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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Eil Þdr 17III

[1-2] þungum rauðbita þangs tangar ‘the heavy red mouthful of the seaweed of tongs [PIECE OF IRON]’: Here the metaphorical analogy between a glowing piece of iron and food is carried over from the previous stanza. The base-word of the kenning for ‘piece of iron’, þang, falls into the category of things edible, since seaweed (sǫl n. pl. ‘red algae’, Palmaria palmate) was a source of sustenance (cf. Foote and Wilson 1970, 149; Davidson 1983, 645). See Grg Ib, 94, where it is stated that a man has the right to eat seaweed on another’s land; or the episode in Egils saga (Eg ch. 78, ÍF 2, 244-5) in which Egill’s daughter persuades her father to chew on seaweed. Furthermore, such words as sǫlvakaup n. ‘seaweed purchase’, sǫlvaponta f. ‘seaweed container’ and þangskurðr m. ‘seaweed collecting’ show that seaweed was collected and traded (see Heizmann 1993, 59-60, 65). Þangs tangar ‘of the seaweed of tongs’ is thus modelled on the same pattern as afli soðnum sega tangar ‘a hearth-boiled morsel of tongs’ (st. 16/6, 7), and the metaphor also extends into the following stanzas with lyptisylg síu ‘raised drink of the spark’ (st. 18/3, 4) and nestum meina ‘provisions of harm’ (st. 19/7, 8). Rauðbita ‘the red bite’ cannot be integrated into the kenning þangs tangar ‘of the seaweed of tongs [PIECE OF IRON]’, but it does connect the two domains of the metaphorical comparison with ‘red’ for the glowing iron and ‘bite’ for the domain of eating. The verb gein ‘he bit at’ belongs to the latter as well (cf. gin ‘mouth’, st. 16/8). The kenning þangs tangar ‘of the seaweed of tongs [PIECE OF IRON]’ itself belongs to both, the literal and the metaphorical levels – iron (tǫng ‘tong’) and eating (þǫng ‘seaweed’). The present interpretation is preferable to previous explanations of þangs, because it allows semantic and structural parallels to be drawn to the other kennings that paraphrase this iron projectile. Reichardt (1948, 381) understands þangs ‘of the seaweed’ as a variation on reyr ‘reed’, vǫndr ‘twig’ etc. and he combines it with tangar ‘of tongs’. This results in a kenning for an iron staff allegedly cast at Þórr, which is corroborated neither by the poem nor by the prose of Skm. Finnur Jónsson offers two different explanations for þang tangar in LP: 1. ‘seaweed of the blacksmith’s tongs’, i.e. the glowing chunk of iron (LP: þang), 2. ‘stem of seaweed gripped by tongs’ (LP: tǫng). Kock (NN §2251) reconstructs a word *þvang ‘narrowing, throat’ which he uses to translate rauðbiti þvangs þangar as tångklämmans (tångkäftens, tångsvaljets) röda bit ‘red bite of the trap of tongs (of the mouth of tongs, the throat of tongs)’.


  1. Bibliography
  2. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. 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.
  4. Foote, Peter G. and D. M. Wilson. 1980. The Viking Achievement. 2nd edn. Great Civilizations Series. London: Sidgwick & Jackson.
  5. Grg = Grágás.
  6. ÍF 2 = Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar. Ed. Sigurður Nordal. 1933.
  7. Davidson, Daphne L. 1983. ‘Earl Hákon and his Poets’. D. Phil. thesis. Oxford.
  8. Heizmann, Wilhelm. 1993. Wörterbuch der Pflanzennamen im Altwestnordischen. Ergänzungsbände zum RGA 7. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  9. Reichardt, Konstantin. 1948. ‘Die Thórsdrápa des Eilífr Goðrúnarson: Textinterpretation’. PMLA 63, 329-91.
  10. Internal references
  11. Not published: do not cite (EgV)
  12. Not published: do not cite (SkmIII)


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