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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 20 May 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, 188

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

67 — GunnLeif Merl II 67VIII (Bret 67)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 67 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 67)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 188.

Biðjum opt         bragna stilli
œztan eflð         ǫllu hjarta,
at víðfrægr         virða stjóri
dœgr ok dag         dróttar gæti.

Biðjum opt {stilli bragna}, œztan eflð, ǫllu hjarta, at {víðfrægr stjóri virða} gæti dróttar dœgr ok dag.

Let us often pray {to the Lord of men} [= God], highest power, with all our heart that {the widely-renowned governor of men} [= God] may watch over his following night and day.

Mss: Hb(50v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 67: AII, 21, BII, 23-4, Skald II, 15, NN §§30, 2567B; Bret 1848-9, II, 38 (Bret st. 67); Hb 1892-6, 277; Merl 2012, 125-6.

Notes: [3]: The interpretation of this line is not definitively resolved. While collocation of the verb efla in the sense of ‘support, strengthen’ with expressions for ‘God’ and ‘Christ’ is well attested (ONP: efla A1, cf. D5), the form eflð remains obscure. (a) No noun eflð is attested in CVC, Fritzner or ONP and it may represent a neologism designed to meet the demands of the kviðuháttr verse-form. (b) An alternative but less likely explanation is as an otherwise unattested noun derived from efla ‘strengthen’, with the suffix seen also in efnð ‘fulfilment’ (< efna) and hefnð ’revenge’ (< hefna) and parallel to Goth. -ōþu, OHG -ōd. In contrast to Old Norse, where such nouns have acquired f. gender, they remain m. in Gothic and Old High German (Wright 1954, 174). The m. form of the adj. œztan ‘highest’ in Hb might represent a retention of the older gender but is more probably a rationalisation to reflect the conventionally m. gender of guð ‘god’ (originally a neuter). On this basis the ms. reading is tentatively retained here, but emendation to œzta ‘highest’, the f. form of the adj., agreeing with the presumed f. gender of eflð, as advocated by Kock (NN §2567B; Skald), and followed by Merl 2012, is an attractive option. In other respects the interpretation adopted in this edn is that of Kock (NN §2567B; Skald), who, followed by Merl 2012, interprets ll. 3 and 4 together: æzta [sic] eflð, | ǫllu hjarta, translating as människors furste, den högsta styrkan ‘the lord of men, the greatest support’. The line has a possible source in Lat. summa potentia, part of the chant O summa potentia o summa bonitas et laude digna Maria mitis et benigna ‘Oh highest power, oh highest goodness and merciful and beneficent Mary, worthy of praise’ (Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, 388, f. 471, sequence 2 (Can 204367i in Lacoste and Koláček [n. d.], accessed 11 July 2015). By contrast, Bret 1848-9, followed by Skj B, appears to construe eflð as a noun in the dat. sg., translating den ypperste om kraft ‘the highest in power’ and ypperste i kraft ‘highest in power’ respectively; LP: eflð treats the ms. reading as corrupt but tentatively proposes ypperst ved sin hjælpende kraft ‘highest in his supporting power’. — [7] dœgr ‘night’: Finnur Jónsson explains as referring to half the duration of the twenty-four hour cycle, in this context the night (LP: dœgr); cf. ONP: dǿgr 1, which is glossed ‘period of 12 hours [of a day or a night]’. Kock (NN §30) alternatively proposes ‘day after day’, which may also be correct: dag oc dægr occurs in Stjórn (Unger 1862, 417) as a rendering of Lat. per multos dies (ONP: dǿgr 1).

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