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Gunnlaugr Leifsson (GunnLeif)

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

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

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, ‘(Introduction to) Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 134.

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   38   39   40   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   52   53   54   55   56   57   58   59   60   61   62   63   64   65   66   67   68 

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, 148

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

15 — GunnLeif Merl II 15VIII (Bret 15)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 15 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 15)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 148.

‘Þeir þjótandi         þrr of hrœra
búnir at berjask         Bretlands eyjar.
Þá mun vakna         viðr inn danski
ok manns rǫddu         mæla sjalfri.

‘Þjótandi, búnir at berjask, of hrœra þeir þrr eyjar Bretlands. Þá mun inn danski viðr vakna ok mæla sjalfri rǫddu manns.

‘Wailing, prepared to fight, they will stir up the three islands of Britain. Then the Danish wood will awake and speak with a man’s actual voice.

Mss: Hb(49v) (Bret)

Readings: [2] þrr: þrír Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 15: AII, 13, BII, 13, Skald II, 8; Bret 1848-9, II, 19 (Bret st. 15); Hb 1892-6, 273; Merl 2012, 80-1.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.164-6; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecies 34 and 35): quae nefando sonitu tres insulas Britanniae commouebunt. Excitabitur Daneum nemus et in humanam uocem erumpens clamabit ‘which stir up Britain’s three islands with their dreadful sound. The Daneian Forest will awaken and shout in a human voice’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 152). — [1] þeir ‘they’: Presumably the referent is loosely understood as the people of the island (sg.), who are mentioned as wailing in II 13/5-8. — [2] þrr ‘three’: Emended from ms. þrír (refreshed), the m. nom. pl. form, in Bret 1848-9, followed by all subsequent eds. — [3]: Gunnlaugr makes Geoffrey’s implications of ensuing battle explicit. — [6] inn danski viðr ‘the Danish wood’: Possibly to be identified as the Forest of Dean, located in the western part of Gloucestershire (see CPB I, 156; Poole 1987, 276; Townend 1998, 29-31); cf. Ótt Knútdr 10/8I and Note there. Geoffrey’s reference to this wood may reflect its status as the centre of iron-working to equip military expeditions (Poole 1955, 81-2). The reading danorum ‘of the Danes’ is found in the R ms. of the First Variant Version (Wright 1988, 108), as noted by Merl 2012; cf. the Anglo-Norman decasyllabic rendering (Blacker 2005, 44) les bois de Danemarche ‘the woods of Denmark’. But Gunnlaugr does not appear to be basing himself on R, which contains many erroneous readings not reflected by Merl, or indeed on the First Variant Version in general: see I 39 Note to [All]. He might have found the reading included as a variant in his source ms. (cf. I 41 Note to [All], II 25 Note to [All]) or instead have adapted Lat. daneum or a different variant reading such as danerium independently, perhaps aware of Óttarr svarti’s reference to a locality in England as Danaskógar (Ótt Knútdr 8/8I). For an identification of this locality as the Forest of Dean see CPB I, 156, Poole (1987, 276). For interpretation of Latin place-names on Gunnlaugr’s part, cf. II 9 Note to [All]. — [8] sjalfri ‘actual’: This adj. is translated as saalunde ‘thus’ (referring to the ensuing speech) in Bret 1848-9 and left unaccounted for in Skj B; Merl 2012 translates und selbst mit der Stimme eines Menschen sprechen ‘and itself speak with the voice of a man’. But sjalfri is dat., qualifying rǫddu ‘voice’, and should be construed in the sense of ‘very, actual’ (cf. CVC: sjálfr). Gunnlaugr’s translation thereby emphasises the miraculous nature of the event more than is expressed in the Latin.

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated