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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Pétrsdrápa — Anon PétVII

Anonymous Poems

David McDougall 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Pétrsdrápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 796-844.


The extant text of PétrsdrápaDrápa about the Apostle Peter’ (Anon Pét) consists of 54 dróttkvætt sts. There are a considerable number of metrical irregularities in Pét, doubtless because of the poem’s late date, and these are greater in the second half (cf. sts 18, 20, 26, 27, 28 [skjalfhent], 31, 33, 36, 42). Pét is a stefjadrápa with two refrains, the placement of which suggests some broad section-divisions based on subject matter. Sts 1 to 8 form an introduction in which the author professes his faith, confesses past sins, pleads for mercy from God and Mary, and begs indulgence of his listeners. Sts 9 to 36 deal (for the most part) with Peter’s early discipleship: (inter alia) his vocation, his attempt to walk to Christ on the sea, his earning of the name Cephas/Petrus, his presence at the Transfiguration, his vow never to abandon his master. Sts 38 to 48, framed by the two stef ‘refrains’ (sts 37 and 49), focus on Peter’s role in the Passion story: his attempt to defend Jesus in Gethsemane, his threefold denial and bitter remorse, Christ’s appearance to him after the Resurrection to offer forgiveness and consolation. The remaining sts (50-4) deal with some of the ‘acts’ of Peter after the Ascension: his miraculous deliverance from prison (Acts III.1-10), his cure of a lame beggar (Acts III.1-6), his revivification of Tabitha in Joppa (Acts IX.36-42). The poem ends abruptly with an account of his healing of Eneas in Lydda (Acts IX.32-5).

In the text as it stands, however, this broad pattern is frequently disturbed. St. 33, for instance, on Peter’s condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts V.1-11) looks as though it belongs in the final section of the poem. And as the scriptural parallels for sts 50 to 54 illustrate, little attention appears to be paid to chronology in the presentation of episodes from scripture. Close verbal parallels for much of the poem are found in Pétrs saga postula I (Pétr), and the author of Pét clearly used a version of that text as a source (see Notes passim). In fact, a more logical verse order is suggested in part by the sequence of parallel passages in Pétr: st. 9 (cf. Pétr 1/9-10), 10 (cf. 1/11-12), 11 (cf. 1/10-14), 12 (cf. 1/14-2/3), 13 (cf. 2/6-13), 14 (cf. 2/15-16), 27 (cf. 2/21-30), 28, 15 (cf. 3/31-4/4), 17/5-8 (cf. 4/4-6), 18, 16/5-8 (cf. 5/5-8), 17/1-4 (cf. 5/8-9), 22 (cf. 5/24-33), 23 (cf. 5/33-6/1), 24 (cf. 6/9-11), 31, 32 (cf. 6/12-14), 19 (cf. 6/32-7/5), 20 (cf. 7/4-9, 20-4), 21 (cf. 8/6-23), 26 (cf. 9/2-5), 29 (cf. 12/13-14), 36, 37 (first stef), 39 (cf. 13/21-4), 41, 42 (cf. 14/2-22), 40 (cf. 14/23-4), 38, 43-4 (cf. 14/24), 45 (cf. 15/24-5), 46 (cf. 15/27-8), 47, 48, 16/1-4 (cf. 16/23-5), 25 (cf. 16/31-17/12), 49 (second stef), 30, 52 (cf. 24/1-9), 33 (cf. 27/20-8/34), 54 (cf. 40/2-9), 53 (cf. 40/10-1/10), 50 (cf. 72/14-16), 51 (cf. 72/30-3/2), 34, 35 (cf. 109/2-7) (see Notes passim). However, the author of Pét may never have intended to adhere to a strict chronological sequence (cf., e.g., st. 16, Notes); and even when arranged in the order indicated above the sts do not form a continuous narrative.

Pétr is preserved in a single medieval vellum — AM 621 4° (621), dated c. 1450-1500 (see ONP Registre, 457; cf. Foote 1990, 12). It is written on fols 57v-59v, immediately after the text of Pétr which fills most of the manuscript (text B2 in Unger 1874, xv; cf. Kålund 1889-94, II, 33-4; ONP Registre, 356; Foote 1990, 12). A copy of st. 5 of the poem in an C18th (?) hand is written upside-down in the lower margin of fol. 23r, and a transcript of the whole text from 621 by Steingrímur Thorsteinsson (1831-1913) is found in AM 920 4°ˣ.

Jón Þorkelsson (1888, 63-4) argued that the apparent lacunae in the text indicate that it was copied (at some stage in its transmission) from an older vellum which the transcriber had difficulty reading, and he suggested that the poem was therefore af en betydelig ælde ‘of a considerable age’. However, the author’s clear dependence on a text of Pétr provides a terminus post quem of some time in the early C14th, the probable date of composition of that text (see Foote 1990, 12 and 14; Foote 1993, 250).

The poem is untitled in 621. In Steingrímur’s transcript in 920 it bears the heading Pꜵtrs-drápa postula. Konráð Gíslason (1860, x, xiii, 557) uses the title Pꜵtrs Drápa (cf. Unger 1874, xv). Kahle (1898) refers to the poem variously as Pétrsdrápa (3, 13, 20, 109), Petrs drápa (vii, 4), Petrsdrápa postula (12) and Petrs drápa postula (78). Pétrsdrápa is the title adopted by Jón Þorkelsson (1888, 63), Finnur Jónsson (Skj AII, 500; BII, 545; LP xv) and Kock (Skald II, 299).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Unger, C. R., ed. 1874. Postola sögur: Legendariske fortællinger om Apostlernes liv, deres kamp for kristendommens udbredelse, samt deres martyrdød. Christiania (Oslo): Bentzen.
  3. Foote, Peter G., ed. 1990. A Saga of St. Peter the Apostle. Perg. 4:o nr 19 in the Royal Library, Stockholm. EIM 19.
  4. Foote, Peter G. 1993. ‘A Fragment of Text in AM 235 fol’. In Nielsen et al. 1993, 237-55.
  5. Jón Þorkelsson [J. Thorkelsson]. 1888. Om digtningen på Island i det 15. og 16. århundrede. Copenhagen: Høst & søns forlag.
  6. Kahle, Bernhard, ed. 1898. Isländische geistliche Dichtungen des ausgehenden Mittelalters. Heidelberg: Winter.

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