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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, ‘ 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 5 August 2021)

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, 134

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — GunnLeif Merl II 2VIII (Bret 2)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 2 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 2)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 134.

Sagðr vas lýðum         ok landrekum
myrk* at ráða         mǫrg rǫk fyrir.
Kærr vas hann kristnu         kynni þjóðar;
vasat á moldu         maðr vitrari.

Sagðr vas at ráða mǫrg myrk* rǫk fyrir lýðum ok landrekum. Hann vas kærr kristnu kynni þjóðar; vitrari maðr vasat á moldu.

He was said to interpret many obscure signs before the people and rulers. He was dear to the Christian family of people; there was not a wiser man on earth.

Mss: Hb(49r) (Bret)

Readings: [1] Sagðr: ‘Sagði’ refreshed from Sagðr Hb    [3] myrk*: myrkt Hb    [5, 6] kristnu kynni: kristin kyni Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 2: AII, 11, BII, 10, Skald II, 6, NN §§90, 91; Bret 1848-9, II, 14 (Bret st. 2); Hb 1892-6, 272; Merl 2012, 66-7.

Notes: [1] sagðr vas ‘he was said’: Merl 2012 adopts the refreshed reading sagði ‘[he] said’, but this is to put too much faith in the refresher, when traces of earlier <r> are still visible. Instead of the ms.’s ‘var’ (normalised here to vas), Merl 2012 reads við, translated as im Hinblick auf ‘in respect of’. But the refresher’s abbreviation directly above ms. <v>, interpreted as ‘-ið’ by Merl 2012, is followed to the right by a clearly legible unrefreshed abbreviation for ‘-ar’, as is in fact conceded by Merl 2012. — [3] myrk* ‘obscure’: Emended by Scheving (followed in Bret 1848-9 and Skj B) from ms. myrkt (refreshed). Kock (NN §90; Skald) treats myrkt and mǫrg rǫk as in apposition (Han sades spå … om dunkla ting, om mångt, som skulle ske ‘he was said to prophesy … about obscure matters, about many things that were destined to occur’), but, while this construal is not impossible, Kock (as often: cf. Note to ll. 5-6 below) assumes that apposition is a more prevalent stylistic feature in skaldic poetry than in fact is the case; also, the sense and syntax yielded by Scheving’s emendation are clearly superior. Conceivable, with Merl 2012, would be retention of myrkt in the sense ‘darkly’, taken with the verb, thus at ráða myrkt mǫrg rǫk ‘to interpret darkly many signs’. But this would seem an odd disparagement of the popular prophet who is being praised in this very context and, once again, relies overmuch on the accuracy of the refresher. Cf I 9/1-4 and I 100/9-10. — [5-6]: These lines emphasise that Merlin is beloved of Christians, probably a point it would have been important for Gunnlaugr to establish, when contemporary commentators were apt to fret about Merlin’s diabolic pedigree (Crick 2011, 77). The ms. reading kristin (refreshed) is emended to kristnu by Scheving, followed in Bret 1848-9, Skj B, Merl 2012 and this edn. In this edn the ms.’s ‘kyni’ is emended to kynni, dat. sg. of the n. noun kynni in the sense ‘family, stock, lineage’ (Fritzner: kynni 2); geminate <n> is not necessarily shown in Haukr’s orthography (Hb 1892-6, xiii). These minor adjustments produce two metrical A-lines. Skj B on the other hand, presumably to improve the metre of l. 5,  transposes kristnu and kyni, followed by Merl 2012, but this leaves l. 6 metrically deficient. Kock (NN §91) instead proposes to read kristni, í kyni, interpreting ll. 5-6 as han var de kristne kär, var omtyckt ibland folket ‘he was dear to the Christians, was well-regarded amongst the people’. But the double construction, mixing uses of dat. case with and without prepositions, militates against this solution. — [7-8]: De Vries (1964-7, II, 75 n. 181) compares Gríp 52/5‑6.

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