ANATOLY LIBERMAN (Minneapolis, USA) BERSERKS IN HISTORY AND LEGEND The Old Icelandic word berserkr (plural berserkir) has made its way into many European languages. In English dictionaries, it appears as berserker, but below I will be using the Icelandic form without final r and the plural berserks.., ... Berserks are mentioned for the first time by the skald horbojrn (= Thorbjorn) Hornklofi in a poem commemorating Harald Fairhair's victory in the battle of Hafrsfj6r6r ca. 872. These are the relevant lines: grenio60 ber- serkir / gu6r var peim a sinom / emio6o iilffie6wr / ok isarn glum do ("the berserks roared, / the battle was in full swing, / the wolfskins howled / and shook the irons"). The skafds, who, unlike the singers of epic lays, described contemporary events, embellished the truth only within limits, and for this reason their po- etry has always been looked upon as a reliable source of information. Unfor- tunately, we learn nothing from Thorbjorn about the berserks except that they roared. The wolfskins (or wolfcoats) behaved in a similar way: they howled. Apparently, both the berserks and the wolfskins were warriors able to make a lot of noise while fighting. From the
Russian History – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2005
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