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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Vol. VII. Poetry on Christian Subjects

8. Introduction

1. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages – a New Edition (MCR)
2. The Corpus of Medieval Icelandic Christian Skaldic Poetry (MCR)
3. Genres of Christian Skaldic Poetry (MCR)
4. Manuscripts (MCR)
5. Poets and their Audiences (MCR)
6. History of Scholarship and Reception of Christian Skaldic Poetry (MCR)
7. Verse-forms and Diction of Christian Skaldic Verse (MCR)
8. The Treatment of Foreign Learned Words and Foreign Personal Names in Skaldic Poetry (KEG)
9. Normalisation of Fourteenth-Century Poetry (KEG)
10. How to use this Edition (MCR)

(Vol. VII. Poetry on Christian Subjects > 8. Introduction > 4. Manuscripts)

4. Manuscripts (MCR)

As has already been mentioned, a number of the poems in this volume are found in compilations that form anthologies of late medieval religious poetry. Chief among these are AM 713 4° and AM 721 4°, both dating from the first half of the sixteenth century, and both probably compiled in the north of Iceland. Besides poetry in honour of saints and apostles, these manuscripts also contain a great deal of evidence for the cult of the Virgin Mary in Iceland, and include a number of poems recounting her miracles. Devotion to the Virgin seems to have been particularly strong in the north, and may have been a consequence of the dedication of the northern cathedral at Hólar to her. Several of the Marian miracle poems in 721 and/or 713 (Mey, Vitn and Mv I-III) also reveal a special devotion to S. Andrew, who is mentioned in stanza 2 of each poem, in a manner that has led scholars to suppose that this group of poems may have been composed in the same religious house or for the same church community.[11] S. Andrew is also the subject of the now fragmentary Andr (in AM 194 8°, dated 1387) and stanza 3 of Alpost.

Another significant collection of Christian skaldic poetry is found in the very poorly preserved but important manuscript AM 757 a 4° (B), of c. 1400, which also contains a text of the Third Grammatical Treatise (TGT) by Óláfr Þórðarson hvítaskáld and part of the Skáldskaparmál section of Snorri Sturluson’s Edda. Ms. B contains (in the following order) Heildr, Leið, Líkn, Has, Mdr and Gyð, the last-named a fragment of a Marian miracle poem in which the Virgin (as far as one can tell from the little that survives) frees a Christian from a Jew’s hard bargain over money. Another interesting late medieval Icelandic miscellany, containing a collection of prose homilies and the poems Leið and Hsv, is the fifteenth-century manuscript AM 624 4°.

Mention has already been made of poems appearing in manuscripts showing the probable influence of the medieval concept of the opus geminatum. AM 649 a 4°, with its various contents honouring S. John in image, prose narrative and devotional verse, is among the most interesting medieval Icelandic books of hagiographical kind, while the fragment AM 673 b 4°, containing Pl and dated c. 1200, is the earliest extant manuscript in which a skaldic poem has been preserved.

The material preservation of Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli offers a significantly different type of manuscript environment from the other Christian skaldic poems in Volume VII. Unlike them, Geisl had religious and political significance of great importance in both Norway and Iceland, and indeed beyond, as an official encomium of Norway’s first royal saint. This is reflected not only in the actual context of its preservation, in two major medieval compilations of historical sagas, Bergsbók, Holm perg 1 fol (Bb), and Flateyjarbók, GKS 1005 fol (Flat), both of the late fourteenth century, but also in the fact that the drápa is preserved entire in both manuscripts.[12] Furthermore, in Flat Geisl is given pride of place as the very first item in the compilation.


[11]   A possible contender would be a church such as Urðir in Svarfaðardalur in Eyjafjörður, which was dedicated to S. Mary and S. Andrew.

[12]   In Flat, three stanzas (31-3) are missing, but, as the present editor, Martin Chase demonstrates (see Note to Geisl stanza 31), the intention was to include them, the copyist making a careless mistake.

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