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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, 129

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

97 — GunnLeif Merl I 97VIII (Bret 165)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2017, ‘Breta saga 165 (Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínusspá I 97)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 129.

Virði engi         þat vitlausu,
þótt hann hoddskǫtum         heiti gæfi
viðar eða vatna         eða veðrs mikils
eða alls konar         orma eða dýra.
Táknar eðli         talðrar skepnu
spjǫrráðanda        spjǫll eða kosti.

Virði engi þat vitlausu, þótt hann gæfi {hoddskǫtum} heiti viðar eða vatna eða veðrs mikils eða alls konar orma eða dýra. Eðli talðrar skepnu táknar spjǫll eða kosti {spjǫrráðanda}.

Let nobody think it nonsense if he gives {treasure-chieftains} [RULERS] the name of a wood or lakes or a great storm or all kinds of serpents or beasts. The nature of the creature described signifies the flaws or strengths {of the wielders of the spear} [WARRIORS].

Mss: Hb(52v) (Bret)

Editions: Skj: Gunnlaugr Leifsson, Merlínússpá II 97: AII, 35-6, BII, 43-4, Skald II, 27; Bret 1848-9, II, 73 (Bret st. 165); Hb 1892-6, 283; Merl 2012, 205.

Notes: [All]: Here, following up on the preceding stanza, Gunnlaugr succinctly explains Geoffrey’s system of allegory and foreshadows that some members of his audience might find it nonsensical. — [3]: The pron. hann is omitted in Skj B and Skald for metrical reasons. — [3] hoddskǫtum ‘treasure-chieftains [RULERS]’: Attested only here and in II 29/5. — [5] viðar ‘of a wood’: Conceivably the gen. pl. viða ‘of woods/trees’ should be read here, for better match with vatna and because Merl refers to a variety of trees, e.g. oaks and linden‑trees; Bret 1848-9 has ‘tree’ and Skj B, followed by Merl 2012, has ‘trees’, but without emendation. Gunnlaugr may also be referring to woods or forests collectively, with e.g. viðr inn danski ‘Danish wood’ (II 15/6) in mind. — [5] vatna ‘lakes’: It is not clear which prophecies are referred to here, unless Gunnlaugr was thinking of the idealisation of the boar of commerce as a refreshing stream (I 82-3) or of the inundation of the mouths of the Severn (I 89/2-3). — [6]: Cf. the mentions of the landnyrðingr ‘northeast wind’ in I 44/3, I 84/2.

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