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The Waning Sword: Conversion Imagery and Celestial Myth in 'Beowulf'
More info and resources at: https://doi.org/10.11647/obp.0190

Part I. Ice, Candle and Cross: Images of the Giant Sword in Beowulf

2. The Giant Sword and the Ice

© Edward Pettit, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0190.02

Arguably the most remarkable image in Beowulf appears soon after the hero beheads Grendel’s mother with a single sword-stroke—itself an extraordinary feat and a moment of genuine horror1—and then decapitates her lifeless son in the giants’ lair at the bottom of a Danish mere. After Beowulf is deserted by the Danes who had waited for his return at the water’s surface, something remarkable happens to the blade of the golden-hilted giant sword with which he dispatched both monsters. As described from the poet’s perspective:

        Þa þæt sweord ongan

æfter heaþoswate  hildegicelum,

wigbil, wanian;  þæt wæs wundra sum

þæt hit eal gemealt,  ise gelicost

ðonne forstes bend  fæder onlæteð,

onwindeð wælrapas,   se geweald hafað

sæla ond mæla;  þæt is soð metod.

Ne nom he in þæm wicum,  Weder-Geata leod,

maðmæhta ma,  þeh he þær monige geseah,

buton þone hafelan  ond þa hilt somod,

since fage;   sweord ær gemealt,

forbarn brodenmæl;  wæs þæt blod to þæs hat,

ættren ellorgæst  se þær inne swealt. (1605–17)

Then the sword, the war-bill, after/because of the battle-sweat [i.e., blood], began to wane [i.e., diminish] with/into battle-icicles; it was a great wonder that it entirely [or ‘all’] melted, just like ice when the Father, who has control of times and seasons,2 loosens frost’s bonds, unwinds well-ropes3 [i.e., ice covering deep pools]; that is the true Measurer. He [i.e., Beowulf], prince of the We(a)ther-Geatas,4 did not take in that dwelling more precious objects, although he saw many there, than the head and the hilt, shining with treasure; the sword[-blade] had earlier melted, the wavy-marked [blade] burnt up; the blood was hot to that extent, the alien visitor/spirit poisonous (to that extent) which died therein.

Later in the poem, Beowulf describes the blade’s demise from his perspective, which lacks the poet’s macrocosmic analogy and, indeed, any reference to ice. He simply informs Hroðgar how þæt hildebil / forbarn brogdenmæl, swa þæt blod gesprang, / hatost heaþoswata ‘the battle-bill burnt up, the wavy-marked [blade], as the blood sprang out, hottest of battle-sweats’ (1666–8).

The poet’s image of the sword-blade wanian ‘waning/diminishing’,5 of how it gemealt ‘melted’ and forbarn ‘burnt up’, which occurs at the centre of the poem, is striking. In my view, these three verbs describe the same ongoing destructive event, as there is no indication that the blade burst into shards which only subsequently melted (the supposed shards then being what is meant by the term hildegicelum ‘battle-icicles’). Unlike Beowulf’s sword Nægling which, towards the end of the poem, forbærst ‘burst apart’ (2680) against the dragon’s head, it seems clear that the giant sword did not break against the toughness of its two victims. Instead, it was a process of dissolution with a beginning—the blade ongan ‘began’ to wane—and a distinct end. It did not disintegrate instantaneously. Nor would it make sense for it to shatter in contact with a liquid. Rather, it seems clear that its iron blade gradually diminished by melting and burning in the monstrous blood’s ferocious heat.6

Not only is this image of the blade’s demise remarkable, it is surely highly significant as a wundra sum ‘great wonder’, which the poet equates, in an ‘all but epic simile’,7 with God’s deliverance of the world and its waters from the icy grip of winter.8 But despite the image’s centrality, length and evident importance, scholars have not, as Andy Orchard has noted, found a credible source for it.9 Nor, in my view, have they satisfactorily explained why, from the poet’s perspective, the blade diminished ‘with/into battle-icicles’, as the following selective overview of their thoughts may demonstrate.

