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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, 69

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

31 — GunnLeif Merl I 31VIII (Bret 99)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 99 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 31)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 69.

‘Stór verða rǫk,         rignir blóði,
hár snarpr at þat         sultr mannkyni.
En inn rauði snákr         eflisk síðan;
fær hann af miklu         mátt erfiði.

‘Stór rǫk verða, rignir blóði, snarpr sultr hár mannkyni at þat. En inn rauði snákr eflisk síðan; hann fær mátt af miklu erfiði.

‘Great wonders will occur, it will rain with blood, acute famine will thereupon afflict mankind. But the red snake gathers strength afterwards; he will acquire power from great exertion.

Mss: Hb(51v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 31: AII, 26, BII, 30, Skald II, 19; Bret 1848-9, II, 49 (Bret st. 99); Hb 1892-6, 279; Merl 2012, 150-1.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 112 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.50-1; cf. Wright 1988, 102, prophecies 3 and 4): Pluet sanguineus imber, et dira fames mortales afficiet. His superuenientibus, dolebit rubeus sed emenso labore uigebit ‘A rain of blood will fall, and a terrible famine will afflict mortals. The red dragon will lament as these occur, but will recover its strength once the travail is over’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). This prophecy alludes to events narrated in DGB XI (Reeve and Wright 2007, 256-7). — [3] hár ‘will afflict’: From ‘afflict, plague’, a weak verb, attested only twice in poetry (LP: háa) and not at all in prose (ONP) but familiar in Modern Icelandic (AEW: ). — [6] eflisk síðan ‘gathers strength afterwards’: This is the reading of Hb (not refreshed) and it is retained by Bret 1848-9, Merl 2012 and this edn. Other eds have seen the lack of alliteration as pointing to a problem with the text. Skj B, followed by Skald, emends to síðan eflisk with the objective of restoring alliteration on <s> on the hǫfuðstafr ‘head-stave’; the alliteration created in this way, however, would then cause difficulties in l. 5, where it would fall in a prohibited position, the second lift in a Type B-line. Given that demonstrable errors in the Hb text occur elsewhere (see Introduction), it may be that eflisk has supplanted some other word.

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