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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 5 August 2021)

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, 100

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

63 — GunnLeif Merl I 63VIII (Bret 131)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 131 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 63)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 100.

‘Ríðr inn prúði
til Peritónis ár
hvítum hesti
hvatr ǫldurmaðr.
Ok hvítum þar
hann markar staf
aldrœnn yfir
ô kvernar hús.


The splendid man, a bold lord, will ride a white horse to the river Periron. And there he, the aged [man], will mark out a mill-house above the river with a white staff.

notes: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.108-10; cf. Wright 1988, 105, prophecy 19): Niueus quoque senex in niueo equo fluuium Perironis diuertet et cum candida uirga molendinum super ipsum metabitur ‘A snow-white old man on a snow-white horse will divert the river Periron and with a white rod measure out a mill on its bank’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). The Book of Llan Dav, c. 1150, locates Aper Periron not far from the town of Monmouth as a branch of the Cadlan (Curley 1982, 244, citing Williams 1955, xxxvi-xxxvii); some of the commentaries also place it near Monmouth (e.g. Hammer 1940, 419). The C10th Armes Prydein ‘The Prophecy of Britain’ describes a confrontation between the Welsh and the steward of an English king, possibly Æthelstan, at this location (Curley 1982, 225-6; Faletra 2008, 134). However, it is possible that Geoffrey is alluding by means of this anecdote about a snow-white old man to the rapid rise of the Cistercians, a monastic order distinguished by its members’ wearing of white robes. The order gained institutional definition with the Carta caritatis of Stephen Harding, confirmed by Pope Calixtus II in 1119 (Poole 1955, 187), and rapidly became very popular in England (Barrow 1956, 105). The earliest known reference to the adoption of white clothing by the Cistercians occurs in a letter of Peter the Venerable (1092/94–1156), abbot of Cluny, to Bernard of Clairvaux (Burton 2006, 10). The reference to a water mill may also be suggestive, as the typical Cistercian monastery straddled a mill-race, an artificial stream diverted from a nearby river to provide power for grain milling and other technologies as well as running water for domestic purposes (Hansen [n. d.], accessed 03/09/2015; cf. Bostan et al. 2012, 187; Woods 2005, 33). The Cistercians’ founding of Tintern Abbey, not far from Monmouth, occurred early enough for Geoffrey to have been able to allude to it in the separate Libellus Merlini as well as the subsequent DGB. — [1, 2] ríðr … til ‘rides … to’: Possibly a misinterpretation of divertet ‘will divert’ (applying to the course of the river).

texts: Bret 131

editions: Skj Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II 63 (AII, 30-1; BII, 36-7); Skald II, 23; Bret 1848-9, II, 61 (Bret st. 131); Hb 1892-6, 281; Merl 2012, 176.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 52r, 18 - 52r, 19 (Bret)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated