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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl I 55VIII (Bret 123)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 123 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 55)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 92.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá I

text and translation

‘Enn munu í skógi         skœðir síðan
vargar vakna         veiða í borgum.
Þeir munu sína         sjalfir dolga
fella eða fjǫtra;         fáir munu verða,
þeirs treystask þeim         telja at móti.

‘Enn munu skœðir vargar síðan vakna í skógi, veiða í borgum. Þeir munu sjalfir fella eða fjǫtra dolga sína; fáir munu verða, þeirs telja treystask at móti þeim.
‘‘Then once more will vicious wolves awaken in the forest, hunt in the cities. They will themselves kill or shackle their foes; few will there be, who have confidence to complain against them.

notes and context

Cf. DGB 114 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.94-7; cf. Wright 1988, 104-5, prophecy 15): Euigilabunt regentis catuli et postpositis nemoribus infra moenia ciuitatum uenabuntur. Stragem non minimam ex obstantibus facient et linguas taurorum abscident. Colla rugientium onerabunt catenis ‘The cubs of the ruler will awake, leave the forests and hunt within city walls. They will do great slaughter among those who oppose them and cut out the tongues of bulls. They will load with chains the necks of those who roar’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). From this point onward, after the two preceding transitional stanzas, Geoffrey’s prophecies (and Gunnlaugr’s adaptation of them) have no historical or pseudo-historical referent but merely hint in vague and portentous language at possible future events affecting the British people, conceived on the basis of both the deep and the recent past. While it is possible that Gunnlaugr had knowledge from Henry of Huntingdon or William of Malmesbury concerning the Anarchy (i.e. the conflict between Stephen and Matilda for the crown of England following the death of Henry I), it is not reflected in his adaptation, but see I 56 Note to [All] for an indication that he took the reign of Henry II into account. Geoffrey appears to refer back in this prophecy to the catuli leonis ‘lion’s cubs’ of prophecy 11 (corresponding to I 52 in Gunnlaugr’s rendering). Merl paraphrases loosely here and, at least as extant, does not include a rendering of the final sentence of prophecy 15. — [9-10]: The syntax and meaning here are not entirely certain. Both treystask and telja can be finite (3rd pers. pl. pres. indic.) or inf. Adopted in this edn is the interpretation by Bret 1848-9, which treats treystask as the finite verb and telja as the inf. (treystask telja at móti þeim), translating faae kun ville vove mod dem at före Ordet ‘only a few will venture to bring the word against them’. For telja in this sense see CVC: telja III; Fritzner: telja 3. Finnur Jónsson wavers in his interpretation: Skj B translates det vil være få som vover at imødegå dem ‘there will be few that venture to oppose them’ (cf. Merl 2012), leaving the meaning of telja unclear, whereas LP: telja 4 gives telja treystask at móti as som siger at de trøster sig til modstand ‘who say that they have confidence to resist [them]’ and LP: treysta 3 has treystask telja móti e-m (the latter in agreement with Bret 1848-9). Gunnlaugr seems not to reproduce DGB with his customary closeness in this passage but Geoffrey’s mention of severed tongues might have prompted this evocation of fears of outspokenness.



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 II 55: AII, 29, BII, 35, Skald II, 22; Bret 1848-9, II, 58 (Bret st. 123); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 169-70.


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