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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)

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   69   70   71   72   73   74   75   76   77   78   79   80   81   82   83   84   85   86   87   88   89   90   91   92   93   94   95   96   97   98   99   100   101   102   103 

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

SkP info: VIII, 49

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — GunnLeif Merl I 2VIII (Bret 70)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 70 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 2)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 49.

Jǫrð vas forðum         fyrr kend Bretum,
sús Englum es         eignuð síðan,
þvíat in enska þjóð         áðan vélti
breks ósama         brezka lýði.

Jǫrð, sús es eignuð Englum síðan, vas fyrr kend Bretum forðum, þvíat in enska þjóð vélti áðan brezka lýði ósama breks.

The land, which has since been assigned to the English, was previously called after the Britons in former days, for the English people beforehand deceived the British people, [who were] averse to the extortion of land.

Mss: Hb(50v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 2: AII, 22, BII, 24, Skald II, 15; Bret 1848-9, II, 39 (Bret st. 70); Hb 1892-6, 277; Merl 2012, 130.

Notes: [All]: The notion of deception derives from the tradition that when Vortigern invited a select corps of Saxons to protect his kingdom they seized the opportunity to conquer the country, despite oaths to the contrary (Bede HE I, 15: Colgrave and Mynors 1969, 50-1; cf. Henry of Huntingdon, largely quoting Bede, in HA 1996, 80-1). — [2] fyrr ‘previously’: A refreshed reading, emended to fríð ‘beautiful’ in Skj B, followed by Skald and Merl 2012. A cpd fyrkend ‘named for’ is proposed in Bret 1848-9, but without parallel attestations. The text is admittedly somewhat laborious in articulating the chronology, but emendation is not strictly necessary. — [2] kend ‘called after’: A possible alternative interpretation is ‘belonged to’, but this sub-sense has only one attestation in skaldic poetry (Anon Brúðv 27/8VII). — [7] ósama breks ‘[who were] averse to the extortion of land’: I.e. the Britons did not authorise the Angles’ seizure of land. Rather, they were tricked by false assurances from the new arrivals. The adj. ósamr occurs only once elsewhere (ONP: ósamr), and is explained as ‘unwilling, disinclined’ or similar (LP, Fritzner: ósamr; CVC: úsamr). The word brek seems to have had a specialised sense, in relation to land claims, of ‘strenuous insistence, exorbitance, rapacity or fraudulence in claiming’ (cf. CVC, Fritzner, ONP: brek) and this probably pertains in the present context.  Bret translates as haardföre ‘resistant, intransigent’, but this seems to be a purely ad hoc explanation. Finnur Jónsson explains as ‘living peacefully’ (Skj B, LP: brek), but this does not capture the specific meaning of brek and is belied by subsequent characterisations of the Britons as given to faction-fighting (see especially I 35). Merl 2012 renders brek as Begehren ‘desire’ (noun), which seems too mild and, once again, does not reflect the specialised sense of brek.

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