Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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ÞjóðA Har 3II

Diana Whaley (ed.) 2009, ‘Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr 3’ 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. 152-4.

Þjóðólfr ArnórssonStanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr

Rétt kann rœði slíta
ræsis herr ór verri;
ekkja stendr ok undrask
ára burð sem furðu.
Ært mun, snót, áðr sortuð
sæfǫng í tvau ganga
(þǫll leggr við frið fullan)
ferkleyf (á þat leyfi).

Herr ræsis kann slíta rœði rétt ór verri; ekkja stendr ok undrask burð ára sem furðu. Ært mun, snót, áðr sortuð, ferkleyf sæfǫng ganga í tvau; þǫll leggr leyfi á þat við fullan frið.

The prince’s troop know how to whip the oars expertly up from the stroke; the woman stands and wonders at the handling of the oars, as a marvel. There’ll be rowing [enough], lady, before the tarred sea-gear [oars], splittable in four, break in two; the fir-tree <woman> gives her approval to this in complete peace.

Mss: (558r-v), F(48va), E(20v), J2ˣ(281r) (Hkr); 570a(24r) (); H(55r), Hr(40rb) (H-Hr); W(86) (FGT, ll. 1-2)

Readings: [2] ræsis: ‘ręðiz’ E, reiðis H, Hr;    herr: hver 570a    [4] furðu: furði 570a    [5] Ært: ‘ꜹrt’ Kˣ, J2ˣ, ert F, E, H, Hr, ‘ertt’ 570a;    áðr: ef E, 570a, H, at Hr;    sortuð: so 570a, svǫrtu Kˣ, J2ˣ, H, Hr, sortað F, sættut E    [6] fǫng (‘siáfang’): sjáfǫng F;    ganga: so F, E, 570a, H, Hr, gangi Kˣ, J2ˣ    [7] leggr: liggr E, H, Hr;    frið: þrif 570a    [8] fer‑: separate from the next word in all mss except E;    ‑kleyf á: ‘kleifa’ J2ˣ, klaufa H

Editions: Skj AI, 381, Skj BI, 351, Skald I, 176, NN §§153, 1908, 2989C; Hkr 1893-1901, III, 156-7, IV, 225, ÍF 28, 142-3, Hkr 1991, 651 (HSig ch. 60), F 1871, 226, E 1916, 72; 1952, 25; Fms 6, 309 (HSig ch. 76), Fms 12, 154; FGT 1972a, 222-3, FGT 1972b, 18-19.

Context: In Hkr, the st. follows st. 2 with no link, while has a brief link and H-Hr a comment on rowing equivalent to that preceding st. 2 in Hkr. In FGT the author has just introduced goþrøþe and góþ rǿþe ‘good oars’ (the former being dat. sg. of the pers. n. Goðrøðr) as a minimal pair containing long and short vowels respectively. He then cites ll. 1-2 with: Þat erv goðar árar sem skalld qvað ‘that is good oars, as the skald said’ (FGT 1972a, 222).

