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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gunnlaugr Leifsson (GunnLeif)

13th century; volume 8; ed. Russell Poole;

VIII. 2. Merlínusspá II (Merl II) - 68

Skj info: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Islandsk munk, d. 1218 (AII, 10-36, BII, 10-45).

Skj poems:
Merlínússpá I
Merlínússpá II

Gunnlaugr Leifsson (GunnLeif, d. 1218 or 1219) was a monk at the Benedictine house of Þingeyrar, a monastery near the shores of Húnaflói, in northern Iceland, that maintained close relations with the seat of the bishop at Hólar (Turville-Petre 1953, 135). Nothing is known concerning Gunnlaugr’s place of birth, upbringing or social origins. He was regarded in his own time as a man of singular Latin learning (LH II, 394-5) and worked in a distinguished historiographic and hagiographic milieu (de Vries 1964-7, II, 246). In a rare personal anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, Arngrímr Brandsson, a Benedictine monk and abbot at Þingeyrar (d. 1361 or 1362), tells that Gunnlaugr attempted to recite his new history of Saint Ambrose at the church at Hólar but was rebuffed by Bishop Guðmundr Arason (LH II, 394-5; Ciklamini 2008, 1). The two men were evidently on good terms at an earlier stage, however (Ciklamini 2004, 66), and, while bishop at Hólar, Guðmundr commissioned Gunnlaugr to prepare a life of Jón helgi ‘the Saint’ Ǫgmundarson and an account of portents and miracles pertaining to Þorlákr Þórhallsson, both in Latin (LH II, 394-5). 

Works ascribed to Gunnlaugr that survive in one form or other include the Latin life of Jón helgi, represented by a close Icelandic translation; the account of Þorlákr’s miracles; a Latin expansion of Gunnlaugr’s Þingeyrar colleague Oddr Snorrason’s life of King Óláfr Tryggvason, extant in the shape of excerpts translated into Icelandic; an Icelandic original version of Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla ‘The Tale of Þorvaldr the Far-traveller’ that may at one time have formed part of the life of Óláfr; and a now entirely lost life of Saint Ambrose (LH II, 394-403; Turville-Petre 1953, 194-200; Bekker-Nielsen 1958; de Vries 1964-7, II, 245-7; Würth 1998, 205-6; Ciklamini 2004, 66; Katrín Axelsdóttir 2005). The only work ascribed to Gunnlaugr that appears to survive in a relatively complete state is Merlínusspá ‘The Prophecies of Merlin’ (Merl I and II). It is also the sole medieval instance of a direct verse translation into Icelandic from Latin prose (Würth 1998, 206).

no FJ abbr

Merlínusspá II — GunnLeif Merl IIVIII (Bret)

Russell Poole 2017, ‘ Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 134. <> (accessed 28 June 2022)

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Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá I, fri oversættelse (AII, 10-21, BII, 10-24); stanzas (if different): 43, 45/1-4 | 44 | 45/5-8

SkP info: VIII, 143

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

10 — GunnLeif Merl II 10VIII (Bret 10)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 10 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 10)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 143.

‘Tekr hon at reyna         ok at ráða fjǫlð;
tekr hon íþróttir         allar fremja.
Andar síðan         snót á brunna,
ok brúðr þurra         báða gervir.

‘Hon tekr at reyna ok at ráða fjǫlð; hon tekr fremja allar íþróttir. Snót andar síðan á brunna, ok brúðr gervir báða þurra.

‘She will start to test and devise a great many [remedies]; she will start practising all her arts. Then the woman will breathe on the springs and the lady will make them both dry.

Mss: Hb(49r) (Bret)

Readings: [7] ok brúðr þurra: ‘ok hon brúðþurra’ Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 10: AII, 12, BII, 12, Skald II, 7; Bret 1848-9, II, 17 (Bret st. 10); Hb 1892-6, 272; Merl 2012, 75-6. 

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.156-7; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecy 32): Quae ut omnes artes inierit, solo anhelitu suo fontes nociuos siccabit ‘After she has tried all her arts, she will dry up the deadly springs with her breath alone’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). — [1] reyna ‘to test’: This reading and gloss are accepted by all eds but LP: reyna 3 glosses as tyde ‘interpret’ (contrast Skj B’s prøve ‘test’) and suggests that the reading may have arisen in error for rýna ‘enquire (into), investigate’. But emendation (or re-interpretation of the ms. reading) is not called for, inasmuch as in ll. 1-2 Gunnlaugr appears to amplify the idea in DGB that the woman is trying all her arts, i.e. those of healing, as requested by the inhabitants of Winchester, rather than enquiring into the causes of the crisis. — [3] hon ‘she’: Omitted in Skald. — [3] íþróttir ‘arts’: The word is used here, as repeatedly in HsvVII, to mean not ‘feats’ or ‘accomplishments’, in the sense of something to be exhibited, as in older skaldic poetry, but rather ‘useful skills’. — [7] ok brúðr … þurra ‘and the lady … dry’: Emended in this edn from ms. ‘ok hon brvðþurra’ (not refreshed). This emendation assumes two heiti for ‘woman’, snót in l. 6 and brúðr in l. 7, referring to the same person in coordinate clauses, rather than the f. pron. hon ‘she’ at the second mention. However, departures from expected (prose) usage on this point are paralleled in skaldic poetry including Gunnlaugr’s own: cf. the coordinate clauses in II 11/1-4, where hon ‘she’ is used in the first clause and brúðar ‘the woman’s’ in the second, and in II 11/5-8, where hon and kona ‘the woman’ are seemingly in apposition, expressing the subject of the first clause, and man ‘the maiden’ in the second. For an alternation of the same heiti, brúðr and snót, see also Gríp 45 and 46. Omission of nom. -r, as apparently here, occurs sporadically in Hb (e.g. lávarð for lávarðr in II 57/8). Bret 1848-9 retains without emendation, translating ll. 7-8 as og dem begge brat udtörrer ‘and dries them both out instantly’, without explaining how bruð- would equate in sense or grammatical function to brat ‘instantly’. Other suggestions require the postulation of unattested idioms or lexical items: Skj B (followed by Skald) emends to ok hon brauðþurra ‘and she [makes them] dry as bread’, while Merl 2012 retains *bruðþurra, apparently interpreting as ‘so dry as to be hard to eat’, but aside from the implausibility of such a formation the logic is hard to follow, since there is no question of the springs serving as food.

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