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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, 142

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

9 — GunnLeif Merl II 9VIII (Bret 9)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 9 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá II 9)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 142.

‘Farit es at meyju         margfróðastri
í kappsauðga         Knútsskógar borg,
at hon lækningar         leiti þjóðum
ok firri menn         fári slíku.

‘Farit es at margfróðastri meyju í kappsauðga borg Knútsskógar, at hon leiti þjóðum lækningar ok firri menn slíku fári.

‘A maiden most wise about many things will be approached in the exceedingly prosperous city of Canute’s wood, so that she may seek remedies for the people and rescue men from such peril.

Mss: Hb(49r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá I 9: AII, 12, BII, 12, Skald II, 7; Bret 1848-9, II, 17 (Bret st. 9); Hb 1892-6, 272; Merl 2012, 74.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.155-6; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecy 32): Ad haec ex urbe canuti nemoris eliminabitur puella ut medelae curam adhibeat ‘At this, a girl will be sent forth from the city of the hoary forest to bring curing medicine’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). The city Geoffrey had in mind, though not identified in previous scholarship, is probably Lichfield (OE Liccidfeld), which was founded close to and partially takes its name from the Romano-British settlement Letocetum ‘Grey forest’ (cf. Watts 2004, 372; for this location see also Stenton 1970, 259). In Anglo-Latin the adj. form canutus/kanutus is used to mean ‘grey’, in parallel with the classical Latin form canus. Gunnlaugr appears to infer a connection with the name Knútr, no doubt via the Anglo-Norman (Latinised) form of this name, Canutus/Kanutus, and this is also done by some modern scholars, e.g. Faral (1929, II, 60), followed by Thorpe (1966, 177) and Merl 2012. Tatlock (1950, 77) lists the location as unknown. DGB shows a keen interest, some of it reflected by Merl, in the vicissitudes and rival claims of dioceses and diocesan cities; cf. (e.g.) I 30 (London, Canterbury, Carlisle, St Davids), II 5-8 (Winchester) and II 16-18 (Winchester and St Davids). A reference to Lichfield can be explained in those terms: already the seat of a bishop, the city had in Offa’s time been proposed as the seat of the southern archbishop. It was briefly and very controversially the seat of an archbishop under Hygeberht from 787 to 799 (officially dissolved in 803), as a result of opposition on the part of Offa, King of Mercia, to domination by Canterbury (Stenton 1971, 217-18; Kirby 2000, 142; Brooks 1996, 118–19). In the late C11th Lichfield lost its bishop (though not its cathedral status) to Chester, as part of reforms proposed by Lanfranc (see Note to I 59/2); nevertheless its fortunes were reviving in Geoffrey’s time,  with the construction of a Norman cathedral (cf. Barrow 1956, 63). Gunnlaugr’s added assertion of the status of ‘Canute’s wood’ as an exceedingly prosperous centre (l. 3) rather than a mere rural retreat, augmenting Geoffrey’s claim for its salvific influence on Winchester, may be seen as a piece of advocacy for the city fully in keeping with C12th English practice: cf. II 16 Note to [All]. — [3] kappsauðga ‘exceedingly prosperous’: See Note to II 80/2. — [6] þjóðum ‘for the people’: This ms. reading (not refreshed) is retained in Skald, Merl 2012 and this edn. Emended in Bret 1848-9 and Skj B to fyrðum ‘men’, but the notion may be that the three springs and their streams have divided the land into three ‘peoples’. — [7] ok firri ‘and rescue’: Normalised in Skj B (followed by Skald and this edn) from ms. ok hon firri ‘and she rescue’. — [8] slíku ‘such’: Finnur Jónsson takes the unrefreshed ms. reading to be miklu ‘great’ in Skj A (followed by Skald), with the comment sål. sikkert ‘definitely thus’. But in Bret 1848-9, Hb 1892-6 and Skj B it is read as slíku, and inspection of the ms., which is very indistinct at this point, suggests that that reading is correct. Merl 2012 erroneously prints sliku.

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