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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, ‘(Introduction to) Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 38.

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, 106

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

70 — GunnLeif Merl I 70VIII (Bret 138)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 138 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 70)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 106.

‘Yppir fjǫllum         fljótt Valbreta;
munu Brútus þau         bera kórónu.
Grœnask ǫflgar         eikr Kornbreta;
fagnar slíku         fús Kambría.

‘Yppir fljótt fjǫllum Valbreta; þau munu bera kórónu Brútus. Ǫflgar eikr Kornbreta grœnask; fús Kambría fagnar slíku.

‘The mountains of French Britons will be swiftly raised up; they will bear the crown of Brutus. The mighty oaks of the Cornish Britons will grow green; eager Cambria rejoices at that.

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Readings: [2] fljótt: ‘fljot’ Hb;    Valbreta: valbreka Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 70: AII, 31-2, BII, 38, Skald II, 24; Bret 1848-9, II, 63 (Bret st. 138); Hb 1892-6, 281; Merl 2012, 182-3.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.112-13; cf. Wright 1988, 105, prophecy 20): tunc erumpent Armorici montes et diademate Bruti coronabuntur. Replebitur Kambria laeticia, et robora Cornubiae uirescent ‘then the hills of Brittany will burst forth and be crowned with Brutus’ diadem. Wales will be filled with rejoicing and the Cornish oaks will flourish’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). Geoffrey envisages an assumption of monarchical power in the British Isles on the part of the returning Bretons (cf. I 63) to the satisfaction of the British still resident in Wales and Cornwall. — [1] yppir ‘will be … raised up’: Lit. ‘there is … a raising’: From yppa ‘raise, lift up’, used impersonally. — [2] Valbreta ‘of French Britons’: Meaning ‘Bretons, Armoricans’, in apparent contrast to Kornbreta (gen. pl.) ‘Cornish Britons’ in l. 6. Emended by Scheving (as reported in Bret 1848-9) from ms. valbreka (not refreshed). Confusion between letters c and t is not uncommon and this emendation gives excellent agreement with Geoffrey’s text, since the phrase fjǫllum Valbreta corresponds neatly to Armorici montes. For the formation, compare Kornbretar ‘Cornish Bretons’ (cf. II 16/2), paraphrasing Geoffrey’s Cornubiae. Both may have been nonce-terms devised by Gunnlaugr, but Val- ‘French’ was a long-established element in the cpd Valland ‘France’, properly ‘Normandy and the lower Seine region’ (Foote 1975, 69) but extendable to other regions (cf. Sigv Víkv 6I, Note to l. 5). Bret 1848-9 and Skj B (the latter followed by Skald and Merl 2012) retain the ms. reading and explain it as part of a kenning fljót valbreka ‘river of the corpse-wave [BLOOD]’. In Bret 1848-9, ll. 1-2 are translated Fjelden hæver Valflodens Ström ‘the stream of the corpse-flood raises the mountains’ (cf. Skj B and LP: fljót). But this does not sit well with Finnur’s construal of yppir as impersonal (cf. LP: yppa) and altogether the sense is both inferior in itself and discrepant from the Latin, which has nothing to say about rivers raising mountains. For discussion of evident errors in Hb see Introduction. — [3] Brútus ‘of Brutus’: Latin nom. form, used with gen. function (cf. I 53/12, 72/4). Brutus is mentioned by virtue of his supposed status as the eponymous founder of the British people, as implied in the next stanza (cf. DGB I 21.459-60: Reeve and Wright 2007, 28-9); the Bretons are said to take on his crown because it is they who are asserting ancient British rights on behalf of all British peoples. — [6] Kornbreta ‘of the Cornish Britons’: This is the first explicit naming of the Cornish people (or Cornwall) in Merl as extant.

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