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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.

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

SkP info: VIII, 73

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

36 — GunnLeif Merl I 36VIII (Bret 104)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 104 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 36)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 73.

‘Kemr bardagi         buðlungs himins
ákafr of her,         ári steypir.
Kvelr inn harði         helverkr fira;
megut dauðan her         dróttir hylja.
Líðr sultr ok sótt         at sigrviðum
— missir manna —         mǫrg stríð hǫfug.

‘Ákafr bardagi {buðlungs himins} kemr of her, steypir ári. Inn harði helverkr kvelr fira; dróttir megut hylja dauðan her. Sultr ok sótt líðr at {sigrviðum}, mǫrg hǫfug stríð; missir manna.

‘The violent scourge {of the king of heaven} [= God] will come over the people, will ruin the harvest. The harsh torment of Hell will afflict men; men will not be able to bury the dead people. Hunger and sickness will advance on {victory-trees} [WARRIORS], [and] many grievous hardships; there is loss of men.

Mss: Hb(51v) (Bret)

Readings: [2] buðlungs: buðlung Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 36: AII, 27, BII, 31, Skald II, 19, FF §63; Bret 1848-9, II, 51 (Bret st. 104); Hb 1892-6, 279; Merl 2012, 154-5.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 112 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.58-9; cf. Wright 1988, 103, prophecy 5): Superueniet itaque ultio Tonantis, quia omnis ager colonos decipiet. Arripiet mortalitas populum cunctasque nationes euacuabit ‘Upon it will come the retribution of the Thunderer, for every field will disappoint its cultivators. Pestilence will smite the people and empty every region’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). — [1] bardagi ‘the scourge’: This sense of the word, which normally means ‘battle’ (see further Note to l. 10), occurs chiefly in learned and religious texts. The word is not otherwise attested in poetry except in Bjbp Jóms 7/2I, where it refers to a battle. — [2] buðlungs ‘of the king’: Emended in Skj B, followed by Skald, Merl 2012 and this edn, for ms. buðlung (not refreshed). — [9-12]: A composite subject, with sg. verb governed by the first component of the subject, as happens sporadically elsewhere in Merl (cf. NS §66). Kock (FF §63) notes the parallel construction in ll. 9 and 12. — [10] sigrviðum ‘victory-trees [WARRIORS]’: Gunnlaugr appears to ironise the plight of the Britons, who having waxed excessively bellicose now find themselves defeated by God’s bardagi, understood as ‘scourge’ (l. 1) but with overtones of the other familiar sense, ‘warfare’. Cf. their description as þingdjarfa ‘battle-daring’ in I 37/3. — [11] missir ‘there is loss’: This edn follows Skj B, with which Kock concurs (FF §63); on this construal missir is a verb, used impersonally (cf. LP: missa 2). Merl 2012 instead construes missir as the nom. sg. of the noun missir ‘loss’, as suggested in LP: missir, which may equally well be the correct solution.

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