Jónsdrápa postula (‘Drápa about the Apostle John’)
Beatrice La Farge 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Níkulás Bergsson, Jónsdrápa postula’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Brepols, Turnhout, pp. 66-9.
Skj: Níkulás Bergsson: 1. Jóansdrápa postola (AI, 560, BI, 546-7)
in texts: Jón4
SkP info: VII, 66-9
Three sts of a dróttkvætt poem Jónsdrápa postula ‘Drápa about the Apostle John’ (Ník Jóndr) composed by Níkulás Bergsson in honour of John the Apostle, to whom the fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation were traditionally attributed, are preserved in a sole manuscript, AM 649 a 4° (649a), c. 1350-1400, where they are quoted at the end of a version of Jóns saga postula (Jón4; see Widding, Bekker-Nielsen and Shook 1963, 316; on S. John and the authorship of various books of the Bible see Kasper et al. 1993-2001, V, 866-71). In this ms. the saga is called Litla Jóns saga postola ok guðsspiallamannz ‘Little saga of the Apostle and Evangelist Jón’ (Jón4 1874, 466).
649a is of interest because it contains the only OIcel. prose saint’s life to include skaldic verse in praise of the saint, though the verse comes at the end of the text and is not integrated into the prose narrative. It contains a note on fol. 48v, in a hand of c. 1400, stating that the ms. belonged to the church of John the Evangelist at Hof in Vatnsdalur. It has a faded miniature of the saint on fol. 1v, followed by his saga, and concludes by mentioning four individuals who paid special honour to him. These are Bishop Jörundr of Hólar (1267-1313) and (in this order) the three poets Níkulás Bergsson, Gamli kanóki and Kolbeinn Tumason, all of whom composed poetry in praise of John. Sts from compositions of all three poets are cited and there is a later Lat. poem in honour of John on fol. 48v (published by Lehmann 1936-7, II, 118-19). See further Gamlkan Jóndr, Kolb Jónv and Cormack 1994, 41-2 and 113-14.
In Jón4 Níkulás is identified as the first abbot of the monastery at Munkaþverá in Eyjafjörður. His three sts are introduced with the remark: Hann orti drapu sęlum Johanni, ok þar af lystir til minnis inn leiða sem eina þria puncta með þeim skilning er signadum Johanni bera mesta tign, þat er su frumtignut elska, er hann oðlaðiz af sialfum syni guðs nęst virðuligri Marie drotning; þar af segir hann sva ‘He [i.e. Níkulás] composed a drápa to blessed John, and from it one wishes to include, that it not be forgotten as three instances, the wording which brings blessed John the greatest honour, that is the pre-eminent love which he won from God’s son himself, second only to the meritorious queen Mary; of this he [i.e. Níkulás] says as follows’.
In Jón4 the three sts by Níkulás are quoted in the same order as they appear below, with short explanations before each st. The sts are evidently extracts from a longer drápa, but, given the paucity of information, it is virtually impossible to make assertions about the content of the rest of this poem or about the position of the three sts within it (cf. Lange 1958a, 80-1).
In Jón4 Níkulás’ poem is referred to as a drápa (see the passage quoted above), hence the title used by previous eds and here as well. The three sts quoted in Jón4 stress John’s privileged position in comparison with that of the other Apostles, thus the inclusion of the word postula (gen. sg.) in the title seems justified. Since the name of the Apostle appears in st. 3 as Jón this form has been adopted in the title, whereas Finnur Jónsson used the more latinate form Jóan in Skj A (but not in Skj B).
Ník Jóndr has been previously edited by Unger 1874 and, as an appendix to Unger’s edn of Jón4, by Sophus Bugge (1874, 932-3), as well as by Lange 1958a, Finnur Jónsson (Skj) and Kock (Skald).