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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, 157

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

24 — GunnLeif Merl II 24VIII (Bret 24)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 24 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 24)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 157.

‘Kemr ór skógi         Kalatérío
fogl fljúgandi,         sás fira villir.
Flýgr of nôttum,         nýsir gǫrla;
kallar hegri         hvern fogl til sín;
es um tvívetri         tálráð samit.

‘Fogl kemr fljúgandi ór skógi Kalatérío, sás villir fira. Flýgr of nôttum, nýsir gǫrla; hegri kallar hvern fogl til sín; tálráð es samit um tvívetri.

‘From the forest of Calaterium a bird will come flying that will lead men astray. It will fly at night, spy thoroughly; the heron will call every bird to itself; treachery will be devised over a two-year span.

Mss: Hb(49v) (Bret)

Readings: [3] fljúgandi: fljúganda Hb    [7] hegri: hegra Hb    [8] sín: þín Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 24: AII, 14, BII, 15, Skald II, 9; Bret 1848-9, II, 23-4 (Bret st. 24); Hb 1892-6, 273-4; Merl 2012, 89-90.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.181-3; cf. Wright 1988, 109, prophecy 39): Post haec ex Calaterio nemore procedet ardea, quae insulam per biennium circumuolabit. Nocturno clamore conuocabit uolatilia et omne genus uolucrum associabit sibi ‘Afterwards a heron will emerge from the forest of Calaterium and will circle the island for two years. It will summon the birds of the air with its cry at night and assemble all their species’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 152). Gunnlaugr partially rationalises the prophecy of a charismatic new leader and adds the notion of his treachery. The forest of Calaterium is unidentified but evidently located in Albania (Scotland), as appears from DGB III (Reeve and Wright 2007, 50-1; cf. Tatlock 1950, 17-18). — [1, 3]: De Vries (1964-7, II, 75 n. 179) compares Vsp 66/2. — [3] fljúgandi ‘flying’: Emended from ms. fljúganda (refreshed) in Bret 1848-9, followed by subsequent eds. — [4] sás villir fira ‘that will lead men astray’: This is Gunnlaugr’s amplification of DGB, perhaps in allusion to the notion of the heron seen in Hávm 13/1-3 (NK 19): Óminnis hegri heitir, | sá er yfir ǫlðrom þrumir, | hann stelr geði guma ‘He is called the heron of forgetfulness, who hovers over the ale-feasts; he steals the wits of men’. How the heron gained this reputation is unclear (Evans 1986, 80). Dronke (1984, 54-5) notes a traditional association of this bird with vomiting and flapping around as if drunk, but it is hard to see why such behaviours would ‘lead men astray’, as required by the context in Hávm and Merl. Invective against drunkenness on Gunnlaugr’s part is seen again in II 56-7. In modern times the Black-crowned Night Heron (nátthegri, Nycticorax nycticorax) is an occasional visitor and resident in Iceland (Gunnlaugur Pétursson 2006). — [6]: The idea of the heron acting as a spy (or scout?) is introduced by Gunnlaugr. — [7] hegri ‘the heron’: Emended from ms. hegra (refreshed) in Bret 1848-9, followed by Skj B and Skald. This is a rarely attested word in Old Norse; outside Merl there are only two attestations in poetry (LP: hegri) and in all four prose citations in ONP it is used as a nickname rather than a common noun; of the two men thus designated, one is a C12th Norwegian and the other an early settler in Iceland. Merl 2012 retains hegra without explanation of this form. — [8] sín ‘itself’: Emended from ms. þín (refreshed) in Bret 1848-9, followed by subsequent eds.

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