Prior Views on the Melting of the Giant Sword

More than one scholar has compared the melting of the giant sword’s blade to that of the dragon which the hero Sigemund pierced with his sword earlier in the poem: wyrm hat gemealt ‘the hot snake melted’ or ‘heat melted the snake’ (897).10 This comparison has some merit, especially as the dragon which later kills Beowulf breathes fire that seems likened to blazing swords.11 But the Sigemund-episode makes no mention of a sword melting, or of icicles or ice.12

Scholars have also compared the blade’s melting in hot monster-blood to references to the corrosive blood of horses and he-goats in Pliny the Elder’s first-century Naturalis Historia ‘Natural History’ (28.41) and medieval bestiaries.13 A passage from the mid-seventh- to mid-eighth-century Anglo-Latin Liber monstrorum ‘Book of Monsters’, describing a beast whose poison is so potent that it melts the cutting edges of an iron weapon, has rightly also been highlighted.14 But, again, these parallels go only so far, as they make no mention of icicles or ice. Nor do the medieval Irish passages describing hot, corrosive blood adduced by Martin Puhvel.15 Nor, again, does a nineteenth-century Icelandic folktale about a marvellous scythe that melts like wax when held over a fire, which the same scholar says bears only a superficial resemblance to the melting of Beowulf’s giant sword.16

Another proposed analogue, or even source, appears in the twelfth book of Virgil’s Aeneid. It records that Aeneas’ enemy, Turnus, his original sword having snapped, seized his charioteer’s sword, which glacies ceu futtilis ictu dissiluit ‘like brittle ice, flew asunder at the stroke’ (740–1).17 There is some similarity between this passage and the failure, though not fracture, of Hrunting in Beowulf (1522–8), followed by the icicle-like melting of the giant sword.18 But the fact remains that the charioteer’s sword shattered against the armour of Vulcan worn by Aeneas—it did not melt in hot monster-blood. As with Nægling, shattering is a common fate of the overtaxed sword in heroic literature,19 but such a manner of destruction appears crucially different from the melting of the giant sword’s blade after it had succeeding in delivering its blows. Andy Orchard, who proposed this analogue, acknowledges that ‘as it stands the parallel might not seem very secure’, but suggests that ‘one need only imagine a variant text reading dissoluit (‘dissolves’) to provide a much better match’.20 No such variant is known, however, and unless perhaps the armour of the fire-god Vulcan was supposed to be extraordinarily hot, ice identified as futtilis ‘brittle’21 might be expected to shatter, rather than melt, under sudden violent contact.

Stephen Glosecki compares the giant sword’s melting with words spoken by the reciter of an Old English metrical charm from the collection known as Lacnunga ‘Remedies’.22 A patient having been pierced by a supernatural iron spearhead which remained in the body, the healer declares:

‘Gif herinne sy  isenes dæl,

hægtessan geweorc,  hit sceal gemyltan!’

‘If herein there should be a piece of iron, the work of a witch [or ‘witches’], it shall melt!’23

This comparison has merit in that here we have a piece of iron weapon of supernatural make melting. It does not melt in blood, however; nor is there mention of ice. Also, the melting iron is here the cause of affliction, rather than the means of its relief.

Another scholar, Caroline Brady, adduces no comparable images of melting in Old English texts, but focuses on the kenning hildegicelum ‘with/into battle-icicles’.24 She claims that the giant sword was probably grægmæl ‘grey/silver-marked’ (2682), and that this attribute, together with the polished nature of a pattern-welded sword-blade, enables us to ‘envision the shimmering sheen of the blade as Beowulf raised it high and then, after he swung it down to cut off Grendel’s head, we can also envision the fine steely iron melting into hoar-frosty splinters in the demonic blood hotter than the hellfire’. She adds: ‘Obviously -gicel [‘icicle’] is a metaphor, a conscious transfer—based on resemblance—from the primary referent, “splinters” of ice melting when spring comes, to another, “splinters of frosty steel,” with which it is not essentially, even for the moment, identical, the two referents standing in different referential and semantic ranges.’ But the term grægmæl is used only of the sword Nægling later in the poem, when, as we have noted, it shatters, rather than melts, against a dragon’s skull. Also, splinters/shards result from shattering, not melting.

