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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gunnlaugr Leifsson (GunnLeif)

13th century; volume 8; ed. Russell Poole;

VIII. 1. Merlínusspá I (Merl I) - 103

Skj info: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Islandsk munk, d. 1218 (AII, 10-36, BII, 10-45).

Skj poems:
Merlínússpá I
Merlínússpá II

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 17 September 2021)

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Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II (AII, 22-36, BII, 24-45)

SkP info: VIII, 98

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

61 — GunnLeif Merl I 61VIII (Bret 129)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 129 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 61)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 98.

‘Glíkt mun gaupu         grams jóð vesa;
vill þat sinni þjóð         sjalfri steypa.
En af þeim sǫkum         þermlask bæði
Íra ok Engla         auðgrar jarðar
Néústría         ok numin tígnum.

‘Jóð grams mun vesa glíkt gaupu; þat vill steypa þjóð sinni sjalfri. En af þeim sǫkum þermlask Néústría auðgrar jarðar bæði Íra ok Engla, ok numin tígnum.

‘The king’s son will resemble a lynx; it will wish to destroy its own people. And for those reasons Neustria will be stripped of the rich land of both the Irish and the English and deprived of honours.

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Readings: [1] gaupu: gaupa Hb    [6] þermlask: þremlask Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 61: AII, 30, BII, 36, Skald II, 23, NN §§104, 3143B, 3258C; Bret 1848-9, II, 60 (Bret st. 129); Hb 1892-6, 280-1; Merl 2012, 174-5.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.105-7; cf. Wright 1988, 105, prophecy 18): Egredietur ex eo linx penetrans omnia, quae ruinae propriae gentis imminebit. Per illam enim utramque insulam amittet Neustria et pristina dignitate spoliabitur ‘From him will emerge a lynx, which will penetrate through everything and threaten to destroy its own people. Because of it Normandy will lose both islands and be stripped of its former honour’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). The lynx appears as a simile rather than allegorically in Merl and the idea that the lynx’s preternaturally acute sight enables it to see through into the viscera of animals, hinted at in DGB, is not carried over. — [1] gaupu ‘a lynx’: Emended in Skj B, followed by subsequent eds, from ms. gaupa (not refreshed), the nom. form. Bret 1848-9 retains gaupa without explanation, but the oblique form is required. — [3] þat ‘it’: Omitted in Skald. — [6] þermlask ‘will be stripped’: Þermlask is normalised from the metathesised ms. form þremlask in Skj B (followed by Skald and Merl 2012) and in this edn. This edn follows Skj B (cf. Skald and Merl 2012) in deleting the pron. hann which appears after þremlask in the ms. — [9] Néústría: Evidently realised as four syllables. See Note on I 56/2. Emended to Neustríe ‘of Neustria’, presumably intended as governing auðgrar jarðar ‘of the rich land’, in Skald: see Note to l. 10; Merl 2012 also translates as gen., but retains the ms. form. — [10] ok numin tígnum ‘and deprived of honours’: Finnur Jónsson reads numinn, referring back to the lynx-like king – og han berøvet sin hæder ‘and he [will be] deprived of his honour’ (Skj B, cf. NN §3258C; Merl 2012) – but the sense and adherence to the Latin are improved if we interpret the ms. form numin as f. nom. sg., agreeing with Neustría, which is the subject of the clause. Kock doubts (NN §104, cf. §3258C) that the names of countries can function as grammatical subjects, but fails to take account of the Latin. Cities and nations, like individual persons, could be thought of as possessing honours (cf. I 30/5, I 59/5).

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