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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. 1. Merlínusspá I (Merl I) - 103

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 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 19 September 2021)

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

SkP info: VIII, 68

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

30 — GunnLeif Merl I 30VIII (Bret 98)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 98 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 30)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 68.

‘Líðr byskups stóll         Lundúnum ór
í ina breiðu         borg Kantara.
Ok langa tígn         Légíónum
taka mun in mæta         Menelógía.

‘Stóll byskups líðr ór Lundúnum í ina breiðu Kantaraborg. Ok in mæta Menelógía mun taka langa tígn Légíónum.

‘The bishop’s seat will move from London to the broad Canterbury. And the splendid Menelogia will take over the long-held distinction of Caerleon.

Mss: Hb(51v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 30: AII, 26, BII, 30, Skald II, 19; Bret 1848-9, II, 48-9 (Bret st. 98); Hb 1892-6, 279; Merl 2012, 149-50.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 112 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 145.46-7, 48-9; cf. Wright 1988, 102, prophecy 3): et transmutacio primarum sedium fiet. Dignitas Lundoniae adornabit Doroberniam … Meneuia pallio Vrbis Legionum induetur ‘and archbishoprics will be displaced. London’s honour will adorn Canterbury … St David’s [sic] will wear the pallium of Caerleon’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 144). London is described by Geoffrey as the seat of an archbishop in Romano-British times (DGB VI: Reeve and Wright 2007, 112-3; cf. Tatlock 1950, 264). The existence of a see of Caerleon and its pre-eminence in Britain before the arrival of the Saxons appear to be inventions on Geoffrey’s part (Tatlock 1950, 264-5, 266). Geoffrey recounts the death of David, archbishop of Caerleon, at Menevia (Welsh Mynyw), subsequently St Davids (Welsh Tyddewi) in DGB XI (Reeve and Wright 2007, 254-5). The prophecy appears to foreshadow the expression of Welsh aspirations to restore this see to the status of an archbishopric (cf. Tatlock 1950, 266, 415; Curley 1982, 220, 223; see II 16 Note to [All]). As noted in Bret 1848-9, two other locations mentioned in Geoffrey’s text, York and Ireland, are not represented in Merl, at least as extant. — [4] Kantaraborg ‘Canterbury’: Lit. ‘city of the Kentish people’. Kantaraborg is the normal Old Norse name for Canterbury, here as elsewhere with the elements reversed in order to conform to the requirements of alliteration; cf. Ótt Hfl 10/4I and Note there. — [6] Légíónum ‘of Caerleon’: Latin ‘of the legions’. Gunnlaugr retains the Latin gen. pl. form. — [8] Menelógía ‘Menelogia’: In the form menologion, pl. menologia this is a term for a Greek Orthodox calendar of saints’ lives (OED: menologion), but here evidently used in error for the perhaps unfamiliar p. n. Menevia, ‘St Davids’. The error is unlikely to be Gunnlaugr’s, given the general high level of his Latinity. As the reading is unrefreshed it can be added to the list of probable errors already present in Hb. Bret 1848-9 emends to Menevia accordingly but Skj B retains, as do Merl 2012 and the present edn. (LP, presumably in error also, records the Latin name as Menovia.)

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