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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 20 October 2021)

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

SkP info: VIII, 79

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

43 — GunnLeif Merl I 43VIII (Bret 111)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 111 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 43)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 79.

‘Vera mun* ára         í aga miklum
fimtán tigi         foldar belti.
En tírœð         tíri gǫfgaðr
hundruð þrjú         hann mun sitja
Lundúnum at         ok lýða fjǫlð.

‘{Belti foldar} mun* vera í miklum aga fimtán tigi ára. En hann mun sitja at Lundúnum þrjú hundruð tírœð gǫfgaðr tíri, ok fjǫlð lýða.

‘{The belt of the earth} [SNAKE] will be in great strife for fifteen decades. But for three hundred years, counted decimally, he will reign in London, endued with glory, and a multitude of people [with him].

Mss: Hb(51v) (Bret)

Readings: [1] mun*: munu Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 43: AII, 28, BII, 32-3, Skald II, 20, NN §102; Bret 1848-9, II, 53 (Bret st. 111); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 159-60.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 113 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.66-7; cf. Wright 1988, 103, prophecy 7): centum namque quinquaginta annis in inquietudine et subiectione manebit, ter centum uero insidebit ‘for a hundred and fifty years it will endure harassment and submission, but for three hundred it will be in occupation’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). Gunnlaugr adds the idea of a multitude of people living under the sway of the white snake. — [1] mun* ‘will’: Emended in this edn from Hb munu. Also emended to mun in Skj B (followed by Skald), but perhaps tentatively, since the translation in Skj B (albeit rather loose) presupposes retention of a pl. verb to match the pl. subject ‘snakes’: vil der være stor strid mellem ormene ‘there will be great strife between the snakes’. Kock does not comment on the matter. Bret 1848-9 had retained munu with a similar translation and it is retained without comment in Hb 1892-6. Merl 2012 would also retain, noting that belti ‘belt’, as a n. noun, could be either sg. or pl. But a pl. in l. 1 followed by sg. hann in l. 8 would be odd and the evidence of DGB speaks against it. — [5] tírœð ‘counted decimally’: In contradistinction to the ‘long hundred’ = 120. Cf. SnSt Ht 100/3III and Note. — [8] ok ‘and’: Kock (NN §102) points out a fondness on Gunnlaugr’s part for complex subjects with sg. verb after the first subject component. See Note to I 36/9‑12.

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