Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Allra postula minnisvísur, 9 [Vol. 7, 864-6]

[3-4] liet lífið á Indía-landi flegið með knífi ‘He laid down his life in the land of India, [his body] flayed by a knife’: The ll. may involve deliberate word-play, for they could be interpreted either ‘he left his body, flayed by a knife, in India’ or, with ellipsis of vera ‘he let his body (be) flayed with a knife’, i.e. ‘he suffered martyrdom’. At the same time, the phrase liet ... lífið suggests the sense ‘he lost his life’, although flegið clearly modifies lífið, rather than the subject of the sentence, Bartoloméus. On líf as a synonym of líkamr ‘body’, see Fritzner: líf 4. According to tradition, Bartholomew was flayed alive at Albanopolis in Armenia (cf. Cross and Livingstone 1983, 137; Brev. 4/14; IO 74). Norse sources regularly locate the place of Bartholomew’s martyrdom in a part of India, following accounts such as Beda, Martyrologium, col. 1015A: Natale S. Bartholomaei apostoli, qui apud Indiam Christi Evangelium praedicans, vivens a barbaris decoriatus est ‘The feast-day of the Apostle S. Bartholomew, who, preaching the gospel of Christ in India, was flayed alive by barbarians’. Cf. Barth1ˣ 752: Bartholomeus kendi kenningar a hinu yzta Indialandi, er liggr viðr heims enda. Hann var, sem fyrr er sagt, fleginn kvikr fyrir guðs nafni ‘Bartholomew preached the gospel in furthest India, which lies at the end of the world. He was, as has previously been mentioned, flayed alive in God’s name’; cf. Holm perg 5 fol, 59vb (Foote 1976, 154); AM 764 4° 16v. Although none of the many accounts of Bartholomew’s passion make specific mention of a flayer’s knife, the instrument of his martyrdom becomes Bartholomew’s standard iconographic attribute (see Braun 1943, 119-20; Kilström 1956, 175; Roeder 1956, 20), and it is not surprising to find this detail once again in the list of the fates of the Apostles in AM 660 4°, 23v (Foote, 1976, 153): Bartholomeus var pindr flegin hvdin med hnifi ok hoggvinn sidan a env yzsta Jndialandi ‘Bartholomew was tortured, his skin flayed with a knife, after which he was slain in furthest India’. It is possible that the author of Alpost drew the detail of the knife from a list such as this, although it is just as likely that both works simply record a well-known iconographic feature. The attribute figures in depictions of Bartholomew from medieval Iceland – in a picture of the saint with a knife and book on fol. 11v of the Icel. Teiknibók (c. 1420-40; Björn Th. Björnsson 1954, 87-8), and in an image on a C15th altar cloth from Hrafnagil, which depicts Bartholomew with a knife in one hand and what appears to be his flayed skin in the other (see Bagge 1956, 365-8; on these and other examples, see Foote 1976, 165-6).


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