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Hersir
Saturday, January 22nd, 2011, 12:25 AM
Most of what we know today about the Vikings has been handed down to us through the accounts of those who survived their raids, and through the epic sagas that were recorded to tell the tales of their gods
and heroes. These sagas, which like Homer's Odyssey are epic poems, were first composed by skalds, which were Norse warrior poets. However, the purpose that a skald fulfilled, and the rank he held in Viking society is an interesting curiosity that parallels a number of other cultures.

The Vikings, generally speaking, did not record a great deal of their culture in writing. Some of it lives on in runes, but by and large they had an oral tradition until the coming of Christianity in the Dark Ages. It was on responsibility of the skalds to keep this tradition and to preserve the stories of kings, warriors, gods and others, though unlike priests the skalds were concerned primarily with mortal deeds and their accomplishments. In this role skalds acted both as lore keepers, but also as satirists, because they were most certainly not above composing a verse or two that cast a warrior or king's deeds into a hilarious and far from heroic light. For those who saw "Beowulf and Grendel" with Gerard Butler, there was a fairly accurate shot of this behavior when a skald referred to a member present as "Brekka the loud, queller of puffins, and beer."

When you think of poetry in the setting of Norse culture and heathen religion you have to realize also that it has very different connotations than it would in American culture. Poets in the modern day are often thought of as whiny, weak and effiminate. It's important to remember that the chief god of the Vikings, Odin, was not only the master of war, death, fate and magic, but the god of poetry and mead. So skalds were viewed more along the lines of freestyle rappers, composing lyric and verse to spew out in front of an enthralled audience to either shame or insult someone, or to explain in intricate detail just how epic another's deeds were.

Due to their unique position in society, skalds were welcomes almost universally across Scandinavia. Kings and courts would open up to skalds, even those of a fairly low station, for wit and skill were valued by those
who would hear the tales a skald brought with. Skalds were traditionally rewarded with gifts of jewelry, though gold coins weren't uncommon rewards. There was so much value placed upon a skald's skill and abilities that many kings took up the mantle of skald as well, adding to their renown by displaying their composition skill to prove they had strength of mind in addition to strength of arms at their disposal.

Source http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/6168724/what_is_a_skald_pg2.html?cat=37