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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

8. Ragnars saga loðbrókar 24 (Ragnarr loðbrók, Lausavísur, 8) — Ragnarr [Vol. 8, 672]

[4] †svandr† ófni* mars ‘… a snake of the sea [SHIP]’:  The ms. readings here cause particular difficulty, though it seems clear that ófnir m. (cf. the 1824b reading, above) means ‘snake’, as indicated by its inclusion in Þul Orma 1/3III and by its use as a determinant in kennings for ‘gold’ (Meissner 240). Various emendations have been proposed to account for ms. ‘svandr’, but none have been convincing. (a) Olsen (Ragn 1906-8, 211), taking mar- as the root of ON marr m. ‘sea’ (cf. Lat. mare, ModEngl. mere), emends to mar-sviðr ófni, seeing sviðr (= svinnr) ‘wise’ as qualifying meiðir ‘destroyer’ in the previous line (as he and others read it, see the previous Note), and interrupting the kenning marófni ‘sea-snake [(dragon-prowed) SHIP]’, a m. noun here in the dat., as the object of hafna ‘reject’, in such a way as to form an example of tmesis. In this he is followed by Eskeland (Ragn 1944) and Ebel (Ragn 2003). (b) Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) and Guðni Jónsson (FSGJ), who also take svinnr/sviðr ‘wise’ as qualifying meiðir ‘destroyer’ in the previous line (cf. the second Note to l. 3, above), see the adj. rather as falling between the two elements of a two-word kenning, ófnir mars ‘snake of the sea [(dragon-prowed) SHIP]’. They thus emend to mars svinnr/sviðr ófni, with ófni in the dat. as the object of hafna ‘reject’. (c) Kock, on the other hand, takes an emended vandófni, m. dat. sg. as the object of hafna ‘reject’, and vandófnir mars as a kenning for ‘(dragon-prowed) ship’, taking ‑ófnir as meaning ‘snake’ and initially understanding the element vand- as related to vandr adj. ‘difficult, problematic’, hence ‘dangerous snake of the sea’ (NN §2370); later, however (NN §3197F), he relates this element rather to vǫndr ‘wand, stick’, hence ‘mast’, thus arriving at the literal meaning ‘a mast-snake of the sea [SHIP]’. While Kock’s reading of the text is relatively close to the ms. readings, neither of his interpretations is entirely satisfactory: parallels to the compounding of vand- meaning ‘difficult, dangerous’ with nouns of such concrete signification as ‘ship’ are hard to find, and vandófnir, if understood as ‘mast-snake’, can itself be understood as a ship-kenning, so that the apparent determinant mars ‘of the sea’ becomes redundant. Örnólfur Thorsson (Ragn 1985), adopts Kock’s text here, understanding vandófnir mars as a kenning for ‘ship’ and the second element in vandófnir as meaning ‘snake’, but leaves its first element unexplained. (d) The present ed. prefers in the circumstances to set aside the ms. reading ‘svandr’ as incomprehensible, and to take ófni* mars ‘snake of the sea’ as a kenning for ‘ship’, here in the dat. as the object of hafna ‘reject’. Cf. the kennings fjarðlinnr m. ‘fjord-serpent [SHIP]’ (Mark Lv 1/1III) and naðr sævar ‘adder of the sea [SHIP]’ (Edáð Banddr 3/3I).

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