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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 October 2021)

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

SkP info: VIII, 118

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

82 — GunnLeif Merl I 82VIII (Bret 150)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 150 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 82)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 118.

‘Falla ór orða         almærri vǫk
dynjandi ár         dróttar stýris.
Þær munu dǫggva         dýrar jarðir
geðs í glæstum         gollorheimi
ok þurrar kverkr         þjóðar margrar.

‘Dynjandi ár falla ór {almærri vǫk orða} {stýris dróttar}. Þær munu dǫggva {dýrar jarðir geðs} í {glæstum gollorheimi} ok þurrar kverkr margrar þjóðar.

‘Resounding rivers will fall from {the much-famed gap of words} [MOUTH] {of the ruler of the entourage} [PRINCE]. They will spread dew {on the beloved lands of the mind} [HEARTS] in {the splendid home of the pericardium} [BREAST] and on the dry throats of many a people.

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 82: AII, 33, BII, 40, Skald II, 25; Bret 1848-9, II, 67-8 (Bret st. 150); Hb 1892-6, 282; Merl 2012, 193.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.130-1; cf. Wright 1988, 106, prophecy 26): Ex ore ipsius procedent flumina, quae arentes hominum fauces rigabunt ‘Out of his mouth will issue rivers to moisten the parched throats of men’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). Geoffrey continues his prophecies regarding the ‘boar of commerce’. The source material for sts 81 and 82 is somewhat amplified in Merl, evidently so as to explicate the allegory. — [6-7] dýrar jarðir geðs ‘the beloved lands of the mind [HEARTS]’: In Bret 1848-9 and Skj B, the latter followed by Merl 2012, geðs ‘of the mind’ is grouped with gollorheimi ‘in the home of the pericardium’ (Skj B has sjælens hjærteverden ‘heart-world of the soul’), but there it is redundant, whereas it is positively required as a determinant for jarðir ‘lands’, to generate a kenning for a part of the body, as is evident from the parallelism with kverkr ‘throats’ in l. 9. Cf. II 35/6, where gollorhallir ‘halls of the pericardium’, a parallel formation, signifies ‘breasts’. — [8] gollor- ‘pericardium’: The membrane enclosing the heart (OED: pericardium). Thus the breast can be termed the ‘home of the pericardium’. Attestations of the word are restricted to literary usage. In poetry the word occurs only here and in Þul Hugar ok hjartaIII. The two prose attestations cited by ONP: gollurr are from SnE mss, and occur in discussions of heiti for ‘heart’; in one of these passages gollorr is itself understood as such a heiti (cf. CVC: gollurr; Fritzner, LP, AEW: gollorr; also Guðrún Nordal 2001, 255‑6).

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