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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

8. Breta saga 37 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II, 37) [Vol. 8, 167]

[1-6]: No fully satisfactory solution to the logical problems of this stanza has yet been devised. The principal difficulty is that the statement that the fox prepares to make an attack on the pig (ll. 1-2) is seemingly contradicted by the statement that he is not in a position to attack him (ll. 3-4): unable to handle a pitched battle, he must mount a different kind of attack, relying on his cunning (cf. II 39/3-4 and II 41/6). (For the idiom ráða á ‘attack’ cf. II 28/5-6 and II 38/6.) (a) For this reason Skj B (followed by Skald) emends ms. gerir (refreshed) ‘will prepare’ in l. 1 to gerrat ‘does not prepare’ and Merl 2012 emends ráða á ‘attack’ in line 2 to ráð á ‘a plan against’. But these emendations seem to be a case of cutting the Gordian knot: it would be odd for Gunnlaugr to translate the affirmative statement in DGB (Quae cum certamen inierit) with a negative. Also, it is awkward to say (with Skj B) that the fox does not attack when in the next stanza (38/5-6) the contrary is said. (b) The tentative proposal in this edn is that the subordinate clause with initial þvíat constituted by ll. 3-4 be construed as preceding, not following, its main clause, thus linking ll. 3-4 onwards to ll. 5-6 rather than back to ll. 1-2. Then the gist of this and the ensuing stanza would be: ‘The fox prepares to make an attack on the pig. As he cannot do so in a pitched battle, he feigns death and his body is left unburied so as to lure the pig to come and inspect it personally; then the fox is able to attack the pig by taking him by surprise.’ An admitted weakness with this construal is that the examples of such reversal of clauses in NS §367b feature initial með þvíat rather than simple þvíat; Merl itself does not contain any instance of þvíat used in this way. (c) Thinkable, therefore, would be emendation of þvíat to þóat, þótt ‘although’, modifying the content of ll. 1-2. Similar are the construals in Bret 1848-9 and Merl 2012, which, retaining gerir, attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction with ll. 3-4 by translating þvíat as if it meant ‘but’ (Bret 1848-9) or aber weil ‘but because’ (Merl 2012); in both cases, adoption of þóat/þótt would produce better correspondence between text and translation. In Merl 2012, probably as a mere slip, mátti ‘might’ replaces mát ‘is unable’, lit. ‘may not’, against the evidence of the ms. and the metre, and is translated as ‘might not’, leaving the source of the negative unspecified.

references

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