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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl II 12VIII (Bret 12)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 12 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 12)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 145.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá II

text and translation

‘Gengr hon síðan         gótt frón yfir,
svát ór sporum snótar         sprettr upp logi.
Með rǫmmum reyk         Rúténéos
sá vekr ok verð         verþjóðu gerr.

‘Hon gengr síðan yfir gótt frón, svát logi sprettr upp ór sporum snótar. Sá vekr Rúténéos með rǫmmum reyk ok gerr verð verþjóðu.
‘‘Then she will walk over the good land, so that flame springs up from the footsteps of the woman. It will wake up the Ruteni with the powerful smoke, and make a meal for the sea-people.

notes and context

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.



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 12: AII, 12, BII, 12-13, Skald II, 8, NN §§95, 607, 2992A; Bret 1848-9, II, 18 (Bret st. 12); Hb 1892-6, 273; Merl 2012, 77-8.


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