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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 26 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, 169

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

39 — GunnLeif Merl II 39VIII (Bret 39)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 39 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 39)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 169.

‘En í fjalli felsk         fádyggt hǫfuð;
hyggr færtǫpuðr         flærð at œxla.
En villigǫltr         vargi ok birni
segir sárliga         sorg ok missu.

‘En fádyggt hǫfuð felsk í fjalli; {færtǫpuðr} hyggr at œxla flærð. En villigǫltr segir vargi ok birni sárliga sorg ok missu.

‘But the untrustworthy person will hide in the mountain; {the sheep-destroyer} [FOX] will intend to add to his deception. And the wild boar will tell the wolf and the bear of his grievous sorrow and loss.

Mss: Hb(50r) (Bret)

Readings: [1] felsk: næst Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 39: AII, 17, BII, 18, Skald II, 11, NN §2163G; Bret 1848-9, II, 29-30 (Bret st. 39); Hb 1892-6, 275; Merl 2012, 103-5.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 155.196-8; cf. Wright 1988, 109-10, prophecies 42 and 43): et infra cauernas montium delitebit. Aper ergo illusus requiret lupum et ursum ut ei amissa membra restituant ‘and hide in the mountain-caves. The tricked boar will demand that the wolf and bear restore its lost limbs’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 154). — [1] felsk ‘will hide’: Emended by Scheving (and adopted in Bret 1848-9 and Skj B) from ms. næst (refreshed). Cf. Note to II 36/9. The spelling of reflexive -sk as -st in Hb is exemplified by hleðst (= hlezk) in II 21/2 (Hb 1892-6, 273); thus change of ms. final <t> to <k> represents normalisation rather than emendation. Kock (NN §2163G; Skald), followed by Merl 2012, would emend the line to es í fjalli næst, with næst meaning ‘then’ (thus ‘is then in the mountain’), but this does not take DGB into account. — [2] hǫfuð ‘the person’: Lit. ‘head’ (CVC: hǫfuð III). I.e. the fox. — [3] færtǫpuðr ‘the sheep-destroyer [FOX]’: This is the hitherto unrecognised reading of Hb. With this kenning cf. II 28/8 týnir sauða ‘that destroyer of sheep [FOX]’ and Note there. For the agentive tǫpuðr see LP: tǫpuðr; Gunnlaugr uses its formative verb, tapa ‘kill’, in reference to the fox in II 28/7. Earlier eds read the ms. at this point as þær (or þar) jǫfuðr. Bret 1848-9 adopts þar jǫfuðr, translating the line as der tænker han ‘there he thinks’, which indicates that jǫfuðr is regarded as a heiti for ‘king’, like jǫfurr. Skj B and NN §2163G (cf. Skald) emend to þar fóa ‘there the vixen’ and þar jǫfurr (‘there the ruler’) respectively. Additionally NN §2163G (cf. Skald) transposes the word order in l. 4 in order to maintain correct alliteration. Merl 2012 proposes lofuðr ‘praised’, i.e. ‘the leader’, but without any supporting attestations for such a usage. — [4] flærð ‘deception’: Here Bret 1848-9 inexplicably reads kun, translated as sin Slægt ‘his family’, an error implicitly corrected in Hb 1892-6.

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