Diana Whaley 2009, ‘(Introduction to) Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Magnússflokkr’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 61-87.
Nineteen sts are printed here as Magnússflokkr ‘Flokkr about Magnús’ (ÞjóðA Magnfl), a poem addressed to Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson at some point between 1044 and his death in 1047. All except for sts 1 and 6 are preserved in Hkr (Kˣ as main ms., 39, F, E, J2ˣ), and all but four (sts 1-4) also in H-Hr (H, Hr). There are also five (Magnfl 5-7, 17-18) in Flat (Flat), three (Magnfl 5, 7, 18) in Fsk (FskBˣ, FskAˣ) and one (Magnfl 7) in ÓH (Holm2, 972ˣ, 325VI, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 325V, 61, Bb, Tóm). The couplet Magnfl 1 is preserved in Codex Wormianus (W) alone, though it was copied into LaufE and into Árni Magnússon’s skaldic anthology in 761bˣ. This contrasts with the sts printed in this edn as Magn, which are not preserved outside Hkr and H-Hr. On previous eds of the poetry, see the Biography of Þjóðólfr above.
The authorship of the sts included here is unproblematic. Þjóðólfr is named as poet in all cases, with the untroubling exception of sts 5, 6, 7, 17 in Flat and st. 19 in H-Hr; see Notes to these. That they also belong to an extended poem is suggested by their content and by their manner of citation in the prose sources, normally using the formulas Svá segir Þjóðólfr (skáld) ‘As (the poet) Þjóðólfr says’ and variants, or Ok enn kvað hann ‘And he recited further’ following a st. attributed to Þjóðólfr. The title Magnúsflokkr also has medieval authority, occurring in the introduction to st. 2, and the specification Þjóðólfr kvað svá um Magnús konung ‘Þjóðólfr recited this about King Magnús’ introduces st. 3, both in Hkr, their only source, and there is no reason to doubt that the poem about Magnús was a flokkr (poem without refrains) rather than a drápa (encomium with refrains). The use of 2nd pers. verbs and apostrophes alongside 3rd pers. forms shows that the poem was addressed to Magnús during his lifetime.
There is, then, firm ground on which to build a reconstruction of Magnfl. However, there are not only nineteen but thirty-four sts (thirty complete sts, three helmingar and one couplet) attributed to Þjóðólfr which fairly clearly concern Magnús inn góði Óláfsson. As well as being cited in narratives relating to him, there is internal evidence to confirm this in most cases. Several name the dedicatee as Magnús (Magnfl 11, 12, 15, 18, Magn 9, Magnfl 19) or sonr/mǫgr leifs ‘Óláfr’s son’ (Magnfl 1, 5, Magn 1, 9) or bróðursonr Haralds ‘Haraldr’s brother’s son’ (Magnfl 7). Slightly more obliquely, there are references to his first rival Sveinn Álfífuson (Magnfl 3), or more often to his main adversary Sveinn Úlfsson, referred to as Sveinn (Magn 2, Magnfl 17), mǫgr Ulfs ‘Úlfr’s son’ (Magnfl 5), or plain jarl (Magnfl 8, 12, 13, Magn 5). Haraldr Sigurðarson also fought Sveinn, so that in some cases it is only the evidence of Hkr and others of the kings’ sagas that points to a poem about Magnús. The place-names Heiðabýr ‘Hedeby’ and Skotborgar ‘the Kongeå’ (Magnfl 6) connect the poetry to Magnús’s triumphs over the Wends, while Helganes ‘Helgenæs’ (Magnfl 17) points to the victory over Sveinn Úlfsson, for which there is other skaldic evidence. Other sts contain details, such as the ship-name Visundr ‘Bison’ in Magnfl 4, which do not clinch the identification, yet are wholly compatible with the deeds of Magnús as traditionally conceived. This leaves Magnfl 9, 10 and 14, which are rather general battle-descriptions, but belong so credibly with the sts alongside which they are preserved (see below) that their place in the poem is beyond reasonable doubt.
Defining the status of Þjóðólfr’s thirty-four sts about Magnús, and especially ascertaining which belong to Magnfl, is one of the most difficult problems of skaldic reconstruction, and is discussed at length in Whaley 2007. There has been widespread consensus that nineteen sts belong to Magnfl, but beyond that scholars have differed widely, from including only the nineteen (CPB II, 199-202; ÍF 28, 7 n. 1), via a compromise twenty-five-st. poem in Skj, to including all thirty-four (Fidjestøl 1982, 133, 172). The solution adopted in this edn, like any other solution, can only be tentative, but it is to treat nineteen sts as Magnfl proper and a further fourteen as ‘Stanzas about Magnús Óláfsson in Danaveldi’ (Magn). The remaining st. is Frag 1, which, as argued in its Introduction, does not credibly belong to either the Magnfl or the Magn group.
The nub of the Magnfl problem is that the external evidence of prose context and the internal evidence of style appear to point in different directions. The sts printed here as Magnfl and Magn are intertwined, with little difference of treatment, in Hkr, which might well suggest that they belonged to the same poem. In order to show this difficulty, to introduce the sts and their content and to show the rationale for the ordering of Magnfl in this edn, the following schema presents both sets of sts as they appear in Hkr, although as noted above Magnfl 1 and 6 do not appear there, and the association of Magnfl 18 with two different battles, Århus (Áróss) in Fsk and Helgenæs (Helganes) in Hkr, is a reminder that while the medieval prose sources are our best evidence, they are not perfectly reliable. (Dates given are traditional, but specifically indebted to Hkr 1991.)
(a) Magnfl 1-3 trace the return of the young Magnús from exile, by sea to Sigtuna (Sigtúnir) then overland from Sweden into Norway (1035).
