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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, 81

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

45 — GunnLeif Merl I 45VIII (Bret 113)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 113 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 45)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 81.

‘Mun gull glóa
guðs húsum á,
en lǫgðis veðr
lægir þeygi.
Mun trautt taka
tálsamr dreki
híð sín mega,
þvíat honum nálgask
víti fyr vélar,
þats hann verðr bera.


Gold will shine in God’s houses, but {the storm of the sword} [BATTLE] will not cease. The treacherous dragon will scarcely manage to reach its lairs, since retributions for its machinations will come upon it, that it will have to endure.

notes: Cf. DGB 113 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.69-71; cf. Wright 1988, 103, prophecy 8): Erit deauratio in templis, nec acumen gladiorum cessabit. Vix obtinebit cauernas suas Germanicus draco, quia ultio prodicionis eius superueniet ‘There will be gilding in the temples, nor will the sharpness of sword-blades decline. The Germanic dragon will be hard put to keep possession of its caves, since retribution will be visited on its treason’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). Gunnlaugr renders cauernas ‘caves’ as híð ‘lairs’, here differing from his interpretation of the earlier occurrence of cauernas as ‘lands’ (see I 21 Note to [All]). He seems to have had the majority reading draco ‘dragon’ in his source ms., not the minority variant vermis ‘worm, serpent’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 147). The mention of enriched decoration of churches might relate to the very large endowments to religious foundations from Cnut and, later in the C11th, Edward the Confessor. The treachery Geoffrey alludes to might be both the generalised perfidy of the Saxons, as seen from a British perspective, and the more specific perceived failure of Earl Harold Godwineson to keep his oath to Duke William, as interpreted by, for instance, the C12th commentator John of Cornwall (Curley 1982, 237; on Harold’s oath see Stenton 1971, 577-8).

texts: Bret 113

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II 45 (AII, 28; BII, 33); Skald II, 21; Bret 1848-9, II, 54 (Bret st. 113); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 161-2.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 51v, 25 - 51v, 27 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated