Friday, April 22, 2011

A-Z: Skald

It is related that when King Olaf drew up his men in battle order, he made a shield rampart with his troop that should defend him in battle, for which he selected the strongest and boldest. He called his skalds, and ordered them to go in within the shield defense. "Ye shall," says the king, "remain here, and see the circumstances which may take place, and then ye will not have to follow the reports of others in what ye afterwards tell or sing concerning it." Thereafter the skalds said among themselves that it would be well to compose a few songs of remembrance about the events which would soon be taking place.

Then Gissur sang:

"From me shall bende* girl never hear
A thought of sorrow, care, or fear:
I wish my girl knew how gay
We arm us for our viking fray.
Many and brave they are, we know,
Who come against us there below;
But, life or death, we, one and all,
By Norway's king will stand or fall."

And Thorfin Mun made another song:

"Dark is the cloud of men and shields,
Slow moving up through Verdal's fields:
These Verdal folks presume to bring
Their armed force against their king.
On! Let us feed the carrion crow –
Give her a feast in every blow;
And, above all, let Throndhjem's hordes
Feel the sharp edge of true men's swords."

And Thorrood sang:

"The whistling arrows pipe to battle,
Sword and shield their war-call rattle.
Up! brave men, up! the faint heart here
Finds courage when the danger's near.
Up! Brave men, up! With Olaf on!
With heart and hand a field is won.
One viking cheer! Then, stead of words,
We'll speak with our death-dealing swords."

–– Snorri Sturluson, "Of King Olaf's Skalds" in Heimskringla / Saga of Olaf Herladson, Part VIII (translation by Samuel Laing, excerpt edited and abridged by Bard)

Full text is available at the Online Medieval and Classical Library

* I have looked for the word "bende" everywhere and cannot find what it means. Old English and Middle English dictionaries, the OED, various Scandinavian dictionaries – nowhere. I thought perhaps it was a typographical error, but I found the same word in different editions of the text. So in the end, I have no idea what a "bende girl" is.  In one dictionary I did find "bende" meaning curved like a bow, and that could make sense, but I feel like I'm really reaching with that one.  If anyone happens to know for certain what a "bende girl" is, I'd be delighted to know, too.


  1. Good piece of work but no idea at the moment about the word.

  2. Check out my thank you to you at:

    Another fine legend you share! May the pipes call us to battle!

  3. I played a Skald as a multiclass Bard/Barbarian once. I think I actually did something funky with alignment meaning I was technically a "former" one of those, but the character was great fun.