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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, 52

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

7 — GunnLeif Merl I 7VIII (Bret 75)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 75 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 7)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 52.

Kómu til smíðar         spakir vǫlundar
— þats ýtum sagt —         uppi í fjalli.
En, þats drengir         á degi gerðu,
sá þess engan stað         annan morgin.

Spakir vǫlundar kómu til smíðar uppi í fjalli; þats sagt ýtum. En, þats drengir gerðu á degi, sá þess engan stað annan morgin.

Skilful builders came to the work up on the mountain; that is told to men. But what the men achieved by day, nowhere was it to be seen the next morning.

Mss: Hb(51r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 7: AII, 23, BII, 25, Skald II, 16; Bret 1848-9, II, 40-1 (Bret st. 75); Hb 1892-6, 277; Merl 2012, 133.

Notes: [All]: See Note to st. 6. In part Gunnlaugr’s source appears to be DGB 106 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 137.503-6): Conuenientes itaque lapidarii coeperunt eam fundare. Sed quicquid una die operabantur, absorbebat tellus illud in altera, ita ut nescirent quorsum opus suum euanesceret ‘They met and began to lay foundations. But whatever they accomplished one day would be swallowed up by the ground the next day, so that they had no idea where it had gone’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 136). In view of in altera [die] ‘the next day’, it seems likely that sts 7 and 8 may additionally draw on material now extant in the First Variant Version: cf. DGB 108 (cf. Wright 1988, 100): Volens enim turrim edificare, non possunt fundamenta eius in loco isto consistere quin quod in die construitur in nocte a terra deuoretur ‘Attempting to build a tower, they could not lay its foundation in that place since whatever was built during the day was engulfed by the earth during the night’. It is clearer in this version, as also in Gunnlaugr’s stanza, that the disappearance of the foundations happens during the night, not on the following day. — [2] vǫlundar ‘builders’: The name of the archetypal legendary smith Vǫlundr is occasionally used of craftsmen and skilled artisans in general (LP: Vǫlundr). — [3]: A conventional expression that may evoke oral delivery. Cf. Merl I 22/2-3. — [7] sá þess engan stað ‘nowhere was it to be seen’: Lit. ‘of this [one] saw nowhere’, an impersonal construction with gen. of the object.

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