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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl II 37VIII (Bret 37)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 37 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 37)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 167.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá II

‘En refr gerir         ráða á galta;
þvíat hann reisa mát         rǫnd við hánum,
svá lætr dǫglingr,         sem hann dauðr séi;
esat lík hulit         lofðungs Breta.

‘En refr gerir ráða á galta; dǫglingr lætr svá, sem hann séi dauðr, þvíat hann mát reisa rǫnd við hánum; lík lofðungs Breta esat hulit.

‘But the fox will prepare to attack the boar; the ruler [the fox] will act as if he were dead, because he [the fox] is unable to raise a shield against him [the boar]; the body of the prince of the Britons [the fox] will not be buried.

Mss: Hb(50r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj AII, 17, Skj BII, 17-18, Skald II, 11; Bret 1848-9, II, 29 (Bret st. 37); Hb 1892-6, 275; Merl 2012, 101-2.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.192-155.193; cf. Wright 1988, 109, prophecy 42): Quae cum certamen inierit, finget se defunctam et aprum in pietatem mouebit ‘When it enters into battle the fox will feign death and move the boar to pity’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 152-4). — [1-6]: No fully satisfactory solution to the logical problems of this stanza has yet been devised. The principal difficulty is that the statement that the fox prepares to make an attack on the pig (ll. 1-2) is seemingly contradicted by the statement that he is not in a position to attack him (ll. 3-4): unable to handle a pitched battle, he must mount a different kind of attack, relying on his cunning (cf. II 39/3-4 and II 41/6). (For the idiom ráða á ‘attack’ cf. II 28/5-6 and II 38/6.) (a) For this reason Skj B (followed by Skald) emends ms. gerir (refreshed) ‘will prepare’ in l. 1 to gerrat ‘does not prepare’ and Merl 2012 emends ráða á ‘attack’ in line 2 to ráð á ‘a plan against’. But these emendations seem to be a case of cutting the Gordian knot: it would be odd for Gunnlaugr to translate the affirmative statement in DGB (Quae cum certamen inierit) with a negative. Also, it is awkward to say (with Skj B) that the fox does not attack when in the next stanza (38/5-6) the contrary is said. (b) The tentative proposal in this edn is that the subordinate clause with initial þvíat constituted by ll. 3-4 be construed as preceding, not following, its main clause, thus linking ll. 3-4 onwards to ll. 5-6 rather than back to ll. 1-2. Then the gist of this and the ensuing stanza would be: ‘The fox prepares to make an attack on the pig. As he cannot do so in a pitched battle, he feigns death and his body is left unburied so as to lure the pig to come and inspect it personally; then the fox is able to attack the pig by taking him by surprise.’ An admitted weakness with this construal is that the examples of such reversal of clauses in NS §367b feature initial með þvíat rather than simple þvíat; Merl itself does not contain any instance of þvíat used in this way. (c) Thinkable, therefore, would be emendation of þvíat to þóat, þótt ‘although’, modifying the content of ll. 1-2. Similar are the construals in Bret 1848-9 and Merl 2012, which, retaining gerir, attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction with ll. 3-4 by translating þvíat as if it meant ‘but’ (Bret 1848-9) or aber weil ‘but because’ (Merl 2012); in both cases, adoption of þóat/þótt would produce better correspondence between text and translation. In Merl 2012, probably as a mere slip, mátti ‘might’ replaces mát ‘is unable’, lit. ‘may not’, against the evidence of the ms. and the metre, and is translated as ‘might not’, leaving the source of the negative unspecified. — [3] hann ‘he’: Omitted in Skald. — [3, 4] reisa rǫnd við ‘raise a shield against’: For the idiom cf. I 26/3-4. — [5-6]: The notion that the fox plays dead in order to ensnare its prey was familiar in the Middle Ages, with a locus classicus in the Physiologus (Curley 2009, 27; cf. Merl 2012, 102). — [5] dǫglingr ‘the ruler’: The allegory is rationalised; cf. lofðungs Breta ‘of the prince of the Britons’ in l. 8. — [6] hann ‘he’: Omitted in Skald. — [7]: For this sense of hylja cf. I 36/8, II 7/10.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. NS = Nygaard, Marius. 1906. Norrøn syntax. Kristiania (Oslo): Aschehoug. Rpt. 1966.
  5. Hb 1892-6 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1892-6. Hauksbók udgiven efter de Arnamagnæanske håndskrifter no. 371, 544 og 675, 4° samt forskellige papirshåndskrifter. Copenhagen: Det kongelige nordiske oldskrift-selskab.
  6. Bret 1848-9 = Jón Sigurðsson. 1848-9. ‘Trójumanna saga ok Breta sögur, efter Hauksbók, med dansk Oversættelse’. ÅNOH 1848, 3-215; 1849, 3-145.
  7. Reeve, Michael D., and Neil Wright. 2007. Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. An Edition and Translation of De gestis Britonum [Historia regum Britanniae]. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  8. Wright, Neil, ed. 1988. The Historia Regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. II. The First Variant Version: A Critical Edition. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.
  9. Curley, Michael J., trans. 2009. Physiologus: A Medieval Book of Nature Lore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  10. Merl 2012 = Horst, Simone, ed. 2012. Merlínússpá. Merlins Prophezeiung. Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag.
  11. Internal references
  12. 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Unattributed, Breta saga’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 38.
  13. Not published: do not cite (RunVI)

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