Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Líknarbraut, 34 [Vol. 7, 266-8]

[2-3] smíði stafna stálfríðundum ‘a smith-work of prows for stem-adorners [SEAFARERS]’: The nautical image looks back to the Cross as ship in the preceding st. Probably because the phrase seems to refer twice to the same thing – according to LP: stafn and stál can both mean prow – Skj B emends to stafna stóðríðǫndum ‘for riders of prow-horses [SHIPS > SEAFARERS]’ (cf. LP: stálfríðandi), a change NN §1395 rejects, arguing that stál is part of, not synonymous with, stafn. This distinction is confirmed by Falk 1912, 36 and 84; stál is the rising keel beam or beak of the prow, stafn the stem, or prow deck. Cf. Jesch 2001a, 145 and 150, who observes that stafn is the generic term for either end of a viking ship and cites skaldic examples supporting Falk’s interpretation of stál as the stem-post of the prow or fore-stem. Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 45, followed by Rydberg 1907, 51, combines stál with smíði by means of tmesis: i.e., ‘a steel/sturdy [firmissima] structure for adorners of prows’ (LP (1860): stál-smiði). The interpretation here accords with a suggestion of Edith Marold, that images of the Cross might have decorated the prows of Scandinavian ships; thus the Cross could be described as smíði stafna ‘a smith-work of prows’ for sailors who used it to decorate their ships, so ‘stem-adorners’ (stálfríðundum).

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