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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, 147

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

14 — GunnLeif Merl II 14VIII (Bret 14)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 14 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 14)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 147.

‘Hjǫrtr drepr hana,         hinns tvenna fimm
hvassa hausi         hornkvistu berr.
En hafa kórónu         kvistir fjórir,
en sex aðrir         sjalfir verða
at vísundar         verstum hornum.

‘Hjǫrtr drepr hana, hinns berr tvenna fimm hvassa hornkvistu hausi. En fjórir kvistir hafa kórónu, en sex aðrir verða sjalfir at verstum hornum vísundar.

‘A hart will slay her, he who bears twice five sharp antler-branches on his head. And four branches will have a crown while the other six for their part will turn into the worst horns of a bison.

Mss: Hb(49v) (Bret)

Readings: [1] Hjǫrtr: ‘hrottr’ Hb    [3] hvassa: ‘kræsa’ or ‘hræsa’ Hb    [4] ‑kvistu: ‘‑kvstu’ Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 14: AII, 12-13, BII, 13, Skald II, 8, NN §§96, 2992A, 3004; Bret 1848-9, II, 19 (Bret st. 14); Hb 1892-6, 273; Merl 2012, 79-80.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.162-4; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecy 34): Interficiet eam ceruus decem ramorum, quorum quatuor aurea diademata gestabunt, sex uero residui in cornua bubalorum uertentur ‘She will be killed by a stag with ten branches, four of which will wear golden crowns, while the remaining six will become the horns of buffaloes’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 152). — [1] hjǫrtr ‘a hart’: Emended from ms. ‘hrottr’ (refreshed) in Bret 1848-9 (followed by Skj B), with reference to DGB. — [3] hvassa ‘sharp’: Emended in this edn from the refreshed and uncertain ms. reading ‘kræsa’ or ‘hræsa’. This adj. yields good sense and is rather a favourite with Gunnlaugr. Use of hausi without a prep. would be consistent with Gunnlaugr’s use of the bare dat./instr.: see Note to I 47/3-4. Bret 1848-9 and Skj B emend to hræs á ‘of a corpse on’ (cf. LP: hræ), but this makes little sense in context. Kock (NN §96; Skald; cf. NN §2992A and §3004, followed by Merl 2012) posits an adj. *hrœrr ‘quick’, qualifying hjǫrtr, inferred from West Germanic (putatively cognate with ModGer. rühren ‘move’), but this, even if sustainable philologically, would give inferior sense. — [4] hornkvistu ‘antler-branches’: Cf. Kock (NN §96), correcting Skj B’s horngrene ‘horn-branches’ (cf. LP: hornkvistr). — [4] -kvistu ‘-branches’: The emendation was first suggested by Bret 1848-9 and adopted by subsequent eds. — [5] en ‘and’: Omitted in Bret 1848-9, Skj B and Skald, presumably because en occurs again at the head of l. 7. Merl 2012 prints the second en as enn (properly ‘again, once more’) but translates aber ‘but’, without comment. — [7]: The quantity of the <i> in vísundr appears to have been variable. In its present metrical position it is required to be long, although Skj B and Skald give this example as short. The vowel is short in Sigv ErfÓl 3/8I and Arn Magndr 6/4II. LP, AEW: visundr both give the vowel as short, perhaps in view of the word’s West Germanic cognates, while ONP and most other dictionaries of medieval and modern Icelandic have it as long. — [10] verstum ‘worst’: This adj. is introduced by Gunnlaugr and is perhaps mostly determined by metrical and alliterative requirements, since the horns of European bison are not specially long, though certainly sharp and capable of use as weapons (Stöcker and Dietrich 1996, 182).

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