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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

8. Breta saga 144 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I, 76) [Vol. 8, 112]

[3] blístrar ‘hisses’: The application of the verb blístra in context remains unclear. Attested senses include ‘make a strong blowing noise (of uncertain type), whistle, hiss, snort, sniff’ (so ONP: blístra); in the present context ‘hiss’ is tentatively selected, in view of Geoffrey’s allusion to snakes, which Gunnlaugr otherwise seems to have passed over, at least to judge from the present state of the text. Bret 1848-9 translates as hvisler ‘hisses’, followed by Skj B, while Merl 2012 has pfeift ‘whistles’. Meanwhile the idiom blístra í spor, glossed in ONP: blístra as ‘to sniff in somebody’s tracks [to no avail]’, ‘to whistle for somebody in vain’ (cf. also ÍF 8, 227 n. 3, ÍF 30, 38 n. 3), also needs to be taken into account. Conceivably Gunnlaugr could have in mind verses where the speaker is an intimidated or outwitted male lover (e.g. Bjbp JómsI and Steinarr WomanIII). In DGB, however, it is overweening behaviour on the part of women themselves that is under attack, not the allegorised pride of someone sniffing in vain in their tracks. Admittedly it is uncertain whether Gunnlaugr has resumed his close adherence to the Latin by this point or whether the rendering might be looser and more euphemistic (cf. Note on ll. 1-2); replebitur ‘will be filled’ is semantically remote from blístrar, though for another somewhat loose translation of replebitur see I 70/8. An alternative approach would see the problem as lying with a disruption of the text: blístrar could have arisen through error for original *miklask (3rd pers. sg. pres. ind. of miklask ‘be augmented, increased’), thus *metnuðr miklask í spor meyjum ‘pride is augmented in the maidens’ tracks’, where *miklask would loosely render replebitur. The noun metnuðr occurs in collocation with miklask in Anon HsvVII 30, as a variant reading for magnask (LP: mikla), and with þróask ‘swell’ in Hávm 79/4. In prose usage mikill ‘great’ and its superlative mesti ‘greatest’ are frequent collocates of metnuðr (ONP: metnuðr). For the idea of something springing up from the footsteps of a woman, cf. II 12/3-4.


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