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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. 38. Óttarr svarti, 1. Hǫfuðlausn, 8 [Vol. 1, 750]

[8] járnhringar gunnþinga ‘iron-rings of battle-meetings [MAIL-SHIRTS]’: The line (gunnþinga járnhringar in ms. order) raises a question of syllable count. W, the sole ms. of FGT, has sg. gunnþings here, and writes a clearly disyllabic ‘éärn’ for the first element of járnhringar, which might suggest a disyllabic form, though Hreinn Benediktsson’s view (FGT 1972a, 226 n.) is that ‘the accent and the diaeresis are surely later additions’. The First Grammarian comments that kveðandin skyldi hann til at slíta eina samstǫfu í sundr ok gøra tvær ór, til þess at kveðandi haldisk í hætti ‘the meter forced him [the poet] to split one syllable into two, so that the meter might remain intact’ (FGT 1972b, 20-1, trans. Haugen). However, the gen. pl. reading -þinga in the konungasǫgur mss supplies the necessary six syllables for the line and so is followed here, whereas Skj B adopts W’s archaic reading, as do Skald and ÍF 27. Skj B and ÍF 27 both translate járnhringar as ‘swords’. Hringr ‘ring’ often stands for ‘sword’ in skaldic diction (see Note to Þhorn Harkv 1/1), as does járn ‘iron’; cf. Kock’s (NN §728) klingor utav järn ‘blades of iron’. Rainford (1995, 66) argues instead that the gunnþinga járnhringar which sprungu ‘sprang apart’ are mail-shirts; this view is adopted here. For the use of hringr and járn in terms for mail-shirts see further Falk (1914b, 175-7), and compare OE hringīren ‘ring-iron, mail-shirt’ in Beowulf l. 322 (Beowulf 2008, 13). The construction appears to be a kenning, although it does not match the most stereotypical kennings for ‘mail-shirt’ (Meissner 165).

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