Clunies Ross, Margaret. Self-description in Egil’s Poetry

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  • Author: Clunies Ross, Margaret
  • Title: Self-description in Egil's Poetry
  • Published in: Egil, The Viking Poet: New Approaches to 'Egil's Saga'
  • Editors: De Looze, Laurence. Jón Karl Helgason. Poole, Russell. Torfi H. Tulinius
  • Place, Publisher: Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
  • Year: 2015
  • Pages: 75-91
  • E-text:
  • Reference: "Self-description in Egil's Poetry." Egil, The Viking Poet: New Approaches to 'Egil's Saga' , pp. 75-91. Eds. Laurence De Looze, Jón Karl Helgason, Russell Poole, Torfi H. Tulinius. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.

  • Key words:



The poetic content of 'Egils saga' differs from other skaldsagas when it comes to three fundamental aspects: 1) love is not a central theme; 2) Egill's relation to kings is problematic, and the verses attributed to him are absent from the king's sagas; 3) elements of physical self-description are more prominent. Margaret Clunies-Ross focuses here on this last point, and shows how the lausavísur and the stanzas of Arinbjarnarkviða revolving around Höfuðlausn make use of the poetic description of the head and its external organs to define Egill's self-image and poetic activity. Physical self-descriptions and references to the act of poetic composition are indeed interrelated in Egill's œuvre. This suggests that Egill's physical appearance and condition are to be understood as the manifestation of mental states that are traditionally associated with poetic activity in Old Norse literature.


See also


Chapter 80: höfuðlausn: "... the Old Norse coumpound hǫfuðlausn, "head ransom or head redemption", (...) stresses no the redemption of a threatened person's whole body or his life, but of his head as a symbol of his person. In the case of a poet such as Egil the emphasis upon the head, and upon the mouth in particular, is linked to the importance of those parts as conduits for poetry, conventionally represented in skaldic verse, particularly through kennings, as an intoxicating liquid, a mead or ale, the gift of the god Odin, whoses mythic regurgitation of this precious liquid functioned as the prototypical act of poetic composition to which all skalds aspired." (p. 79)

Chapter 80: sú gjöf: "The comic effect of this catalogue of treasures climaxes in the assertion that "that gift" ("sú gjǫf") was better than gold. It is possible that these three stanzas of self-description are a variation on another literary topos which is to be found in some descriptions of beautiful women. The topos, which may well be a literary universal, involves enumerating the monetary value of specific body parts of the woman and of her whole person. In Kormak's saga, two of Kormak's lausavísur (7 and 8: Sveinsson 1939, 212-13) discuss Stengerd's physical virtues in these terms." (p. 81)


  • Written by: Ermenegilda Müller
  • Icelandic/English translation:
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