Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. 37. Sigvatr Þórðarson, 5. Vestrfararvísur, 8 [Vol. 1, 626]

[5-8]: Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) only managed to make partial sense of this helmingr, while Kock (NN §637) made some sort of sense of it only by ‘a considerable stretching of the language’ (Jón Skaptason 1983, 253, who nevertheless follows Kock ‘for lack of a better alternative’). All three eds assume that ms. ‘man’ in l. 6 stands for mann ‘man’ and Kock silently emends gengit (p. p. of ganga ‘go’) in l. 7 to gengis (gen. sg. of gengi ‘follower, following’), adopted by Jón Skaptason without comment. These are accepted in the current interpretation. Kock’s ‘stretching of the language’ assumes further that mála ‘paint’ (cf. Fritzner: mála), not otherwise attested in this period, is here used in the meaning ‘depict, expound’ (referring to the poet’s account of things) and that venja means ‘attract’, based on an OE parallel, since ON ones are lacking. At the same time, he takes fyr mál to mean ‘against (our) agreement’, giving overall: ej mot avtal är min skildring: | mannen drager här du til dig; |  varje kung — Knuts jäst jag varit — |  har av följe långt behov ‘my account is not against our agreement: you attract the man here to you; every king — I have been Knut’s guest — has a long need of followers’. It is instead proposed in this edn that mál and mála are both best interpreted as words from a semantic field appropriate to a king’s court, in which the word gestr (l. 8) is also significant. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B; LP: 2. máli) interprets mála as a form of máli m. ‘agreed wage’ although it can be difficult to separate this from forms of mál ‘agreement’ (cf. Sigv Lv 6/4, translated as ‘agreement’ in this edn). It is tentatively proposed here that mála be construed with mann, giving a phrase equivalent to the cpd málamann (acc. sg.) ‘waged man, man in the paid service of another, especially a prince or chieftain’ (Fritzner: málamaðr). This would fit well with gestr ‘hired man’ in l. 8, which in later texts also refers to a particular class of waged men at the Norwegian court (Fritzner: gestr 3). Sigvatr was surely more than just a ‘guest’ or visitor at Knútr’s court; his composition of Knútdr suggests he was a paid court poet, and payments are also referred to in Vestv (st. 5). Hence in ll. 5-6 Sigvatr could be contrasting his previous state as a (relatively lowly) hired man with Knútr with the welcome he expects or has received from Óláfr. So, it is not because of a mere mál ‘wage agreement’ that Óláfr allows the former málamaðr ‘hired man’ of Knútr to become accustomed to his court, but rather because of the oath he has sworn him (cf. Note to ll. 1, 3 above). The proposed solution, while still uncertain, is put forward as a small advance on previous ones, fits well with st. 7/1-4, at least as interpreted above, and has the additional merit of relatively straightforward syntax.


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