Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Lilja, 60 [Vol. 7, 629-31]

[All]: Niðrstigningar saga (Niðrst), the ON translation of the Gospel of Nicodemus, contains two relevant interpolations not found in the Lat. text. They relate to the idea of the Cross as a trap for the devil, which goes back to C2nd (Russell 1981, 193; Wee 1974, 4-5). The image of the baited hook, which also appears in Niðrst, first appears in the Catechetical Oration of Gregory of Nyssa (Srawley 1956, §24; see also Aulén 1951, 52-3). Augustine frequently refers to the Cross as a mousetrap (muscipula), and at least once as a hook (Sermo 265D in Morin 1930, 662). S. Ambrose uses the image in his Easter hymn Hic est dies verus Dei (AH 50, 16), and it found its way into the Moralia in Job (Adriaen 1979, 143B:1687 [33.9]) and Homiliae in euangelia (Étaix 1999, 2:25) of Gregory the Great. The Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg has a remarkable illustration of God the Father holding a fishing line while a monster gapes over the ‘baited’ Cross at the other end (Caratzas 1977, pl. 24; see also Zellinger 1928). Honorius of Autun uses the image in a homily on the Annunciation in his Speculum Ecclesiae (Honorius Augustodunensis, col. 906); cf. Peter Damian, commenting on Job XL.20 (an extrahere poteris Leviathan hamo ‘Canst thou draw out the leviathan with a hook?’) (Lucchesi 1983, 279). The Icel. homily for Easter, clearly familiar with this tradition, understands it in light of the Nordic myth of Þórr’s attempt to catch the Miðgarðsormr, told in SnE 1982, 44-5 and Hym 17-25: oc ſté haɴ þa yver eɴ forna fiánda eſ haɴ lét ofriþar meɴ beriaſc i gegn ſér. þat ſýnde drótten þa eſ haɴ mælte viþ eɴ ſǽla iób. Mon eige þu draga leviaþan [miþgarþarormr] a ǫngle eþa bora kiþr hanſ meþ báuge. Sia gléypande hvalr merker gróþgan aɴſkota þaɴ eſ ſvelga vill aʟt maɴkyn idauþa. agn eſ lagt a ǫngul en hvas broddr léyneſc. þeɴa orm tók almáttegr goþ a ǫngul. þa eſ haɴ ſende ſon ſiɴ til dáuþa ſýnelegan at líkam en oſýnelegan at goþdóme. Diaboluſ ſa agn likamſ hanſ þat eſ haɴ beit oc vilde fyrfara. en goþdomſ broddr ſtangaþe haɴ ſvaſem ǫngoʟ. a ǫngle varþ haɴ tekeɴ. ‘and he rose up over the ancient enemy when he allowed enemies to fight against him. The Lord showed that when he spoke with blessed Job: ‘Can you not draw out Leviathan [miþgarþarormr is written above the line] with a hook or pierce his cheek with a gaff?’ That gaping whale represents the greedy devil who wants to swallow up all mankind in death. Bait is placed on the hook, but the sharp barb is concealed. Almighty God took that serpent on the hook when he sent his son to death, with his body visible but his divinity invisible. The devil saw the bait of the body and bit on it and wanted to destroy it. But the barb of divinity stung him like a hook: he was taken on a hook’ (HómÍsl 1993, 35v).

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