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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, 82

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

46 — GunnLeif Merl I 46VIII (Bret 114)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 114 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 46)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 82.

‘Fá mun hann uppgang
afarlitla stund;
hnekkir hônum
hringserkjat lið.
Kømr sunnan
sveit of ægi,
es hann ríki mun
ræna miklu.


He will obtain success for a very short time; the mail-shirted army will check him. That band will come from the south across the sea, which will rob him of his great kingdom.

notes: Cf. DGB 113 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.72-3; cf. Wright 1988, 103, prophecy 9): Vigebit tandem paulisper, sed decimatio Neustriae nocebit. Populus namque in ligno et ferreis tunicis superueniet, qui uindictam de nequitia ipsius sumet ‘Then it will prosper for a short time, but the decimation visited on it by Normandy will injure it. A people will come in wood and tunics of iron to take vengeance on its wickedness’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). This and the ensuing prophecies resume the theme of the Norman Conquest. Between the coronation of Edward the Confessor, the first member of the native Anglo-Saxon royal dynasty to rule since Æthelred II, in 1043 (Stenton 1971, 423) and the Norman Conquest in 1066 only twenty-three years elapsed, hence Geoffrey’s paulisper. Gunnlaugr postpones mention of the alleged decimation perpetrated by Normandy upon the Saxons until st. I 48 and in general plays down the Norman identification. He may have preferred to focus on the Breton component of the invasion force, which is also covered by the vague phrase sunnan of ægi ‘from the south across the sea’: cf. I 47/3. He conveys the idea of ‘wood’, Geoffrey’s rather cryptic reference to the Norman longships, by using the more explicit phrase of ægi ‘across the sea’ (l. 6).

texts: Bret 114

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II 46 (AII, 28; BII, 33); Skald II, 21; Bret 1848-9, II, 54 (Bret st. 114); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 162-3.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 51v, 27 - 51v, 28 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated