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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl I 2VIII (Bret 70)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 70 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 2)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 49.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá I

Jǫrð vas forðum         fyrr kend Bretum,
sús Englum es         eignuð síðan,
þvíat in enska þjóð         áðan vélti
breks ósama         brezka lýði.

Jǫrð, sús es eignuð Englum síðan, vas fyrr kend Bretum forðum, þvíat in enska þjóð vélti áðan brezka lýði ósama breks.

The land, which has since been assigned to the English, was previously called after the Britons in former days, for the English people beforehand deceived the British people, [who were] averse to the extortion of land.

Mss: Hb(50v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj AII, 22, Skj BII, 24, Skald II, 15; Bret 1848-9, II, 39 (Bret st. 70); Hb 1892-6, 277; Merl 2012, 130.

Notes: [All]: The notion of deception derives from the tradition that when Vortigern invited a select corps of Saxons to protect his kingdom they seized the opportunity to conquer the country, despite oaths to the contrary (Bede HE I, 15: Colgrave and Mynors 1969, 50-1; cf. Henry of Huntingdon, largely quoting Bede, in HA 1996, 80-1). — [2] fyrr ‘previously’: A refreshed reading, emended to fríð ‘beautiful’ in Skj B, followed by Skald and Merl 2012. A cpd fyrkend ‘named for’ is proposed in Bret 1848-9, but without parallel attestations. The text is admittedly somewhat laborious in articulating the chronology, but emendation is not strictly necessary. — [2] kend ‘called after’: A possible alternative interpretation is ‘belonged to’, but this sub-sense has only one attestation in skaldic poetry (Anon Brúðv 27/8VII). — [7] ósama breks ‘[who were] averse to the extortion of land’: I.e. the Britons did not authorise the Angles’ seizure of land. Rather, they were tricked by false assurances from the new arrivals. The adj. ósamr occurs only once elsewhere (ONP: ósamr), and is explained as ‘unwilling, disinclined’ or similar (LP, Fritzner: ósamr; CVC: úsamr). The word brek seems to have had a specialised sense, in relation to land claims, of ‘strenuous insistence, exorbitance, rapacity or fraudulence in claiming’ (cf. CVC, Fritzner, ONP: brek) and this probably pertains in the present context.  Bret translates as haardföre ‘resistant, intransigent’, but this seems to be a purely ad hoc explanation. Finnur Jónsson explains as ‘living peacefully’ (Skj B, LP: brek), but this does not capture the specific meaning of brek and is belied by subsequent characterisations of the Britons as given to faction-fighting (see especially I 35). Merl 2012 renders brek as Begehren ‘desire’ (noun), which seems too mild and, once again, does not reflect the specialised sense of brek.


  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. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  5. CVC = Cleasby, Richard, Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and W. A. Craigie. 1957. An Icelandic-English Dictionary. 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon.
  6. Colgrave, Bertram and R. A. B. Mynors, eds. 1969. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon.
  7. Fritzner = Fritzner, Johan. 1883-96. Ordbog over det gamle norske sprog. 3 vols. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske forlagsforening. 4th edn. Rpt. 1973. Oslo etc.: Universitetsforlaget.
  8. ONP = Degnbol, Helle et al., eds. 1989-. A Dictionary of Old Norse Prose / Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog. 1-. Copenhagen: The Arnamagnæan Commission.
  9. 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.
  10. HA 1996 = Greenway, Diana E., ed. 1996. Henry of Huntingdon. Historia Anglorum: The History of the English People. Oxford: Clarendon.
  11. Bret 1848-9 = Jón Sigurðsson. 1848-9. ‘Trójumanna saga ok Breta sögur, efter Hauksbók, med dansk Oversættelse’. ÅNOH 1848, 3-215; 1849, 3-145.
  12. Merl 2012 = Horst, Simone, ed. 2012. Merlínússpá. Merlins Prophezeiung. Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag.
  13. Internal references
  14. 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.
  15. Valgerður Erna Þorvaldsdóttir (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Brúðkaupsvísur 27’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 548-9.

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