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One must remember that the difference between Eddaic and Skaldic verse is not clear cut. Some skaldic poetry uses simpler metrical structures and plainer language which brings it closer to Eddaic style poetry – but the division is still a useful one to modern scholars, although there is no evidence to suggest that the poetry’s medieval audience made any such distinction.

Skaldic poetry was attributed to named skalds and tends to be linked to a particular historical context or occasion. The relation between the poet and patron was an important aspect of Viking society. The skald could expect to be well rewarded for his work; court poets would receive generous rewards and renown in exchange for their finely crafted panegyrics and, according to Egil’s Saga, a poem could even win a reprieve from a death sentence.

Skalds composed encomium in praise of kings, earls and lords. A typical poem might cover the patron’s battle exploits, feats of bravery and prowess, travel expeditions and their generosity. (Reminding one’s patron of his generosity was obviously in a skald’s interests.)

The most elaborate formal structure used for praise poems was the drápa, a long poem (usually dróttkvætt) with a refrain (stef); although, as noted above, some skaldic verse makes use of much a simpler metre (e.g. Egil’s Höfuðlausn).

The main types of poetry linked to the panegyric were erfikvæði (funeral poems, composed after the death of a ruler but covering similar material to praise poetry), genealogical poems (outlining a ruler’s ancestry and descent from the gods) and ekphrastic poems (describing mythological scenes on an object, usually a shield given to the poet by his patron).

Some skalds turned their wit and ability in language to the composition of níðvísur, or ‘slander verse’. The rhetoric used in this type of verse centres around the idea of ergi, or unmanliness and parodies, or inverts the images and tropes of conventional praise poetry. Under Scandinavian law, the composition of níðvísur incurred heavy penalties if the claims were found to be untrue.

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