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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

‘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.

Mss: Hb(49v) (Bret)

Readings: [3] ór sporum: sporum Hb    [7] verð: ‘verkn’ Hb

Editions: Skj AII, 12, Skj 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.

Notes: [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. — [2] gótt frón ‘the good land’: Gunnlaugr adds this idea. — [3] ór sporum ‘from the footsteps’: The prep. ór is added by Skj B (followed by Skald, Merl 2012 and this edn). Bret 1848-9 supplies at. — [7] verð ‘a meal’: Emended from ms. ‘verkn’ (refreshed) by Finnur Jónsson (Skj B), on the basis of a conjecture in Bret 1848-9. Kock prefers to emend to verk, taken in the sense ‘suffering’ (NN §95; Skald, followed by Merl 2012), but evidently without taking account of DGB. — [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).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. Hb 1892-6 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1892-6. Hauksbók udgiven efter de Arnamagnæanske håndskrifter no. 371, 544 og 675, 4° samt forskellige papirshåndskrifter. Copenhagen: Det kongelige nordiske oldskrift-selskab.
  6. Finnur Jónsson. 1924a. ‘Skjaldekvadenes forståelse’. ANF 40, 320-31.
  7. Bret 1848-9 = Jón Sigurðsson. 1848-9. ‘Trójumanna saga ok Breta sögur, efter Hauksbók, med dansk Oversættelse’. ÅNOH 1848, 3-215; 1849, 3-145.
  8. Reeve, Michael D., and Neil Wright. 2007. Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. An Edition and Translation of De gestis Britonum [Historia regum Britanniae]. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  9. Wright, Neil, ed. 1988. The Historia Regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. II. The First Variant Version: A Critical Edition. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.
  10. Poole, Austin Lane. 1955. From Domesday Book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216. 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon.
  11. Augustyn, Beatrijs. 1995. ‘De evolutie van het duinecosysteem in Vlaanderen in de Middeleeuwen: antropogene factoren versus zeespiegelrijzingstheorie’. Historisch-Geografisch Tijdschrift 13, 9-19. Slightly modified English version available at
  12. Oksanen, Eljas. 2008. ‘The Anglo-Flemish Treaties and Flemish Soldiers in England 1101-1163’. In France 2008, 261-74.
  13. Merl 2012 = Horst, Simone, ed. 2012. Merlínússpá. Merlins Prophezeiung. Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag.
  14. Internal references
  15. 2017, ‘ Unattributed, Breta saga’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 38. <> (accessed 28 September 2021)

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