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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl II 9VIII (Bret 9)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 9 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 9)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 142.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá II

text and translation

‘Farit es at meyju         margfróðastri
í kappsauðga         Knútsskógar borg,
at hon lækningar         leiti þjóðum
ok firri menn         fári slíku.

‘Farit es at margfróðastri meyju í kappsauðga borg Knútsskógar, at hon leiti þjóðum lækningar ok firri menn slíku fári.
‘‘A maiden most wise about many things will be approached in the exceedingly prosperous city of Canute’s wood, so that she may seek remedies for the people and rescue men from such peril.

notes and context

Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.155-6; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecy 32): Ad haec ex urbe canuti nemoris eliminabitur puella ut medelae curam adhibeat ‘At this, a girl will be sent forth from the city of the hoary forest to bring curing medicine’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). The city Geoffrey had in mind, though not identified in previous scholarship, is probably Lichfield (OE Liccidfeld), which was founded close to and partially takes its name from the Romano-British settlement Letocetum ‘Grey forest’ (cf. Watts 2004, 372; for this location see also Stenton 1970, 259). In Anglo-Latin the adj. form canutus/kanutus is used to mean ‘grey’, in parallel with the classical Latin form canus. Gunnlaugr appears to infer a connection with the name Knútr, no doubt via the Anglo-Norman (Latinised) form of this name, Canutus/Kanutus, and this is also done by some modern scholars, e.g. Faral (1929, II, 60), followed by Thorpe (1966, 177) and Merl 2012. Tatlock (1950, 77) lists the location as unknown. DGB shows a keen interest, some of it reflected by Merl, in the vicissitudes and rival claims of dioceses and diocesan cities; cf. (e.g.) I 30 (London, Canterbury, Carlisle, St Davids), II 5-8 (Winchester) and II 16-18 (Winchester and St Davids). A reference to Lichfield can be explained in those terms: already the seat of a bishop, the city had in Offa’s time been proposed as the seat of the southern archbishop. It was briefly and very controversially the seat of an archbishop under Hygeberht from 787 to 799 (officially dissolved in 803), as a result of opposition on the part of Offa, King of Mercia, to domination by Canterbury (Stenton 1971, 217-18; Kirby 2000, 142; Brooks 1996, 118–19). In the late C11th Lichfield lost its bishop (though not its cathedral status) to Chester, as part of reforms proposed by Lanfranc (see Note to I 59/2); nevertheless its fortunes were reviving in Geoffrey’s time,  with the construction of a Norman cathedral (cf. Barrow 1956, 63). Gunnlaugr’s added assertion of the status of ‘Canute’s wood’ as an exceedingly prosperous centre (l. 3) rather than a mere rural retreat, augmenting Geoffrey’s claim for its salvific influence on Winchester, may be seen as a piece of advocacy for the city fully in keeping with C12th English practice: cf. II 16 Note to [All].


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 9: AII, 12, BII, 12, Skald II, 7; Bret 1848-9, II, 17 (Bret st. 9); Hb 1892-6, 272; Merl 2012, 74.


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