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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, 74

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

37 — GunnLeif Merl I 37VIII (Bret 105)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 105 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 37)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 74.

‘Láð munu láta         þeirs lifa eptir;
ferr in þingdjarfa         þjóð ór landi.
Býr blezaðr gramr         — sás brezkr jǫfurr —
skip sín á brott,         ok hann skjótla verðr
taliðr tírgǫfugr         í tolfta hǫll
sæll með sælum         settr guðs vinum.

‘Þeirs lifa eptir munu láta láð; in þingdjarfa þjóð ferr ór landi. Blezaðr gramr — sás brezkr jǫfurr — býr skip sín á brott, ok hann verðr skjótla taliðr tírgǫfugr settr í tolfta hǫll sæll með sælum vinum guðs.

‘Those who survive will abandon the land; the battle-daring people will go from the territory. A blessed king — he is the British leader — prepares his ships for departure and he will soon become reckoned glorious, seated in the twelfth hall, blessed among the blessed friends of God.

Mss: Hb(51v) (Bret)

Readings: [1] munu: mun Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 37: AII, 27, BII, 31, Skald II, 19-20; Bret 1848-9, II, 51 (Bret st. 105); Hb 1892-6, 279; Merl 2012, 155.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 112 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.59-61; cf. Wright 1988, 103, prophecy 5): Residui natale solum deserent et exteras culturas seminabunt. Rex benedictus parabit nauigium et in aula duodecimi inter beatos annumerabitur ‘The survivors will leave their native soil and sow in foreign fields. A blessed king will prepare a fleet and will be numbered among the saints in the palace of the twelfth’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). This prophecy alludes to the exodus of the British people from their native land to settle in Armorica (Brittany). They are accompanied by King Cadualadrus, who after eleven years of exile contemplates a re-settlement of Britain but is summoned by an angelic voice to go to Rome to do penance in advance of eventual sanctification, as narrated in DGB XI (Reeve and Wright 2007, 276-81). — [1] munu ‘will’: Emended in Bret 1848-9, followed by all subsequent eds, from ms. mun. — [10] í tolfta ‘in the twelfth’: This apparently nonsensical expression must ultimately be due to an incorrect reading .xii. (expanded to duodecimi ‘of the twelfth’) in Geoffrey’s text, supplanting original *xri or *xti, i.e. Christi ‘of Christ’, in reference to the caelestis regni aula ‘palace of the heavenly kingdom’ mentioned in DGB XI (206.586: Reeve and Wright 2007, 281). The commentaries attempt to explain in ad hoc fashion, e.g. (Hammer 1940, 416): in aula duodecimi, id est in ecclesia beati Petri apostoli ‘in the hall of the twelfth, i.e. in the church of St Peter the apostle’ and ‘King Cadwaladre … was buried in the chirche of xij. Apostolles. and is a seint’ (Eckhardt 1982, 73). Emended to tólpti í and construed as ‘twelfth in [the hall]’ in Skj B, followed by Skald, on the basis of an incorrect interpretation of .xii. as duodecimus ‘twelfth’ in Bret 1848‑9. In a hybrid approach, Merl 2012 reads í tólpta hǫll but translates, in combination with hann skjótla verðr taliðr, as der Edle wird bald als zwölfter gerechnet in der Halle ‘the noble one will soon be reckoned as twelfth in the hall’, but this is ruled out by considerations of syntax and word order.

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