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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]

[8] verþjóðu ‘the sea-people’: This is the meaning to be inferred from DGB (so Skj B) but, as pointed out in Bret 1848-9, where instances are given, the cpd would normally be understood as ‘mankind’, with first element verr ‘man’. Kock (NN §95; cf. NN §§607 and 2992A, followed by Merl 2012) rejects the sense ‘sea-people’ out of hand, listing parallel formations in West Germanic poetry, but overlooks DGB and also Merl II 23/3, where the context requires that verþjóðu be glossed as ‘sea-people’ (cf. Finnur Jónsson 1924a, 329-30). The reference, in both Geoffrey and Gunnlaugr, is presumably to the exposure of the Flemish coastal counties, which lay below sea level, to frequent inundations from the onset of the so-called Great Reclamation Period in the C12th (Augustyn 1995, 12-13). Many of the Flemish mercenaries came from this region (Oksanen 2008, 265). In choosing the heiti ver, conventionally used to mean ‘sea’ in poetry but lit. ‘hunting or fishing ground’ (Fritzner: ver 1), Gunnlaugr may be rationalising Geoffrey’s talk of ‘submarine’ people. A Flemish coastal fishing industry flourished at his time, with backing from the larger towns and ports (Tys and Pieters 2009, 91‑4).


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