Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Arn Þorfdr 4II

[1-4]: The syntactic relationships within this isolated helmingr are extremely elusive. The analyses presented here (beginning with the rationale for the construal above) have severe drawbacks, and one must suspect corruption in the text. (a) Taka is construed with the inf. bera, hence ‘begin to bear’, with mínir ungir synir ‘my young sons’ as the subject, and þung mein ‘heavy sorrows’ the object, to bera—all well-paralleled idioms. Sín en mik ‘his and I’ (l. 1) in R, and W does not make sense, however the helmingr is construed, so that the U reading ‘syn vm mik’, normalised sýn of mik, has been adopted. Sýn ‘manifest, visible’ qualifies mein, and of mik is assumed to mean ‘for me, on my account’, cf. of/um sik in expressions such as sýsla/hyggja of sik ‘trouble about oneself’ (so Konráð Gíslason 1877, 56, and Skj B; Kock’s interpretations of taka and sýn in NN §827 are on the other hand unsupported by recorded usage). Of in l. 3 can hardly be the intensive prefix to the word þengils since þengils alliterates and must be fully stressed; nor can it be an expletive particle, since þengill does not belong to any of the categories of noun that usually follow the particle (Kuhn 1929a, 26-31). It is therefore construed as a causal prep., governing enda þess sessa þengils, hence ‘at/because of the death of the bench-mate of the monarch’. Morðkennds ‘battle-skilled’ or ‘battle-renowned’ in a eulogy for Þorfinnr seems most likely to refer to him, in the kenning sessa þengils ‘of the bench-mate of the monarch’ rather than the unnamed þengils ‘monarch’ embedded in the kenning. Þengill could refer to Óláfr helgi or to Magnús inn góði, both of whom Þorfinnr was obliged to placate (Orkn chs 18 and 30). Of enda þess morðkennds sessa þengils is understood as an elaboration of mein, hence ‘sorrows at the death of the battle-skilled bench-mate of the monarch’. The main objection to this analysis is that it presupposes an extremely complex w. o. in the helmingr. In particular, the placing of the finite verb taka, far from the beginning of the cl., is abnormal, as is that of of (l. 3) if þung mein of enda ‘heavy sorrows at the death’ are taken together. (b) The following analysis obviates these difficulties, but involves the assumption of some usages that are not precisely paralleled in ON. The st. is construed as Þung, sýn mein bera of mik; mínir ungir synir taka enda þessum sessa morðkennds þengils ‘Heavy, manifest sorrows loom over me; my young sons learn of the death of that bench-mate of the battle-skilled monarch.’ Bera of mik is here taken as predicate to þung mein, hence ‘heavy sorrows loom over me’. This use of bera of/yfir is attested in Sigfús Blöndal 1920-4: bera (p. 71, col. a) in a quotation from 1908 in which an observer states that he saw a black speck or cloud bera yfir Látrafjöllin ‘looming over Látrafjöll’. Taka is assumed to have the sense ‘hear, learn, receive news of’. This receives some support from idioms such as hann tók því vel ‘he received that favourably’ where því refers to news or a greeting; cf. also the partially synonymous nema, whose meaning shades into ‘take in, understand’ or ‘listen to’ (as in nemi drótt ‘let the retinue take in’, st. 15/1). The U variant þessum is taken with (enda) sessa þengils as a dat. indicating possession or respect, hence ‘death of that bench-mate of the monarch’. Since sessa is assumed to be dat. sg., morðkennds ‘battle-skilled’ must qualify þengils. (c) For a further set of possibilities, see Whaley 1998, 227-8.


  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. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. Sigfús Blöndal. 1920-4. Islandsk-dansk ordbog / Íslensk-dönsk orðabók. Reykjavík, Copenhagen and Kristiania (Oslo): Verslun Þórarins B. Þorlákssonar / Aschehoug.
  5. Whaley, Diana, ed. and trans. 1998. The Poetry of Arnórr jarlaskáld: An Edition and Study. Westfield Publications in Medieval Studies 8. Turnhout: Brepols.
  6. Konráð Gíslason. 1877. Om helrim i förste og tredje linie af regelmæssigt ‘dróttkvætt’ og ‘hrynhenda’. Indbydelsesskrift til Kjøbenhavns universitets aarsfest til erindring om kirkens reformation. Copenhagen: Schultz.
  7. Kuhn, Hans (1899). 1929a. Das Füllwort of-um im Altwestnordischen: Eine Untersuchung zur Geschichte der germanischen Präfixe: Ein Beitrag zur altgermanischen Metrik. Ergänzungsheft zur Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiet der indogermanischen Sprachen 8. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  8. Internal references
  9. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Orkneyinga saga (Orkn)’ 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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