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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)

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, 86

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

51 — GunnLeif Merl I 51VIII (Bret 119)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 119 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 51)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 86.

‘Þá mun gull snarat         af grasi mǫrgu;
flýtr ór klaufum         kalfs ættar silfr.
Eru fagrbúin         fljóð í landi;
verðrat snótum         siðbót at því.

‘Þá mun gull snarat af mǫrgu grasi; silfr flýtr ór klaufum {ættar kalfs}. Fagrbúin fljóð eru í landi; siðbót verðrat snótum at því.

‘Then gold will be wrung from many a herb; silver will flow from the hooves {of the kindred of the calf} [CATTLE]. There will be finely dressed women in the land; there will not be moral reform for the ladies on account of that.

Mss: Hb(51v-52r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 51: AII, 29, BII, 34, Skald II, 21; Bret 1848-9, II, 56 (Bret st. 119); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 166.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 113 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.79-81; cf. Wright 1988, 104, prophecy 11): In diebus eius aurum ex lilio et urtica extorquebitur et argentum ex ungulis mugientium manabit. Calamistrati uaria uellera uestibunt, et exterior habitus interiora signabit ‘In his time gold will be wrung from the lily and the nettle, and silver shall drip from the hooves of lowing cattle. Men with curled hair will wear fleeces of varied hue, and their outer apparel will betray their inner selves’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 146). The allegory here seems to reflect various aspects of Henry I’s reign, including his zeal for taxation, which raised much money from wealthy owners of rural land (Hollister 2003, 356-7), and his creation of novi homines ‘new men’ to serve as officials (Green 2009, 242-3). Gunnlaugr subsumes the lily and the nettle under gras ‘herb’. In the second helmingr Gunnlaugr diverges markedly from Geoffrey, attributing the irregularities of attire and appearance and by implication the vanity they betoken not to the new men but to women and adding information to the effect that there was no reform of women’s morals. This material he could have derived from Henry of Huntingdon (HA 1996, 484-5), who links the king to sexual licence on two fronts. He sharply criticises the king’s licensing clerics to keep concubines: Verum rex decepit eos simplicitate Willielmi archiepiscopi. Concesserunt namque regi justiciam de uxoribus sacerdotum … Accepit enim rex pecuniam infinitam de presbiteris, et redemit eos ‘But the king deceived them through Archbishop William’s simplicity. For they granted the king jurisdiction on the matter of priests’ wives … For the king took vast sums of money from the priests, and released them’ (for commentary on Henry’s policy here see Poole 1955, 183). Henry of Huntingdon also inveighs against the king’s personal promiscuity (HA 1996, 700-1): Luxuria quoque, quia mulierum dicioni regis more Salomonis continue subiacebat ‘And debauchery, since he was at all times subject to the power of women, after the manner of King Solomon’. William of Malmesbury, by contrast, exonerates Henry from sexual misconduct (Mynors et al. 1998-9, I, 744-5). Missing from the text of Merl is any counterpart to the three sentences relating to Henry’s harsh hunting laws that follow in Geoffrey, to the effect that the paws of barking dogs will be cut off, wild beasts will enjoy peace and men will suffer punishment (Reeve and Wright 2007, 146-7). Given that Gunnlaugr is in other respects following Geoffrey closely here and there are no known lacunae at this point in the ms. tradition of DGB, it is possible that stanzas have been lost from Merl.

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