In this image, the Norwegian artist Christian Krohg re-creates a peculiar tale about a man named Einar Thambarskelfir, found in the Heimskringla (History of the Kings of Norway), written by Snorri Sturluson. The scene in question was said to have taken place at the Battle of Svold (or Svolder), where King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway was caught in a naval ambush by his many Nordic rivals in the year 1000. Einar Thambarskelfir fought on the side of the Norwegian king as an archer, earning distinction in battle because of his powerful and accurate handling of his bow. Like Homer’s Odysseus, Einar was reportedly a man of extraordinary strength and he used a specially-made bow that few other men besides himself could string or draw. Unfortunately for King Olaf Tryggvason’s forces, the mighty bow of Einar Thambarskelfir broke during the Battle of Svolder. As the story goes, the strength of the archer made it an awkward endeavor to use bows besides his own formidable contraption, as the wood of any other bow bent like rubber as he pulled back on the string. In the image featured above, Christian Krohg, captures the moment when even King Olaf Tryggvason’s own exceptionally-crafted bow proved no match for Einar’s muscles. Snorri Sturluson described the odd scene, writing, “Einar took the bow and at once drew the head of the arrow behind it and said, ‘Too soft, too soft is the king’s bow,’ and threw the bow behind him, and took up his shield, and fought with his sword” (Heimskringla, Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, chapter 108). King Olaf Tryggvason lost the Battle of Svolder in the year 1000. As his ship was boarded by opposing forces, the king was forced into the sea and disappeared below the depths, never to be seen again.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.