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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl I 63VIII (Bret 131)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 131 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 63)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 100.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá I

text and translation

‘Ríðr inn prúði         til Peritónis ár
hvítum hesti         hvatr ǫldurmaðr.
Ok hvítum þar         hann markar staf
aldrœnn yfir         ô kvernar hús.

‘Inn prúði, hvatr ǫldurmaðr, ríðr hvítum hesti til ár Peritónis. Ok hann, aldrœnn, markar þar hvítum staf hús kvernar yfir ô.
‘‘The splendid man, a bold lord, will ride a white horse to the river Periron. And there he, the aged [man], will mark out a mill-house above the river with a white staff.

notes and context

Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.108-10; cf. Wright 1988, 105, prophecy 19): Niueus quoque senex in niueo equo fluuium Perironis diuertet et cum candida uirga molendinum super ipsum metabitur ‘A snow-white old man on a snow-white horse will divert the river Periron and with a white rod measure out a mill on its bank’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). The Book of Llan Dav, c. 1150, locates Aper Periron not far from the town of Monmouth as a branch of the Cadlan (Curley 1982, 244, citing Williams 1955, xxxvi-xxxvii); some of the commentaries also place it near Monmouth (e.g. Hammer 1940, 419). The C10th Armes Prydein ‘The Prophecy of Britain’ describes a confrontation between the Welsh and the steward of an English king, possibly Æthelstan, at this location (Curley 1982, 225-6; Faletra 2008, 134). However, it is possible that Geoffrey is alluding by means of this anecdote about a snow-white old man to the rapid rise of the Cistercians, a monastic order distinguished by its members’ wearing of white robes. The order gained institutional definition with the Carta caritatis of Stephen Harding, confirmed by Pope Calixtus II in 1119 (Poole 1955, 187), and rapidly became very popular in England (Barrow 1956, 105). The earliest known reference to the adoption of white clothing by the Cistercians occurs in a letter of Peter the Venerable (1092/94–1156), abbot of Cluny, to Bernard of Clairvaux (Burton 2006, 10). The reference to a water mill may also be suggestive, as the typical Cistercian monastery straddled a mill-race, an artificial stream diverted from a nearby river to provide power for grain milling and other technologies as well as running water for domestic purposes (Hansen [n. d.], accessed 03/09/2015; cf. Bostan et al. 2012, 187; Woods 2005, 33). The Cistercians’ founding of Tintern Abbey, not far from Monmouth, occurred early enough for Geoffrey to have been able to allude to it in the separate Libellus Merlini as well as the subsequent DGB. — [1, 2] ríðr … til ‘rides … to’: Possibly a misinterpretation of divertet ‘will divert’ (applying to the course of the river).



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 63: AII, 30-1, BII, 36-7, Skald II, 23; Bret 1848-9, II, 61 (Bret st. 131); Hb 1892-6, 281; Merl 2012, 176.


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