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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bragi Rdr 6III

Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 6’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 36.

Bragi inn gamli BoddasonRagnarsdrápa

text and translation

Mjǫk lét stála støkkvir
styðja Gjúka niðja
flaums, þás fjǫrvi næma
Foglhildar mun vildu.
Ok bláserkjar birkis
ballfǫgr gǫtu allir
ennihǫgg ok eggjar
Jónakrs sonum launa.

{Støkkvir {flaums stála}} lét mjǫk styðja {niðja Gjúka}, þás vildu næma {mun Foglhildar} fjǫrvi. Ok allir launa {sonum Jónakrs} ballfǫgr ennihǫgg {birkis bláserkjar} ok {gǫtu eggjar}.
‘The impeller of the eddy of steel [BATTLE > WARRIOR = Jǫrmunrekkr] caused the descendants of Gjúki <legendary king> [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] to be greatly pressed, when they intended to deprive the delight of Bird-hildr <= Svanhildr> [= Jǫrmunrekkr] of life. And all repay the sons of Jónakr <legendary king> [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] for the powerfully splendid forehead blows of the birch-branch of the dark shirt [SWORD] and the path of the sword-blade [WOUND].

notes and context

See Context to st. 3. This stanza follows immediately upon Rdr 5 in three mss of SnE, R, and C.

[5-8]: These lines are difficult and a number of possible interpretations have been proposed. The basic sense of the helmingr is that the Goths, at Jǫrmunrekkr’s direction, repay (launa) Hamðir and Sǫrli for their attack upon their leader. (a) The interpretation adopted here follows most closely the view of Marold (1983, 73-5; cf. Finnur Jónsson 1930-1, 265-6) as being the best in terms of its attention to poetic syntax and the normal rules of kenning formation. Birki bláserkjar ‘birch-branch of the dark shirt (i.e. mail-shirt)’ is taken to belong to a pattern of sword-kenning in which the base-word is a twig or reed, or occasionally a specific tree species (cf. Meissner 152). (b) In Skj B Finnur Jónsson construed the second element of the cpd ballfagr (l. 6) as belonging to gǫtu and understood the presence of a kenning fagrgata bláserkjar birkis (see LP: fagrgata), sverdets lyse vej ‘the sword’s shining path [WOUND]’. He then understood a rather awkward intercalary clause comprising ennihǫgg ball ok eggjar (ll. 6, 7) with the verb ball ‘resounded’ (from bella) having a coordinate subject, pandehug rungede og sværdene lød ‘forehead blows rang and swords resounded’. (c) Kock (NN §§215, 2002) also took ennihǫgg ok eggjar together, understanding them as a coordinate object of launa ‘repay’, and in this he was followed by Faulkes (SnE 1998, II, 266, 343). For this interpretation to work, the noun hǫgg ‘blows’ must be understood with both enni- and eggjar-, as a kind of hendiadys, to give the following prose word order: ok allir launa sonum Jónakrs ballfǫgr (or bǫlfǫgr) ennihǫgg ok eggjar[hǫgg] birkis bláserkjar ‘and all repay the sons of Jónakr [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] for the powerfully shining (or ‘evilly shining’) forehead- and sword-blade blows of the birches of the dark shirt [WARRIORS = Hamðir and Sǫrli]’. The sense of the kenning birkis bláserkjar in this interpretation is unusual, and depends upon birki being understood as a collective noun ‘birches’, which can therefore stand for a group, or in this case, a pair, of warriors. In the interpretation proposed by Marold and adopted above birki is understood as an abstraction ‘something birch-like’ and so ‘birch branch/twig’ and the kenning birki bláserkjar ‘birch branch of the dark shirt (i.e. mail-shirt)’ may then be understood as a kenning for a sword.



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 6: AI, 2, BI, 2, Skald I, 1, NN §§214, 215, 2002, 2985A; SnE 1848-87, I, 372-3, II, 576-7, III, 60-1, SnE 1931, 134, SnE 1998, I, 51.


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