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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, 97

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

60 — GunnLeif Merl I 60VIII (Bret 128)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 128 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 60)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 97.

‘Verðr af slíku         sverðéls hǫtuðr
himna ferðar         hugþekkr grami.
Ok at þetta líf         þingdjarfr konungr
taliðr es tyggja         tungls með englum.

‘{Hǫtuðr {sverðéls}} verðr hugþekkr {grami {ferðar himna}} af slíku. Ok þingdjarfr konungr es taliðr at líf þetta með englum {tyggja tungls}.

‘{The hater {of the sword-storm}} [BATTLE > HOLY MAN] will be dear to {the lord {of the host of the heavens}} [ANGELS > = God] because of such [deeds]. And the king bold in encounters will be counted after this life with the angels {of the lord of the moon} [= God].

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Readings: [7] tyggja: ‘tigia’ Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 60: AII, 30, BII, 36, Skald II, 23; Bret 1848-9, II, 60 (Bret st. 128); Hb 1892-6, 280; Merl 2012, 173-4.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 114 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.104-5; cf. Wright 1988, 105, prophecy 17): Promerebitur inde fauorem Tonantis et inter beatos collocabitur ‘For this he will earn the favour of the Thunderer and be numbered among the blessed’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). — [2] hǫtuðr sverðéls ‘the hater of the sword-storm [BATTLE > HOLY MAN]’: This phrase, as it stands in the ms., is most straightforwardly explained as a kenning meaning literally somebody who hates warfare, and this might seem appropriate for an evidently saintly king (LP: hǫtuðr, cf. Merl 2012). In l. 6, however, the same person is described as þingdjarfr ‘bold in encounters’, which would normally mean bellicose encounters, and that might be regarded as indicating an interpretation of the kenning in l. 2 as ‘warrior’ (so Bret 1848-9 and Skj B). Saintly kings such as Oswald, referred to earlier in the poem (I 33/5-6), are not necessarily averse to battle – indeed Oswald is described as a leader in warfare. It is true that the adj. þingdjarfr appears in a somewhat similar context in I 37/3 (see Note there) and can be explained in both instances as an ornamental epithet without close reference to the immediate situation. But another possibility, broached in LP: hǫtuðr, is that the reading hǫtuðr is a simple error for hvǫtuðr ‘whetter’, a heiti that occurs once elsewhere in Merl (I 94/11); Meissner 321 appears to incline to this solution and it is adopted in Skald. A similar difficulty arises in Anon Pl 29/3VII. — [5] at líf þetta ‘after this life’: The use of at appears irregular. Gunnlaugr may have taken Geoffrey’s inde ‘for this’ in the sense ‘thenceforward’, as is assumed in Skj B, but attestations of at in the sense of ‘after’ are not precisely parallel, as they involve constructions of the type at jǫfur dauðan ‘after the lord’s death’, lit. ‘at/with the lord dead’, at gram fallinn ‘after the king’s fall’, lit. ‘at/with the king fallen’: see ONP: at II. B. Possibly Gunnlaugr’s usage mingles this sense of at with at with the dat. in the sense of ‘because of’: see ONP: at I D 12. — [7] tyggja ‘lord’: Normalised in Bret 1848-9 (followed by subsequent eds) from ms. ‘tigia’ (not refreshed), with spelling tiggja in Bret 1848‑9 and Merl 2012.

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