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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. Bjarni ...ason, Fragments, 1 [Vol. 3, 21]

[3-4] hjǫrvi Heimdalls ‘the sword of Heimdallr <god> [HEAD]’: See also the similar kenning in Grett Lv 26/8V (Gr 58) and Note there. So far it has not been explained satisfactorily. Even Snorri’s remark (SnE 2005, 26) Heimdalar sverð er kallat hǫfuð ‘the head is called Heimdallr’s sword’ is more a statement than an explanation. This kenning, and the diverse information found in Old Icelandic literature concerning the deity Heimdallr, has led to a flood of theories and explanations which will not be discussed here. The most likely explanation to date is that Heimdallr was a god in the shape of a ram, or that he assumed the features of such a ram-god; cf. Þul Hrúts ll. 6, 8, where Heimdali and Hallinskíði, another name for the god, are both listed as heiti for ‘ram’ (see also Note to Glúmr Gráf 14/1, 2I). The kenning ‘sword of Heimdallr’ for ‘head’ would then correspond to the pattern ‘sword of the bull’ for ‘horn’ (a ram’s weapon is its head with which it butts an opponent). On Heimdallr as a god in the form of a ram, see Hellquist (1891, 172), Much (1930), de Vries (1935, 59; 1955, 260), Ohlmarks (1937, 147) and Lindquist (1937b, 98). It is impossible to establish whether such a ram-god was part of the Germanic pantheon, but such deities and cults are known from other parts of the world (see Schröder 1967, 15-16).


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