yt to refer to the Swedish kings: see Note to st. 14/14 on the Skilfingar and their possible relation to the Ynglingar. The term ynglingr is likely derived from the name Yngvi with the suffix ‑ling-, which denoted a certain ancestry (Krause 1944, 238).
Much debate has surrounded the name Yngvi, first because its attestations vary greatly, and second because it is tied up with different scholars’ perspectives on sacral kingship in Uppsala in particular, and on the kings’ divine ancestry in general (see Eckhardt 1939; Baetke 1964; Faulkes 1978-9; Sundqvist 2002, 149‑70). The historiographic texts (Íslendingabók, ÍF 1, 27; Historia Norwegiæ, HN 2003, 74; Skjǫldunga saga, ÍF 35, 3-4) regard Yngvi as the heros eponymos of the Ynglingar, though they differ on his position in relation to Njǫrðr, Freyr and Óðinn. In Yng (ÍF 26, 24), Óðinn’s predecessors are Njǫrðr and Freyr, and Yngvi appears only as a nickname of Freyr. A special relationship between Freyr and Yngvi is known on the basis of the name Yngvifreyr (Þjóð Haustl 10/6III, Eyv Hál 11/3, Þul Ása II 1/4III), which is attested early (on this see Eckhardt 1939, 54-5; ARG II, 184; Baetke 1964, 103‑25). The use of yngvi/Yngvi in skaldic poetry (including Yt 6/2, 7/10, 11/8) differs from that in the historiographic works. Only in Yt 11/8 can Yngvi be interpreted as the personal name of a king, and even there a ruler-heiti may be more likely (see Note). Yngvi is also used to designate or address rulers belonging to the Yngling lineage as well as some who do not.
The naming principles applied to the Yngling rulers divide the poem into two parts, with the break between sts 21 and 22. The first deals with the older Swedish Ynglingar, whose names, except for the first two kings, alliterate on v, d or a vowel, and the second deals with the later Norwegian Ynglingar named according to the principle known in German as Nachbenennung, lit. ‘after-naming’, the practice of naming a child after a previously deceased kinsman (Storm 1899, 125; Åkerlund 1939, 62-4). Scholars have taken the historicity of the named rulers for granted except for the earliest kings. Nerman (1919) seeks to demonstrate that the group whose names alliterate on a vowel (sts 9-21) ruled between the fifth and seventh centuries, on the basis that the Yngling kings named in Beowulf, Óttarr (OE Ōhthere) and Aðils (OE Ēadgils), can be placed in the sixth century. In Beowulf, Ongenþēow, father of Ōhthere, dies in the battle at Ravenswood (OE Hrefnawudu; Beowulf ll. 2923-5). This battle is dated c. 510 (Finkenstaedt 1976, 238). Scholars have sought to associate these rulers with the large burial mounds of Uppsala, which date archaeologically to around the same time (Nerman 1913; Nerman 1925, 138-9; Lindqvist 1936, 318-23). More recently, however, such connections with rulers mentioned in poetry have been ‘no longer seriously considered’ (Ljungkvist 2008, 264), and the new dating by Ljungkvist (2008) in the late sixth or seventh century would preclude a connection with Óttarr. The group of Norwegian kings from Vestfold has been associated with the burials near Borre (Brøgger 1916; Brøgger 1924-6), and scholars have tried to use the Nachbenennung principle to determine more precisely when the kings lived (see Åkerlund 1939, 62‑4).
The question of the genre of Yt is no less controversial than its dating. It is often referred to as a genealogical poem. However, some scholars justifiably doubt this (Turville-Petre 1978-9, 61; Krag 1991, 88; Bergsveinn Birgisson 2008, 196-208), not so much because the designation ynglingar does not appear, but because the line of descent has almost no relevance within the poem. This becomes clear when Yt is compared with HN, in which, although it is based on the poem, each successive ruler is introduced as the offspring of the previous one. In Yt, by contrast, the genealogical information is limited to descent from Freyr (sts 10/11, 16/7) or Týr (st. 14/3) or from an early progenitor whose name likely served the required alliteration (Fjǫlnir, st. 6/11, Dagr, st. 10/7). Snorri’s characterisation of the poem as dealing with the ‘death and places of burial’ (ÍF 26, 4) of Rǫgnvaldr’s ancestors might encourage a view of the poem as a mnemonic or an enumeration (on this cf. Heusler 1923, 77-94, especially 80). Comparable poems have been pointed out in the Old English and Celtic traditions (Bugge 1894, 147-51; Turville-Petre 1978-9, 51; Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir 1994, 766), though it is uncertain whether these poems should be seen as precursors of Yt or simply as belonging to similar genres.
