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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, 102

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

64 — GunnLeif Merl I 64VIII (Bret 132)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 132 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 64)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 102.

‘Kalla mun Kónan         Káðvaládrus
ok skilfinga*         Skotlandi af.
Rýkr af grimmu         Gǫndlar éli;
verðr it mikla         malmþing háit.

‘Káðvaládrus mun kalla Kónan ok skilfinga* af Skotlandi. Rýkr af {grimmu éli Gǫndlar}; {it mikla malmþing} verðr háit.

‘Cadwallader will summon Conan and kings from Scotland. Smoke will rise from {the savage storm of Gǫndul <valkyrie>} [BATTLE]; {the great metal-encounter} [BATTLE] will be waged.

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Readings: [2] Káðvaládrus: Káðvaladría Hb    [3] skilfinga*: skilfingar Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 64: AII, 31, BII, 37, Skald II, 23; Bret 1848-9, II, 61 (Bret st. 132); Hb 1892-6, 281; Merl 2012, 177-8.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.110-11; cf. Wright 1988, 105, prophecy 20): Cadualadrus Conanum uocabit et Albaniam in societate accipiet ‘Cadualadrus will summon Conanus and make Scotland his ally’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). This predicts the expulsion of the foreigners and the restoration of Welsh hegemony under the ancestral British king Cadualadrus (Taylor 1911, 90). He was assisted by a pan-Celtic alliance. One participant in it was Brittany, among whose rulers Conanus was a favourite name, harking back to Conanus Meriadocus (Welsh Cynan Meiriadoc), who figures in DGB as a leader in the conquest of the territory that became Brittany; Tatlock (1950, 158) remarks that ‘Conanus … is an obvious symbol for Brittany’. The other participant was Scotland (Tatlock 1950, 414 n. 45; Bromwich 1978, 320-1). According to DGB XI (Reeve and Wright 2007, 278-9), Cadualadrus was remembered as the last native king to rule Britain before the Saxon monarchy; Geoffrey envisages his return in the style of Arthur. The identification of this Cadualadrus with a C7th king of Gwynedd proposed by Merl 2012 does not fit this scenario. In Armes Prydein, from which Geoffrey derives this prophecy, Cadwallader and Conan appear as prophesied saviours of the Britons (Faletra 2008, 134). As if to signal the importance of this juncture, Gunnlaugr amplifies Geoffrey’s text with a battle excursus. — [2] Káðvaládrus ‘Cadwallader’: Emended in Bret 1848-9 (followed by subsequent eds) from ms. Káðvaladría (not refreshed); the spelling perhaps results from a misunderstanding of this word as a national instead of a pers. n. Bret 1848-9 appears to make Kónan the subject and Káðvaladrús the object, but this, if not simply an artifact of word inversion, deviates unnecessarily from Geoffrey’s text. — [3] skilfinga* ‘kings’: Emended in Bret 1848-9 (followed by subsequent eds) from ms. skilfingar (not refreshed).

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