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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl II 31VIII (Bret 31)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 31 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 31)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 162.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá II

text and translation

‘Þeir snarliga         sundraukn búa;
dragask lítinn þeir         landher saman.
Gnýr es manna,         gengr lið róa;
hylr Hǫgna sjǫt          †herkorn† skipa.

‘Þeir búa {sundraukn} snarliga; þeir dragask lítinn landher saman. Es gnýr manna, lið gengr róa; †herkorn† skipa hylr {sjǫt Hǫgna}.
‘‘They will rapidly equip the draught animals of the sea [SHIPS]; they will bring a small land-army together. There will be a commotion of men, the army will set to rowing; †…† of ships covers the seat of Hǫgni <sea-king> [SEA].

notes and context

Stanzas II 31-6 are an amplification of the theme of voyage and battle, loosely adapted from DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 152-3). — [7-8]: Not definitively resolved. (a) Scheving’s conjecture (reported in Bret 1848-9) Kornbreta ‘of the Cornish Britons’ would combine with ms. her, interpreted as herr ‘army’ (since gemination is often not shown in Hb), to make superior sense if the kenning sjǫt Hǫgna ‘the seat of Hǫgni <sea-king>’ can be explained, not as ‘sea’ (LP: sjǫt, with the present occurrence as the sole attestation; cf. Meissner 93), but as ‘ship’ (cf. SnSt Ht 75/2III hafbekks ‘of the sea-bench [SHIP]’; Meissner 222). Gunnlaugr uses sjǫt once elsewhere (II 16/5), in relation to a bishop’s seat. Thus emended, the line would fit well with the comment in l. 3 that the army is small; an army could be small yet still cover some ships, whereas the ships conveying it could scarcely be said to cover the sea. Other attempted solutions do not reckon with this necessary logic. (b) Finnur Jónsson (LP: herkorn), followed by Merl 2012, explains herkorn ‘army-grain’ ad hoc as an idiomatic expression for uncountable numbers. (c) Kock (NN §98; Skald) conjectures *herkorðr ‘military force’, on the basis of compounds in West Germanic, and interprets as skeppens krigiska skara höljer havet ‘the ships’ military force covers the sea’. Also in favour of Scheving’s conjecture are the appropriateness of describing a Cornish army as sailing from the south to attack Wales, as required by II 32/1-3, and perhaps too the association of an earlier boar-king with Cornwall in DGB (cf. I 24 Note to [All]). Gunnlaugr could be seen as furthering the attention to Cornwall that is already a remarkable feature of DGB (Padel 1984).


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 31: AII, 16, BII, 16, Skald II, 10, NN §98; Bret 1848-9, II, 26-7 (Bret st. 31); Hb 1892-6, 274; Merl 2012, 95.


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