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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

8. Ragnars saga loðbrókar 39 (Anonymous Lausavísur, Lausavísur from Ragnars saga loðbrókar, 9) — Trémaðr [Vol. 8, 701]

[2] svarðmerðlingar ‘head-dress wearers’:  Lit. ‘hair-trap wearers’. This cpd noun is a hap. leg. and a number of suggestions have been made about its meaning. (a) It is argued here that it is formed from svǫrðr m. ‘scalp (with the hair on)’, merð f. ‘trap (for catching fish in rivers or streams)’, and the suffix ‑lingr m. here meaning ‘bearing, wearing’. The noun svǫrðr occurs both in prose and in poetry in the meaning ‘skin’, especially of the head; it is listed in Skm along with other words, including hár ‘hair’, as the determinant in a kenning for ‘head’, with land ‘land’ as the base-word (SnE 1998, I, 108), and occurs in this combination in Ht (SnE 2007, 25; SnSt Ht 57/6III) as land svarðar ‘land of the scalp [HEAD]’. As for merð ‘fish-trap’, this word, listed as Fritzner: merð, mærð (both f.) and Fritzner IV: merð, merðr and mærðr (the last two m.), is explained by Þórhallur Vilmundarson (1998, 7-8) as referring to a ‘wickerwork fish-trap, usually with a funnel-shaped opening’ that was used in Norway and very possibly in Iceland too, to judge from p. n. evidence, for catching trout in particular. The word does not appear to have been used in poetry. Kock provides adequate support for the sense ‘wearing’ (or ‘bearing’) for the suffix ‑lingr with his reference (NN §117) to the analogous OHG sarling ‘bearer of saro (armour)’, i.e. ‘warrior’; cf. also Meissner 350. Since svarðmerðlingar lit. ‘hair-trap wearers’ seems to refer proleptically to the synir Loðbróku ‘sons of Loðbróka’ of l. 4 (see Note there), the term is probably to be explained by reference to the wearing of some kind of head-dress (McTurk 1991a, 26-7). There is evidence from Saami tradition for the ritual wearing of female costumes by male celebrants of pagan deities (Olrik 1905, 53-5), perhaps suggesting that svarðmerðlingar ‘hair-trap wearers’ here refers to wearers of female head-dresses in a context of pagan cult, see the Notes to l. 4 below. Possibly relevant here too are the brothers referred to as ‘the two Haddingjar’ in Hyndl 23 (NK 292), by Saxo (Saxo 2015, I, v. 13. 4, pp. 344-5), in Heiðr (Heiðr 1960, 3), and in Ǫrv 5/6 (cf. Ǫrv 1888, 97). Their name is apparently related to haddr m. ‘a woman’s (head of) hair’ (AEW: haddr), and because they appear consistently as a duo, they have been linked by modern scholars (Turville-Petre 1964, 213-20; Dumézil 1973, 106-25; Kroesen 1987) to the deities that Tacitus (Germania 1967, 473; cf. 479-82) equates with the Dioscuri twins Castor and Pollux, and says were ritually celebrated by a priest dressed or adorned like a woman. (b) An alternative explanation, proposed by Stefán Karlsson (though not published; see McTurk 1991b, 358-9) involves taking svǫrðr m. to mean ‘grass’ (cf. ModEngl. ‘sward’) (rather than ‘scalp (with hair)’), merðlingr m. as a diminutive of mǫrðr m. ‘(pine) marten’, and the word as a whole to mean ‘small animals of the grass’, i.e., ‘snakes’. Relevant here is the fact that two of Ragnarr’s sons, Ívarr and Sigurðr, have respectively the nicknames beinlauss ‘Boneless’ (or ‘Legless’) and ormr-í-auga ‘Snake-in-eye’, which both conjure up in different ways the idea of a snake (see McTurk 1991a, 41; and cf. the Notes to Ragn 6/7-8 and st. 8, above). Stefán’s view thus implies that svarðmerðlingar refers to two, at least, of Ragnarr’s sons. (c) Somewhat more far-fetched is the view of Olsen (1912, 29-30), that the first element in svarðmerðlingar derives from svǫrðr m. ‘skin with the hair on, (bacon)-rind’, and the second element from mǫrðr m. ‘marten’; and that the third, ‑lingr, is a diminutive suffix. The first two elements of the name, svarðmǫrðr ‘rind-marten’, would thus mean ‘boar’ and the svarðmerðlingar ‘piglets’ would be the boar’s sons, cf. Ragnarr’s reference to himself and his sons as a boar and porkers respectively in Ragn 27/1-5. (d) Other previous explanations of svarðmerðlingar all involve emendation: Finnur Jónsson in Skj B reads it as sverðmerðlingar ‘sword-trap bearers’, i.e. ‘shield-bearers, warriors’ (cf. also CPB; FSN I 299 n. 4; and Meissner 350); and Kock in Skald (cf. NN §117) gives the reading sverðmorðlingar ‘sword-murderers, warriors’; while Olsen (Ragn 1906-8, 221) attributes to Sophus Bugge the reading sverðmiðlungar m. pl., ‘sword-dealers’ by analogy with the vígmiðlungr ‘battle-dealer’ of Þjóð Yt 26/11I (cf. LP: vígmiðlungr); and Finnur Jónsson in LP: sverðmerðlingr tentatively relates the second and third elements in the word to the verb merla ‘illuminate’ (leaving ‑ingr rather than ‑lingr as the suffix), suggesting the sense ‘those who keep their swords shining’, i.e. ‘(active) warriors’.


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