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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)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   38   39   40   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   52   53   54   55   56   57   58   59   60   61   62   63   64   65   66   67   68   69   70   71   72   73   74   75   76   77   78   79   80   81   82   83   84   85   86   87   88   89   90   91   92   93   94   95   96   97   98   99   100   101   102   103 

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

SkP info: VIII, 128

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

95 — GunnLeif Merl I 95VIII (Bret 163)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 163 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 95)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 128.

Viti bragnar þat,         þeirs bók lesa,
hvé at spjǫllum sé         spámanns farit,
ok kynni þat         kjaldýrs viðum,
hverr fyrða sé         framsýnna hôttr
môl at rekja,          þaus menn vitut.

Bragnar, þeirs lesa bók, viti þat, hvé sé farit at spjǫllum spámanns, ok kynni þat {viðum {kjaldýrs}}, hverr hôttr framsýnna fyrða sé at rekja môl, þaus menn vitut.

May men, who read the book, know that, how the prophet’s sayings have been rendered, and teach that {to trees {of the keel-beast}} [SHIP > SEAFARERS], what the style of prophetic persons is in narrating matters that men do not know.

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Readings: [5] kynni: kunni Hb    [6] kjal‑: kal Hb    [8] hôttr: hôttu corrected from ‘hôttr’ during the process of refreshing Hb

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 95: AII, 35, BII, 43, Skald II, 27; Bret 1848-9, II, 72 (Bret st. 163); Hb 1892-6, 283; Merl 2012, 203-4.

Notes: [5] kynni ‘teach’: Emended in Skj B, followed by Skald and Merl 2012, from ms. kunni (refreshed). — [6] kjaldýrs ‘of the keel-beast [SHIP]’: Obscure but probably a kenning for ‘ship’. The determinant kal- is difficult to explain as it stands. A first element kal- in compounds occurs in kalreip ‘rope on a ship that prevents the sail from flapping’, but is unlikely to be relevant, since it depends on the (Modern Icelandic) idiom segl kelur ‘the sail loses the wind’, lit. ‘the sail cools’ (LP: kalreip), thus a ‘rope [to prevent] “cooling”’. Instead ms. kal- appears to represent a miswriting for (or conceivably a reduced form of) kjal-, combinative form of kjǫlr ‘keel’. Thus ‘of the keel-beast [SHIP]’. The late kenning meiðar kjaldúks ‘trees of the keel-cloth’ (EGils Guðkv 20/3-4IV) may represent an imitation of Gunnlaugr. — [8] hôttr ‘style’: The word, as used here, does not have its more usual meaning of metrical form or stanza-form (despite Sveinbjörn Rafnsson 1994, 737) but instead relates, as the context shows, to figurative language. Comparable in sense is hætti in 94/10.

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