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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 25 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, 158

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

25 — GunnLeif Merl II 25VIII (Bret 25)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 25 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 25)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 158.

‘Flykkjask foglar;         fara þeir í sæði;
eyða þeir ǫkrum         ok aldini.
Sultr verðr ok sótt         — sék mart fyrir —
manndauðr mikill;         mein gengr of þjóð.

‘Foglar flykkjask; þeir fara í sæði; þeir eyða ǫkrum ok aldini. Sultr verðr, ok sótt, manndauðr mikill; sék mart fyrir; mein gengr of þjóð.

‘The birds will flock together; they will go into the crops; they will devastate the fields and fruit. Famine will develop, also sickness, great mortality of men; I see many things to come; harm will afflict the people.

Mss: Hb(49v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 25: AII, 15, BII, 15, Skald II, 9, FF §63; Bret 1848-9, II, 24 (Bret st. 25); Hb 1892-6, 274; Merl 2012, 90.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.183-5; cf. Wright 1988, 109, prophecies 39 and 40): In culturas mortalium irruent et omnia grana messium deuorabunt. Sequetur fames populum atque dira mortalitas famem ‘They will fall upon men’s crops and eat all the grains of corn. The people will be afflicted by hunger and after that by a deadly plague’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 152). For grana ‘grains’ a variant reading is genera ‘kinds’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153, Wright 1988, 109) and the expansion of the Latin seen in Merl could be interpreted as an attempt to incorporate the sense of both readings by mentioning the different types of produce. Ms. D of the First Variant Version has genera in the main text and grana noted in the margin as a variant (Wright 1988, 109), and Gunnlaugr’s source ms. may have been similar in this respect. — [2, 3] þeir ‘they’: Omitted in Skald in both lines. — [5]: This edn follows Kock (FF §63) in its analysis of the components of the subject; Skj B, apparently followed by Merl 2012, takes manndauðr as the subject of gengr, with mein in apposition, but that, as Kock notes, is less consonant with poetic style. — [8] þjóð ‘the people’: Merl 2012 would retain the refresher’s reading þjóðir, but, as noted in Hb 1892-6, the contraction sign for -ir arises from misinterpretation of the loop in preceding -.

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