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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. Anonymous Poems, 1. Bjarkamál in fornu, 4 [Vol. 3, 500]

[8] dúni Grafvitnis ‘Grafvitnir’s <snake’s> feather-bed [GOLD]’: Grafvitnir ‘grave-wolf’ (AEW: grafa) is a snake-heiti; cf. SnE 1998, I, 90, Grí 34/5 and Þul Orma 2/1 (see Note there). A very similar kenning, beð Grafvitnis ‘Grafvitnir’s bed’, is in ESk Øxfl 6/4. According to a notion common in both Old English and Old Norse poetry, serpents and dragons were in the habit of lying on hoards of gold, often concealed in mounds (cf. Beowulf ll. 2231b-2310 and Beowulf 2008, 238-9), hence in a large group of gold-kennings gold could be termed the bed or lair of a snake; cf. Meissner 237-41. Fáfnir’s legendary gold (see l. 4 above) served as a paradigmatic example of this thought-pattern.


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