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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, 176

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

49 — GunnLeif Merl II 49VIII (Bret 49)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 49 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 49)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 176.

‘Þeir flest taka         fljóða sveita
hervígssamir         ok hóra mengi.
Ok sameignar         sín*ar kvánir
gera geirvanir;         geigr es í slíku.’

‘Hervígssamir taka þeir flest sveita fljóða ok mengi hóra. Ok geirvanir gera kvánir sín*ar sameignar; geigr es í slíku.’

‘Belligerent, they will take most bands of women and a multitude of whores. And the spear-accustomed ones will have their women in common; peril lies in that.’

Mss: Hb(50r) (Bret)

Readings: [6] sín*ar: sinnar Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 49: AII, 19, BII, 20, Skald II, 13, NN §99; Bret 1848-9, II, 33 (Bret st. 49); Hb 1892-6, 276; Merl 2012, 112-13.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 157.229-30; cf. Wright 1988, 111, prophecy 53): Fetore narium mulieres corrumpent et proprias communes facient ‘By the stench of their nostrils they will corrupt women and make the women of individual men into women shared in common’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 156). Gunnlaugr adds the final summative statement of moral condemnation. — [3] hervígssamir ‘belligerent’: This edn follows Kock (NN §99; Skald; cf. Merl 2012), who notes that ms. hervígssamir (a hap. leg.) makes good sense, has close analogues in formation and meaning and is in parallel structure with geirvanir ‘the spear-accustomed ones’ in l. 7. Earlier eds deviate from the ms. reading. Bret 1848-9 has hervígs ramir, translated as de kampstærke Mænd ‘the battle-strong men’. Given that ramir is not signalled as an emendation, perhaps Jón Sigurðsson read <r> where other eds have seen <s>, but occasionally he emends tacitly (cf. II 39/4). In Skj B the line is further emended to rammir horvegs ‘strong of snot-way [NOSTRIL]’, explained as meaning med stinkende næsebor ‘with stinking nostrils’, so as to enhance the correspondence with DGB. The ms. reading appears in LP (LP: hervíg) but with the comment that it is erroneous. Finnur’s emendation is ingenious, and possibly right, despite Kock’s strictures (made in ignorance of DGB), but it would be characteristic of Gunnlaugr to tone down such offensive material. Cf. II 50/5-6. — [5] sameignar ‘in common’: Merl 2012 appears to posit a less overtly sexual reference, but Gunnlaugr is simply translating DGB at this point. — [6] sín*ar ‘their’: Emended in Skj B (followed by Skald, Merl 2012 and this edn) from ms. sinnar (refreshed).

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