This interface will soon cease to be publicly available. Use the new interface instead. Click here to switch over now.

Cookies on our website

We use cookies on this website, mainly to provide a secure browsing experience but also to collect statistics on how the website is used. You can find out more about the cookies we set, the information we store and how we use it on the cookies page.

Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

login: password: stay logged in: help

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)

 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, 162

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

31 — GunnLeif Merl II 31VIII (Bret 31)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 31 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 31)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 162.

‘Þeir snarliga
sundraukn búa;
dragask lítinn þeir
landher saman.
Gnýr es manna,
gengr lið róa;
hylr Hǫgna sjǫt
†herkorn† skipa.


They will rapidly equip {the draught animals of the sea}; [SHIPS] they will bring a small land-army together. There will be a commotion of men, the army will set to rowing; †of ships covers {the seat of Hǫgni}. [SEA]

notes: Stanzas II 31-6 are an amplification of the theme of voyage and battle, loosely adapted from DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 152-3). — [7-8]: Not definitively resolved. (a) Scheving’s conjecture (reported in Bret 1848-9) Kornbreta ‘of the Cornish Britons’ would combine with ms. her, interpreted as herr ‘army’ (since gemination is often not shown in Hb), to make superior sense if the kenning sjǫt Hǫgna ‘the seat of Hǫgni <sea-king>’ can be explained, not as ‘sea’ (LP: sjǫt, with the present occurrence as the sole attestation; cf. Meissner 93), but as ‘ship’ (cf. SnSt Ht 75/2III hafbekks ‘of the sea-bench [SHIP]’; Meissner 222). Gunnlaugr uses sjǫt once elsewhere (II 16/5), in relation to a bishop’s seat. Thus emended, the line would fit well with the comment in l. 3 that the army is small; an army could be small yet still cover some ships, whereas the ships conveying it could scarcely be said to cover the sea. Other attempted solutions do not reckon with this necessary logic. (b) Finnur Jónsson (LP: herkorn), followed by Merl 2012, explains herkorn ‘army-grain’ ad hoc as an idiomatic expression for uncountable numbers. (c) Kock (NN §98; Skald) conjectures *herkorðr ‘military force’, on the basis of compounds in West Germanic, and interprets as skeppens krigiska skara höljer havet ‘the ships’ military force covers the sea’. Also in favour of Scheving’s conjecture are the appropriateness of describing a Cornish army as sailing from the south to attack Wales, as required by II 32/1-3, and perhaps too the association of an earlier boar-king with Cornwall in DGB (cf. I 24 Note to [All]). Gunnlaugr could be seen as furthering the attention to Cornwall that is already a remarkable feature of DGB (Padel 1984).

texts: Bret 31

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá I 31 (AII, 16; BII, 16); Skald II, 10, NN §98; Bret 1848-9, II, 26-7 (Bret st. 31); Hb 1892-6, 274; Merl 2012, 95.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 50r, 5 - 50r, 6 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  image  
© Skaldic Project Academic Body, unless otherwise noted. Database structure and interface developed by Tarrin Wills. All users of material on this database are reminded that its content may be either subject to copyright restrictions or is the property of the custodians of linked databases that have given permission for members of the skaldic project to use their material for research purposes. Those users who have been given access to as yet unpublished material are further reminded that they may not use, publish or otherwise manipulate such material except with the express permission of the individual editor of the material in question and the General Editor of the volume in which the material is to be published. Applications for permission to use such material should be made in the first instance to the General Editor of the volume in question. All information that appears in the published volumes has been thoroughly reviewed. If you believe some information here is incorrect please contact Tarrin Wills with full details.