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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

8. Breta saga 12 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II, 12) [Vol. 8, 145]

[All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.159-61; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecy 33): Quacumque incedet passus sulphureos faciet, qui dupplici flamma fumabunt. Fumus ille excitabit Rutenos et cibum submarinis conficiet ‘Wherever she goes, she will leave tracks of sulphur, which will burn with a double flame. That smoke will arouse the Flemings and provide food for the people beneath the sea’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 152). The expression submarini ‘people beneath the sea’ is an elegant variation referring to the Ruteni. Cf. II 23 Note to [All]. For the ethnic designation Ruteni, denoting peoples inhabiting Flanders, Geoffrey states his authority as Julius Caesar in De bello gallico (DGB 54.1-2: Reeve and Wright 2007, 68-9). Gunnlaugr does not carry over Geoffrey’s mention of sulphur but adds the characterisation of the smoke as powerful, which could be based on local knowledge of the choking or suffocating odour of sulphur dioxide, released naturally by volcanic activity. In mentioning the Ruteni, Geoffrey appears to allude to the presence of Flemish mercenaries in England in royal Anglo-Norman service from William the Conqueror onwards (on which see Poole 1955, 135). The flame will arouse the Ruteni and provide them with food inasmuch as warfare calls up mercenaries and secures them a livelihood; for a similar expression, cf. actus eius cibus erit narrantibus ‘his deeds will feed those who tell them’ (I 28 Note to [All]). Often the younger sons of knightly families and trained for warfare, these mercenaries stood to earn a better living in England, where many of them settled, than at home. Under Henry I, probably between 1107 and 1111, entire communities of Flemish immigrants were transferred to the Welsh marches from central England, where their possession of land had led to grievances (Oksanen 2008, 264-5) that Geoffrey appears to reflect.


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