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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, ‘(Introduction to) Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 38.

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, 72

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

35 — GunnLeif Merl I 35VIII (Bret 103)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 103 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 35)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 72.

‘Þá gerisk þat
of þjóð Breta,
es þeim enn hefir
áðr of grandat,
at þeir sjalfir zt
sáttir verða.
Deila þeir of veldi
ok of víða fold;
eru kappsamar
kindir brezkar.


Then it will come about for the British people, as has also harmed them in the past, that they themselves will not at all be in harmony. They will compete for power and for the wide territory; the British peoples will be in rivalry.

notes: Cf. DGB 112 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.56-7; cf. Wright 1988, 103, prophecy 5): Exin in proprios mores reuertetur rubeus draco et in se ipsum saeuire laborabit ‘Then the red dragon will return to its old ways and strive to tear at itself’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). Gunnlaugr elaborates on the cryptic allusion to internecine conflict in Geoffrey’s text and rationalises the allegory, on the lines seen in DGB XI (J. S. Eysteinsson 1953-7, 101-2; for text see Reeve and Wright 2007, 276-7) and Bede HE I, 22 (Colgrave and Mynors 1969, 66-9). According to Geoffrey in DGB XI, Cadualadrus (Cadwallader, referred to by Bede as Ciedwalla) succeeds Caduallo as king but falls sick, whereupon the Britons fight among themselves and suffer famine and pestilence. — [7-10]: All eds treat these lines as the conclusion of st. 35. In Hb <D> of deila is clearly majuscule, indicating the copyist’s understanding of the stanza division, but the disposition of narrative materials suggests that he was mistaken on this score. See Note to I 34/9‑10.

texts: Bret 103

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II 35 (AII, 26-7; BII, 31); Skald II, 19; Bret 1848-9, II, 50-1 (Bret st. 103); Hb 1892-6, 279; Merl 2012, 153-4.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 51v, 9 - 51v, 10 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated