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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 20 September 2021)

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Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson: Merlínússpá II (AII, 22-36, BII, 24-45)

SkP info: VIII, 109

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

73 — GunnLeif Merl I 73VIII (Bret 141)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 141 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 73)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 109.

‘Munu Rábítar         ræsi ugga
út í heimi         ok Affríkar.
Fǫr mun vísi         víðlendr gera
á it ýtra œgr         Ispáníam.

‘Rábítar ok Affríkar munu ugga ræsi út í heimi. Œgr, víðlendr vísi mun gera fǫr á it ýtra Ispáníam.

‘The Arabs and Africans will fear the leader out in the world. The awe-inspiring leader with extensive territories will make an expedition to Spain on its farther side.

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 73: AII, 32, BII, 38-9, Skald II, 24; Bret 1848-9, II, 64-5 (Bret st. 141); Hb 1892-6, 281; Merl 2012, 185-6.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 149.117-18; cf. Wright 1988, 106, prophecy 21): Tremebunt illum Arabes et Affricani; nam impetum cursus sui in ulteriorem Hispaniam protendet ‘The Arabs and Africans will tremble before him; for his charge will carry him all the way to the further regions of Spain’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 148). Geoffrey appears to envisage an Arthur-like British conqueror (cf. sts 24-7); he repeats the boar-king allegorisation used of Arthur. — [1] Rábítar ‘the Arabs’: This name is found only here in poetry; it is also of rare occurrence in prose sources (ONP). — [7-8]: The word order here is rather convoluted by Gunnlaugr’s standards, with the interweaving of the adj. œgr ‘awe-inspiring’, part of the noun phrase, with adverbial phrases attaching to the verb phrase. The syntax is not altogether resolved. It would seem, however, that the prep. á ‘on’ governs Ispáníam ‘Spain’ (a Latin first declension acc. sg., to be scanned as four syllables (contrast Bret 1848‑9). This leaves it ýtra fulfilling an adverbial function, lit. ‘on the outer side’, or ‘on the farther side’, as seen from a British or Scandinavian perspective: to judge from the mention of Arabs and Africans in ll. 1 and 4 respectively, the southern side is intended. Comparable are the following passages: Þjsk Jarl 1/1I and Ív Sig 32/3II (see Notes there). Also probably to be thus construed is Mark Eirdr 22/6II (though see Note there and LP: ýtri). Translations in other eds obscure the syntax, apparently ignoring the f. gender of Ispáníam: Bret 1848-9 has til det fjerne Hispania ‘to distant Spain’, Skj B til det fjærnere Spanien ‘to the further [regions of?] Spain’, Merl 2012 zum äußeren Spanien ‘to outer Spain’. Also obscured in these eds is the fact that the antecedent of œgr ‘awe-inspiring’ is vísi ‘leader’, not fǫr ‘expedition’.

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