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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. 18. Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, 2. Vellekla, 25 [Vol. 1, 314]

[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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