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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 23 September 2021)

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

SkP info: VIII, 125

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

92 — GunnLeif Merl I 92VIII (Bret 160)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 160 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 92)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 125.

‘Munu kapps mǫnnum         kvánfǫng boðin:
eru ekkjur þar         orðnar margar.
En á kǫldum         kall þeira næst
menn Mundíu         montum heyra.’

‘Kvánfǫng munu boðin mǫnnum kapps: margar eru orðnar ekkjur þar. En menn heyra kall þeira næst á kǫldum montum Mundíu.’

‘Marriages will be offered to men of bravery: many [women] have become widows there. But men will hear their cry afterwards on the cold mountains of the Alps.’

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 92: AII, 35, BII, 42, Skald II, 27; Bret 1848-9, II, 71 (Bret st. 160); Hb 1892-6, 282; Merl 2012, 200-1.

Notes: [All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.145-6; cf. Wright 1988, 107, prophecy 30): Cucullati ad nuptias prouocabuntur, et clamor eorum in montibus Alpium audietur ‘The wearers of cowls will be challenged to marry, and their complaint will be heard in the mountains of the Alps’ (Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). The comment about widows appears to be Gunnlaugr’s innovation. — [1] mǫnnum kapps ‘to men of bravery’: That is to say, ‘to warriors’. Bret 1848-9, Skj and Skald retain this ms. reading, but a word equivalent in sense to *kápumǫnnum ‘cowled men’ (for which see Fritzner, ONP: kápumaðr) would be expected, rendering cucullati ‘those with cowls’, i.e. ‘monks’ (Hb 1892-6, cxii; cf. Skj B); cf. the Anglo-Norman decasyllabic rendering: Mungiu orra le cri des cuvelez ‘Montgieu will hear the cries of the cowled ones’ (Blacker 2005, 43). Bret 1848-9 translates accordingly without altering the text: de kutteklædte Mænd ‘the cowl-clad men’, i.e. ‘monks’, followed by Skj B. The word kápumǫnnum is introduced into the text by emendation in Merl 2012, but this is precluded by metrical considerations, since it would yield a hypermetrical málaháttr line and the metre of Merl I is otherwise regular. Alternatively, Gunnlaugr might be imagined as having first written lines that included the word kápumǫnnum or a synonym thereof in a different metrical context but then, whether as a result of his own self-censorship or advice from his mentors, altering it to the conveniently similar kapps mǫnnum in order to tone down the notion of forced marriages of monks into a scenario of warriors being offered marriage. The explanation that these marriages arise because the number of widows is so large could be seen as part of this revision. It is unclear whether he intends the kall ‘cry’ to be attributed to men or widows; the punctuation adopted in this edn preserves the logic of DGB, where it is the men. — [7] á kǫldum montum Mundíu ‘on the cold mountains of the Alps’: Here DGB has montibus Alpium ‘on the mountains of the Alps’. The name Mundía used by Gunnlaugr (and also recorded in Sigv Lv 18/1I; see Note there) can be traced back to *Montgiu = Fr. Mont Joux < Lat. Mons Jovis, lit. ‘mountain of Jove’, ‘Great S. Bernard’; the Latin name derives from the presence of a Roman temple to Jupiter Poeninus at the site (Meissner 1903, 193-4, cf. LP: Mundio). It would have been known from pilgrimage itineraries (Meissner 1903, 193-4 and references there given) but it was early generalised, as in the present stanza, so as to denote the Alps as a whole (Meissner 1903, 196).

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