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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]

[2] at vanda orð ‘to elaborate on the words’: The inf. vanda can be glossed as either ‘make elaborately, take care over, elaborate on’ (CVC: vanda I 2; Fritzner: vanda 3) or ‘make difficulties concerning, baulk at, object to’ (CVC: vanda II 2; Fritzner: vanda 1, 2). The former is the only usage documented for poetry in LP: vanda and is that adopted here, as in Bret 1848-9 (söge pyntelige Ord ‘seek out embellished diction’) and Skj B (identical). Gunnlaugr may possibly be noting the inclination of other poets to produce elaborate renderings of the Prophecies, thereby perhaps anticipating the attitude to obscurity exhibited by the C14th composer of Lilja (Anon Lil 98VII), which expresses disapproval of poetry composed in an elaborate (vandan) style. Kock’s interpretation, noggrant återjiva ‘render exactly’, is derived from the same sub-sense of vanda. Although the sense ‘make difficulties concerning’ is otherwise undocumented in poetry up to and including Gunnlaugr’s time, a case could perhaps be made for it insofar as Geoffrey’s material was undoubtedly objected to by some contemporaries. External to Merl, scepticism concerning Geoffrey’s historiography culminates in the strenuous objections expressed by William of Newburgh (b. 1135/6, d. in or after 1198). In his Historia rerum Anglicarum, apparently composed between 1196 and 1198 (cf. Taylor 2004), William writes (Liebermann and Pauli 1885, 225): Qui etiam maiori ausu cuiusdam Merlini divinationes fallacissimas, quibus utique de proprio plurimum adiecit, dum eas in Latinum transfunderet, tanquam authenticas et inmobili veritate subnixas prophetias vulgavit ‘Furthermore, with greater temerity he promulgated the utterly false predictions of a certain Merlin, to which assuredly he added more of his own, then rendered them into Latin, as if they were authentic prophecies founded on an unwavering veracity’. Gunnlaugr’s parenthesis flotnar viti þat ‘let people realise that’ (l. 3) could be understood as the poet’s honest disclosure and advance warning to his audience that such objections have been raised. At the same time, he differentiates his own attitude from that of the persons who would make difficulties by stating that he means to launch right into his account.


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