Alvin Lee similarly addresses the significance of hildegicelum without reference to other texts.25 For him, this term, which would seem ‘bizarre and far-fetched’ in isolation, becomes explicable and ‘singularly effective’ when viewed in its verbal and narrative context.26 The identification of melting blade and melting icicles is then seen to do a ‘significant piece of strong poetic work,’ and in hildegicelum ‘a major pattern of meaning comes to its climax.’27 Lee relates the hilde- ‘battle’ part to the preceding struggle between Beowulf and Grendel’s mother and to the beheading of Grendel. He also observes that ‘there is a kind of visual accuracy in the notion of the melting metal looking like melting ice, but there is more to the figure than that.’28 He relates the -gicelumicicles’ part to preceding references to the overtaking of the world by the winter associated with the depredations of Grendel. This monster, who existed in ‘perpetual night’ (sinnihte 161) and inhabited windswept headlands and a mere above which the skies wept and frost-covered trees bent, brought twelve winters (years) (twelf wintra tid 147) of misery upon the Danes of Heorot. It is this frosty rule, together with the wintry waters in which sea-monsters assailed Beowulf during his swimming contest with Breca, that the melting of the blade ‘with battle-icicles’ puts an end to: ‘All this background, I suggest, prepares for the kenning hildegicelum. The battle fought by Beowulf on behalf of Heorot is a battle for life, living things, freedom of movement, and human joy against death, shadowy demonic beings, enslavement by powers of darkness, and the joylessness of a frozen world locked in wintry bonds.’29

Daniel Anlezark has also contributed to the discussion: ‘From fiery battle-blade the sword has been metaphorically changed into a cool battle icicle, a transformation that mimics the alternation of heat and cold used in a sword’s manufacture, but furthermore deploying the seasonal image of melting ice to evoke the symbolic renewal of life that the destruction of the murderous Grendel-kin signals.’30 I would qualify this observation by noting that, strictly speaking, the poet does not liken the giant sword to a single icicle, and that the plurality of hildegicelum is arguably suggestive of the multiple cold iron rods from which pattern-welded blades were made, an analogy perhaps encouraged by the first syllable of OE isern ‘iron’, which sounds the same as OE isice’.31 It may be, therefore, that as the blade melts, it not only disappears but is figuratively unmade.32

For Earl R. Anderson, hildegicelum, ‘a nonce-compound, is the semantic center of gravity’33 in ‘the perfect simile’.34 He adds that:

The poet fashioned this unique compound [i.e., hildegicelum] just for this one sword-blade, in an artistic act of morphological iconicity. The blade was ise gelicost, more like ice than any other object in the world could be, because no other sword-blade ever melted into a multiplicity of icicle-like strands.35

Anderson also observes that ‘preternatural fire and icicles are apt images of hell’, and relates the sword’s melting to God’s release of waters in springtime.36 In turn, he sees an ‘exact’ parallel in Indra’s freeing of the world’s waters by slaying the snake Vŗtra in Indian myth.37 On this last basis ‘the simile opens the text [i.e., Beowulf] to a world of dragon-slaying myths’.38

Most recently, the authors of the Dictionary of Old English declare that hildegicelum refers to ‘drops of blood dripping from a sword’.39 But although this could be part of what the image evokes, it is not, I think, its focus, as the poet emphasizes that ‘it was a great wonder’ that the sword melted ‘just like ice’. In other words, the icicles were not principally drops of congealing monster-blood dripping from the blade—a sight which would not be especially noteworthy.

Although all these scholars have made useful observations, in my view there is much more to say about this image. In the rest of this chapter I highlight the image’s distinctiveness by comparison with ostensibly similar descriptions of ice- and icicle-swords in Old Norse texts. In Chapters 3 and 4 I go on to argue that the image may have important implications for the interpretation of Beowulf from a religious perspective, specifically with regard to symbols of Easter.

Old Norse Ice-Swords

To my knowledge, surviving Anglo-Saxon records contain only one image markedly comparable to that of the melting giant sword in Beowulf. However, as even this parallel in the Old English poem Andreas makes no reference to ice, I reserve it for the next chapter. Nor do we find sword-melting imagery in the many Old Norse analogues to Beowulf that scholars have adduced.

What we do find, in Old Norse skaldic poems, is a frequent likening of swords to ice, and sometimes icicles,40 given their obvious similarity in terms of coldness, sharpness and shape. Numerous examples follow, some of which were reportedly spoken on English soil, though all centuries later than a seventh- or eighth-century Beowulf. Significantly, despite some interesting similarities, they appear most helpful for the appreciation of the image of the melting giant sword because of their differences from it. They serve to highlight in considerable number, through contrast, the uniqueness of the Old English image, which strictly speaking concerns not an ice- or icicle-sword, but a sword that melts into icicle-like strands of semi-molten iron.

