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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.

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

96 — GunnLeif Merl I 96VIII (Bret 164)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 164 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 96)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 128.

Lesi sálma, spjǫll         lesi spámanna,
lesi bjartar þeir         bœkr ok roðla,
ok finni þat,         at inn fróði halr
hefr horskliga         hagat spásǫgu,
sem fyr hônum         fyrðar helgir.

Lesi sálma, lesi spjǫll spámanna, lesi þeir bjartar bœkr ok roðla, ok finni þat, at inn fróði halr hefr hagat spásǫgu horskliga, sem helgir fyrðar fyr hônum.

Let them read the psalms, read the sayings of the prophets, let them read bright books and rolls, and discover that the wise man has devised his prophecy sagaciously, like holy men before him.

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 96: AII, 35, BII, 43, Skald II, 27; Bret 1848-9, II, 72-3 (Bret st. 164); Hb 1892-6, 283; Merl 2012, 204-5.

Notes: [All]: For admonitions on the correct interpretation of prophecy similar to those advanced in this and the ensuing stanzas, cf. Stjórn (Unger 1862, 30): Spamanna bøkr ok postolanna ritningar uerda mǫrgum sua myrkar ok uskilianligar. sem þær se meðr nǫckurum þokum edr skyflokum skyggdar ok huldar. enn þa uerda þær uel skiliandi monnum sua sem nytsamligh sannleiks skúúr. ef þær eru medr margfalldri ok uitrligri tracteran talaðr ok skynsamliga skyrðar ‘The books of the prophets and the writings of the apostles are to many so obscure and unintelligible as if they were shadowed and hidden by fogs or cloud-banks yet then they become fully intelligible to men just like beneficent showers of truth, if they are recounted with manifold and wise exegesis and explicated with discrimination’. — [1-2] lesi spjǫll spámanna ‘read the sayings of the prophets’: Previous eds have treated each line as a syntactic unit but a spjǫll sálma ‘sayings of psalms’ makes inferior sense and leaves the gen. spámanna hanging: Skj B, following Bret 1848-9, ignores the difficulty, translating lese profeterne ‘read the prophets’; Merl 2012 supplies die Reden ‘the speeches’, translating the initial vísuorð as follows: Sie mögen die Reden der Psalmen lesen, sie mögen [die Reden] der Propheten lesen ‘they can read the sayings of the psalms, they can read [the sayings] of the prophets’. — [4] roðla ‘rolls’: I.e. scrolls, or rolls of parchment. Apparently a hap. leg. in Old Norse (not cited in Fritzner; ONP: roðull notes it only as a ‘poetic word’) and distinct from rǫðull ‘sun’. Finnur Jónsson correctly explains it as a loan-word, ultimately from Lat. rotulus ‘small wheel’ (LH II, 174; cf. LP: roðull), implicitly correcting Bret 1848-9, which reads röðlar ‘suns’, interpreted as ‘holy men’ (so also CVC: röðull). In post-classical Latin rotulus assumed the sense of ‘a scroll of parchment’ and was adopted into Old French (role, rolle, from the end of the C12th), Anglo-Norman and Middle English (rouel, rolle).

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