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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

8. Ragnars saga loðbrókar 27 (Ragnarr loðbrók, Lausavísur, 10) — Ragnarr [Vol. 8, 678]

[1-2]: The first two lines of this stanza are listed as an example of a proverb by Finnur Jónsson (1914, 91), as well as by Bjarni Vilhjálmsson and Óskar Halldórsson (1982, 120). Finnur Jónsson (1920, 61) and Bjarni and Óskar (ibid.) also quote the Modern Icelandic proverb Grenja mundi grís ef gölturinn væri drepinn ‘the young pig would squeal if the boar were killed’, referring to Hallgrímur Scheving (1843-7) as their source for it, and Finnur equating it with these lines in Ragn. Sölvi Sveinsson (1995, 188) also quotes it, claiming that it has its origin in these lines. This is questionable, however. Hallgrímur Scheving (1843-7, 26) does indeed record the modern proverb, but also refers to Þórð (ÍF 14, 182), where a variant of it occurs apparently conveying the same idea, though with the roles of young pig and boar reversed: Rýta mun göltrinn, ef gríssinn er drepinn ‘The boar will squeal if the young pig is slaughtered’. This is uttered by Skeggi of Miðfjǫrðr as he reluctantly agrees to join his son in an unpromising fight, though its appropriateness in context is unclear. These lines in Ragn also have a close parallel in Saxo’s account (Saxo 2015, I, ix. 4. 38, pp. 660-3) of Regnerus Lothbrog’s dying words: ‘Si sucule uerris supplicium scissent, haud dubio irruptis haris afflictum absoluere properarent’ ‘If the young pigs had only known the distress of their boar, they’d certainly break into the sty and release him from his suffering without delay’. Although chronologically possible, the influence of Saxo (c.1200) on the earlier of the two redactions of Ragn in which this stanza is preserved (i.e. the X redaction, preserved in 147) is unlikely (Sigurður Nordal 1953b, 206; see now, however, Lassen 2012). While it is not impossible that the stanza was composed early enough to have influenced the statement in Saxo, there is no reason to assume its influence, or that of either Saxo or Ragn, on Þórð, which dates from the mid C14th (ÍF 14, lv). The evidence (and Whiting’s criteria (Whiting 1931, 50) for testing the genuineness of apparent proverbs) cumulatively suggest that a pre-existing proverb underlies Ragn 27/1-2. Beck (1965, 188-89) has discussed these lines in relation to the symbolic association of the boar with princely warriors in Germanic and specifically Scandinavian tradition; cf. also Edzardi (1855-80, III, 312 n.).


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