The Icelander Vígfúss Víga-Glúmsson (b. c. 955) called a sword þunníss Gunnar ‘slender ice of Gunnr [a valkyrie]’.41 For Hallvarðr Háreksblesi, an Icelandic skald (poet) at the court of King Knútr (Canute), a sword was sikulgjarðar íss ‘ice of the sword-belt/baldric’.42 A verse attributed to Haraldr harðráði Sigurðarson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 refers to Hlakkar íss ‘ice of Hlǫkk [a valkyrie]’.43 In the thirteenth-century saga that bears his name, the Icelander Gísli Súrsson envisions himself brandishing a hjaldríss ‘battle-ice’,44 a term that bears some resemblance to OE hildegicelum.

Unsurprisingly, Old Norse ‘ice-swords’, like any other type of sword, may be bloody, as was the giant sword when it melted. Thus, in the twelfth-century, Kolli inn prúði declared Lýsa munk, hvé ljósa /—laut hrafn í ben Gauta—/ … sárísa rauð vísi ‘I shall describe how … the ruler reddened bright wound-icicles—the raven bent over the wounds of the Gautar [i.e., the Geatas of Beowulf]’.45 Similarly, in a verse attributed to the eleventh-century Icelander Sigvatr Þórðarson a warrior is called an íss gunnrjóðr ‘war-reddener of ice’.46 An anonymous stanza describing an attack by King Knútr and his forces on London refers to the clanging of the blóðíss ‘blood-ice’.47

Skaldic designations of swords as specifically jǫklaricicles’ or ‘glaciers’ (cognate with OE -gicelum) include one by Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, a jarl of Orkney in the twelfth century, who described swords as bǫðvar jǫklar ‘battle’s icicles/glaciers’.48 In the twelfth or thirteenth century, the Icelander Haukr Valdísarson identified blood as the sárjökuls geimi ‘sea of the wound-glacier/ice/icicle’.49 A stanza quoted in the final part of Snorri’s thirteenth-century Prose Edda features a cluster of images of ice-swords steeped in a sea of blood, including a reference to swords as styrjǫklar ‘battle-glaciers/icicles’:

Álmdrósar skylr ísa

ár flest meginbára sára,

kœnn lætr hræ[s] á hrǫnnum

hjálmsvell jǫfurr gella fella;

styrjǫkla kná stiklir,

stinn, mens legi venja benja,

lætr stillir frár fylla

fólk sund hjarar lunda unda.50

The mighty wave of wounds [BLOOD] washes nearly every year the bow-woman’s ice [VALKYRIE > SWORD]. The clever prince lets the helmet-floe [SWORD] resound hard on the fellers’ waves [SWORDS > BLOOD]. The necklace-thrower [GENEROUS PRINCE] does accustom battle-glaciers/icicles [SWORDS] to the wound-sea, the swift ruler lets the sword-woods’ [WARRIORS’] wound-sound [BLOOD] fill the stiff swords.51

Hertha Marquardt suggested that the association of a sword with icicles in Beowulf, taken together with the Old Norse parallels, might reflect an ancient Germanic sword-kenning more widely attested in Norse tradition.52 Rudolf Meissner, however, thought the similarity with skaldic imagery purely fortuitous.53 For her part, Roberta Frank detects here and elsewhere in Beowulf ‘echoes of skaldic diction’, but ‘heard at a great distance, from outside the [skaldic] tradition, and recorded to supply a touch of Scandinavian color, to capture the flavor of the sixth-century Danish society described.’54 But whatever the explanation of the similarities (to the extent that they are seen), a key difference stands out. Rather surprisingly, in none of the many Old Norse references to ice-swords I have found does such a weapon melt like an icicle or ice. Instead, Old Norse ice-swords may shatter, as in the twelfth-century Icelander Einarr Skúlason’s phrase folks brustu svell ‘the ice-sheets of battle [swords] burst’.55 This key difference serves to underline the Beowulf-poet’s assertion that ‘it was a great wonder’ that the giant sword melted like ice.56

To comprehend more fully the image of the melting of the giant sword’s blade, I believe we must appreciate another intimated parallel. It is one that finds corroboration in medieval Norse and Irish texts, but seems to have been overlooked by scholars in connection with the giant sword. It is between a sword and a wax candle.

1 This point, which underlines the achievement of both Beowulf and the giant sword, is well made by G. R. Owen-Crocker, ‘Horror in Beowulf: Mutilation, Decapitation, and Unburied Dead’, in E. Treharne and S. Rosser (ed.), Early Medieval English Texts and Interpretations: Studies Presented to Donald G. Scragg (Tempe, 2002), 81–100, who notes: ‘Decapitation in pitched battle is clearly unusual. Beowulf’s feat in achieving this against Grendel’s mother … is a triumph of opportunism and speed: he sees a gigantic sword and acts fast. We must not underestimate it’ (99).

