Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. Anonymous Poems, 2. Liðsmannaflokkr, 2 [Vol. 1, 1018]

[1, 3, 4] illan fornan serk, þars órum fœddir ok bornir ‘foul old shirt in which we were born and brought up [lit. brought up and born]’: (a) An obvious interpretation would be that illan fornan serk ‘foul old shirt’ refers to a rusty mail-shirt (cf. st. 7/6 and Note for a reference to armour), and that the þars-clause means ‘where…’ and indicates that the attackers are on native soil, not in England, but this view of þar is problematic in view of the statement in st. 1 that they are in England, unless the reference were to Anglo-Scandinavian warriors born in England. The alternative assumption is made here, that þars means ‘in which’, perhaps producing an exaggerated claim that the men have been warriors since birth, so that armour is like a skin to them. (b) The sense might instead be that the warriors are fighting with no armour except their own skin, which is then the ‘shirt’ in which they were ‘born and bred’ (cf. Note to ll. 7-8 below). This could allude to the tradition of berserks who literally fought in their own skin (see Þhorn Harkv 8/5 and Note), but again in an exaggerated fashion, meaning that these warriors wore ordinary clothes rather than armour. (c) Holtsmark (1954, 107; cf. ÍF 35) has argued that the serk(r) ‘shirt’ is to be identified with the caul or amnion, traditionally linked in Scandinavia and England with luck and invulnerability in battle. However, the subject is qualified by margr ‘many’, whereas to be born with a caul is exceptional.

references

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