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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, 111

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

75 — GunnLeif Merl I 75VIII (Bret 143)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 143 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 75)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 111.

‘Blæs Mistar vinr         ór nǫsum †tiossa†
þoku þvílíkri,         at þekr of ey.
Friðr es of fylkis         fastr lífdaga;
brestr eigi þá         ár í landi.

‘{Vinr Mistar} blæs ór nǫsum †tiossa† þoku þvílíkri, at þekr of ey. Friðr es fastr of lífdaga fylkis; ár brestr eigi þá í landi.

‘{The friend of Mist <valkyrie>} [WARRIOR] blows such a fog out of his nostrils … that it covers the island. Peace is fixed throughout the king’s lifetime; prosperity does not fail then in the land.

Mss: Hb(52r) (Bret)

Readings: [2] ór: ok Hb    [5] Friðr es: Friðr Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 75: AII, 32, BII, 39, Skald II, 24-5, NN §105; Bret 1848-9, II, 65 (Bret st. 143); Hb 1892-6, 281; Merl 2012, 187-8.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115, prophecies 22 and 23 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.119-22; cf. Wright 1988, 106): qui ex naribus suis tantam efflabit nebulam quanta tota superficies insulae obumbrabitur. Pax erit in tempore suo et ubertate glebae multiplicabuntur segetes ‘who will breathe forth from his nostrils a cloud which will cover the whole surface of the island. There will be peace in his time and the rich soil will increase its crops’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). — [1] vinr Mistar ‘the friend of Mist <valkyrie> [WARRIOR]’: By introducing a warrior-kenning where Geoffrey has qui ‘who’, Gunnlaugr emphasises the human represented by the allegorical goat-king of I 74. The absence of alliteration suggests, however, that Mist might have replaced some other heiti. Finnur Jónsson tentatively suggests Njǫrðr (LP: Mist). Kock (NN §105) proposes Nipt ‘sister, female relative’ as a valkyrie-heiti, but this is highly doubtful (see Þul Ásynja 5/3-4III and Note there). It is also possible that this passage is more extensively damaged: see Notes to l. 2. — [2] ór ‘out of’: Emended from ms. ok (not refreshed) in Bret 1848-9, followed by subsequent eds. — [2] †tiossa† ‘…’: This ms. reading (not refreshed) has not so far been explained or convincingly emended; DGB supplies no guidance at this point. Skj B emends to brúsa ‘of the he-goat’. Bret 1848-9 already interprets it in that sense (af Bukkenæsen) but without emendation; CVC has the entry tjossi ‘he goat (?)’, citing the present passage as the unique attestation, but it does not feature in Fritzner or ONP and is no doubt a mere ghost-word. Kock (NN §105; Skald), followed by Merl 2012, emends to acc. *tjǫssu, taken as in apposition to þoku ‘fog’ and glossed as ‘wave’. He bases his case on inference from West Germanic words denoting ‘heavy wave, sea-swell’, but no such word is attested in Old Norse and Kock does not clarify how such a sense would relate to the context. — [5] es ‘is’: Added in Skj B, followed by subsequent eds.

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