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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. 38. Óttarr svarti, 2. Knútsdrápa, 8 [Vol. 1, 777]

[4] kastala ‘the fortification’: This is the earliest extant occurrence of this word in skaldic verse, by over a hundred years. Since kastali is a weak m. noun in ON, kastala here could be either sg. or pl. (acc. direct object of sóttuð ‘attacked’). The origins and meaning of the word are unclear. The traditional view is that Lat. castellum was twice borrowed into OE, firstly (directly) as castel n. ‘village, settlement’ in the late C10th, and secondly (via French castel) as castel m. ‘stronghold, castle’ in the mid C11th (see OED; see also Parsons and Styles 2000, 145-8). However, it is clear that in C11th Anglo-Lat., castellum (pl. castella) could refer to fortifications or fortified towns (see Norton 2004, 208 n. 2). It is thus likely that Óttarr’s kastala refers to the old Roman city walls of London (within which urban development occurred in the late Anglo-Saxon period: see Vince 1990). Since the word is more likely to have entered Óttarr’s lexicon via OE than Lat., this suggests that OE castel (presumably n.) possessed an unrecorded sense of ‘fortification, fortified settlement’. Later occurrences of the word in ON are probably re-borrowings, with the French-derived sense of ‘stronghold, castle’.


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