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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, 121

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

86 — GunnLeif Merl I 86VIII (Bret 154)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 154 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 86)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 121.

‘Ok hann síðan þekr         þykku laufi
einn of alla         eybarms fjǫru.
Megut þá fljúga         foglar í landi,
þvíat hann œgir þeim,         en hann enn til sín
laðar fogla fljótt         ferð útlendra.

‘Ok síðan þekr hann einn þykku laufi of alla fjǫru eybarms. Foglar megut þá fljúga í landi, þvíat hann œgir þeim, en hann laðar enn ferð útlendra fogla fljótt til sín.

‘And then it alone will cover with its dense foliage the entire foreshore of the island’s fringe. The birds within the land will then be unable to fly, because he will frighten them, but yet he will quickly entice a host of foreign birds to himself.

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 86: AII, 34, BII, 41, Skald II, 26; Bret 1848-9, II, 69 (Bret st. 154); Hb 1892-6, 282; Merl 2012, 195-6.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 115 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.137-9; cf. Wright 1988, 107, prophecy 28): et uolucres exterarum regionum sustentabit. Patriis uolatilibus nociuus habebitur; nam timore umbrae eius liberos uolatus amittent ‘and feed birds from foreign lands. It will prove harmful to native birds; for they will not be able to fly freely in fear of its shadow’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). — [4] eybarms ‘of the island’s fringe’: The ms. reading (not refreshed) has been taken as eykarms by earlier eds, but the letter read as k could be either <b> or <k>. Cf. barmi eylands ‘fringe of the island’ in I 40/6-7. The cpd eybarmr ‘the island-edge’ appears in Angantýr Lv 3/4 (Heiðr 32). Bret 1848-9 adopts eybarms as an emendation. This is also contemplated by Finnur Jónsson (LP: eybarmr) but not adopted in Skj B, where eykarmr is retained and translated as hele strandbreddens kyst ‘the whole shore of the beach’ (cf. LP: eykarmr). But such a sense is inappropriate to the context and the supposed underlying kenning pattern is weakly attested (Meissner 92; contrast LP: eylúðr). Skald and Merl 2012 retain eykarms without comment.

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