Bragi Boddason, known as Bragi the Old (Old Norse Bragi inn gamli) was a Norwegian skald active in the first half of the 9th century, the earliest known skald from whom verses have survived. Portions of his Ragnarsdrápa are preserved in Snorri Sturluson's Edda.
Life and career
Bragi is known as "the Old" to distinguish him from a 12th-century skald, Bragi Hallsson. He was a member of a prominent family in southwestern Norway; according to Landnámabók, he married Lopthœna, the daughter of Erpr lútandi, another skald, and among their descendants was the early 11th-century skald Gunnlaugr ormstunga. Skáldatal lists him as a court poet to three kings, Ragnarr Loðbrók, Eysteinn Beli, and Bjǫrn at haugi, which has led to his life being dated to the 9th century, usually to the first half of that century. However, the dating of the reigns of all but King Bjǫrn in Sweden suggest a later date, and some including Guðbrandur Vigfússon have preferred dates of 835–900. Landnámabók also reports that when visiting Ljúfvina, the wife of king Hjǫrr of Hǫrðaland, he perceived that she had substituted the fair-skinned son of a thrall woman for her dark-skinned twin sons Geirmundr and Hámundr and persuaded her to reinstate her own sons. This story and the story of his confronting a troll-woman, are probably legends.
Bragi has the same name as the god Bragi, which has led some to doubt his historicity, but there are enough mentions of him to attest to his having lived, so that it is likely he was deified and gave his name to the god. He has been credited with inventing the dróttkvætt meter characteristic of skaldic poetry, possibly under the influence of Irish verse forms, but although later skalds imitated some of his kennings, the complexity of his verse makes it more probable that earlier poetry representing the development of the tradition has been lost.
In Egils saga, ch. 59, Bragi is said to have composed a poem to "ransom his head" after angering King Bjǫrn; Egill Skallagrímsson is persuaded to follow his example by his friend and Bragi's great-grandson Arinbjǫrn, leading him to compose his Hǫfuðlausn for Erik Bloodax.
Most of his verses that we have preserved appear to be part of his Ragnarsdrápa. This is a shield lay, composed in return for the gift of a decorated shield, according to Snorri from Ragnarr Loðbrók, but many scholars consider it more likely the poem was dedicated to a different Ragnarr. It appears to have consisted of an introductory verse followed by four sets of four verses, each describing a scene depicted on the shield: two mythological, Gefjon plowing the island of Zealand out of Sweden and Thor fishing for the World Serpent Jǫrmungandr, and two heroic, Hamðir and Sǫrli's attack on King Jǫrmunrekkr, and the never-ending battle between Heðinn and Hǫgni, and presumably a concluding verse. Parts or all of twenty verses survive; one verse attributed to Bragi in all but one manuscript of the Edda is probably correctly assigned to Úlfr Uggason's Húsdrápa, which also describes a portrayal of Thor's fishing expedition.
- "Bragi Boddason the Old", in: Lee M. Hollander, The Skalds: A Selection of Their Poems, With Introductions and Notes, The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1945, repr. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University, 1947, OCLC 917621430, p. 25.
- Finnur Jónsson, "Om skjaldepoesien og de ældste skjalde (To foredrag)", Arkiv för nordisk filologi 7 (N.S. 2) (1890) 121–55, pp. 141–45 (in Danish).
- Margaret Clunies Ross, "Bragi inn gamli Boddason" in: Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold, eds., Poetry from Treatises on Poetics, Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3, Turnhout: Brepols, 2017, ISBN 9782503566665, p. 26, online at Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, retrieved June 4, 2021.
- "Bragi enn gamli Boddason", in: Rudolf Simek and Hermann Pálsson, Lexikon der altnordischen Literatur, Kröners Taschenausgabe 490, Stuttgart: Kröner, 1987, ISBN 3520490013, pp. 44–45 (in German).
- Gudbrand Vigfusson and F. York Powell, Corpus Poeticum Boreale, 2 vols., Volume 2, Oxford: Clarendon (Oxford University), 1883, OCLC 923958158, p. 2.
- Finnur Jónsson, Den islandske litteraturs historie: tilligemed den old norske, Copenhagen: Gad, 1907, OCLC 251032649, p. 91 (in Danish).
- Gabriel Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic Literature, Oxford: Clarendon (Oxford University), 1953, OCLC 776250456, p. 35.
- Among scholars who disagree is Jan de Vries, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, 2 vols., Grundriß der germanischen Philologie 12, Volume 2, 2nd ed. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1957, repr. (3rd ed.) 1970, p. 273 (in German).
- Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic Literature, pp. 35–38.
- Jan de Vries, Altnordische Literaturgeschichte, 2 vols., Volume 1, Grundriß der germanischen Philologie 15, 2nd ed. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1964, OCLC 492651465, p. 127 (in German).
- Stefán Einarsson, A History of Icelandic Literature, The American-Scandinavian Foundation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1957, OCLC 504185269, p. 59.
- Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic Literature, p. 34.
- Vésteinn Ólason, "Old Icelandic Poetry" in: Daisy Neijmann, ed., A History of Icelandic Literature, Histories of Scandinavian Literature 5, The American-Scandinavian Foundation, Lincoln, Nebraska / London: University of Nebraska, 2006, ISBN 9780803233461, pp. 1–64, p. 28.
- Hollander, The Skalds, pp. 25–26.
- E.O.G Turville-Petre, Scaldic Poetry, Oxford: Clarendon (Oxford University), 1976, ISBN 9780198125174, p. 1.
- "Úlfr Uggason, Húsdrápa 5" at Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, retrieved June 4, 2021.
- Ursula Dronke, ed. and trans., The Poetic Edda, 3 vols. published, Volume 3, Oxford: Oxford University, 2011, ISBN 9780198111825, p. 98 (Úlfr Uggason III).