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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. 1. Þjóðólfr ór Hvini (biog. vol. 1), 1. Haustlǫng, 13 [Vol. 3, 451]

[7-8] bifkleif baugs, fáða bifum ‘the quivering cliff of the shield-boss [SHIELD], decorated with moving stories’: There is no doubt that bifkleif baugs ‘the quivering cliff of the shield-boss’ is a shield-kenning (cf. the similarly formed base-word raddkleif ‘voice-cliff’ or naddkleif ‘spear-point-cliff’ of st. 1/4), but the connotation of bifkleif is unclear, and it seems that its first element bif- is picked up and varied in the qualifying phrase bifum fáða (l. 7). The base form of a noun bif- is uncertain (cf. LP: bif; AEW: bifa 1), as is its meaning (Marold 1983, 168 provides a useful summary of previous eds’ suggestions). The word combination with fáða ‘decorated, painted’ suggests that bifum is likely to refer to some aspect of the decoration of the shield Þjóðólfr has received from Þorleifr. The verb bifa, always used in m. v. bifask, with the meaning ‘shake, tremble’, provides our best clue to the meaning of bif, both as a simplex and an element in the cpd bifkleif. Bif- seems likely to denote movement, like shaking or quivering; when applied to a shield decorated with images, it may perhaps indicate that they are so vivid that they seem to move or that they are so affecting, because of their mythic narrative power, that they make their audience tremble with awe. ModIcel. bifur (as in hafa illan bifur á e-m ‘distrust sby, spy on sby’) suggests a similar semantic field, as Holtsmark (1949, 40) pointed out. She also noted that the word bifa occurs in a list of alternative names for speech (mál) in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 109) and might therefore mean something like ‘moving, affecting narrative’. If so, Þjóðólfr’s statement that his shield was bifum fáða may be similar to Bragi’s claim in Rdr 7/4 and 12/4 that he received a shield and fjǫl sagna ‘a multitude of stories’ from his patron Ragnarr.


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