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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Eskál Vell 25I/5 — holm ‘of the island’

Hitt vas auk, at eykir
aurborðs á vit norðan
und sigrunni svinnum
sunnr Danmarkar runnu.
Ok holmfjǫturs hjalmi
Hǫrða valdr of faldinn
Dofra danskra jǫfra
dróttinn fund of sótti.

Hitt vas auk, at eykir aurborðs runnu norðan und svinnum sigrunni sunnr á vit Danmarkar. Ok valdr Hǫrða, dróttinn Dofra, of faldinn hjalmi holmfjǫturs, of sótti fund danskra jǫfra.

It also happened that the draught-animals of the plank [SHIPS] ran from the north under the wise victory-tree [WARRIOR] south towards Denmark. And the ruler of the Hǫrðar [NORWEGIAN RULER = Hákon jarl], the lord of the Dofrar [NORWEGIAN RULER = Hákon jarl], wearing the helmet of the island-fetter [= Miðgarðsormr], sought a meeting with the Danish rulers.


[5] holm‑: ‘hiolm‑’ Bb


[5, 6] faldinn hjalmi holmfjǫturs ‘wearing the helmet of the island-fetter [= Miðgarðsormr]’: (a) The explanation of this kenning lies in the notion that the Miðgarðsormr ‘World Serpent’ encircles the earth (SnE 2005, 27, 50); this mythical serpent then represents ‘serpent’ or ‘snake’ in general. A snake helmet is mentioned several times in connection with Norwegian rulers, as when Haraldr hárfagri is called holmreyðar hjalmtamiðr ‘used to the helmet of the island-salmon [SNAKE]’ (Þhorn Gldr 6/5, 6), cf. also SnSt Ht 15/1, 2III. The snake helmet appears to be connected with the œgishjalmr ‘helmet of terror’, which occurs both as a figure of speech and as an object attributed to the legendary dragon Fáfnir (Fáfn 16/1, 17/1).This connection is suggested by the use of œgir in reference to the Miðgarðsormr in Bragi Þórr 6/2III. Norwegian kings are said to wear the œgishjalmr in Arn Hryn 6/4II and in Egill Arkv 4/2V (Eg 100), where œgishjalmr is varied by ýgs hjalmr ‘helmet of terror’; cf. also Sturl Hryn 8/8II. Helmets on which snakes are depicted are known from the archaeological record, albeit from before the Viking period (Sutton Hoo, Vendel); see further Marold (1998a, 13‑17) on snake helmets and œgishjalmr as symbols of the ruler’s terrifying power. (b) A possible variant of this is to understand holmfjǫturs ‘island-fetter, serpent’ as Fáfnir himself. (c) A further alternative is to interpret holmfjǫturs as a standard sea-kenning (cf. Meissner 94), hence ægis ‘sea, ocean’ and, by ofljóst, œgis ‘terror’, hence œgishjalmr by a different route. Attractive though this is, it seems to be ruled out by the dissimilar vowels: æ (ae ligature) contrasting with œ (oe ligature).




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