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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Lilja, 97 [Vol. 7, 672-3]

[6] riettlig undirstaðan ‘the right meaning’: Lit. ‘right foundation’. Lie (1952, 78) interprets this as the skald’s argument for the precedence of content over form in poetry: words should be chosen for their ability to express the thoughts and feelings of the poet rather than to satisfy formal requirements. Undirstaða came to have a precise meaning in ON religious literature (see Fritzner: undirstaða 4). The homily on the wedding at Cana in HómÍsl 1993, 87r speaks of the difficulty of understanding or distinguishing (vér skilem) the true meaning of the gospel (uɴder ſtǫþor goþſpiallz). In the prologue to Nikolaus saga erkibyskups II, the translator prays that his version may worthily reflect the efni ok undirstodu ‘substance and meaning’ of his Lat. exemplar (Unger 1877, II, 50). FoGT uses the word in its definition of paradigma, which uses examples with similar meanings (eiginligri undirstöðu) to illustrate an idea (SnE 1848-87, II, 214). The concern of the skald in this st. is more likely the right expression of the theological import of his matter than of his own thoughts and feelings.


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