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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, 174

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

46 — GunnLeif Merl II 46VIII (Bret 46)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 46 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 46)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 174.

‘Es á hans dǫgum         hǫggormr alinn,
sás fyrðum vill         fjǫrspell gera.
Svá es hann langr,         at of Lundúnir
heiðar hvalr         hring of mælir
ok svá óðr,         at urðar sigðr
umlíðendr         alla gleypir.

‘Hǫggormr es alinn á dǫgum hans, sás vill gera fyrðum fjǫrspell. Hann es svá langr, at {hvalr heiðar} of mælir hring of Lundúnir, ok svá óðr, at {sigðr urðar} gleypir alla umlíðendr.

‘In his days a serpent will be born who will bring about an end to life for men. It is so long that {the whale of the heath} [SNAKE] will measure a circle around London and so ferocious that {the sickle of the cairn} [SNAKE] will devour all passers-by.

Mss: Hb(50r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 46: AII, 18, BII, 19, Skald II, 12, NN §§2163B, 2820; Bret 1848-9, II, 32 (Bret st. 46); Hb 1892-6, 275-6; Merl 2012, 109-10.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 155.204-6; cf. Wright 1988, 110, prophecy 45): In diebus eius nascetur serpens, quae neci mortalium imminebit. Longitudine sua circuibit Lundoniam et quosque pretereuntes deuorabit ‘In its time will be born a snake which will threaten men with death. It will coil itself around London and devour all who pass by’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 154). — [7]: A trisyllabic line, like ll. 9 and 11. Kock suggests (NN §§2163B; Skald) filling out l. 7 with initial at, shifted from the previous line, to yield regular fornyrðislag metre. But this unnecessarily complicates the word order and obscures the sense. He further suggests filling out l. 9 with es hann, on the analogy of l. 5 and would regularise l. 11 into fornyrðislag by reading umlíðanda. But the occurrence of three short lines in the one stanza militates against emendation, and it may be that Gunnlaugr is foreshadowing the sequence of kviðuháttr stanzas from II 62 onwards that concludes Merl II. — [10] sigðr urðar ‘the sickle of the cairn [SNAKE]’: A snake-kenning employing urð ‘cairn, pile of stones’ as an alternative to more common determinants such as words for ‘earth’ and ‘ground’; cf. Meissner 113-14.

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