Notes: [All]: The st. praises both the construction of the warship and the expertise of its crew, and the ambiguity of some of the vocabulary (rétt in l. 1, verri in l. 2, and burð ára in l. 4) leaves it uncertain quite what the balance between the two is. — [1] rétt ‘expertly’: (a) This is taken here as an adv. ‘correctly, perfectly’ describing the men’s rowing; it could alternatively mean ‘directly’, specifically describing the oars being lifted out of the sea (so Hkr 1991). (b) Most eds read rétt as a n. acc. pl. adj. meaning ‘straight, even’ and qualifying rœði ‘oars’; this also is very possible, and the FGT context would favour it (Hreinn Benediktsson and Haugen both translate ‘straight oars’ in FGT 1972a, FGT 1972b). The emphasis on rowing in Hkr and H-Hr might on the other hand favour (a). — [2] ræsis ‘of the prince’: The variant reiðis ‘wielder’s’ (so H, Hr) would be a nomen agentis base-word in a kenning for ‘warrior’ or ‘ruler’, but there is no suitable determinant. — [2] verri ‘the stroke’: Vǫrr m. means both ‘pull of the oar, stroke’ and ‘sea’, but since ‘stroke’ seems more apt in the closely related st. 4/3, it is favoured here. — [4] burð ára ‘handling of the oars’: So Poole 1991, 60. The translation highlights the admiration of the crew’s skill; the slightly more neutral ‘motion’ is also possible. — [5-8]: There are numerous subtle difficulties and ambiguities in this helmingr, and although the solution adopted here seems the best to the present ed. it is by no means certain. — [5] ært mun ‘there’ll be rowing [enough]’: Or ‘there’ll be [hard] rowing’. The mss all have ‘ert’ or ‘ꜹrt’, which seems to point to the n. nom./acc. sg. of the adj. err or ǫrr ‘swift, active, generous’, but this would not fit the syntax (snót ‘woman’ being f.), whereas the p. p. of æra ‘to row’ seems eminently suitable in the context. Fms 12 translates ert mun snót as henni mun falla illa ‘she will be distressed’ and understands the rest of the helmingr as ‘if the oars split in two; the woman (þǫll) would permit the oars to break if there were peace in the land’. — [5] sortuð ‘tarred’: The reading svǫrtu ‘black’ in , H and Hr is also possible. — [7] þǫll ‘fir-tree <woman>’: (a) This is assumed here to be a heiti for woman, as it is in Þul Kvenna II, 2/3III (so also Fms 12), though strictly it should be termed a half-kenning, exceptional at this date, since tree-names such as þǫll are usually qualified by a determinant, e.g. ‘fir-tree of jewels [WOMAN]’. (b) Þǫll could alternatively be read as a term for ship, comparable with fura ‘fir-tree’ in ÞjóðA Lv 2/4, or perhaps as ‘oar’ (so ÍF 28 and Poole 1991). Hence it is the ship or oar that gives permission. Indeed, in Poole’s view (1991, 71) ‘Þjóðólfr speaks of the oar metaphorically as an authority figure, which grants leave for hard rowing with the assurance that the rower will not suffer any penalty’. The vocabulary of the st., he notes, is legal (slíta ‘break’, friðr ‘peace, safe conduct’, and leyfi ‘leave, permission’), relating specifically to laws on safe conduct and personal sanctuary. Such an extreme personification would be exceptional (as Kock, responding to a similar suggestion from Reichardt, points out, NN §1908), though there are less dramatic parallels. In st. 5, for instance, the ships ‘allow the headland to protect them’ (láta eið hlýja sér). (c) Finnur in Hkr 1893-1901, IV and Skj B emends fullan fer kleyfa to fyllar fúr, kleyf, in which kleyf ‘cleavable’ describes the oars (sæfǫng, l. 6) and the remainder forms a woman-kenning with þǫll ‘fir’ in l. 7: fyllar fúr-þǫll ‘fir of the fire of the sea [GOLD > WOMAN]’, but this involves quite radical emendation and the assumption of awkward tmesis. (d) The eds of Hkr 1991 read þöll leggr það leyfi ferkleyfa ‘the lady gives the blessing of the four-leaved clover’ in ll. 7-8, citing C15th evidence of an ancient belief in the four-leaved clover as a talisman of luck for travellers. — [7] við fullan frið ‘in complete peace’: (a) This is here taken to qualify the lady’s giving of permission, with equanimity, in ll. 7-8. (b) It is taken by many eds, however, with ært mun in l. 5, hence ‘there will be rowing in peace (before the oars split)’, suggesting a contrast with the greater strain on men and