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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl I 59VIII (Bret 127)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 127 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 59)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 96.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá I

text and translation

‘Mun hann byskupa         borgum skrýða
ok helgan stað         hefja margan.
Tígnar borgir         tvær pallío;
gefr hann þýjum Krists         þægjar hnossir.

‘Hann mun skrýða byskupa borgum ok hefja margan helgan stað. Tígnar tvær borgir pallío; hann gefr þýjum Krists þægjar hnossir.
‘‘He will endue bishops with cities and elevate many a holy place. He will honour two cities with the pallium; he will give acceptable treasures to the servant-women of Christ.

notes and context

Cf. DGB 114 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.102-4; cf. Wright 1988, 105, prophecy 17): Renouabit namque beatorum sedes per patrias et pastores in congruis locis locabit. Duas urbes duobus palliis induet et uirginea munera uirginibus donabit ‘For he shall rebuild the homes of the saints throughout his lands and place shepherds in appropriate places. He will dress two cities in two pallia and give virginal gifts to virgins’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). ‘Shepherds’ here equates to bishops (cf. Note to II 16/5). Whether Geoffrey means a renewal of the pallia held by York and Canterbury or the bestowal of pallia on two new sees is unclear. — [1-2]: In this edn the ms. reading borgum ‘cities’ (not refreshed) is retained. The resulting sentence reads: hann mun skrýða byskupa borgum ‘he will endue bishops with cities’, with byskupa construed as acc. pl., corresponding to DGB’s pastores ‘shepherds’. Extended uses of skrýða relating to appurtenances other than clothing are characteristic of ‘learned style’ and are attested in Fritzner: skrýða and ONP: skrýða. Also to be noted is Geoffrey’s use of induet ‘will dress’ in the immediate context, skrýða being the standard translation for Lat. induere (ONP: skrýða). To present meritorious persons with a city has its purported precedent in Arthur (DGB IX 157: Reeve and Wright 2007, 214-15) but in Geoffrey’s time would have been especially appropriate when a prelate was the recipient. Episcopal migrations from small sequestered villages to the major urban centre in the diocese had been set in train in 1049-50 and were accelerated by Archbishop Lanfranc’s council at London in 1075; thus the bishops of Lichfield, Selsey and Sherborne were called on to move their seats to the appropriate towns of Chester, Chichester and Salisbury respectively (Barrow 1956, 61; Stenton 1965, 227). Remigius, the first post-conquest bishop of Lincoln, maintained a seat at Stow St Mary, a few miles north-west of Lincoln, without a seat in Lincoln itself, whereas the second bishop, Robert de Bloet (1094-1123), acceded to the new rules by taking up residence in the city proper. Of his successors, Bishop Alexander, Geoffrey’s patron, used land granted by Henry I (Woodfield and Woodfield 1981-2, 1) towards an ‘aggrandisement’ of the complex of cathedral, palace and precinct (Coulson 2003, 199). Geoffrey’s talk of placing bishops in appropriate places seems to chime in with these developments, cf. the commentary in congruis locis, in metropolitanis civitatibus ‘in appropriate places, in metropolitan cities’ (Hammer 1940, 419). Gunnlaugr’s choice of phrasing makes the idea of episcopal distinction somewhat more explicit and brings the language closer to an Arthurian presentation of an entire city rather than merely land within it (for a later instance of this motif see Kalinke 2009, 227). Bret 1848-9, followed by subsequent eds, interprets ms. borgum as borg um, with um construed as the completive particle with inf. skrýða ‘endue’ and byskupa construed as gen. pl. The sense is then taken to be ‘he will adorn the city of bishops’.


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 59: AII, 30, BII, 36, Skald II, 22; Bret 1848-9, II, 59 (Bret st. 127); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 172-3.


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