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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.

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

SkP info: VIII, 115

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

78 — GunnLeif Merl I 78VIII (Bret 146)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 146 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 78)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 115.

‘Sjá þessi rǫk         þrennar aldir,
— þó es lýða ráð         ljótt fyr dróttni —
unz landrekar         Lundúnum í
grafnir ór grundu         gumnum vitrask.

‘Þrennar aldir sjá rǫk þessi — þó es ráð lýða ljótt fyr dróttni —, unz landrekar grafnir ór grundu í Lundúnum vitrask gumnum.

‘Three ages witness these wonders — yet the conduct of men is odious before the Lord —, until kings disinterred from the ground in London are revealed to men.

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 78: AII, 33, BII, 39-40, Skald II, 25; Bret 1848-9, II, 66 (Bret st. 146); Hb 1892-6, 281-2; Merl 2012, 190.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.126-7; cf. Wright 1988, 106, prophecy 24): Omnia haec tria saecula uidebunt donec sepulti reges in urbe Lundoniarum propalabuntur ‘Three generations will witness all this until the kings buried in the city of London are revealed’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). With this motif of exhumation, Geoffrey partially reprises the Cadwallader story told in DGB XI (Reeve and Wright 2007, 278-9). — [5-8]: The syntax and meaning of these lines could be interpreted in at least two different ways. Previous eds have inserted explanatory phrases to clarify their understanding of the lines. Bret 1848-9 inserts an explanatory phrase: indtil Konger i London begravne stige op af Jorden og aabenbares ‘until kings buried in London rise up from the earth and show themselves’. Similarly Skj B (indtil konger begravede i London viser sig for folk, (stegne) op af jorden ‘until kings buried in London reveal themselves to men, (risen) up from the earth’) and Merl 2012. But the phrases ‘rise up’, ‘risen up’ have no counterpart in Gunnlaugr and are not strictly necessary for sense. The present edn adopts the view that grafnir ór grundu ‘disinterred from the ground’ (l. 7) is a phrase qualifying landrekar ‘kings’ (l. 5) and further specified by the adverbial phrase í Lundúnum ‘in London’ (l. 6), while the statement vitrask gumnum ‘are revealed to men’ (l. 8) translates Geoffrey’s Lat. propalabuntur ‘are revealed’. Another possible interpretation rearranges the syntax of ll. 5-8 as unz landrekar grafnir í Lundúnum vitrask gumnum ór grundu ‘until kings buried in London reveal themselves to men from the ground’. This has the disadvantage of requiring the phrase grafnir ór grundu to be split, and it is further from the sense of Geoffrey’s Latin text.

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