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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

8. Breta saga 3 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II, 3) [Vol. 8, 136]

[7] miðsamlig rök ‘momentous signs’: Both words in this phrase offer difficulties of interpretation. In its draft article on rǫk ONP proposes the following main senses: 1. ophav, oprindelse, grund, argument, bevis; 2. tegn, under, åbenbaring; 3. forhold, hændelse, begivenhed ‘1. beginning, origin, cause, argument, proof; 2. sign, wonder, revelation; 3. condition, event’. While this might suggest a variety of possible senses in II 3/7, the presence of rǫk in II 2/4 limits the options, if we assume that the same sense applies in both stanzas, which seems likeliest. Here sense 2. ‘sign’ is selected. The adj. miðsamligr (here n. pl., agreeing with rǫk) is not attested elsewhere and any explanation can only be tentative. Compounds, either adjectives or adverbs, with the final element ‑samlig- are numerous (cf. Fritzner IVsamliga and  samligr). The attestations show that the first element in such compounds is typically if not invariably a noun rather than an adj. or verb. On that basis, in this edn the first element in miðsamlig is interpreted as mið ‘middle-point’, in one of its derived senses of ‘pointer, mark, sign, indicator, indication, guidance’ (cf. ONP: mið (hafa mið); Fritzner: II mið). Particularly relevant is the attestation (Unger 1874, 304; cf. CVC, ONP: mið) kváðu þeir lítil mið at Páli ok kenningum hans ‘they said that there was little guidance [to be had] from Paul and his teachings’, i.e. the teachings were ‘little to be relied on’. Comparable senses can be inferred from the verb miða ‘mark, indicate, point to, enable someone to gauge’ (CVC: miða; Fritzner: miða 1). Signs (rǫk) that are miðsamlig would on this logic be ‘indicative, pregnant, momentous’, from a basic sense of ‘pointing to’, where the thing pointed to is the shape of the future. The same thinking can be seen in Merl I 100/3-8: nemi skynsemi ok skili gǫrla, hvat mun táknat í þessi tǫlu – spásaga esat ǫll enn liðin ‘let them learn wisdom and understand fully what is signified in this narration – the entire prophecy has not yet come to pass’. The following stanza, I 101/7-10, enjoins the audience to compare recent events with the prophecies to see that they do indeed coincide, i.e. to see how the prophecies point to and are borne out by subsequent events. Suggestions by previous eds about the meaning of miðsamligr differ widely. Bret 1848-9 translates it as mindeværdig ‘memorable’, followed by Merl 2012 (though there the gloss is misleadingly ascribed to LP (1860): miðsamligr), but this is purely ad hoc, since there is no connection between the attested senses of the Icelandic words mið, miða and the concept of memorability. Finnur Jónsson explains as passende ‘fitting’, from a literal rammende midten ‘hitting the midpoint’ (LP: miðsamligr), but such a sense seems too vague to measure up to the demands of the context. Kock (FF §62) translates ll. 5-8 as själv önskar skalden ivrigt att för folket tälja en välbehaglig följd av forna minnen ‘for his part the skald wishes earnestly to give men a pleasing series of ancient memories’, where miðsamlig is glossed as välbehaglig ‘pleasing’. This gloss rests upon a posited derivation of miðsamligr from MHG mitesam ‘affable, friendly’; in support Kock adduces other foreign words in Merl, but these are not properly speaking comparable and in any case the notion of ‘affable’, even stretched to ‘pleasing’, scarcely fits the context.


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