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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, ‘ 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 5 August 2021)

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, 167

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

37 — GunnLeif Merl II 37VIII (Bret 37)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 37 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 37)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 167.

‘En refr gerir         ráða á galta;
þvíat hann reisa mát         rǫnd við hánum,
svá lætr dǫglingr,         sem hann dauðr séi;
esat lík hulit         lofðungs Breta.

‘En refr gerir ráða á galta; dǫglingr lætr svá, sem hann séi dauðr, þvíat hann mát reisa rǫnd við hánum; lík lofðungs Breta esat hulit.

‘But the fox will prepare to attack the boar; the ruler [the fox] will act as if he were dead, because he [the fox] is unable to raise a shield against him [the boar]; the body of the prince of the Britons [the fox] will not be buried.

Mss: Hb(50r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 37: AII, 17, BII, 17-18, Skald II, 11; Bret 1848-9, II, 29 (Bret st. 37); Hb 1892-6, 275; Merl 2012, 101-2.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 153.192-155.193; cf. Wright 1988, 109, prophecy 42): Quae cum certamen inierit, finget se defunctam et aprum in pietatem mouebit ‘When it enters into battle the fox will feign death and move the boar to pity’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 152-4). — [1-6]: No fully satisfactory solution to the logical problems of this stanza has yet been devised. The principal difficulty is that the statement that the fox prepares to make an attack on the pig (ll. 1-2) is seemingly contradicted by the statement that he is not in a position to attack him (ll. 3-4): unable to handle a pitched battle, he must mount a different kind of attack, relying on his cunning (cf. II 39/3-4 and II 41/6). (For the idiom ráða á ‘attack’ cf. II 28/5-6 and II 38/6.) (a) For this reason Skj B (followed by Skald) emends ms. gerir (refreshed) ‘will prepare’ in l. 1 to gerrat ‘does not prepare’ and Merl 2012 emends ráða á ‘attack’ in line 2 to ráð á ‘a plan against’. But these emendations seem to be a case of cutting the Gordian knot: it would be odd for Gunnlaugr to translate the affirmative statement in DGB (Quae cum certamen inierit) with a negative. Also, it is awkward to say (with Skj B) that the fox does not attack when in the next stanza (38/5-6) the contrary is said. (b) The tentative proposal in this edn is that the subordinate clause with initial þvíat constituted by ll. 3-4 be construed as preceding, not following, its main clause, thus linking ll. 3-4 onwards to ll. 5-6 rather than back to ll. 1-2. Then the gist of this and the ensuing stanza would be: ‘The fox prepares to make an attack on the pig. As he cannot do so in a pitched battle, he feigns death and his body is left unburied so as to lure the pig to come and inspect it personally; then the fox is able to attack the pig by taking him by surprise.’ An admitted weakness with this construal is that the examples of such reversal of clauses in NS §367b feature initial með þvíat rather than simple þvíat; Merl itself does not contain any instance of þvíat used in this way. (c) Thinkable, therefore, would be emendation of þvíat to þóat, þótt ‘although’, modifying the content of ll. 1-2. Similar are the construals in Bret 1848-9 and Merl 2012, which, retaining gerir, attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction with ll. 3-4 by translating þvíat as if it meant ‘but’ (Bret 1848-9) or aber weil ‘but because’ (Merl 2012); in both cases, adoption of þóat/þótt would produce better correspondence between text and translation. In Merl 2012, probably as a mere slip, mátti ‘might’ replaces mát ‘is unable’, lit. ‘may not’, against the evidence of the ms. and the metre, and is translated as ‘might not’, leaving the source of the negative unspecified. — [3] hann ‘he’: Omitted in Skald. — [3, 4] reisa rǫnd við ‘raise a shield against’: For the idiom cf. I 26/3-4. — [5-6]: The notion that the fox plays dead in order to ensnare its prey was familiar in the Middle Ages, with a locus classicus in the Physiologus (Curley 2009, 27; cf. Merl 2012, 102). — [5] dǫglingr ‘the ruler’: The allegory is rationalised; cf. lofðungs Breta ‘of the prince of the Britons’ in l. 8. — [6] hann ‘he’: Omitted in Skald. — [7]: For this sense of hylja cf. I 36/8, II 7/10.

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