Mythological Names and dróttkvætt Formulae I: When is a Valkyrie Like a Spear?

  • - Frog University of Helsinki
Keywords: oral poetry, variation, formula, skaldic poetry, dróttkvætt, kenning


This article explores patterns of language use in oral poetry within a variety of semantic formula. Such a formula may vary its surface texture in relation to phonic demands of the metrical environment in which it is realized. Metrically entangled kennings in Old Norse dróttkvætt poetry provide material for a series of case studies focusing on variation in realizing formulae of this type. Old Norse kennings present a semantic formula of a particular type which is valuable as an example owing to the extremes of textural variation that it enables. Focus will be on variation between two broad semantic categories in expressing the formula’s consistent unit of meaning that are otherwise unambiguously distinct: proper names for mythological beings and poetic terms for weapons and armour. This article introduces an approach to kennings as semantic formulae and includes an illustrative case study on kennings meaning ‘battle’ in the last three metrical positions of a dróttkvætt line. The case study is simultaneously used to demonstrate the degree of integration of mythological proper names in the poetic register. This article contains only the first case study of a series. It provides foundations for examining variation in the associative links exhibited by names of mythic beings as a category according to the metrical positions in which a battle-kenning is realized.


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