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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

2. Þorbjǫrn skakkaskáld, Erlingsdrápa, 1 [Vol. 2, 631-4]

[6] á jǫrnum ‘[standing] on the irons’: Taken here to refer to the iron beam on which Auðun and the other men were standing while they were hacking away at the planking of the warship. The anchor-stock (akkerisstokkr) is the vertical piece on the top of the anchor which protrudes in the opposite direction to the anchor-flukes (see Falk 1912, 79). However, it is inconceivable that the Norsemen could have been standing on an anchor-stock, because anchors were small and a ship would have carried quite a few of them (see Pryor and Jeffreys 2006, 210-11). It is possible that what the Norsemen mistook for an anchor-stock was the spur of the ship, a ‘long wooden beam, perhaps sometimes sheathed in iron, attached to the stempost … and suspended by a chain or coupling from its head’ (Pryor and Jeffreys 2006, lvi, see also pp. 203-4, 448). Orkn (ÍF 34, 225) mentions that the warship had a protective iron covering (járnafarit), and the compiler of that saga, if he knew Þorbjǫrn’s poem, most likely interpreted jǫrnum as iron covering. However, there is no evidence that Mediterranean warships had such protective covers (John H. Pryor, pers. comm.). Skj B separates the prep. from the following noun. Finnur construes á ‘on, at’ with vélar ‘cunning’ (su á vélar yðrar ‘looked at your cunning’), and he takes jǫrnum as an instr. dat. lit. ‘with irons’ with the second cl. of the helmingr, translated as I slog ovenfra med jærn skibets skanser ned ‘You struck the ship’s fortifications down from above with iron’. However, a proclitic prep. cannot be separated from the following nominal phrase (see NN §902). The quantity of the vowel in jǫrnum (rather than jrnum) is established by the internal rhyme -arn- : -ǫrn (see ANG §133b.2). Note that there is no vowel alliteration on the j-.

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