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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, 141

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

8 — GunnLeif Merl II 8VIII (Bret 8)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 8 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 8)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 141.

‘Vilja hǫlðar         hylja brunna,
þás flestum hal         fjǫrspell gera.
En, þats lýðir         á lǫg bera,
alt verðr at ǫðru,         en áðr séi:
grund at grjóti,         grjót at vatni,
viðr at ǫsku,         en af ǫsku vatn.

‘Hǫlðar vilja hylja brunna, þás gera flestum hal fjǫrspell. En, þats lýðir bera á lǫg, verðr alt at ǫðru, en áðr séi: grund at grjóti, grjót at vatni, viðr at ǫsku, en vatn af ǫsku.

‘Men will want to cover up the springs that cause death for most people. But all that men carry to the water will turn to something other than it was previously: earth to stone, stone to water, wood to ash, and water from ash.

Mss: Hb(49r) (Bret)

Readings: [5] þats: þat Hb    [11] ǫsku: ǫsk Hb    [12] af: at Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 8: AII, 11-12, BII, 12, Skald II, 7; Bret 1848-9, II, 16-17 (Bret st. 8); Hb 1892-6, 272; Merl 2012, 72-3.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.151-5; cf. Wright 1988, 107, prophecy 31): Tantam ingluuiem uitare uolentes, diuersis tegumentis eam occultare nitentur. Quaecunque ergo moles superposita fuerit formam alterius corporis recipiet. Terra namque in lapides, lapides in limpham, lignum in cineres, cinis in aquam, si superiecta fuerint, uertentur ‘To escape this menace, they will try to hide it under various things. Whatever is placed upon it will assume a different form. If earth is put over the spring, it will become stones, stones become water, wood become ash and ash become water’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). — [5] þats ‘that’: Lit. ‘that which’. Emended in Skj B (followed by Skald and Merl 2012, the latter reading er) from ms. þat (refreshed). — [10] vatni ‘water’: Viði ‘wood’ might be expected, to preserve the pattern, but the reading limpham ‘water’ rather than lignem ‘wood’ is the dominant one in the witnesses of DGB (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151; cf. Wright 1988, 107) and is no doubt what stood in Gunnlaugr’s source. — [12] af ‘from’: Emended in Bret 1848-9 (followed by subsequent eds) from ms. at (not refreshed), to improve the logic of the list.

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