(b) Magnfl 4 depicts a war-fleet travelling south and east, then 5 tells of oaths made on a shrine, but soon broken, by Sveinn Úlfsson at the river Götaälv (Elfr, 1042).
(c) Magnfl 6 and 7 celebrate victory over the Wends in a land-battle near the river Kongeå (Skotborgará, 1043).
(d) Magnfl 8-14 and Magn 1-2 depict the action in the sea-battle at Århus (Áróss, 1043). The king and jarl clash (Magnfl 8), missile-showers pelt (Magnfl 9, 10), Magnús urges his men (Magnfl 11), Magnús and his men advance and clear Dan. ships (Magnfl 12), the Danes flee (Magnfl 13) or are slain (Magnfl 14).
(e) In the aftermath of the battle, seven ships are cleared (Magn 1), and the bodies of Sveinn’s troops are flotsam on the waves (Magn 2). The chase continues in Sjælland (Selund, Zealand): there is a strandhǫgg or slaughter of cattle on the beach (Magn 3), Danes grieve and flee (Magn 4), and the hero pursues the fugitives across bogs (Magn 5).
(j) Magnfl 19 then summarises Magnús’s Dan. campaign, praising a threefold victory.
As noted above, only Magnfl 2 is explicitly cited from Magnúsflokkr, but it might be assumed that the remaining sts more likely than not come from the same poem, especially when they are almost uniformly introduced with formulas such as Svá segir Þjóðólfr ‘As Þjóðólfr says’, which are normally assumed to indicate extracts from extended poems. However, the assumption is not quite beyond question (Whaley 2007, 82, 84), and the fourteen sts depicting the aftermaths to the battles off Århus (Áróss) and Helgenæs (Helganes) are in a style that differs markedly from the rest of the poem, especially in the use of pres.-tense and 1st-pers. utterances, reinforced by deictic adverbs referring to the ‘here’ and ‘now’ rather than the ‘there’ and ‘then’. Thus we have pres.-tense description and narration such as hérs skark ‘there is tumult here’ (Magn 9), or skjótt ríða nú skreyttar | Sknungar lokvánir ‘the Skánungar’s fancy hopes for the outcome are now swiftly dispersing’ (Magn 1), or sýgk ór sǫltum ægi | sylg ‘I suck a slurp from the salt ocean’ (Magn 14), and where pres.-tense description and narration dominates, even pret. verbs take on a different aspect, referring to the immediate past, rather than more remote events. Some of the grammatical pres.-tenses, as in vn es fagrs á Fjóni | fljóðs ‘there’s prospect of a lovely woman on Fyn’ (Magn 7), also create an air of anticipation which places the skald, at least imaginatively, in the midst of events as they unfold. Further, apostrophes and 2nd-pers. verbs are absent from the sts excluded from Magnfl, while 1st-pers. utterances are much more numerous and are different in kind, presenting the skald as an actor in events rather than as mere narrator (Whaley 2007, 94-5). These discourse features collectively produce a narrative mode very different from the retrospective narration or description of statements such as herr fylgði þér, harri, hraustr austan í Nóreg ‘a valiant army followed you, prince, west into Norway’ (Magnfl 3), which is the stock mode of skaldic encomium.
There are several possible scenarios for the genesis of the sts on the aftermaths of Århus (Áróss) and Helgenæs (Helganes), but one reasonable assumption might be that they belong together as either one or two sets. This is suggested by their common subject matter, and by certain close stylistic resemblances. In Magn 12, for instance, the quick vér hlutum sigr ‘we won victory’ sharpens the picture of the hapless menn Sveins ‘Sveinn’s men’ who sárir ... fyrir renna ‘run ahead, wounded’, and the same contrast exists in Magn 13 between the victor’s conquest fjǫrð ‘last year’ and the menn Sveins who still renna ‘run’; more straightforwardly, the phrase of hauga ‘across the hills’ (of Skåne (Skáney)) echoes between Magn 5 and 9. Serial composition would not necessarily be incompatible with a belief that the sts were lvv. extemporised more or less in the midst of the action. However, in the absence of any indication from the prose compilers that they knew these sts as lvv., it seems more likely that the skald is consciously recreating the scenes after the event, speaking, as observer and participant, as if simultaneously with the events. The question is then whether such a sequence could be incorporated into an extended retrospective poem, either from the outset or at a later stage. It is not implausible that a poet should vary an essentially retrospective presentation by using the historic pres. at certain crucial points to draw us imaginatively into the scene he paints—weapons fly in the storm of battle, the vanquished flee, or (anticipating the discussion of ÞjóðA Sex below) a beautiful dragon-ship gleams with gold—and there are countless parallels in Norse-Icel. and world literature, including skaldic ones as discussed by Poole (1991, 24-56), though his chapter on the historic pres. draws chiefly on picture-describing poetry and late, especially Christian, poems. But when the pres.-tense utterances are combined with references to immediately prior events and anticipation of future ones the impression is of a complex temporal stance radically different from the main retrospective one of Magnfl. It is not impossible that the skald and audience could have embraced such switches, yet one might wonder why they only affect the ‘aftermath’ sections and not the main battle descriptions, and such a mixture of modes would have no parallel in the formal skaldic encomia that have been preserved. Add to this that if all thirty-three sts belong to Magnfl, it would have been (allowing for incompleteness) an exceptionally long flokkr, with massively disproportionate coverage of the aftermaths of the two main battles, and the fact that these sts are only preserved in Hkr and H-Hr, not Fsk or Flat, the safer option seems to treat the fourteen sts separately.
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.