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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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GunnLeif Merl I 25VIII (Bret 93)

Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 93 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 25)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 64.

Gunnlaugr LeifssonMerlínusspá I

‘Fersk undir hann         foldu grœnni
ok eyja fjǫlð         í úthafi,
Íra ok Engla         ok Út-Skota,
víðum lǫndum         valskra þjóða,
Nóregs síðu         ok Norðr-Dana.

‘Fersk undir hann grœnni foldu ok fjǫlð eyja í úthafi, Íra ok Engla ok Út-Skota, víðum lǫndum valskra þjóða, síðu Nóregs ok Norðr-Dana.

‘Under him is brought the green land and a multitude of islands in the outer ocean, of the Irish and the English and the outlying Scots, extensive territories of the French people, the coast of Norway and [lands] of the northern Danes.

Mss: Hb(51r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj AII, 25, Skj BII, 29, Skald II, 18; Bret 1848-9, II, 4 (Bret st. 93); Hb 1892-6, 278; Merl 2012, 145-6. 

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 112 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 145.41; cf. Wright 1988, 102, prophecy 2): Insule occeani potestati ipsius subdentur, et Gallicanos saltus possidebit ‘The islands of the ocean will fall under his sway and he will occupy the glades of France’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 144). As noted by J. S. Eysteinsson (1953-7, 99), Gunnlaugr appears to draw on a wider knowledge of legends of Arthur’s conquests than this Latin sentence would supply, taken on its own, and shows interest in the North Atlantic and Scandinavian regions. This, along with the mention of the Romans in I 26, could have been derived direct from DGB IX-XI (see Introduction). It could also, however, with much greater convenience have been derived from a commentary. Alain de Flandres, for instance, annotates as follows (Wille 2015, 161): Hyberniam namque, Islandiam, Scotiam, Orcadum insulas, Gothlandiam, Norguegiam, Datiamque sub iugum misit et suo subiecit imperio ‘For he subjugated Ireland, Iceland, Scotland, the Orkney islands, Gotland, Norway and Denmark and subjected them to his imperial rule’ (cf. Hammer 1935, 26, and, for another commentary with similar content, Hammer 1935, 8). Arthurian incursions into Scandinavian territories would not necessarily have been judged improbable or incongruous by Gunnlaugr’s audience; Haukr Erlendsson makes occasional changes to the text of Bret ‘in order to reveal connections with Scandinavian history, particularly with Norwegian royal dynasties’ (Tétrel 2010, 494). On the other hand, there is no mention in Merl, at least as extant, of Iceland, which both Geoffrey and the commentators included in Arthur’s dominions (cf. Tatlock 1950, 107). Gunnlaugr appears to correct the designation of Denmark and Norway as islands, which again is a designation in Geoffrey that is reproduced by the commentators (cf. Tatlock 1950, 107), instead placing them in explicit parallel (Denmark) or implicit parallel (Norway) with France. — [1] fersk ‘is brought’: This verb governs the dat. case of grœnni foldu ‘the green land’ (l. 2), fjǫlð ‘a multitude’ (l. 3), víðum lǫndum ‘extensive territories’ (l. 5) and síðu ‘the coast’ (l. 9). The concatenation of gen. pl. nouns makes it difficult to determine which of these territories are assigned to which peoples. — [4] úthafi ‘the outer ocean’: A hap. leg. in poetry; prose attestations are confined to learned and religious texts (Fritzner, ONP: úthaf). — [6] Út-Skota ‘the outlying Scots’: I.e. the Scots on outlying islands. A hap. leg.; for the formation cf. útþrœnskr ‘belonging to outer Þrándheimr’, as contrasted with innþrœnskr ‘belonging to inner Þrándheimr’ (Fritzner: útþrœnskr). — [8] Norðr-Dana ‘of the northern Danes’: A hap. leg., and it is not altogether clear which group of Danes might be referred to. The rhetorical thrust is to emphasise the far-flung nature of Arthur’s conquests.   


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. 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.
  4. ONP = Degnbol, Helle et al., eds. 1989-. A Dictionary of Old Norse Prose / Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog. 1-. Copenhagen: The Arnamagnæan Commission.
  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. Eysteinsson, J. S. 1953-7. ‘The Relationship of Merlínússpá and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia’. SBVS 14, 95-112.
  7. Bret 1848-9 = Jón Sigurðsson. 1848-9. ‘Trójumanna saga ok Breta sögur, efter Hauksbók, med dansk Oversættelse’. ÅNOH 1848, 3-215; 1849, 3-145.
  8. 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.
  9. Tatlock, J. S. P. 1950. The Legendary History of Britain. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  10. Wright, Neil, ed. 1988. The Historia Regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. II. The First Variant Version: A Critical Edition. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.
  11. Merl 2012 = Horst, Simone, ed. 2012. Merlínússpá. Merlins Prophezeiung. Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag.
  12. Tétrel, Hélène. 2010. ‘Trojan Origins and the Use of the Æneid and Related Sources in the Old Icelandic Brut’. JEGP 109, 490-514.
  13. Wille, Clara, ed. and trans. 2015. Alain de Flandres, Prophetie und Politik: die Explanatio in Prophetia Merlini Ambrosii des Alanus Flandrensis. Lateinische Sprache und Literatur des Mittelalters 49. Bern: Lang.
  14. Hammer, Jacob. 1935. ‘A Commentary on the Prophetia Merlini (Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, Book VII)’. Speculum 10, 3-30.
  15. Internal references
  16. 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.

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