ships in battle. (c) Finnur Jónsson in Hkr 1893-1901, IV tentatively raised the further possibility of reading við, fríð, with fríð ‘beautiful’ qualifying þǫll ‘fir’ or snót ‘woman’ (and við not explained). — [8] ferkleyf ‘splittable in four’: The reading is quite well established in the mss, with H’s fer klaufa as the only variation, though fer is separate in all mss, and a further complication is that the following ‑a is joined to kleyf in some mss but a separate prep. á in others. The hap. leg. ferkleyf should probably, as LP points out, mean ‘divided into four’, with kleyf- related to kljúfa ‘cleave, split’, but it is problematic in context and gives rise to a rich diversity of possibilities. Taking first the meaning of the word itself, further suggestions include ‘four-stranded’ (ferstrendur, ÍF 28, presumably thinking of lamination), ‘four-edged’ (Poole 1991, 60) or ‘rectangular’ (Jesch 2001a, 154). Emendation to fákleyf ‘rarely splitting’ is suggested by Kock (NN §153). There are also alternative construals: (a) The interpretation adopted here takes ferkleyf as n. nom. pl., qualifying sæfǫng ‘sea-gear [oars]’ in l. 6, hence the apt but odd áðr ferkleyf sæfǫng ganga í tvau ‘before the oars, splittable in four, break in two’. The oddity could be avoided by assuming one of the senses above, or adopting Kock’s emendation to fákleyf ‘rarely splitting’. (b) The adj. could instead be strong f. nom. sg. qualifying þǫll ‘fir, pine’ (l. 5), as assumed, e.g., by Poole 1991, 60 and Jesch 2001a, 154 (see (b) above). — [8] leyfi ‘approval’: ‘Permission’ is the most usual OIcel. sense of the word. Finnur Jónsson (in Hkr 1893-1901, IV and Skj B) and Kock (in NN §§1908, 2989) proposed ‘praise’, cf. lof ‘permission’ and ‘praise’. The Engl. translation here attempts to bridge these two senses.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Fms = Sveinbjörn Egilsson et al., eds. 1825-37. Fornmanna sögur eptir gömlum handritum útgefnar að tilhlutun hins norræna fornfræða fèlags. 12 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  7. Jesch, Judith. 2001a. Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  8. FGT 1972a = Hreinn Benediktsson, ed. 1972. The First Grammatical Treatise. University of Iceland Publications in Linguistics 1. Reykjavík: Institute of Nordic Linguistics.
  9. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  10. Hkr 1893-1901 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1893-1901. Heimskringla: Nóregs konunga sǫgur af Snorri Sturluson. 4 vols. SUGNL 23. Copenhagen: Møller.
  11. Hkr 1991 = Bergljót S. Kristjánsdóttir et al., eds. 1991. Heimskringla. 3 vols. Reykjavík: Mál og menning.
  12. F 1871 = Unger, C. R., ed. 1871. Fríssbók: Codex Frisianus. En samling af norske konge-sagaer. Christiania (Oslo): Malling.
  13. E 1916 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1916. Eirspennill: AM 47 fol. Nóregs konunga sǫgur: Magnús góði – Hákon gamli. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske historiske kildeskriftskommission.
  14. 1952 = Jón Helgason and Jakob Benediktsson, eds. 1952. Hákonar saga Ívarssonar. SUGNL 62. Copenhagen: Jørgensen.
  15. Poole, Russell. 1991. Viking Poems on War and Peace: A Study in Skaldic Narrative. Toronto Medieval Texts and Translations 8. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.
  16. FGT 1972b = Haugen, Einar, ed. 1972. The First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology. 2nd edn. London: Longman.
  17. Internal references
  18. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ 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 [check printed volume for citation].
  19. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Hulda and Hrokkinskinna (H-Hr)’ 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 [check printed volume for citation].
  20. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Hákonar saga Ívarssonar ()’ 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 [check printed volume for citation].
  21. Not published: do not cite (HSigII)
  22. Diana Whaley (ed.) 2009, ‘Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Lausavísur 2’ 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. 165-6.

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