No Need for Mead
Bjarni Kolbeinsson’s Jómsvíkingadrápa and the Skaldic Tradition
Þriðjudaginn 28. október 2014 kl. 16.30
At the turn of the thirteenth century, the position of the traditional art form of the skalds was becoming increasingly precarious at the Scandinavian courts. Skalds faced competition from, one the one hand, jugglers and jesters, and, on the other, the written word. One skaldic response to these challenges was to attempt to increase the prestige of their craft through academization. Formal skaldic poetry became an art form cultivated by men who had received schooling and clerical ordination. At the same time, skalds turned their attention from the praise of kings of the present or the near past towards subjects of the more distant past in the new genre of the sagnakvæði, ‘historical poems’, as well as to religious themes.
Jómsvíkingadrápa by the Orcadian bishop and poet Bjarni Kolbeinsson is a prime example of these new developments. In ‘No need for Mead’ it will be argued that Bjarni, in composing about the traditional matter of the Jómsvíkings, brushed aside the Odinic mead hailed by former skalds and preferred to apply techniques of poetic composition that he had learned through the formal study of Latin poetry. His tongue-in-cheek rejection of the entire skaldic tradition and his a sensibility for love poetry enabled him to compose a poem that not only rejected the past but also (as we can see from our vantage point) pointed towards the future.
Jonas Wellendorf is assistant professor of Old Norse studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He takes a particular interest in the Latin/vernacular interface, learned literature (broadly defined), mythography, skaldic poetry of the Old Norse renaissance around 1200, and treatises on grammar and poetics. He received his PhD from the University of Bergen, Norway, in 2007.