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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Allra postula minnisvísur — Anon AlpostVII

Anonymous Poems

Ian McDougall 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Allra postula minnisvísur’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 852-71.


Allra postula minnisvísur ‘Celebratory Vísur about All the Apostles’ (Anon Alpost) is preserved on fol. 15r-v of AM 721 4° (721), a poetical miscellany compiled in the first half of the C16th (Kålund 1888-94, II, 149; cf. Jón Helgason 1953, 162). The poem consists of thirteen sts of ten ll. each, or rather, thirteen regular dróttkvætt sts of eight ll., with a two-l. refrain in runhent added to the end of each st. The poem falls into the category of minnisvísur ‘celebratory verses’, as indicated by its title (added in the top margin of 721, 15r, in a C17th hand), and by the formulaic final couplets (all of which contain the end-rhyme inni : minni). Each Apostle is represented as being welcomed in turn into a convivial company (folk ‘people’ 12/9; sveit ‘company’ 13/9) gathered at a feast (í samkundu ‘at [our] feast’ 12/5), where he is honoured with a minni, or memorial cup or toast. Solheim (1966, 632) argues that the custom represented in Alpost recalls the heathen tradition of drinking memorial toasts in honour of one’s dead kinsmen (cf. the older sense of minni, ‘remembrance’; see Hkr I, 168 (Hákgóð, ch. 14); Fritzner: minni n. 3; cf. full, veig). In his thorough examination of the subject, however, Rudolf Meissner argues persuasively that the sense in which minni is used in Alpost, ‘celebratory toast’, is a semantic loan from German Minne f. ‘love’ (see Meissner 1930, 236, and e.g. Grimm 1854-1954: Minne 5: minne trinken; Benecke, Müller and Zarncke 1854-66: Minne, stf. [strong f.] 1-2), and demonstrates that the author’s conception of a symposium in honour of the Apostles can be traced to the tradition of drinking toasts in amore sanctorum ‘to the love of saints’ (see Meissner 1930, 239-44; cf. Note to st. 4/7). Although it has been suggested that Alpost may have been recited at religious gatherings where a toast was actually drunk to the Apostle mentioned in each st., in celebration of a feast day such as the Divisio Apostolorum (15 July, see Meissner 1930, 237; Jón Helgason 1953, 163; Jakob Benediktsson 1961, 319-20), the repetition of toasts in the refrains may well be merely a literary convention. Meissner compares the theme and structure of the C10th Lat. poem Exoritur hodie virga radicis Iessae... ‘Today there sprouts forth a rod of the root of Jesse’ (von Winterfeld 1899, 350-3), which is divided into twelve sections honouring various saints as well as one royal patron, each section ending with a cleverly varied refrain in the form of a toast — providing a convincing parallel to the formal arrangement of Alpost.

The poet allots a commemorative st. to each of the Apostles in turn, who are celebrated in the order: Peter, Paul, Andrew, John, James ‘the Great’, son of Zebedee, Thomas, Philip, James ‘the Less’, son of Alphaeus, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, Thaddaeus and Matthias — a sequence which matches neither the order of Matt. X.2, Acts I.26, nor of any of the many other lists of Apostles available from medieval sources, particularly Icel. lists such as those contained in Holm perg 5 fol, 59va-60ra (c. 1350-65), AM 660 4°, 23v (c. 1475-1500; see Foote 1976, 153-5), and AM 764 4°, 16v (c. 1360-80), nor in popular lists of prayers to the Apostles (see Gjerløw 1980, I, 171-89), nor in the ordering of hymns to the Apostles (cf. AH 51, 121-5, no. 107; CH, nos 81-90; DH, nos 104-14) in versions of the so-called ‘New Hymnal’ (see Gneuss 1968, 55-83; Gneuss 1974, 407-24; Gneuss 1985, 118-19). Such lists follow the basic logic of moving from the greatest of the Apostles, Peter (Yfirpostula æstan ‘noblest chief Apostle’ 1/5), to the least, Matthias, and contain commonplace details about their lives and traditional attributes, which appear once again in Alpost (see Notes passim). Further details in the poem, many derived ultimately from scripture, are paralleled in brief martyrological accounts such as Isidore of Seville’s De Ortu et Obitu Patrum (IO), or the so-called Festa omnium Apostolorum (Festa), or the Breviarium Apostolorum ex nomine vel locis ubi praedicaverunt, orti vel obiti sunt (Brev.; see Notes passim).

