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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Anon (Ragn) 9VIII (Ragn 39)

[2] svarðmerðlingar ‘head-dress wearers’:  Lit. ‘hair-trap wearers’. This cpd noun is a hap. leg. and a number of suggestions have been made about its meaning. (a) It is argued here that it is formed from svǫrðr m. ‘scalp (with the hair on)’, merð f. ‘trap (for catching fish in rivers or streams)’, and the suffix ‑lingr m. here meaning ‘bearing, wearing’. The noun svǫrðr occurs both in prose and in poetry in the meaning ‘skin’, especially of the head; it is listed in Skm along with other words, including hár ‘hair’, as the determinant in a kenning for ‘head’, with land ‘land’ as the base-word (SnE 1998, I, 108), and occurs in this combination in Ht (SnE 2007, 25; SnSt Ht 57/6III) as land svarðar ‘land of the scalp [HEAD]’. As for merð ‘fish-trap’, this word, listed as Fritzner: merð, mærð (both f.) and Fritzner IV: merð, merðr and mærðr (the last two m.), is explained by Þórhallur Vilmundarson (1998, 7-8) as referring to a ‘wickerwork fish-trap, usually with a funnel-shaped opening’ that was used in Norway and very possibly in Iceland too, to judge from p. n. evidence, for catching trout in particular. The word does not appear to have been used in poetry. Kock provides adequate support for the sense ‘wearing’ (or ‘bearing’) for the suffix ‑lingr with his reference (NN §117) to the analogous OHG sarling ‘bearer of saro (armour)’, i.e. ‘warrior’; cf. also Meissner 350. Since svarðmerðlingar lit. ‘hair-trap wearers’ seems to refer proleptically to the synir Loðbróku ‘sons of Loðbróka’ of l. 4 (see Note there), the term is probably to be explained by reference to the wearing of some kind of head-dress (McTurk 1991a, 26-7). There is evidence from Saami tradition for the ritual wearing of female costumes by male celebrants of pagan deities (Olrik 1905, 53-5), perhaps suggesting that svarðmerðlingar ‘hair-trap wearers’ here refers to wearers of female head-dresses in a context of pagan cult, see the Notes to l. 4 below. Possibly relevant here too are the brothers referred to as ‘the two Haddingjar’ in Hyndl 23 (NK 292), by Saxo (Saxo 2015, I, v. 13. 4, pp. 344-5), in Heiðr (Heiðr 1960, 3), and in Ǫrv 5/6 (cf. Ǫrv 1888, 97). Their name is apparently related to haddr m. ‘a woman’s (head of) hair’ (AEW: haddr), and because they appear consistently as a duo, they have been linked by modern scholars (Turville-Petre 1964, 213-20; Dumézil 1973, 106-25; Kroesen 1987) to the deities that Tacitus (Germania 1967, 473; cf. 479-82) equates with the Dioscuri twins Castor and Pollux, and says were ritually celebrated by a priest dressed or adorned like a woman. (b) An alternative explanation, proposed by Stefán Karlsson (though not published; see McTurk 1991b, 358-9) involves taking svǫrðr m. to mean ‘grass’ (cf. ModEngl. ‘sward’) (rather than ‘scalp (with hair)’), merðlingr m. as a diminutive of mǫrðr m. ‘(pine) marten’, and the word as a whole to mean ‘small animals of the grass’, i.e., ‘snakes’. Relevant here is the fact that two of Ragnarr’s sons, Ívarr and Sigurðr, have respectively the nicknames beinlauss ‘Boneless’ (or ‘Legless’) and ormr-í-auga ‘Snake-in-eye’, which both conjure up in different ways the idea of a snake (see McTurk 1991a, 41; and cf. the Notes to Ragn 6/7-8 and st. 8, above). Stefán’s view thus implies that svarðmerðlingar refers to two, at least, of Ragnarr’s sons. (c) Somewhat more far-fetched is the view of Olsen (1912, 29-30), that the first element in svarðmerðlingar derives from svǫrðr m. ‘skin with the hair on, (bacon)-rind’, and the second element from mǫrðr m. ‘marten’; and that the third, ‑lingr, is a diminutive suffix. The first two elements of the name, svarðmǫrðr ‘rind-marten’, would thus mean ‘boar’ and the svarðmerðlingar ‘piglets’ would be the boar’s sons, cf. Ragnarr’s reference to himself and his sons as a boar and porkers respectively in Ragn 27/1-5. (d) Other previous explanations of svarðmerðlingar all involve emendation: Finnur Jónsson in Skj B reads it as sverðmerðlingar ‘sword-trap bearers’, i.e. ‘shield-bearers, warriors’ (cf. also CPB; FSN I 299 n. 4; and Meissner 350); and Kock in Skald (cf. NN §117) gives the reading sverðmorðlingar ‘sword-murderers, warriors’; while Olsen (Ragn 1906-8, 221) attributes to Sophus Bugge the reading sverðmiðlungar m. pl., ‘sword-dealers’ by analogy with the vígmiðlungr ‘battle-dealer’ of Þjóð Yt 26/11I (cf. LP: vígmiðlungr); and Finnur Jónsson in LP: sverðmerðlingr tentatively relates the second and third elements in the word to the verb merla ‘illuminate’ (leaving ‑ingr rather than ‑lingr as the suffix), suggesting the sense ‘those who keep their swords shining’, i.e. ‘(active) warriors’.


