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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. Eilífr Goðrúnarson, 3. Fragment, 1 [Vol. 3, 127]

[1] kveða sitja setbergs ‘they say that [he, Christ] sits on a seat-shaped crag’: Lit. ‘[they] say to sit on a seat-shaped crag’. The analysis of setbergs ‘on a seat-shaped crag’ (l. 1) is controversial: (a) This edn, following Weber (1970, 88) and Frank (1978, 118), construes setbergs as an adverbial gen. of place qualifying sitja ‘sit’ (see NS §141; similarly CVC: setberg), instead of the more common construction with acc. (for examples see Fritzner: sitja). Hence sitja setbergs could be equated with sitja á setbergi ‘sit on a seat-shaped crag’. The idiom sitja á haugi ‘sit on the hill’ is not uncommon in connection with kings holding audience on higher ground in Old Norse literature (with twelve attestations under ONP: haugr). The practice was likely an aspect of royal ritual (cf. Olrik 1909; Weber 1970, 88-90). Records indicate that, up to the consolidation of Norway under Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’, it was a sign of the king’s honourable status to sit on a hill, where his subjects could ask his advice or pay homage to him (Olrik 1909, 4). According to Haralds saga hárfagra in Hkr (ch. 8, ÍF 26, 99-100), King Hrollaugr, who ruled Namdalen (ON Naumudalr) along with his brother when Haraldr hárfagri was conquering Norway, ascended a hill on which kings customarily sat: Hrollaugr konungr fór upp á haug þann, er konungar váru vanir at sitja á ‘King Hrollaugr went up that hill which the kings used to sit on’. On this hill, King Hrollaugr, in a symbolic act, relinquished his status as king and submitted to King Haraldr hárfagri (further examples in Olrik 1909, 1-4 and Weber 1970, 89). Hence, if Christ is said to sit on a hill at the well of Urðr, it means that, since the heathen gods have been overcome, he will now be the one paid homage to and consulted for advice. Gylf (SnE 2005, 17) indicates that the dómstaðr ‘tribunal’ of the Æsir was located at the well of Urðr. According to Hávm st. 111/1-3, the well of Urðr was the site of the stóll þular ‘seat of the þulr’, from which Óðinn made his pronouncements. Urðr’s well was thus the seat of justice, and in this context setberg can be interpreted as part of the court. One might even imagine this setberg (lit. ‘seat-mountain’) in a physical sense as a seat-shaped hill because the other attestations of setberg refer to the shape of crags or mountains with hollows or cols (see Fritzner, LP: setberg). (b) Several eds have combined setbergs and banda ‘of the gods’ in l. 4 to form a kenning for ‘giants’ (SnE 1848-87; Skj B; Meissner 257; Lange 1958a, 55; SnE 1998, II, 384). Giant-kennings with a term for ‘gods’ as base-words are very rare, and Meissner 257 gives bǫnd bergsalar ‘the deities of the rock-hall [GIANTS]’ (Anon (ÓTHkr) 1I) as a comparable kenning, where bǫnd apparently refers to landvættir ‘guardian spirits of the land’ (see Note to ll. 5, 6 there). In Eilífr’s Þdr 1/1, 2 we find the giant-kenning goð flugstalla ‘the gods of precipice-altars [MOUNTAINS > GIANTS]’; hence giant-kennings with a term for ‘gods’ as the base-word cannot be wholly dismissed even if they are uncommon. However, if banda setbergs ‘of the gods of the seat-shaped crag’ were a kenning for ‘giants’, such a kenning is difficult to accommodate in the present half-stanza. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) and Lange (1958a, 57) construe banda setbergs as a gen. attribute of lǫndum, i.e. ‘lands of the giants’, which they claim must refer to the heathen countries of the North, but that interpretation is not persuasive. Lange (1958a, 57) even maintains that Christ appears here in Þórr’s role as a killer of giants (rejected by von See 1959-60, 87). (c) Guðmundur Finnbogason (1933, 71-2) and von See (1959-60, 86-7) combine lǫndum with banda and construe setbergs as a gen. attribute of brunni Urðar. Such a construction makes little sense, however, as brunnr Urðar is otherwise never mentioned in connection with a mountain or a hill (see Weber 1970, 88). The same applies to Guðmundur Finnbogason’s (1933, 72) interpretation of setberg as a kenning for ‘hall’, although a hall near brunnr Urðar is mentioned in Gylf (SnE 2005, 18) (see Note to l. 2 Urðar), which he construes to at brunni Urðar setbergs ‘at the well of Urðr of the seat-shaped crag’. (d) Kock’s (NN §470) interpretation of lines 1-2 is based on his unacceptable emendation to Sunnra (see Lange 1958a, 55 Anm. 1). The ensuing elision (Sunnra at Urðar brunni) is, however, not possible in this metrical position.


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