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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bjǫrn Lv 1VIII (Frið 9)

Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Friðþjófs saga ins frœkna 9 (Bjǫrn, Lausavísur 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 204.


text and translation

Erat sem ekkja
á þik vili drekka,
björt baugvara
biði nær fara.
Sölt eru augu,
sitkak í laugu;
bálskorð arma,
bítr mér í hvarma.

Erat sem ekkja vili drekka á þik, {björt baugvara} biði fara nær. Augu eru sölt, sitkak í laugu; {{arma bál}skorð}, bítr mér í hvarma.
‘It it not as if a woman would want to drink to you, [or that] a bright ring-bearer [WOMAN] would ask [you] to come close. [My] eyes are salty, I am not sitting in a bath; prop of the fire of arms [(lit. ‘fire-prop of arms’) GOLD > WOMAN], my eye-lids are stinging.

notes and context

Friðþjófr’s foster-brother Bjǫrn wonders whether the women of Sogn will weep over him, while the storm continues to rage. He speaks this stanza.

This is the only runhent stanza in Frið, though the end-rhyme of ll. 1-2 is not exact. The text is very difficult to make sense of in the A redaction mss, and not very easy in the others. It is clear that a great deal of scribal corruption has affected the stanza’s transmission, with the consequence that there are a number of possible interpretations of the various readings in both redactions. Because the A mss are particularly hard to understand, readings from the B mss have been selected in ll. 1 and 2. Even so, the interpretation offered here is tentative. Line 7 is particularly difficult to understand. Kock (NN §1474) suggests a possible parallel between this stanza and Krm 20, in which some of the same vocabulary occurs (ekkja ‘woman’, laug ‘bath’), and where a contrast is drawn between men fighting in battle and a woman bringing basins of warm water. The present stanza (in the reading offered here) seems to suggest that the bitter struggle at sea that Friðþjófr and his men now encounter has made them unattractive to the women back home, and this is consistent with Bjǫrn’s expressed scepticism in the prose text of both redactions. — [7-8]: The interpretation of these lines is uncertain. The first word or words of l. 7 have not been authoritatively explained, and most eds emend, following the B redaction, to either bilar sterka arma ‘[my] strong arms fail’ (Frið 1901, 21) or bilar styrk arma ‘the strength of my arms fails’ (Skj B). The prose of the B text endorses the notion that baling the ship is hard work for the men’s arms. Relying on the A text, Wenz (Frið 1914, 13) has bilskorð arma but does not explain what it may mean. All known compounds in which -skorð ‘prop, support’ is the second element are women-kennings in which the first element denotes either ornament or clothing (cf. LP: skorð). Hence the bil- of the cpd’s first element is anomalous, as the word’s normal meaning is ‘delay, moment’. Edd. Min. emends to bálskorð ‘fire-prop’, which, together with arma ‘of arms’, can be understood as an inverted, two-part woman-kenning, ‘prop of the fire of arms’ [GOLD > WOMAN]’. This seems the only feasible interpretation of the A mss’ readings, and has been adopted here. Kock (Skald; NN §1474) has Bil skortir arma, in which Bil is a goddess-heiti (cf. LP: Bil) and skortir is an emendation, depending on 27ˣ’s reading ‘skortt’, with the second <t> supposedly mistaken by the scribe for an <ir> abbreviation. Kock does not, however, explain what he thinks ll. 7-8 mean in this interpretation. In this edn the woman-kenning arma bálskorð is taken as a direct address to a woman, and the speaker complains of his miserable situation, not taking a warm bath, but being buffeted by salty seas, which are stinging his eyes. With Skj B, l. 8 is understood as an impersonal construction, bítr mér í hvarma, lit. ‘it bites me on the eyelids, my eyes are stinging [with the salt sea]’. The alternative is to take the kenning (?) of l. 7 as the subject of the verb bítr ‘bites’ (l. 8), ‘the woman bites me on the eyelids’, but the scenario conjured up by this interpretation is either ludicrous or improbable, unless one imagines the hostile sea-deity Rán as the kenning referent (cf. Frið 11/5-6).



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], E. 7. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Friðþjófssaga ens frækna I 9: AII, 271, BII, 293-4, Skald II, 154-5, NN §§1474, 2387; Falk 1890, 73-4, Frið 1893, 14, 44-5, 71, Frið 1901, 21, Frið 1914, 13; Edd. Min. 98.


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