The poem is doubtless older than the C16th ms. in which it is preserved, although the presence of late words such as stím ‘tumult’ (5/6), plagaz ‘he devotes himself’ (see Note to 12/8) and frómi ‘celebrate’ (3rd pers. sg. pres. subj., see Note to 12/9), and one possible instance of a desyllabified m. nom. sg. ending -ur, required by the metre instead of older -r (see Note to 8/7), when considered together, suggest a date of composition later than the mid-C14th (cf. Meissner 1930, 232). Apart from its subject, Alpost has nothing in common with the late poem Tólf postula kvæði preserved on pp. 102-4 of AM 713 4° (compiled after c. 1540, see Jón Helgason 1953, 162; ÍM II, 274-7). There is, however, an indisputable connection between Alpost and another late poem, Ceciliudiktur (ÍM II, 341-6), one version of which is written earlier in 721 (10r-v) and in the same hand as Alpost. The first 30 sts of the poem are written as end-rhymed sts of six ll. each, but the final st. (721, 10v/21-4) adopts exactly the same form used in Alpost, a regular dróttkvætt st. followed by a rhyming couplet, the phrasing of which is almost identical to the closing ll. of Alpost 7 (see Notes to 1/9-10, 7/9-10). The evident relationship between Alpost and Ceciliudiktur 31, and the striking change of metre between that st. and the other 30 sts. of the latter poem clearly suggest that it originally formed part of a separate skaldic composition, quite possibly written by the author of Alpost. Although nothing certain can be said of the circumstances in which Alpost was composed, it is by no means out of place in ms. 721, a collection of late religious poetry. It is interesting that the ms. elsewhere contains verses on the Apostles Peter (16v-17r, ÍM II, 280-3), James the Great (17r-v, ÍM II, 313-16), and Bartholemew (25r-v, ÍM II, 318-24).


  1. Bibliography
  2. AH = Dreves, G. M., C. Blume and H. M. Bannister, eds. 1886-1922. Analecta hymnica medii aeui. 55 vols. Leipzig: Reisland. Rpt. 1961. New York: Johnson.
  3. Brev. = [Anonymous] ‘Incipit breviarium Apostolorum ex nomine vel locis ubi praedicaverunt, orti vel obiti sunt’. In Acta Sanctorum Novembris collecta digesta illustrata II.2, 3-4.
  4. CH = Wieland, Gernot R., ed. 1982. The Canterbury Hymnal. Toronto Medieval Latin Texts 12. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
  5. DH = Milfull, Inge B. 1996. The Hymns of the Anglo-Saxon Church: A study and edition of the ‘Durham Hymnal’. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England 17. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Winterfeld, P. von, ed. 1899. Poetae latini aevi carolini. Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Poetae latini medii aevi IV, 1. Berlin: Weidmann.
  7. Fritzner = Fritzner, Johan. 1883-96. Ordbog over det gamle norske sprog. 3 vols. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske forlagsforening. 4th edn. Rpt. 1973. Oslo etc.: Universitetsforlaget.
  8. Gjerløw, Lilli. 1980. Liturgica Islandica. 2 vols. BA 35-6. Copenhagen: Reitzel.
  9. Gneuss, Helmut. 1968. Hymnar und Hymnen im englischen Mittelalter: Studien zur Überlieferung, Glossierung, und Übersetzung lateinischer Hymnen in England. Buchreihe der Anglia 12. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  10. Gneuss, Helmut. 1985. ‘Liturgical books in Anglo-Saxon England and their Old English terminology’. In Lapidge et al. 1985, 91-141.
  11. Grimm, Jakob [Jacob] and Wilhelm Grimm. 1854-1954. Deutsches Wörterbuch. 32 vols. Leipzig: Hirzel. Rpt. 1984. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag.
  12. ÍM = Jón Helgason, ed. 1936-8. Íslenzk miðaldarkvæði: Islandske digte fra senmiddelalderen. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  13. IO = Gómez, César C., ed. 1985. [Isidore of Seville] De ortu et obitu patrum. Auteurs Latins du Moyen Age. Paris: Société d’Editions ‘Les Belles Lettres’.
  14. Jón Helgason. 1953. ‘Norges og Islands digtning’. In Sigurður Nordal 1953a, 3-179.
  15. Kålund, Kristian. 1888-94. Katalog over den Arnamagnæanske håndskriftsamling. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
  16. Meissner, Rudolf. 1930. ‘Minnetrinken in Island und in der Auvergne’. In Vogt et al. 1930, .
  17. Gneuss, Helmut. 1974. ‘Latin Hymns in Medieval England’. In Rowland 1974, 407-24.
  18. Jakob Benediktsson. 1961. ‘Helgendigte’. KLNM 6, 318-21.
  19. Internal references
  20. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  21. Ian McDougall (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Allra postula minnisvísur 7’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 861-2.

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