The Wolf Miracle in Magnuss saga lengri
By Lisa Collinson
Northern Studies, Volume 35 (2000)
Introduction: The text of Magnuss saga lengri, as printed in the Islenzk Fomrit edition, is based on a paper manuscript, AM 350 4°, copied in about 1700 from the lost Brejarbok. Two other manuscripts (AM 351 4° and AM 325 4°) are also extant, but these are deemed to be of lesser value. Various textual details point to a north Icelandic origin, and, on the basis of a subjective assessment of its ornate style and romantic diction, Magnuss saga lengri is dated by Magnus Mar Larusson to the end of the thirteenth, or the beginning of the fourteenth century. The main sources are Orkneyinga saga and a lost Latin Life (which the author mayor may not have had in translation). Regarding the miracles, Finnbogi Gudmundsson considers there to be ‘fatt ad segja’ [little to say], except that, while the later miracles (including the one currently under consideration) are ‘greinilega’ [obvious] additions, these may either have been written by the author of the longer saga, or copied from some earlier source or sources.
The account of the consumption and regurgitation by wolves of a murdered man, before he is revived by Saint Magnus, is to be found at the very end of the series of miracles tales which concludes Magnuss saga lengri (381-3). The narrator begins by claiming that the miracle took place in Norway, during the reign of Haraldr gilli (1130-36), fixing the events he records to a period between fourteen and twenty years after the death of Magnus in 1116 or 1117, but just before the laying of the foundation stone for the new cathedral dedicated to him, in 1137. Essentially, the miracle concerns the resuscitation of one of a pair of brothers brutally assaulted by two ‘rikir menn’ [powerful men] (381), on suspicion of disgracing their sisters. He is killed during the attack, then eaten by wolves, but his sibling survives and, despite literally losing his tongue, is able to call inwardly upon Magnus, who heals his wounds and vanishes. The wolves then return and disgorge the dead man, before Magnus reappears and passes his hand over the vomit, bringing the victim back to life. The tale is discussed from a historical perspective by G. M. Brundsen, who points out that, since it does not appear in any other version of the legend, it is probably ‘a genuine example of a very localised tradition seeping into the corpus of the sagas’. Sigurdur Nordal proposes that the wolf miracle is based on one attributed to St. Olafr in a number of sources, and Finnbogi Gudmundsson appears to accept his hypothesis, but, although there are similarities between the narratives (such as the accusation of dishonouring a woman, the remote location and the sensual quality of the healing), the Olafr miracle differs in many respects from that performed by Magnus; most importantly, the victim is a lone priest, and the vomiting wolves are absent. It is this added motif, combining two types of myth – the survival of swallowing (undigested), and the resuscitation of a digested animal or person – which justifies Brundsen’s suggestion that the tale is local, and allows Magnus to outdo the Norwegian saint just as he does in Magnus saga skemmri.