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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Líknarbraut, 33 [Vol. 7, 264-6]

[6] boðar lasta kasta þér ‘billows of vices toss you’: Rydberg includes hjá böls bárum ‘past the waves of sin’ (l. 5) in this intercalary cl. Skj B and Skald add a negative particle (kastat ‘do not toss’), but this misses the point that the voyage is rough and that mankind’s only safety in such peril is the Cross and what it represents. Peter Chrysologus (C5th), e.g., writes that the ship tunditur ... non mergitur ‘is pounded but not sunk’ (Petrus Chrysologus, Sermo 21, col. 258); Augustine, too, describes the sea as so turbulent that even those who are borne upon the cross-tree can scarcely (vix) traverse it (Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, I, XVI.25, col. 672; O’Donnell 1992, I, 12). The etymology of boði in a marine context is disputed. Most ON dictionaries see it as deriving from boða ‘to announce’ (boði ‘messenger, proclaimer’), i.e. a wave which, breaking over a submerged reef or skerry, ‘announces’ or ‘bodes’ the hidden rocks (so CVC, LP, and Fritzner). Ulvestad and Beeler 1957 believe this to be a folk etymology and conclude that it is ‘more appropriate to regard “submerged reef” (semantically unrelated to boða) as the primary meaning, and “wave” or “breaker” as the secondary’ (214). For yet another view, see AEW: boði 2. With the verb kasta ‘to throw, toss’, however, ‘billow’ seems the preferable sense; a ship that strikes a reef in a storm does not survive to continue its journey. It is possible that the poet is also playing on the lit. sense in which boðar lasta means simply ‘proclaimers, preachers of vices’; these, too, are sometimes associated with threatening waves, as in the Epistle of Jude, who likens false teachers to fluctus feri maris despumantes suas confusiones ‘waves of the raging sea, foaming out their own confusion’ (13).


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