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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 22 May 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, 164

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

34 — GunnLeif Merl II 34VIII (Bret 34)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 34 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 34)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 164.

‘Dregr él yfir         ógnar ljóma;
gerir drjúgan dyn         dýrra malma.
Gnýr es á glæstum         Gǫndlar himni
ok í hǫrðum hlam         Hlakkar tjǫldum.
Erut skjólsamar         Skǫglar kápur;
hrýtr hagl boga         hlíf í gegnum.

‘{Él {ljóma ógnar}} dregr yfir; gerir drjúgan dyn dýrra malma. Gnýr es á {glæstum himni Gǫndlar} ok hlam í {hǫrðum tjǫldum Hlakkar}. {Kápur Skǫglar} erut skjólsamar; {hagl boga} hrýtr í gegnum hlíf.

‘{A blizzard {of the light of terror}} [SWORD > BATTLE] is blowing; it causes a mighty din of precious weapons. There is a clashing on {the shining heaven of Gǫndul <valkyrie>} [SHIELD] and a thudding against {the tough awnings of Hlǫkk <valkyrie>} [SHIELDS]. {The capes of Skǫgul <valkyrie>} [MAIL-SHIRTS] are not protective; {the hail of bows} [ARROWS] pierces through armour.

Mss: Hb(50r) (Bret)

Readings: [9] Erut: erat Hb    [12] hlíf í: ‘hlift’ refreshed from ‘hlif i’ Hb;    gegnum: ‘gegnari’ Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 34: AII, 16, BII, 17, Skald II, 10-11, NN §2567A; Bret 1848-9, II, 27-8 (Bret st. 34); Hb 1892-6, 274; Merl 2012, 97-9.

Notes: [All]: See Note to II 31 [All]. — [2] ógnar ljóma ‘of the light of terror [SWORD]’: De Vries (1964-7, II, 75 n. 180) compares HHund I 21/6. — [3-4] drjúgan dyn dýrra malma ‘a mighty din of precious weapons’: This phrase could be construed as a battle-kenning but is here taken as a literal description of the noise of battle, dependent on the metaphorical battle-kenning él ljóma ógnar ‘a blizzard of the light of terror [SWORD > BATTLE]’ (ll. 1-2), in which the base-word él ‘blizzard’ is said to blow and cause the din of weapons. — [9] erut ‘are not’: Emended by Kock (NN §2567A; Skald; cf. NN §2741), followed by Merl 2012, from ms. erað (refreshed) to agree with pl. kápur. See Note to II 28/3. — [10] kápur ‘capes’: This noun appears rarely in skaldic poetry, but note the similar mail-shirt-kenning kápa Sköglar ‘the cloak of Skǫgul <valkyrie>’ in Anon Krm 18/9. — [12] hlíf í gegnum ‘through armour’: The original reading of Hb, apparently hlíf í, is here assumed to be correct, following Merl 2012. The use of the sg. noun to denote armour in general is similar to sg. himni in the shield-kenning in l. 6. Previous eds, following Bret 1848-9, unnecessarily generate a pl. noun by emending to hlífar ‘armour’ (lit. ‘items of armour’), where hlífar would be acc. pl. The emendation of ms. ‘gegnari’ to gegnum was made by Bret 1848-9 and has been adopted by all subsequent eds.

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