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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Refr Frag 4III

[1] markaðr myrkdreki ‘ornate dark-dragon <spear>’: (a) The reading markaðr (lit. ‘marked’, p. p. of the weak verb marka ‘mark’), present only in ms. U, has been preferred here because it solves the many problems that myrkdreki marka(r) ‘dark-dragon of the field(s)’ (so all other mss) poses for any interpretation of this phrase as a kenning for ‘spear’ or ‘snake’ (see below). The basis for the present interpretation is the way the stanza is introduced in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 71): Spjót er ormr kallat, sem Refr kvað ‘the spear is called snake, as Refr said’. In all other examples of weapon-kennings in this section of Skm (SnE 1998, I, 70-1) both the determinants and the base-words of the kennings are given, but here it is only said that a spear is called ‘snake’. Hence it is most likely that a heiti and not a kenning for ‘spear’ is meant. The context of LaufE (see above) points in the same direction; the stanza is cited after a collection of heiti for ‘spear’. This heiti could be myrkdreki ‘the dark dragon’; in this context one can compare such sword-names as Góinn (a mythical serpent; for the meaning see Þul Orma 2/2) and Naðr ‘Adder’ (Þul Sverða 9/2, 7 and 8). These names may derive from snake-like patterns on weapons resulting from pattern-welded steel. Cf. HHj 9/5-8 (NK 143) liggr með eggio | ormr dreyrfáðr | enn á valbǫsto | verpr naðr hala ‘a blood-coloured snake lies along the edge, and on the grip an adder whips its tail’ (see Kommentar IV, 463-6, Falk 1914b, 19 and Meissner 153; for lance heads with pattern-welding see Ypey 1984, 203-4). If myrkdreki is regarded as a heiti for ‘spear’, the word marka (or markar) found in most mss cannot be accommodated in the stanza, but markaðr ‘ornate, decorated’ (so ms. U) is a fitting adj. for myrkdreki, possibly referring to engraved patterns on such weapons. (b) Previous eds and interpretations tried to combine marka (R, , W, papp 10ˣ, 2368ˣ, 743ˣ) or markar (A) with myrkdreki. Sveinbjörn Egilsson (SnE 1848-87, III) and Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) were unable to find a suitable determinant for the base-word myrkdreki ‘dark-dragon’ that would allow them to form a complete spear-kenning. In Skj B, Finnur Jónsson adopts the variant borðs ‘of the plank’ (l. 4; so A and, possibly, U) and construes the kenning myrkdreki markar borðs ‘dark-dragon of the forest of the plank [SHIELD > SPEAR]’. ‘Forest of the plank’ is not a shield-kenning, however, and Finnur’s interpretation also results in a tripartite l. 4. Faulkes (SnE 1998 I, 196; see also his translation Faulkes 1987, 121) also seems to favour this solution. Kock (NN §783) regards myrkdreki markar ‘the dark dragon of the forest’ as a kenning for ‘snake’. However, dreki is synonymous with ormr ‘snake’ (see Þul Orma 2/4) and does not need a determinant. A kenning such as myrkdreki marka(r) would only work if dreki ‘dragon’ were an aquatic animal, making the kenning conform to the common pattern ‘fish of the land [SNAKE]’. A similar kenning is found in Ill Har 1/3II myrkaurriði markar ‘the dark trout of the forest [SERPENT = Fáfnir]’, but in this case the base-word is indeed a fish. Since there is no reason to believe that dreki was regarded as an aquatic animal – normally, dragons are lying or crawling on the ground, living in caves or flying (see Homann 1986, 132-4) – the kenning myrkdreki marka(r) would not conform to any known kenning pattern.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. SnE 1848-87 = Snorri Sturluson. 1848-87. Edda Snorra Sturlusonar: Edda Snorronis Sturlaei. Ed. Jón Sigurðsson et al. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Legatum Arnamagnaeanum. Rpt. Osnabrück: Zeller, 1966.
  4. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  6. Faulkes, Anthony, trans. 1987. Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Everyman’s Library. London and Rutland, Vermont: J. M. Dent & Sons and Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc. Rpt. with new chronology and synopsis 2005.
  7. NK = Neckel, Gustav and Hans Kuhn (1899), eds. 1983. Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern. 2 vols. I: Text. 5th edn. Heidelberg: Winter.
  8. Kommentar = von See, Klaus et al. 1997-. Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda. 6 vols (continuing). Heidelberg: Winter.
  9. Falk, Hjalmar. 1914b. Altnordische Waffenkunde. Videnskapsselskapets skrifter, II. Hist.-filos. kl. 1914, 6. Kristiania (Oslo): Dybwad.
  10. SnE 1998 = Snorri Sturluson. 1998. Edda: Skáldskaparmál. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. 2 vols. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  11. Ypey, J. 1984. ‘Damaszierung’. In RGA, 5, 191-213.
  12. Homann, Holger. 1986. ‘Drache’. In RGA, 6, 131-7.
  13. Internal references
  14. Not published: do not cite (SkmIII)
  15. Elena Gurevich (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Þulur, Sverða heiti 9’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 806.
  16. Elena Gurevich (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Þulur, Orma heiti 2’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 929.
  17. Not published: do not cite ()
  18. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2009, ‘Illugi bryndœlaskáld, Poem about Haraldr harðráði 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 282-3.
  19. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Laufás Edda (LaufE)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].


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