Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. 37. Sigvatr Þórðarson, 10. Knútsdrápa, 1 [Vol. 1, 651]

[All]: This stanza has been central in the controversy as to whether the Vikings genuinely did practise the rite of the ‘blood-eagle’ on their victims, or whether this is a misconception and elaboration by later saga authors and scholars. The author of RagnSon intepreted the stanza as follows (FSGJ I, 298): Létu þeir nú rista örn á baki Ellu ok skera síðan rifin öll frá hrygginum með sverði, svá at þar váru lungun út dregin ‘They now had an eagle carved on the back of Ælla and afterwards had all the ribs cut from the backbone with a sword, so that the lungs were pulled out there’. However, Frank (1984a) argued that the stanza simply means that Ívarr provided Ælla’s body as carrion, able to be torn by the eagle as one of the ‘beasts of battle’. For responses and re-statements see Bjarni Einarsson (1986), Frank (1988), Bjarni Einarsson (1990) and Frank (1990b); clearly a central point is whether skera ‘cut’ (here p. p. skorit) can be used of the action of a bird, or must refer to a weapon. For earlier historians’ views see Smyth (1977, 189-94) and Wormald (1982, 140). McTurk (1994), by contrast, argues that ari here is a heiti for ‘sword’ and does not refer to an eagle at all.

references

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