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Gunnlaugr Leifsson (GunnLeif)

13th century; volume 8; ed. Russell Poole;

VIII. 2. Merlínusspá II (Merl II) - 68

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, ‘(Introduction to) Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 134.

stanzas:  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, 166

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

36 — GunnLeif Merl II 36VIII (Bret 36)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 36 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 36)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 166.

‘Sék vé vaða,         verðr †mitt† skaða;
syngr sára klungr         snyrtidrengjum.
En á leið fara         lægjǫrn ara
jóð ok ylgjar         enn til sylgjar;
hrapa hernumin         hvártveggja bǫrn.

‘Sék vé vaða, †mitt† verðr skaða; {klungr sára} syngr snyrtidrengjum. En lægjǫrn jóð ara ok ylgjar fara enn á leið til sylgjar; bǫrn hvártveggja hrapa hernumin.

‘I see the standards advance, … will harm; {the thorn of wounds} [SWORD] sings to brave men. And the treacherous children of the eagle and the she-wolf go on their way to the drinking once more; the offspring of both will tumble down, taken in battle.

Mss: Hb(50r) (Bret)

Readings: [10] hvártveggja: hvártveggi Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 36: AII, 17, BII, 17, Skald II, 11, NN §2163D, E; Bret 1848-9, II, 28-9 (Bret st. 36); Hb 1892-6, 275; Merl 2012, 100-1.

Notes: [All]: See II 31 Note to [All]. Note the end-rhymes (ll. 1-2, 5-8) in this stanza, possibly imitated from such poems as Egill HflV(Eg). As elsewhere in his battle descriptions, Gunnlaugr reaches for special stylistic devices associated with traditional skaldic poetry. — [2] †mitt†: Scheving conjectured flýtt ‘speedily, hastily’ from ms. ‘mitt’ (refreshed) and this suggestion was adopted in Bret 1848-9 and Skj B. Hb 1892-6 notes, however, that flýtt cannot have been the original reading of Hb. Kock (NN §2163D; Skald) suggests, without reference to the ms., mœtt (spelt mætt in Skald), apparently in the sense ‘met’, and also notes an OE mittan ‘meet’. Merl 2012 follows in reading mætt, translated as angetroffen ‘encountered’. But this proposal leaves the syntax problematic: the nom. forms mættr and skaði would be expected. — [3] klungr sára ‘the thorn of wounds [SWORD]’: Treated in Merl 2012 as an emendation but it is in fact the unrefreshed reading in Hb, first recognised by Bret 1848-9 and adopted by subsequent eds. — [6] lægjǫrn ‘treacherous’: De Vries (1964-7, II, 75 n. 179) compares Vsp 35/3. — [9] hernumin ‘taken in battle’: Ms. hernumin (refreshed) ‘taken in battle’ raises the difficulty that ‘the children of the eagle and the wolf’ are otherwise presented in the stanza as benefiting from the battle (by drinking blood), not actively fighting in it or suffering as a result of it, activities that would hardly constitute an expected element in the ‘beasts-of-battle’ type scene widely used in skaldic poetry. In the absence of a Latin analogue at this point a secure emendation has not so far been suggested. Scheving proposed hræmunin, explained as ‘eager for corpses’ (reported but not adopted in Bret 1848-9). Skj B emends to hræfíkin ‘corpse-greedy’, which is suitable in terms of both metre and sense. Kock suggests hrapa á hræ numin, translated as störta sig över de gripna liken ‘collapse over the captured bodies’ (NN §2163E; Skald; followed by Merl 2012), but this fails for metrical reasons.

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated