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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 28 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, 165

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

35 — GunnLeif Merl II 35VIII (Bret 35)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 35 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 35)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 165.

‘Grenja gránir
garmar slíðra;
bítr fránn freki
ferð halsgerðar.
Rýfr gramr guma
bregðr benlogi
byggðum hjarna;
eru brotnar mjǫk
borgir heila.


‘{The grey dogs of scabbards} [SWORDS] growl; {the piercing wolf of the neck-strap} [SWORD] bites the army. The cruel one <sword> breaks men’s {halls of the pericardium}; [BREASTS] {the wound-flame} [SWORD] topples {the settlements of brains}; [HEADS] {the strongholds of brains} [HEADS] are smashed to pieces.

notes: See Note to II 31 [All]. The verbs describing the action of the battle are chosen with regard to the base-words of each sword-kenning in ll. 1-4, creating a metaphorical congruence between them; thus ‘dogs’ growl and the ‘wolf’ bites. The substantivised adj. gramr ‘the cruel one’ (l. 5), taken here as a sword-heiti, is said to break men’s breasts, with the rib-cage possibly in mind. In ll. 7-10 the sword-kennings again show a congruence between base-word and verb; the ‘flame’ topples heads, represented as tall buildings being engulfed by fire, and, using similar imagery, ‘strongholds’ are smashed to pieces. It is possible that Gunnlaugr had mythological referents in mind when he wrote of ‘dogs’ (garmar, l. 2) and a wolf (freki, lit. ‘greedy one’ or ‘bold one’, l. 3), because Garmr is the name of a mythical dog in eddic poetry (Vsp 44/1, 58/1; cf. SnE 2005, 34, 59), while Freki is the name of one of Óðinn’s wolves (SnE 2005, 32; Þul Vargs 1/5III; cf. Vsp 44/2). Gramr (l. 5) may also be reminiscent of the name of the hero Sigurðr’s sword (cf. Reg prose (NK 177) and Þul Sverða 1/5III.  — [6]: This is the reading of the ms, here unrefreshed, reported by Bret 1848-9 and Hb 1892-6. The contraction for ‑ir is visible above and to the left of following b-. On grounds that remain unclear, Merl 2012 would read and retain the sg. form gollorhall, which, aside from being contrary to the ms. evidence, also disrupts the metre. For this type of kenning, compare Note to I 82/8. Merl 2012 incorrectly glosses gollor- as ‘heart’.

texts: Bret 35

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá I 35 (AII, 16-17; BII, 17); Skald II, 11; Bret 1848-9, II, 28 (Bret st. 35); Hb 1892-6, 274-5; Merl 2012, 99-100.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 50r, 11 - 50r, 13 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  image  
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