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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, 86

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

50 — GunnLeif Merl I 50VIII (Bret 118)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 118 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 50)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 86.

‘Þá mun ríkja         réttlætis dýr,
þats eyverskir         ormar hræðask.
Ok fyr sunnan sæ         sjalfir ugga
víz rammligir         valskir turnar.

‘Þá mun dýr réttlætis ríkja, þats eyverskir ormar hræðask. Ok sjalfir valskir turnar víz rammligir ugga fyr sunnan sæ.

‘Then the beast of justice will rule, which the island-dwelling serpents will dread. And south across the sea the French towers themselves, redoubtable on every side, will be fearful.

Mss: Hb(51v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 50: AII, 29, BII, 34, Skald II, 21, NN §3217; Bret 1848-9, II, 56 (Bret st. 118); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 165.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 113 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.78-9; cf. Wright 1988, 104, prophecy 11): Succedet leo iusticiae, ad cuius rugitum Gallicanae turres et insulani dracones tremebunt ‘They will be succeeded by the lion of justice, at whose roar the towers of France and the island dragons will tremble’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). The reference is to Henry I (c. 1068/1069 ‑ 1 December 1135), the fourth son of William the Conqueror, who succeeded to the throne in 1100 and campaigned extensively in France and Normandy. The soubriquet ‘Lion of Justice’ refers to his judicial and financial reforms (cf. the account of William of Malmesbury: Mynors et al. 1998-9, I, 742-3, and 798-9). The expression ‘island dragons’, translated literally by Gunnlaugr, refers to ‘all British rulers of the islands belonging to Wales, Scotland and Ireland’ (Curley 1982, 241). For Henry’s Welsh campaign of 1114 see Poole (1955, 287). — [2] réttlætis ‘of justice’: This noun is characteristic of C12th and later religious poetry and learned prose texts. — [7] víz ‘on every side’: Equivalent to víðs. For discussion of this adverbial usage, see NN §3217.

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