Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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ÞjóðA Sex 18II/2 — vexa ‘does not swell’

Sveinn át sigr at launa
sex þeim, es hvǫt vexa,
innan eina gunni,
ǫrleiks, Dana jǫrlum.
Varð, sás vildit forða,
vígbjartr, snǫru hjarta,
í fylkingu fenginn
Fiðr Árnasonr miðri.

Sveinn át at launa þeim sex jǫrlum Dana sigr innan eina gunni, es hvǫt ǫrleiks vexa. Fiðr Árnasonr, sás vildit forða snǫru hjarta, varð vígbjartr fenginn í miðri fylkingu.

Sveinn does not have to reward those six jarls of the Danes for victory in one battle, in whom the incitement of munificence does not swell. Finnr Árnason, who did not want to save his valiant heart, was, battle-bright, captured in the midst of the troop.


[2] vexa (‘vęxa’): vaxa FskBˣ


[2, 4] es hvǫt ǫrleiks vexa ‘in whom the incitement of munificence does not swell’: Hvǫt and ǫrleiks clearly go together. Hvǫt refers to ‘impulse, incitement’, and often in battle poetry to keenness or valour. Ǫrleiks (nom. sg. ǫrleikr), meanwhile, can mean generosity, as clearly in Þjóð Har 2/8I, or it can be a routine kenning, ‘arrow-sport [BATTLE]’. The reference here could therefore be ‘incitement of munificence’ (the impulse of the warrior to repay his patron’s generosity) or on the other hand ‘valour in battle’, or ‘incitement to battle’. Vexa is also capable of more than one interpretation. (a) The assumption tentatively made here is that vexa is vex-a ‘does not grow, swell’, i. e. 3rd pers. sg. pres. indic. of the strong verb vaxa, with negative suffix. A negative would follow naturally after the negated át ‘has not’, matching the first cl.’s assertion that Sveinn did not have to reward his men for victory (though it must be conceded that the mss do not show variation of -a and -at which would prove that the scribes understood vexa as a negative). Moreover, the strong, intransitive verb vaxa is much more common than vexa ‘increase’ which is required by interpretation (b), and the use of vaxa in contexts referring to prowess is attested in Eil Þdr 8/5, 6, 8III láta sér megin vaxa ‘let one’s strength increase’. Under this interpretation the point is that the Danes failed in valour, and let Sveinn down, because they were not possessed by hvǫt ǫrleiks, the encouragement of his generosity (which would chime meaningfully with launa ‘reward’), or by valour in battle. (b) Previous eds have assumed a weak, transitive verb vexa ‘grows’ here, referring to the Danes’ valour. This verb is at best rare in early sources, however, and is not included in Fritzner, though it is in ONP Ordliste, and see LP: vexa 2. Further, a statement about the bravery of the Dan. jarls sits rather uncomfortably with the statement that Sveinn does not have to reward them for victory, and editorial discomfort is registered by Finnur Jónsson in Hkr 1893-1901, IV, where his translation reads, Sven har (kan) ikke at lönne (takke) de seks danske jarler ‘Sveinn has not to (cannot) reward (thank) the six Danish jarls’. External evidence which helps to arbitrate between options (a) and (b) is sparse. The second helmingr of the Þjóðólfr st., with its emphasis on the heroic bravado of Finnr Árnason, might serve as a contrast: this Norwegian fights his utmost, unlike the six jarls of the Danes (some of whom may have been the Norw. defectors mentioned in st. 11), but on the other hand it could illustrate and elaborate on the first helmingr. The prose context to the st., both the immediate and wider one, does not really help to arbitrate between interpretations (a) and (b), but after initial references to the superior numbers of the Danes, and their confidence, they are mainly shown fleeing, which would support (a).



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