2 On the elusiveness of a precise translation for sæla ond mæla, see E. R. Anderson, Understanding Beowulf as an Indo-European Epic: A Study in Comparative Mythology (Lewiston, 2010), 261. He suggests that ‘in good times and [other] times’ might capture part of the meaning. In the context, other potentially relevant senses of mæl include ‘mark’, ‘sign’, ‘cross’, ‘crucifix’, ‘armour’, ‘sword’ and ‘battle’.

3 Or ‘whirlpool/pool-ropes’ or ‘slaughter/destruction-ropes’.

4 Weder-Geatas is usually translated ‘Weather-Geats’, but Gräslund, Beowulfkvädet, argues that in this term weder originally meant ‘wether’, the ram being a symbol of a Gotlandic people.

5 At the end of this study I suggest attributing celestial significance, among other things, to this waning.

6 Although the precise interpretation of the passage wæs þæt blod to þæs hat, / ættren ellorgæst is uncertain, it seems most likely that the extraordinarily hot blood which melts the giant sword’s blade is that of the fiery-eyed Grendel; see KB, 210. It should, however, be noted that the giant sword is explicitly bloodied only by decapitating Grendel’s mother—Sweord wæs swatig ‘The sword was sweaty/bloody’ (1569)—whose blood was presumably also abnormally hot, though perhaps less so than her son’s.

7 S. Viswanathan, ‘On the Melting of the Sword: Wæl-rápas and the Engraving on the Sword-Hilt in Beowulf’, PQ 58 (1979), 360–3 at 361.

8 Cf. the wonder expressed by King Alfred at the sun’s heat turning an is-mere ænlic ‘unique ice-mere’ to water in S. Irvine and M. R. Godden (ed. and trans.), The Old English Boethius with Verse Prologues and Epilogues Associated with King Alfred (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2012), 342–3 (Metre 28, lines 59–64). Note also a passage from a late Anglo-Saxon homily describing how God worked a mycel wundor ‘great wonder’: þær com heofonlic leoht to þam halgum martyrum, swa hat swa sunne scinende on sumere, and þæt is formealt on eallum þam mere and þæt wæter wearð awend to wynsumum baðe ‘there came a heavenly light to the holy martyrs, as hot as the sun shining in summer, and the ice melted away across all the mere and the water was turned into a pleasant bath’; W. W. Skeat (ed.), Ælfric’s Lives of Saints, EETS o.s. 76, 82, 94, 114 (London, 1966), I, 250 (ll. 195–9).

9 A. Orchard, Pride and Prodigies: Studies in the Monsters of the Beowulf-Manuscript (Cambridge, 1995), 112.

10 F. H. Whitman, ‘Corrosive Blood in Beowulf’, Neophilologus 61 (1977), 276; Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, 112; KB, xlvi, 210; Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 262. For an eighth-century Latin parallel to, or possible source for, this dragon’s peculiar demise, see A. K. Brown, ‘The Firedrake in Beowulf’, Neophilologus 64 (1980), 439–60 at 442–3, https://doi.org/10.1007/bf01513838

11 See Chapter 14.

12 Nor do other instances of melting in the poem—those of human heads (1120); Beowulf’s hall under dragon-fire (2326); and treasure, along with Beowulf’s body (3011). Note too that Wiglaf’s spirit ne gemealt ‘did not melt’ (2628) in the face of the climactic dragon.

13 Whitman, ‘Corrosive Blood’.

14 Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, 111–2, 300–1. I return to it in Chapter 14.

15 M. Puhvel, ‘The Melting of the Giant-Wrought Sword in Beowulf’, ELN 7 (1969), 81–4; M. Puhvel, Beowulf and Celtic Tradition (Waterloo, Ontario, 1979), 39–44. Another medieval Irish text describes how the ornament on a burning sword melted in the heat generated by the sword’s use, but there is no analogy with ice; J. H. Todd (ed.), Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh: Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gaill (London, 1867), 196–7.

16 Puhvel, Beowulf, 40. As I hope will become apparent in Chapter 3, however, this image may well parallel a key aspect of what was in the Anglo-Saxon poet’s mind.

17 H. R. Fairclough (trans.), Virgil: Aeneid VII–XII, Appendix Vergiliana, rev. edn. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000), 352–3.

