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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. 54. Hallar-Steinn, 1. Rekstefja, 22 [Vol. 1, 922]

[2, 3] fella stœrri aska ‘to make larger ash-timbers fall’: The stanza presents Eiríkr jarl’s order to fella stœrri aska as the decisive action that enables him to conquer Ormr inn langi, but the sense of this is elusive. Fella, the causative verb from falla ‘fall’, means ‘to make fall’ and its specific meaning here depends on the interpretation of aska. Stœrri ‘larger’ is grammatically comp., but the point of the comparison remains unclear, unless it simply means ‘larger than normal’. What is meant by aska is also obscure. The word askr means ‘ash-tree, ash-timber’ and therefore objects made of ash, or the objects themselves, whether of ash or not: spear-shafts (hence spears) or ships (LP: 1. askr), though the use of askr as a nautical term is surprisingly rare, especially given that OE æsc is used of viking ships (Jesch 2001a, 135). Askr ‘(ash-)tree’ is also used as a base-word in man-kennings (Meissner 267; LP: askr). The prose context (see Context above) understands Eiríkr’s strategy as the hurling of timbers onto Ormr inn langi. Kock (NN §3121), however, doubting that Eiríkr could have brought timber from Norway for this purpose, suggests that ships are meant, and that fella á (ll. 2, 4) means ‘fall upon, attack’. Further possibilities assuming that the prose is based on a misunderstanding are that aska simply means ‘spears’, or that aska belongs to a man-kenning, and that Eiríkr’s order is simply to kill the opposition. The difficulty here is that there is no convincing determinant for such a kenning, unless it was originally styrjar ‘of battle’, which, because it echoes styr earlier in the line, was altered in the course of transmission to the problematic stœrri.

references

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