Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Þhorn Harkv 8I

[5, 7] berserkir; ulfheðnar ‘berserks; wolf-skins [berserks]’: Berserkir are normally characterized as warriors given to animal-like fighting frenzy (e.g. Blaney 1993, 37), and etymologised as ‘bear-tunics’ (AEW: berserkr), cf. ulfheðnar ‘wolf-skins’, in which heðinn is an animal fur or skin, or a hooded jacket or cloak made of skin. Von See (1961a) argues that berserkr was not a fixed term designating an actual C10th warrior type but a descriptive cpd that was misinterpreted and adopted by later skalds (including the one he believes added sts 12-23 to this poem). Moreover, the berserkir here are not, he says, Haraldr’s elite troop but his enemies. Liberman (2003) argues that ber- in the sense ‘bear’ occurs only as a borrowing from Ger. in berfjall ‘bear-skin’, and revives an earlier theory that in berserkir it is more likely to have meant, originally, ‘bare’ (adj. berr).


  1. Bibliography
  2. AEW = Vries, Jan de. 1962. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 2nd rev. edn. Rpt. 1977. Leiden: Brill.
  3. Liberman, Anatoly. 2003. ‘Berserkir: A Double Legend’. In Simek et al. 2003, 337-40.
  4. See, Klaus von. 1961a. ‘Excurs zum Haraldskvæði: Berserker’. Zeitschrift für deutsche Wortforschung 17, 129-35. Rpt. in von See 1981a, 311-17.
  5. Blaney, Benjamin. 1993. ‘Berserkr’. In MedS, 37-8.


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