  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. FSN = Rafn, Carl Christian, ed. 1829-30. Fornaldar sögur nordrlanda. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. 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.
  7. AEW = Vries, Jan de. 1962. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 2nd rev. edn. Rpt. 1977. Leiden: Brill.
  8. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  9. CPB = Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and F. York Powell, eds. 1883. Corpus poeticum boreale: The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue from the Earliest Times to the Thirteenth Century. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. Rpt. 1965, New York: Russell & Russell.
  10. Turville-Petre, Gabriel. 1964. Myth and Religion of the North. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  11. Fritzner = Fritzner, Johan. 1883-96. Ordbog over det gamle norske sprog. 3 vols. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske forlagsforening. 4th edn. Rpt. 1973. Oslo etc.: Universitetsforlaget.
  12. 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.
  13. SnE 1998 = Snorri Sturluson. 1998. Edda: Skáldskaparmál. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. 2 vols. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  14. Fritzner IV = Hødnebø, Finn. 1972. Ordbog over det gamle norske sprog af Dr. Johan Fritzner: Rettelser og tillegg. Oslo, Bergen, Tromsø: Universitetsforlaget.
  15. Ǫrv 1888 = Boer, R. C., ed. 1888. Ǫrvar-Odds saga. Leiden: Brill.
  16. SnE 2007 = Snorri Sturluson. 2007. Edda: Háttatal. Ed. Anthony Faulkes. 2nd edn. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  17. Dumézil, Georges. 1973. From Myth to Fiction: The Saga of Hadingus. Trans. Derek Coltman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
  18. Germania 1967 = Much, Rudolf, ed. 1967. Die Germania des Tacitus. 3rd edn. Heidelberg: Winter.
  19. Heiðr 1960 = Tolkien, Christopher, ed. and trans. 1960. Saga Heiðreks konungs ins vitra / The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise. Nelson Icelandic Texts. London etc.: Nelson.
  20. McTurk, Rory. 1991a. Studies in Ragnars saga loðbrókar and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues. Medium Ævum Monographs new ser. 15. Oxford: Society for the Study of Mediæval Languages and Literature.
  21. Olsen, Magnus. 1912. Stedsnavnestudier. Kristiania (Oslo): Aschehoug.
  22. Ragn 1906-8 = Olsen 1906-8, 111-222.
  23. Kroesen, Riti. 1987. ‘One Hadingus – Two Haddingjar’. SS 59, 404-35.
  24. Olrik, Axel. 1905. ‘Nordisk og lappisk gudsdyrkelse: Bermærkninger i andledning af solvognen fra Trundholm’. Danske studier 2, 39-57.
  25. Þórhallur Vilmundarson. 1998. ‘Svikahrappar og lygamerðir’. Lesbók Morgunblaðsins 6 júní, 7-8, 17-18.
  26. McTurk, Rory. 1991b. ‘Loðbróka og Gunnlöð: frá frjósemisdýrkun til víkingaveldis’. Skírnir 165, 343-59.
  27. Saxo 2015 = Friis-Jensen, Karsten, ed. 2015. Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes. Trans. Peter Fisher. Oxford Medieval Texts. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon.
  28. Internal references
  29. 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 367.
  30. Not published: do not cite (SkmIII)
  31. Kari Ellen Gade 2017, ‘Háttatal’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  32. Not published: do not cite ()
  33. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2017, ‘Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal 57’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1166.
  34. Edith Marold (ed.) 2012, ‘Þjóðólfr ór Hvini, Ynglingatal 26’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 55.
  35. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Ǫrvar-Odds saga 5 (Hjálmarr inn hugumstóri, Lausavísur 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 816.
  36. Rory McTurk (ed.) 2017, ‘Ragnars saga loðbrókar 27 (Ragnarr loðbrók, Lausavísur 10)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 678.
  37. Rory McTurk (ed.) 2017, ‘Ragnars saga loðbrókar 36 (Anonymous Lausavísur, Lausavísur from Ragnars saga loðbrókar 6)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 695.


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