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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. Eilífr Goðrúnarson, 1. Þórsdrápa, 6 [Vol. 3, 87]

[1, 2] vegþverrir varra Nǫnnu ‘the path-diminisher of the waters of Nanna <female mythical being> [RIVER > = Þórr]’: This kenning anticipates st. 8/5-8, where Þórr threatens to use his strength against the river, and it is explained in the prose narrative of the myth in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 25): Þórr saw Gjálp, Geirrøðr’s daughter, standing above the gorge, making the river rise. Þórr threw a stone at her, saying at ósi skal á stemma ‘one must stem a river at its mouth’. In Þdr 6 the river is referred to as ‘the waters of Nanna <female mythical being>’ without the addition of a determinant that would form a giantess-kenning with the name Nanna as the base-word. This is in agreement with sts 8 and 9 where the names Mǫrn and Fríðr are also used without determinants (see Introduction above). Finnur Jónsson (1900b, 381; Skj B; LP: 2. vǫrr, followed by Reichardt 1948, 348) interpreted varra as the determinant of hjalt ‘hilt, sword’ to get a stone-kenning that, combined with Nǫnnu, results in a giantess-kenning. Combining this with vegþverrir, which he interprets as ‘honour-decreaser’, he construes the following kenning for Þórr: vegþverrir Nǫnnu hjalts varra ‘the honour-decreaser of the Nanna <goddess> of the hilt of the wake [STONE > GIANTESS > = Þórr]’. This interpretation is unconvincing because of the complicated way the kenning elements are distributed in the stanza, and also because Þórr can certainly not be described as ‘the honour-decreaser’ of the giantess. He does not destroy her honour but prevents her from threatening him with rising water. Kiil (1956, 108-9) presents another solution and connects vegþverrir with fetrunar (see Note to l. 2 below). Clunies Ross (1981, 374, followed by Davidson 1983, 585), translating vegþverrir as ‘path-diminisher’, also rejects Finnur Jónsson’s interpretation. As she points out, the path being narrowed must be the river. She connects varra ‘water’ with hjalts Nǫnnu ‘of the hilt of Nanna’, which she interprets as ‘Vimur’s vulva’ (cf. Kiil 1956, 109), and thus construes a kenning varra hjalts Nǫnnu ‘of the sea of Nanna’s (sword)guard’, denoting urine or menstrual blood. Kiil (1956, 109) interpreted hjalts Nǫnnu as vulva because sverdhjaltet i form kunne minne om kvinnens ytre genitalia ‘the form of the sword hilt could be reminiscent of the external genitals of a woman’. Clunies Ross (1981, 375 n. 20) refers to a passage in Bósa saga ‘for confirmation of the existence of the image-type in which the female genitals are compared to a round boss or ring on the hilt of a knife or sword’ (Clunies Ross 1973b, 81). Yet unless used as pars pro toto, strictly speaking hjalt refers not to the knob or the ring on a sword but rather to the guard of a sword-hilt. For the kenning to mean ‘vulva’, it would have to be an ofljóst construction in which hringr, the sword-heiti, is replaced by hjalt ‘hilt’. Clunies Ross (ibid.) suggests the Þórr-kenning vegþerrir varra hjalts Nǫnnu ‘the path-diminisher of the sea of Nanna’s (sword)guard’, but the leap from hjalt to ‘vulva’ is too great for that kenning to seem fully convincing.

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