18 Cf. also the closely following image of Turnus as a stag fleeing a hound with Beowulf 1367–72.

19 See T. J. Garbáty, ‘The Fallible Sword: Inception of a Motif’, JAF 75 (1962), 58–9.

20 A. Orchard, A Critical Companion to Beowulf (Cambridge, 2003), 136.

21 C. T. Lewis and C. Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford, 1879), s.v. This is the only instance of the sense ‘brittle’ cited therein for this word.

22 Glosecki, Shamanism, 136–7; see also S. F. Burdorff, ‘Re-reading Grendel’s Mother: Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Metrical Charms’, Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 45 (2014), 91–103 at 98, https://doi.org/10.1353/cjm.2014.0068

23 Text and translation adapted from E. Pettit (ed. and trans.), Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The Lacnunga, 2 vols (Lewiston, 2001), I, 92–3.

24 C. Brady, ‘“Weapons” in Beowulf: An Analysis of the Nominal Compounds and an Evaluation of the Poet’s Use of Them’, ASE 8 (1979), 79–141 at 102–3, https://doi.org/10.1017/s0263675100003045; see also Clemoes, Interactions, 100.

25 A. A. Lee, Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: Beowulf as Metaphor (Toronto, 1998), 66–70.

26 Lee, Gold-Hall, 66.

27 Lee, Gold-Hall, 66, 68.

28 Lee, Gold-Hall, 69.

29 Lee, Gold-Hall, 70.

30 D. Anlezark, Water and Fire: The Myth of the Flood in Anglo-Saxon England (Manchester, 2006), 310.

31 OE isern appears in Beowulf in the compounds isernbyrne ‘iron mail-coat’ (671) and isernscur ‘iron shower (of arrows)’ (3116), the latter in the context of burning coals and flame. The commoner form of the word in the poem as it has comes down to us is iren(n), however.

32 See also A. G. Brodeur, The Art of Beowulf (Berkeley, 1959), 21: ‘hildegicel … was evoked by an imagination working in a manner resembling the processes of thought behind the skaldic kenning diguljökull, “ice of the crucible,” for the concept “silver.” As silver melts in the crucible, so ice melts in the sun. In hildegicel the thought is similar, but it is not concealed and strained as in the skaldic kenning; it is visualized and communicated in a clear and lovely image.’

33 Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 262.

34 Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 260.

35 Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 262.

36 Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 262–3.

37 Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 263. See also my Chapter 3.

38 Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 263.

39 DOE s.v. hilde-gicel.

40 R. Meissner, Die Kenningar der Skalden: ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik (Bonn, 1921), 151–2.

41 D. Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1, SPSMA 1 (Turnhout, 2012), 363. Translations from Old Norse texts are mine, unless otherwise indicated.

42 SnESkáld, I, 93.

43 K. E. Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2, SPSMA 2 (Turnhout, 2009), 55.

44 Björn K. Þórólfsson and Guðni Jónsson (ed.), Vestfirðinga sögur, ÍF 6 (Reykjavík, 1943), 93.

45 Gade, Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2, 530–1.

46 Whaley, Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1, 705–6.

47 Whaley, Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1, 1025.

48 Gade, Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2, 590. Gade translates ‘glaciers of battle’.

49 T. Möbius (ed.), Islendingadrapa Hauks Valdisarsonar: ein isländisches gedicht des XIII. Jahrhunderts (Kiel, 1874), 7, 38.

50 A. Faulkes (ed.), Snorri Sturluson: Edda: Háttatal (Oxford, 1991), 26.

51 Adapted from A. Faulkes (trans.), Snorri Sturluson: Edda (Oxford, 1987), 201.

52 H. Marquardt, Die altenglischen Kenningar: ein Beitrag zur Stilkunde altgermanischer Dichtung (Halle, 1938), 12.

53 R. Meissner, review of H. Marquardt, Die altenglischen Kenningar: ein Beitrag zur Stilkunde altgermanischer Dichtung in Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Literatur 76 (1939), 30–34 at 31–2.

54 R. Frank, ‘Did Anglo-Saxon Audiences Have a Skaldic Tooth?’, SS 59 (1987), 338–55 at 343.

55 Gade, Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2, 554–5. There are also descriptions of Norse sword-blades breaking ‘under the hilt’, for which see H. Falk, Altnordische Waffenkunde (Kristiania, 1914), 18.

56 Cf. Anderson, Understanding Beowulf, 262.