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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, 120

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

84 — GunnLeif Merl I 84VIII (Bret 152)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 152 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 84)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 120.

‘Kømr þar af lœgi         landnyrðingr hvass;
lýstr hann illum byl         einn af stofni.
Þar munu kvistir,         es þruma eptir,
þess rúm taka;         þat sék gǫrla.

‘Hvass landnyrðingr kømr þar af lœgi; hann lýstr einn af stofni illum byl. Kvistir, es þruma eptir, munu taka rúm þess þar; sék þat gǫrla.

‘A sharp northeast wind will come there from the sea; it will knock one [branch] from the trunk with a malevolent gust. The branches that remain afterwards will take up its space there; I see that clearly.

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Readings: [4] einn: eik Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 84: AII, 34, BII, 41, Skald II, 26; Bret 1848-9, II, 68 (Bret st. 152); Hb 1892-6, 282; Merl 2012, 194-5.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.134-5; cf. Wright 1988, 106-7, prophecies 27 and 28): Huic aduersarius Boreas superueniet atque iniquo flatu suo tercium illi ramum eripiet. Duo uero residui locum extirpati occupabunt ‘The North wind will come as its enemy and with its cruel blast will rip off the third branch. The remaining two will take the place of the one that has been removed’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). Here Geoffrey re-uses his earlier prophecy of Viking raids in England, not altogether incongruously since sporadic raiding from Scandinavia continued through his life-time. Raids carried out in England and Scotland by Eysteinn Haraldsson of Norway in the 1150s are alluded to in ESk RunII and ESk EystdrII; for historical commentary see A. B. Taylor (1965) and references there. — [2] hvass landnyrðingr ‘a sharp northeast wind’: Exactly the same line occurs at Merl I 44/3. See Note there. — [4] einn ‘one’: Emended in Skj B, followed by Skald, from ms. eik ‘oak’ (not refreshed). This, despite speculations in Merl 2012 concerning the possible presence of three oaks, is necessary for sense. — [8]: A free addition on Gunnlaugr’s part, emulating vernacular prophetic poems such as Vsp and Gríp. Cf. I 89/4 and 6.

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