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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, 91

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

54 — GunnLeif Merl I 54VIII (Bret 122)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 122 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 54)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 91.

‘Þá munu gumnar
gráta á nóttum
ok þjóð gera
þægjar bœnir.
Þá munu hǫlðar
til himins kosta;
it langa líf
lǫfðar nýtir.


Then men will weep at night and people will say acceptable prayers. Then men will strive after heaven; worthy men will obtain the long life.

notes: Cf. DGB 113 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.87-9; cf. Wright 1988, 104, prophecies 12 and 13): Nocturnis lacrimis madebit insula, unde omnes ad omnia prouocabuntur. Nitentur posteri transuolare superna, sed fauor nouorum sublimabitur ‘The island shall be soaked in nightly tears, and so all men will be provoked to all things. Their progeny will try to fly beyond the heavens, but the favour of new men will be raised up’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). The prophecy describes the reaction of the British people to the atrocities described in the previous stanza. Following this, two paragraphs of prophecy in Geoffrey’s text (13, except for its first sentence, and 14) have no counterpart in Merl (cf. Bret 1848-9), possibly because of loss of stanzas in the transmission of Merl. There is likewise no counterpart in Merl to the added sentence Vae tibi Neustria, quia cerebrum leonis in te … a patrio solo eliminabitur ‘Woe to thee, Neustria [Normandy], … for the brain of the lion in thee … will be banished from its native soil’ found in mss Y and G, whose claims to authenticity remain unresolved (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149 n. to l. 88). — [7-8]: If nýtir ‘worthy’ is correct, Gunnlaugr appears to sidestep Geoffrey’s politically charged comment about ‘new men’ (see Note to I 51 [All]) in favour of a pious sentiment that ‘worthy men’ go on to the eternal (lit. ‘long’) life in heaven.

texts: Bret 122

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II 54 (AII, 29; BII, 35); Skald II, 22; Bret 1848-9, II, 57-8 (Bret st. 122); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 169.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 52r, 5 - 52r, 7 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated