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Gunnlaugr Leifsson (GunnLeif)

13th century; volume 8; ed. Russell Poole;

VIII. 1. Merlínusspá I (Merl I) - 103

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 I (‘The Prophecies of Merlin I’) — GunnLeif Merl IVIII (Bret)

Russell Poole 2017, ‘ Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 38. <> (accessed 6 August 2021)

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Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II (AII, 22-36, BII, 24-45)

SkP info: VIII, 56

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

12 — GunnLeif Merl I 12VIII (Bret 80)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 80 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 12)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 56.

‘Sofa þar í dimmu         djúpi niðri
tvennir ormar         tveim hellum í.
Þeir eru lindar         lands ólíkir;
sék rauða seil         rás ok hvíta.

‘Tvennir ormar sofa þar í dimmu djúpi niðri í tveim hellum. {Þeir lindar lands} eru ólíkir; sék {rauða ok hvíta seil rás}.

‘Two snakes sleep there in the dark depth down in two caves. {Those girdles of the land} [SNAKES] are unlike [one another]; I see {a red and a white rope of the earth} [SNAKE].

Mss: Hb(51r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 12: AII, 23, BII, 26, Skald II, 16; Bret 1848-9, II, 42-3 (Bret st. 80); Hb 1892-6, 278; Merl 2012, 137-8.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 108 and 111 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 141.573-4, cf. 145.25-6): et uidebis in fundo duos concauos lapides et in illis duos dracones dormientes … quorum unus erat albus et alius rubeus ‘and at the bottom you will see two hollow rocks with two dragons asleep in them …, one white, one red’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 140, cf. 144). Gunnlaugr interprets the ‘hollow rocks’ as caves. The decasyllabic version of the Anglo-Norman Verse Prophecies of Merlin also uses this interpretation (Blacker 2005, 80), but probably this agreement arises through independent anticipation of Prophecy 1 (see I 21 Note to [All]). — [7-8] seil rás ‘a rope of the earth [SNAKE]’: This, together with lindar lands ‘girdles of the land’ (ll. 5-6), is the first of several snake-kennings Gunnlaugr employs that implicitly compare a snake to a rope, thong, girdle or fetter. In the analysis of Meissner 114-15, the defining phrase ‘of the land’ or similar used in association with these base-words might mean either ‘living on the ground’ or ‘encircling the earth’, in the latter case with their basis in the story of the Miðgarðsormr or World Serpent. — [8] rás ‘of the earth’: This heiti for ‘land, earth’ occurs uniquely in Merl. Cf. I 21/2 and LP: . The word is little-known in Icelandic (CVC: n. ‘landmark’) and not attested by Fritzner or ONP, though it occurs in Modern Norwegian and Swedish dialects in the sense ‘boundary’ (AEW: ). Possibly Gunnlaugr knew it from no longer extant skaldic poems.

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