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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, 183

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

59 — GunnLeif Merl II 59VIII (Bret 59)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 59 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 59)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 183.

‘Ok þar á hlýrni         heiðar stjǫrnur
má marka því         moldar hvergi.
Sumar fara ǫfgar,         sumar annan veg
af inni gǫmlu         gǫngu sinni.

‘Ok því má marka heiðar stjǫrnur þar á hlýrni hvergi moldar. Sumar fara ǫfgar, sumar annan veg af inni gǫmlu gǫngu sinni.

‘And for that cause it will not be possible anywhere on earth to distinguish the bright stars there in heaven. Some will go backwards, some on a different path away from their ancient course.

Mss: Hb(50v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 59: AII, 20, BII, 22, Skald II, 14; Bret 1848-9, II, 36 (Bret st. 59); Hb 1892-6, 276; Merl 2012, 120.

Notes: [All]: Briefly summarised from DGB 117, prophecy 73. — [2] heiðar stjǫrnur ‘the bright stars’: De Vries (1964-7, II, 75 n. 179) compares Vsp 57/4. — [3-4] má marka ... hvergi moldar ‘it will not be possible anywhere on earth to distinguish’: An impersonal construction, lit. ‘one can distinguish nowhere of earth’. The sense, in the context of ll. 5-8 and II 60/1-4, appears to be that the stars (and with them the sun and the moon, II 58/5-8), following perturbed courses, can no longer be identified or distinguished one from another, even if they are still visible. With that, human systems of time-keeping and navigation would collapse, an idea hinted at in II 57/6 tíðmǫrk himins ‘time-markers of heaven’. Cf. the admonition to the would-be merchant in Kgs (Holm-Olsen 1983, 130): Nemðu uandliga birting lopz oc gang himintvngla ‘Note carefully the illumination of the sky and the movement of the heavenly bodies’. Skj B translates marka af as tage mærke af ‘take notice of, recognise’, cf. Bret 1848-9 and Merl 2012. — [4] hvergi moldar ‘anywhere on earth’: Lit. ‘nowhere of earth’: A well attested usage, for the syntax of which see Fritzner: hvergi adv. 3; CVC, LP: hvergi. The line is so construed in Skj B. In Bret 1848-9, by contrast, hvergi moldar appears to be interpreted as ‘nowhere in the firmament’, but that is unlikely in view of the standard senses of mold ‘earth’. Merl 2012 takes a radically different approach, construing hvergi as equivalent to hverrgi ‘no one’, taken as subject of ‘can’, but a phrase hver[r]gi moldar, translated as keiner auf der Erde ‘no one on Earth’, is not otherwise attested.

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