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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, 90

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

53 — GunnLeif Merl I 53VIII (Bret 121)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 121 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 53)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 90.

‘Verðr meinliga
mæki brugðit;
sék blóði ben
blása móður;
líðr mart hǫfugt
of lýða kyn.
Rýðr varðar blóð
ok síðan sex
snarpir lifra
kynsmenn drepa


The sword will be drawn with ill intent; I see the wound spurt with the mother’s blood. Much hardship will come over the race of men. The blood of the woman will redden Venedotia and then bold kinsmen of Corineus will slay six brothers.

notes: Cf. DGB 113 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 147.86-149.87; cf. Wright 1988, 104, prophecy 11): Venedocia rubebit materno sanguine, et domus Corinei sex fratres interficiet ‘Venedotia will run red with a mother’s blood, and the house of Corineus kill six brothers’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 146, 148). The historical status of this prophecy is difficult to assess. The first clause of the prophecy possibly extrapolates Geoffrey’s awareness of growing unrest against Henry I in Wales (Poole 1955, 290-1; cf. Curley 1982, 223) into the immediate future. The Lat. Venedocia corresponds to Welsh Gwynedd, the kingdom in North Wales. The mention of the house of Corineus, i.e. the successors of the legendary first ruler of Cornwall (cf. DGB I: Reeve and Wright 2007, 28-9) in the second clause of the prophecy might then personify Cornish involvement in this imagined conflict. But confused records exist concerning an atrocity in Cornwall, committed against Normans and datable to some time between 1100 and 1129 (Padel 1984, 20-7), that matches the account and hence gives the prophecy historic status. — [3-4]: To judge by their subject-matter, these lines may have originally belonged after ll. 5-6 and have come in here by way of anticipation. Previous eds signal the difficulty by placing ll. 5-6 in parentheses. — [9-12]: The word order is somewhat convoluted, since sex ‘six’ must be taken, for sense and match with Geoffrey’s text, with lifra ‘brothers’, not snarpir kynsmenn ‘bold kinsmen’ (contrast Bret 1848‑9).

texts: Bret 121

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II 53 (AII, 29; BII, 34-5); Skald II, 22; Bret 1848-9, II, 57 (Bret st. 121); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 168.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 52r, 3 - 52r, 5 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated