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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, 93

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

56 — GunnLeif Merl I 56VIII (Bret 124)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 124 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 56)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 93.

‘Einn sitr nýtastr         Néústríe
Englandi at         auðar skelfir.
Þó ’ro siklingar         sunnan komnir
fimm eða fleiri         foldu at ráða.

‘{Einn nýtastr skelfir auðar} Néústríe sitr at Englandi. Þó ’ro fimm eða fleiri siklingar komnir sunnan at ráða foldu.

‘{The one worthiest shaker of riches} [GENEROUS MAN] of Neustria will preside over England. Yet five kings or more have come from the south to rule the land.

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Readings: [5] ro: om. Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 56: AII, 30, BII, 35, Skald II, 22, NN §3143; Bret 1848-9, II, 58 (Bret st. 124); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 170-1.

Notes: [All]: This stanza may represent a rationalisation of and extrapolation from Geoffrey’s prophecy 16 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.97-9; cf. Wright 1988, 105): Exin de primo in quartum, de quarto in tercium, de tercio in secundum rotabitur pollex in oleo ‘Then from the first to the fourth, from the fourth to the third, from the third to the second, the thumb shall roll in oil’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). This enigmatic passage presumably refers to the anointing of successive Norman kings, as recognised in some of the commentaries (Hammer 1935, 30). But other commentators were bewildered by this passage, as emerges e.g. from the explication pollex in oleo, hoc est non difficultate, sed gratia quasi (Hammer 1940, 418) ‘thumb in oil, i.e. not with difficulty but as if with pleasure’, and Gunnlaugr could well have shared their bewilderment. Instead Gunnlaugr, or more probably his source ms., appears to extrapolate from the passage so as to praise Henry II (r. 1133-89); this interpretation may have been assisted by annotation or commentary of the kind we find in John of Cornwall’s version of the Prophetiae Merlini. John speaks of quartum seu quintum ‘the fourth or the fifth’ in the sequence of kings (Curley 1982, 234), where Gunnlaugr speaks of ‘five or more’, and this shared vagueness as to the exact number of Norman kings (down to John’s and Gunnlaugr’s source’s respective times of writing?) may reflect the fact that Henry I’s son and designated successor William Adelin, who perished in the White Ship (see I 52 Note to [All]) but had been crowned previously, was sometimes counted as the fourth, with Stephen then taken to be the fifth (Curley 1982, 244; cf. Faletra 2012, 333) and Henry II the sixth; the list could be stretched to a seventh after the advanced coronation of Henry II’s son (also Henry) in 1170 (Poole 1955, 212-13). — [1] einn nýtastr ‘the one worthiest’: That is to say, ‘worthiest of all’. On this idiom see NN §3143A. The idea seems to be that the current ruler (Henry II) surpasses the previous kings of the Norman dynasty, a sentiment no doubt reflecting the political position of Gunnlaugr’s source, in the light of Henry’s conduct subsequent to the death of Thomas Becket in 1170. Some of the commentaries take the same view of Henry, e.g. (Hammer 1940, 419): sed in aetate sua stabilis et perfectus erit per clara merita, fama praeconante de eo ‘but in his old age he will be stable and perfect through his manifest merits, with fame proclaiming about him’. — [2] Néústríe ‘of Neustria’: Here Gunnlaugr uses the Latin first declension gen. sg. form, no doubt with dissyllabic realisation of <eu> (cf. I 61/9); thus emendation to Neustríe ór (Bret 1848-9, followed by Skj B) is unnecessary (cf. NN §3143B). Neustria is Geoffrey’s standard pseudonym for Normandy and is always retained by Gunnlaugr. — [5] ’ro ‘have’: Lit. ‘are’. Supplied in Bret 1848-9 and Skj B. Kock (NN §3143C), tacitly followed by Merl 2012, instead construes ll. 5-8 as Þó ráða fimm eða fleiri siklingar, sunnan komnir, at foldu, translated as dock styra i landet fem eller flera söderifrån komna furstar ‘Yet five or more rulers, come from the south, reign in the land’. But if at functions as a postponed prep. it should occupy a metrical rise, which is impossible as the line stands in the ms.

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