Gyðingsvísur (‘Vísur about a Jew’)
Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘ Anonymous, Gyðingsvísur’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 515-26. <https://skaldic.org/m.php?p=text&i=1012> (accessed 8 December 2021)
for reference only: 10
Skj: [Anonyme digte og vers XIV]: [B. 13]. Af et digt om en rig mand, der gav alt sit bort, Gyðingsvísur. (AII, 539-41, BII, 597-9)
SkP info: VII, 515-26
Gyðingsvísur ‘Vísur about a Jew’ (Anon Gyð) is partially preserved on fol. 14v of AM 757 a 4° (B). B is very dark and fol. 14 in particular is badly worn, and it has been possible only to reconstruct the opening eight sts and an additional helmingr of this poem. The poor state of B means that this reconstruction is heavily dependent on previous transcriptions and eds of the poem, most notably JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ (399a-bˣ), a collection of transcripts of the Christian poems preserved in B made in the mid C19th, probably by Brynjólfur Snorrason, an Icel. student at the Arnamagnæan Instititute in Copenhagen from 1842-50 (see Attwood 1996a, 32-3 for a fuller discussion of this attribution). Brynjólfur’s transcripts were copied by Jón Sigurðsson in Lbs 444 4°ˣ, which was used by Sveinbjörn Egilsson in his preparation of his editions of some of the B poems in Fjøgur gømul kvæði (1844). Although Gyð is not included in this edn, Sveinbjörn made extensive annotations to Jón’s transcript, and these notes are often used as the basis for emendations of damaged text. The poem’s title is editorial: the paper folder containing the 399a-bˣ transcription, which predates Finnur Jónsson (see Attwood 1996a, 32), refers to the poem as Gyðingsvísur eða Guðsdrápa ‘Vísur about a Jew or God’s drápa’, although the first edn of LP (1860) refers to it consistently as Gyðingsvísur, a title which has been adopted by all later eds.
Gyð has been previously edited by Rydberg (1907), Finnur Jónsson (Skj A and B), Kock (Skald) and Attwood (1996a). Because B has deteriorated significantly since the early C20th, Rydberg’s transcription (1907, 41-3) and Finnur Jónsson’s A text are cited among the Readings for this edn, as they have frequently been able to see letter forms that are now invisible or uncertain. Their readings are designated BRydberg and BFJ.
The dating of Gyð is difficult because it is so fragmentary. Both Finnur Jónsson and Kock assigned it to the very end of the skaldic period, at least by implication, by virtue of the fact that they placed it last in the second volumes of their eds. However, the evidence of the fragment itself suggests an earlier dating, possibly early C14th. There is only one clear example of a metrically necessary desyllabified -ur (alsnauður 5/5) and no other clear indicators of post-1300 phonology or morphology. The metre is regular dróttkvætt and there are no examples, in the text we have, of breaches of Craigie’s law.
It is clear from sts 2-9 that the poem was the versification of a legend in which a generous Christian man, who had given away all of his own money, asks a Jew for a loan. It thus belongs to a group of medieval tales that problematise Christian-Jewish relationships by means of a plot concerning money-lending or usury, the best known of which is probably the flesh-bond tale used by William Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. The text of Gyð breaks off at the point at which the Christian is asked to lay down a pledge of some kind in return for gold, but the nature of the pledge is not made explicit. In the opening st., the poet says that his poem is to the glory of God and the Virgin Mary. This prompts the speculation that it might have contained a version of a legend in which an avaricious Jew is humiliated, and perhaps converted, by the intervention of the Virgin. Two versions of such a tale are preserved among the stories of Marian miracles edited alongside Maríu saga (Mar 1871, 87-92 and 1064-7; Schottmann 1973, 359-60). There are some similarities between this tale, which is extant in Lat. and several European vernaculars, and the surviving fragments of Gyð, though these are by no means sufficient to allow the postulation of a definite relationship between the texts. In the Marian legend, as in Gyð, a rich Christian living in Constantinople gives all his money away and is left destitute. He approaches a Jew for a loan and, after some procrastination, the Jew agrees, on condition that the Christian give him a pledge that the money will be repaid on a given date. The Christian makes several offers of a pledge, none of which is acceptable to the Jew. In the end, the Christian offers his Saviour as a pledge, and the Jew, protesting his unbelief, accepts this. The Christian then takes the Jew to a church, and each swears an oath on a picture of the Virgin and Child, whereupon the Jew gives the Christian the money he had required. The Christian, a merchant, leaves Constantinople and trades successfully abroad. Several years pass, and suddenly the Christian remembers that the time has come to redeem his pledge, the money being due the following day. He is too far from Constantinople to return in time and, in desperation, prays to the Virgin to help him find a solution. At Mary’s instigation, the money is put into a chest, which is launched into the sea and miraculously comes ashore outside the Jew’s house the following morning. The Christian eventually returns to Constantinople, to be met by an angry, triumphant Jew who professes to know nothing of the chest, and claims Christ as his slave. The Christian returns with the Jew to the church, and repeats the story of the Virgin’s intervention, under oath. At this, the Jew repents, and he and his family are converted to the Christian faith. Whether or not Gyð contained a version of this particular miracle story, it represents an interesting — and apparently unique — survival of a folktale about Christians and Jews in a skaldic poem.