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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)

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, 103

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

66 — GunnLeif Merl I 66VIII (Bret 134)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 134 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 66)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 103.

‘Bresta brynjur,         bíta malmar,
eru dreyrfáið         dǫrr á lopti,
fleinn á flaugun,         folk í dreyra,
bíldr í benjum,         broddar á skildi,
hjalmr á hǫfði,         hlíf fyr brjósti,
geirr á gangi,         guðr í vexti.

‘Bresta brynjur, malmar bíta, dreyrfáið dǫrr eru á lopti, fleinn á flaugun, folk í dreyra, bíldr í benjum, broddar á skildi, hjalmr á hǫfði, hlíf fyr brjósti, geirr á gangi, guðr í vexti.

‘Mail-shirts split, weapons bite; blood-stained darts are in the air, the spear in flight, the army in blood, the arrow in wounds, spear-points in the shield, the helmet on the head, the shield before the breast, the spear in motion, battle on the increase.

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Readings: [5] fleinn á: fleina Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 66: AII, 31, BII, 37, Skald II, 23; Bret 1848-9, II, 62 (Bret st. 134); Hb 1892-6, 281; Merl 2012, 178-80.

Notes: [3, 4] dreyrfáið dǫrr ‘blood-stained darts’: This appears in the form dreyrfáðir dǫrir in Bret 1848-9, without explanation or apparent warrant, probably through a misunderstanding of the declension of darr n. with nom./acc. pl. dǫrr (cf. LP: darr). — [3] dreyrfáið ‘blood-stained’: De Vries (1964-7, II, 75 n. 180) compares HHj 9/6. — [5] fleinn á ‘the spear in’: Emended by Bret 1848-9, followed by Skj B and Skald, for ms. fleina ‘of spears’ (not refreshed), to maintain parallelism in the catalogue commencing in l. 3. Merl 2012 retains the ms. reading but at the cost of sense and syntax. — [8] broddar ‘spear-points’: So in Hb, with superscript ‑ar contraction (not refreshed). Bret 1848-9, Skj B, Skald and Merl 2012 read broddr, which would fit better with the surrounding sg. nouns.

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