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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl II 35VIII (Bret 35)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 35 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 35)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 165.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá II

text and translation

‘Grenja gránir         garmar slíðra;
bítr fránn freki         ferð halsgerðar.
Rýfr gramr guma         gollorhallir;
bregðr benlogi         byggðum hjarna;
eru brotnar mjǫk         borgir heila.

‘{Gránir garmar slíðra} grenja; {fránn freki halsgerðar} bítr ferð. Gramr rýfr {gollorhallir} guma; {benlogi} bregðr {byggðum hjarna}; {borgir heila} eru mjǫk brotnar.
‘‘The grey dogs of scabbards [SWORDS] growl; the piercing wolf of the neck-strap [SWORD] bites the army. The cruel one <sword> breaks men’s halls of the pericardium [BREASTS]; the wound-flame [SWORD] topples the settlements of brains [HEADS]; the strongholds of brains [HEADS] are smashed to pieces.

notes and context

See Note to II 31 [All]. The verbs describing the action of the battle are chosen with regard to the base-words of each sword-kenning in ll. 1-4, creating a metaphorical congruence between them; thus ‘dogs’ growl and the ‘wolf’ bites. The substantivised adj. gramr ‘the cruel one’ (l. 5), taken here as a sword-heiti, is said to break men’s breasts, with the rib-cage possibly in mind. In ll. 7-10 the sword-kennings again show a congruence between base-word and verb; the ‘flame’ topples heads, represented as tall buildings being engulfed by fire, and, using similar imagery, ‘strongholds’ are smashed to pieces. It is possible that Gunnlaugr had mythological referents in mind when he wrote of ‘dogs’ (garmar, l. 2) and a wolf (freki, lit. ‘greedy one’ or ‘bold one’, l. 3), because Garmr is the name of a mythical dog in eddic poetry (Vsp 44/1, 58/1; cf. SnE 2005, 34, 59), while Freki is the name of one of Óðinn’s wolves (SnE 2005, 32; Þul Vargs 1/5III; cf. Vsp 44/2). Gramr (l. 5) may also be reminiscent of the name of the hero Sigurðr’s sword (cf. Reg prose (NK 177) and Þul Sverða 1/5III.  — [6]: This is the reading of the ms, here unrefreshed, reported by Bret 1848-9 and Hb 1892-6. The contraction for ‑ir is visible above and to the left of following b-. On grounds that remain unclear, Merl 2012 would read and retain the sg. form gollorhall, which, aside from being contrary to the ms. evidence, also disrupts the metre. For this type of kenning, compare Note to I 82/8. Merl 2012 incorrectly glosses gollor- as ‘heart’.


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 35: AII, 16-17, BII, 17, Skald II, 11; Bret 1848-9, II, 28 (Bret st. 35); Hb 1892-6, 274-5; Merl 2012, 99-100.


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