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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).

notes
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, 54

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

9 — GunnLeif Merl I 9VIII (Bret 77)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 77 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 9)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 54.

Einn vas maðr sá,         es myrkva frétt
fyr skata skýrum         skynja kunni.
Hét yngva vinr         Ambrósíus,
en inn ágæti         ǫðru nafni
Merlínus sá         maðr kallaðisk.

Sá maðr vas einn, es kunni skynja myrkva frétt fyr skýrum skata. Vinr yngva hét Ambrósíus, en sá inn ágæti maðr kallaðisk ǫðru nafni Merlínus.

That man was [the] only [one], who could explain the obscure portent to the wise king. The friend of the king was called Ambrosius but that excellent man was known by another name, Merlin.

Mss: Hb(51r) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 9: AII, 23, BII, 25-6, Skald II, 16, NN §§2164, 3142, 3258B; Bret 1848-9, II, 41-2 (Bret st. 77); Hb 1892-6, 277; Merl 2012, 135-6.

Notes: [All]: For the source, see Merl I 10 Note to [All]. — [2] frétt ‘portent’: ‘Intelligence, report, enquiring of men or gods about the future’ (CVC, Fritzner: frétt; cf. NN §3258). — [3] skýrum ‘wise’: So Bret 1848-9 and Skj B. Kock (NN §3142, followed by Merl 2012) sees it as awkward to attribute wisdom to Vortigern, who has expressed himself baffled by the portent, and proposes that skýrum instead be taken adverbially, meaning ‘clearly’. But the adj. may allude to Vortigern’s reputation for wisdom as he assumes power (cf. DGB VI: Reeve and Wright 2007, 120-1); cf. the similar application of the adj. spǫkum ‘sagacious’ to him in I 11/8. — [5-8]: Word order follows Bret 1848-9 and Skj B (cf. Merl 2012). Kock (NN §2164) proposes a word order en sá maðr kallaðisk ǫðru nafni inn ágæti Merlínus ‘but that man was called by another name the excellent Merlin’, but the combination sá inn needs no special explanation. — [5] vinr yngva ‘the friend of the king’: J. S. Eysteinsson (1953-7, 96-7) points out the conventional nature of this phrase, comparing e.g. I 10/2, I 11/8 and I 20/1. Geoffrey’s presentation of Merlin as the son of an incubus (Reeve and Wright 2007, 138-9) troubled some commentators, as in effect associating his prophecy with diabolic powers (Crick 2011, 77); Gunnlaugr may be following their lead by normalising his nature and social status.

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