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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 26 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, 151

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

17 — GunnLeif Merl II 17VIII (Bret 17)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 17 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 17)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 151.

‘En sæti hans         sunddýr fagna;
hans mun stóll vesa         yfir stoðum tvennum.
Þó hefr gumnum         grandat mǫrgum
hvítrar ullar         hvers kyns litir.

‘En {sunddýr} fagna sæti hans; stóll hans mun vesa yfir tvennum stoðum. Þó hefr litir hvers kyns hvítrar ullar grandat mǫrgum gumnum.

‘But his seats gladden {sound-animals} [SHIPS]; his throne will rest on two columns. Yet dyes of every kind for white wool have harmed many men.

Mss: Hb(49v) (Bret)

Readings: [1, 2] En sæti hans sunddýr fagna: ‘En sætaz svndi fagna’ Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 17: AII, 13, BII, 13-14, Skald II, 8; Bret 1848-9, II, 20 (Bret st. 17); Hb 1892-6, 273; Merl 2012, 83-4.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.169-72; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecies 35 and 36): ‘“candor lanarum nocuit atque tincturae ipsarum diuersitas; uae periurae genti, quia urbs inclita propter eam ruet. Gaudebunt naues augmentatione tanta, et unum ex duobus fiet”’ ‘“The whiteness of wool and the many colours it has been dyed have done you harm; woe to the treacherous people on whose account a famous city will fall.” The ships will rejoice at this great increment and two will become one’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 152). Winchester was by Geoffrey’s time the base for a flourishing wool industry (see Leach 1900b, 134-5; Page 1912b, 36-44). For the privileges of cloth makers and their growing unpopularity see Poole (1955, 84-6). Geoffrey seems to single out the commune of the city for suspicion of potential disloyalty, against either the king or the bishop, whose vassals they would have been. Gunnlaugr focuses on the dyeing of wool, to which special privileges attached. The sentences beginning respectively candor and gaudebunt are reversed in the text of Merl as extant, and several other sentences are omitted. — [1-2]: Emended by Scheving (followed by Bret 1848-9) from ms. ‘En sætaz svndi fagna’ (refreshed). The three-fold emendation here is necessary to create sense in an incoherent passage and fits well with DGB, which describes ships, i.e. their passengers, rejoicing in the augmentation of the see of St Davids through the addition of Winchester. The conjectured reading sæti ‘seats’ (i.e. ‘sees’), construed as pl. because of the pl. verb fagna ‘rejoice’, conforms admirably to this logic. Gunnlaugr uses sund ‘sea’ as a kenning determinant twice elsewhere (II 1/2, II 31/2, the latter in the ship-kenning sundraukn ‘the beasts of burden of the sea’); for the postulated second element dýr ‘animal’, cf. kjaldýr ‘keel beast’ (I 95/6). Skj B (followed by Skald and Merl 2012) emends to sætré ‘timbers of the sea [SHIPS]’, while retaining sundi, interpreted as ‘voyage’, and explains the whole clause as ‘the timbers of the sea [SHIPS] rejoice in the voyage’. But that fits poorly with DGB. — [3] hans ‘his’: Omitted in Skald. — [4] tvennum stoðum ‘two columns’: Presumably another reference to the combined revenues of the bishoprics of Winchester and St Davids. Stóll (sg.) ‘throne’ apparently clashes with pl. sæti ‘seats’, but the logic is presumably that, to paraphrase DGB, the two sees have become one. — [8] litir ‘dyes’: Emended in Merl 2012 to litr ‘dye’, so as to create concord with the sg. verb hefr (lit. ‘has’). But this is unnecessary, since often the sg. of the verb is used when a pl. subject is placed later in the clause (NS §66b Anm. 3); moreover, the emendation would introduce a trisyllabic line at a point in the poem where such lines do not otherwise occur.

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