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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Kálfr Hallsson (Kálf)

14th century; volume 7; ed. Kirsten Wolf;

Kátrínardrápa (Kátr) - 51

not in Skj

The name of the poet of Kátrínardrápa can be deduced from sts 1, 49 and 51 as Kálfr Hallsson (Kálfr would have been Kálfur in C14th). In st. 1/8 he describes himself as ‘the son of Hallur’ (arfi Halls) and at the end of the poem gives his name in both Icelandic (Kálfr [= ‘calf’] 49/1) and Lat. (Vitulus [= Kálfur] 51/3) and says he is now a monk (frater, st. 51/4). The implication of sts 45-51 is that Kálfr had previously led a sinful secular life, but this may be stereotypical self-deprecation. The Lat. phrase Vítulus vátes ‘the poet Kálfr’ by which the poet refers to himself in st. 51/3-4 also appears in Völsungs rímur hins óborna and this has led some scholars to propose that Kálfr Hallsson was the author of both poems (see Note to st. 51). Nothing is known of Kálfr’s monastic affiliation nor his precise dates, though the mid-C14th seems a likely floruit (Vésteinn Ólason 1993, 316).

Kátrínardrápa (‘Drápa about S. Catherine’) — Kálf KátrVII

Kirsten Wolf 2007, ‘ Kálfr Hallsson, Kátrínardrápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 931-64. <> (accessed 4 July 2022)

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Skj: [Anonyme digte og vers XIV]: [B. 11]. Katrínar drápa (AII, 516-26, BII, 569-82)

SkP info: VII, 931-64

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


KátrínardrápaDrápa about S. Catherine’ (Kálf Kátr) belongs to the genre of hagiographic literature. Composed in hrynhent metre, and with the use of many kennings, it tells the story of the passion of S. Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine, a young woman of noble birth and learned in the sciences, presented herself to the Emperor Maxentius (r. 306-12), who was violently persecuting the Christians, and endeavoured to prove how iniquitous was the worship of pagan gods. Unable to vie with her in point of learning, the emperor summoned fifty philosophers, with whom she successfully disputed and whom she converted. Enraged, the emperor then ordered her to be tortured and imprisoned. Meanwhile, the empress, eager to meet Catherine, went with Porphyry, the head of the troops, to visit her in the prison. Yielding to Catherine’s exhortations, the empress and Porphyry were baptised and immediately won the crown of martyrdom. Catherine herself was subsequently beheaded.

On the whole, the poem follows the ON-Icel. prose legend (ed. Unger 1877, I, 400-21; Wolf 2003, 123-41 [text], 174-6 [commentary]) closely, and the number of verbal similarities between the two texts led Kahle (1898, 12) to conclude that the poet knew and used the prose version. On the sources of the prose text, see Foote 1962, 26. The drápa is divided into the introductory upphaf (sts 1-16), the stefjabálkr (sts 17-33) and the concluding slœmr (sts 34-51). There is one refrain or stef at sts 17, 21, 25, 29 and 33. The title ‘Kátrínar drápa’ may not be original; in AM 713 4° it is added in the margin in a later hand. The poem probably dates from the second half of the C14th; it shows metrical laxity in places and at least one revealing misunderstanding of the kenning system (see Notes to 14/3-4 and 20/6).

Kátr has been previously edited by Kahle (1898), Sperber (1911), Finnur Jónsson (Skj A and B) and Kock (Skald).

Manuscripts and their dates:
Reykjavík, AM 713 4° (713): first half of C16th. The ms. is damaged in places, and the paper transcripts, made when 713 was more legible, have sometimes provided readings which are lacking in 713. They are used selectively in the present edn where 713 is defective.
Lbs 444 4°ˣ (444ˣ): c. 1820-1850 (only sts 1-2); the text of Kátr is copied from 713 by Jón Sigurðsson (1811-79). It is not possible to give page numbers for 444ˣ, as this ms. consists of unnumbered leaves and slips of paper.
JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ: C18th and 19th; the text of Kátr is copied from 713 by Þorvaldur Bjarnarson (1840-1906).
AM 920 4°ˣ: C19th, written primarily by Steingrímur Thorsteinsson (1831-1913); the text of Kátr is copied from 713.
Lbs 2166 4°: c. 1885-1920 (only l. 1 of st. 1) in the hand of Páll Eggert Ólason (1883-1949).

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