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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, 139

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

5 — GunnLeif Merl II 5VIII (Bret 5)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 5 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 5)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 139.

‘Vella í víðri         Vintónía
— þats borgar nafn —         brunnar þrennir.
Þeir munu láði         lœkjum skipta
þrír óglíkir         í þrjá staði.

‘Þrennir brunnar vella í víðri Vintónía; þats nafn borgar. Þeir þrír óglíkir munu skipta láði lœkjum í þrjá staði.

‘Triple springs will well up in broad Winchester; that is the name of the city. Those three, [each] unlike [the others], will divide the land with their streams into three parts.

Mss: Hb(49r) (Bret)

Readings: [1] Vella: ‘Sar er’ apparently corrected from ‘Varu’ Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 5: AII, 11, BII, 11, Skald II, 7; Bret 1848-9, II, 15-16 (Bret st. 5); Hb 1892-6, 272; Merl 2012, 70-1.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.147-8; cf. Wright 1988, 107, prophecy 31): Tres fontes in urbe Guintonia erumpent, quorum riuuli insulam in tres portiones secabunt ‘Three springs will well up in the city of Winchester, and their streams will cut the island in three’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). — [1] vella ‘will well up’: In Hb the text is refreshed as ‘Sar er’ but the traces of initial majuscule <V> are visible; Finnur Jónsson (Hb 1892-6, 272) interprets these indications as Váru. This reading seems unlikely to originate with Gunnlaugr, however, since pres. (for future), not pret., is called for by the remainder of the stanza; in transmission the pret. could have encroached from the preceding stanza. Additionally, váru would denote a steady state rather than a development that divides the lands within which the city is built into three, as required by the remainder of the stanza. In the present edn emendation to vella ‘well up’ is proposed to solve these difficulties and as the obvious vernacular rendition of Geoffrey’s erumpent; cf. its use in I 89/8. Bret 1848-9, followed by Skj B and Skald, emends to vaxa ‘grow, increase’, but this verb is not attested in relation to springs. Merl 2012 proposes Þar eru ‘There are’ but this, besides being vague and unidiomatic in itself, does not fit with the idea of a sudden break-out required by DGB. — [2] Vintónía ‘Winchester’: Winchester was a major royal and ecclesiastical centre under the Normans, continuing its prominent role in the late Anglo-Saxon period.

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