Scholars have justifiably interpreted the last stanza to mean that Yt was a poem composed in praise of Rǫgnvaldr heiðumhár. Recently several scholars have doubted this, primarily because some of the deaths recounted in Yt are not of a heroic nature and do not conform to expectations of a praise-poem (drowning in beer in st. 1; run through with a pitchfork in st. 8; beaten to death with a bridle in st. 10; falling off a horse in st. 16, etc.). Noting the poem’s satirical tone and comparing it with traditions of níð (shaming slander) and senna (flyting, exchange of insults), Lönnroth (1986, 91) suggests that rather than honouring the Ynglingar, the poem may rather ‘make fun of [them], at any rate the Swedish ones’. Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir (1994) sees it as grotesque and locates it within a carnivalesque tradition; Stavnem (2005) seeks to demonstrate that the imagery of the kennings in particular contributes to an undignified representation of the kings. Bergsveinn Birgisson (2008, 413-16) takes Yt to be a níð-poem directed at the Swedes and at the kings of Vestfold, whom he takes to have been Danes (ibid., 216-24). However, some of the arguments brought fail to distinguish clearly between the poem itself and the prose context, or assume that the kenning imagery functions in ways uncharacteristic of skaldic poetry, and it should be noted that several of the deaths recounted in Yt, e.g. murder at the hands of kinsmen, death caused by mythical creatures or death by sacrifice, while not topics for a heroic praise-poem, are of a type characteristic of legends of kings.
Because of the importance of the Hkr (Yng) text, eight mss are used in this edition: in the Kringla group Kˣ (main ms.), 521ˣ, papp18ˣ and F; in the Jöfraskinna group J1ˣ (sts 15-27), J2ˣ and R685ˣ. The poem is also preserved independently of a prose context in 761aˣ, in a good continuous text copied from the lost Kringla (Jørgensen 2000a, 232). Stanza 18/5-8 is also transmitted in LaufE. Stanza 26 is also transmitted in ÓGeir as part of ÓH in the interpolated mss 71ˣ, 73aˣ, 76aˣ and 78aˣ (A class), 61ˣ (B class) and Flat (C class), and in the separately transmitted ÓGeir in 49ˣ and 65ˣ (75e 5 is defective at the relevant point). Numerous variants and corrections in Kˣ and R685ˣ, along with a lesser number in J2ˣ and 521ˣ, are not represented in the Readings. On the mss and their relationships, see ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume.
The present edition routinely references the editions of Grape and Nerman (Yt 1914) and Noreen (Yt 1925) in the ‘Editions’ list, in addition to Skj, Skald (together with FF and NN) and the relevant prose editions (Hkr 1893-1901; Yng 1912; ÍF 26; Hkr 1991; Yng 2000). The editions of Guðbrandur Vigfússon (CPB), Noreen (1912b), Lindquist (1929) and Wessén (Yng 1952) are considered only in the Notes.
This edition is a considerably shortened version of Marold (forthcoming), in which many of the issues raised here will be addressed in greater depth, and which will include related articles on archaeology, place names and religious history.
This page is used for different resources. For groups of stanzas such as poems, you will see the verse text and, where published, the translation of each stanza. These are also links to information about the individual stanzas.
For prose works you will see a list of the stanzas and fragments in that prose work, where relevant, providing links to the individual stanzas.
Where you have access to introduction(s) to the poem or prose work in the database, these will appear in the ‘introduction’ section.
The final section, ‘sources’ is a list of the manuscripts that contain the prose work, as well as manuscripts and prose works linked to stanzas and sections of a text.