* Warriors at Battle

Ðorvald ðe Scop

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Thorvald with an Irish style Harp with 22 metal rather than gut strings. Gut strings were a tradition of Anglo-Saxon harp making, and this made them more mellow in tone.
* Thorvald with an Irish style harp

The scop or storyteller was a notable figure in Viking Age Britain, whether he was a traveller or a lord's personal retainer. His job in modern terms was that of a PR. person, after dinner speaker, and cheer leader. For the general public, his task was to entertain and he did this by reciting poems, singing, telling well known stories of characters that everyone had heard of, much like we all recognise the tale of Robin Hood and his merry men - not that the stories were necessarily factual. He wasn't there to give a history lesson, even though his tales all had rings of truth to them. He would make up on the spot (seemingly) poems and odes to members of his audience, to flatter the girls and ridicule the men to their peers amusement. These were probably formulaic, and he was able to tinker with his regular format to suit. There is every chance that he performed a little sleight of hand and other conjuring. It is not clear how he was rewarded by an appreciative audience. No one would have thrown silver pennies at him for a good show as it would have been like showering him with £25 notes - a little excessive. Perhaps he was showered with lambs and buckets of grain, who knows?

In a Thegn's retinue though, his job was a little different, and more politic. He couldn't just up and leave if he had wounded someone's pride. No doubt, it was the given form to be able to stand  up to a lot of leg pulling, even if you secretly wanted to strangle him for his poor quality jokes and puns. To ensure he still had a roof over his head, he would have needed to have a sound idea of how his lord felt about others, and to enable him to avoid any clangers, he would have been privy to much gossip and tittle-tattle. And then he would have to compare this with what he knew of his lords sympathies. A tricky job.

It was at feasts when he came into his own. Introductions, calming the buzzing throng for speeches, lifting the guests spirits, and getting them to recall their comrades and their deeds. On a more base level, he was also responsible for most of the drinking games that ensured all of the men had a great evening, including starting off the more bawdy songs.

Here you can see Lady Aelfgifu with her 12 gut string lap harp, which she sometimes can be coaxed into playing for guests. Thorvald regards her as unnecessary competition that he could well do without.
* The Lady Aelfgifu with her 12 string lap harp

Sadly only a small number of poems have survived the last 1000 years that we can be certain are Anglo-Saxon. The Wanderer; The Seafarer; Judith; The Whale; Dream of the Rood; Eadwacer; Deor; Alms Giving; Durham; The Wife's Lament; The Ruin; Wulf; The Husbands Message; Caedmon Hymn; and Bedes Death Song. Beowulf, and others such as The Finsborough fragment, The Battle of Maldon and Brunanburh are poems in their own right, but are better classed as epics in poetic form.

There are a few other writings such as the Gnomic Verses and Charms that have also survived, but were not the kind of thing that the Scop would have entertained with. Only a few songs that are in all likelihood from the Saxon are extant, with the exception of some church pieces. There are many riddles though, that are for the better part lewd in nature, which demonstrates their more earthy temperament. Viking sayings and heaps of Sagas have survived purely because they were transcribed for the first time in the 1300's in Iceland. They are a wonderful treasure trove of information for modern scholars, and serve to demonstrate how people should conduct themselves, assuming that they weren't too embellished in the medieval period.

The recitation of tales of the Norse gods may have been forbidden in Anglo-Saxon halls as pagan clap-trap, and depended upon who you had in for company, such as the Bishop, but we can't be sure of this. After all, there were Anglo-Saxon pagan gods to sing about as well. However, there is no certain direction we can take on this issue.

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