Kari Ellen Gade 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Vitnisvísur af Máríu’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 739-57.
Vitnisvísur af Máríu ‘Testimonial Vísur about Mary’ (Anon Vitn) is one of six poems included in this vol. which describe miracles of the Virgin Mary (Mv I, Mv II, Mv III, Brúðv, Gyð; see also Schottmann 1973, 337-89). The 26 sts of the poem are preserved in two mss dated to the first half of the C16th, AM 713 4° (713) and AM 721 4° (721), both of which were most likely written in the north of Iceland (see Kålund 1889-94, II, 128-31, 149-50; Wrightson 2001, xii-xv). A copy of the text in 713 (AM 711a 4°ˣ, 711aˣ, 49v-74v, verso only) was made in the early C18th by Árni Magnússon (see Kålund 1889-94, II, 125-6), but, because the text of Vitn in 713 does not contain any illegible places, 711aˣ has not been considered in the present edn. Vitn is written on pp. 83-5 in 713, following a late poem about the Virgin Mary (Jesús móðirinn jungfrú skær ‘mother of Jesus, pure Virgin’; see Jón Þorkelsson 1888, 49; ÍM II, 243-5) and preceding Máríuvísur I ‘Vísur about Mary I’ (Mv I). In 721, Vitn begins on fol. 10v (sts 1-6/1-3), continues on fol. 12r and ends on fol. 12v (Anon Mey 4/7-28/5 are recorded on fols 11r-v). Here Vitn follows the later Ceciliudiktur ‘S. Cecilia’s poem’ (see Jón Þorkelsson 1888, 88; ÍM II, 341-6) and precedes Mv I. Because 713 offers the better readings and 721 contains quite a few damaged or illegible places, 713 has been chosen as the main ms. For earlier eds of Vitn, see Kahle (1898, 49-55, 102-3), Sperber (1911, 23-9, 69-73), Wrightson (2001, 27-39; see also Wrightson 1997c, 132-6), Skj A (II, 483-7), Skj B (II, 520-6) and Skald (II, 285-8).
Vitn has no heading in 713, but in 721 the caption witnis wijsur ‘testimonial verses’ has been added in a later hand (top of fol. 10v). ÁM introduces the poem as follows in 711aˣ (49r): Þessar vitnes visur af Mariu eru ritadar ur þeim rotnu kalfskinns blo᷎dum fra Sr Olafi gislasyne ä Hofi i Vopnafirde, in 4to ‘These testimonial verses about Mary are copied from the rotten parchment leaves from Reverend Ólafur Gíslason at Hof in Vopnafjörður, in 4°’ (i.e. 713; see Kålund 1889-94, II, 131).
St. 1 of Vitn contains an invocation to God and Christ, followed by a prayer to S. Andrew (st. 2). Sts 3-24 narrate the Marian miracle, which can be summarised as follows (see also Wrightson 1994, 140-4). A king’s daughter is raised in her youth together with a boy; they fall in love and pledge their troth in a church before an image of Mary and Christ (sts 3-8). The boy grows up, becomes a powerful man and forgets the woman, who, after the death of her father, has been reduced to poverty (sts 9-10). When she confronts him about their prior betrothal, he denounces her and accuses her of lying (sts 11-12). She tells her story to a bishop who summons the man to testify in the church before the image of Mary and Christ (sts 13-15). The man denies the charges, the woman appeals to Mary and Christ, who had witnessed the earlier betrothal, and both confirm the woman’s story (sts 15-21). The man confesses, and he and the woman are reunited (sts 22-3). The poem ends with praise of Mary and a plea for salvation (sts 24-6).
In modern discussions, the miracle described in the poem is variously referred to as utro elsker ‘Faithless Lover’ (Widding 1996, 21) or ‘Jilted Fiancée’ (Wrightson 1997c, 120-1; see also Wrightson 1995, 87). A prose version of the same miracle is recorded twice in Maríu saga (Mar 1871, 298-301, no. 88A: Vitnisbvrðr heilagrar Marie ‘The testimonial of Holy Mary’ [Holm perg 11 4°], Frá sueini ‘Concerning a boy’ [Holm perg 1 4°]; Mar 1871, 302-6, no. 88B: Her seghir af einum rikum manne ‘Here it is told about a wealthy man’ [AM 233 a fol]). Although the poem departs from the prose on certain occasions (see Sperber 1911, x-xi; Schottmann 1973, 374-5), there are enough parallels between the prose texts (esp. Holm perg 11 4°; AM 233 a fol) and Vitn to suggest that the poet must have based his narrative on a version of the miracle similar to that found in Mar (see Note to 3/2 below; but see also Wrightson 1994, 141-6). The miracle is not recorded in any Lat. Marian compendium and appears to be an indigenous Icel. composition.
Vitn and Máríuvísur I-III ‘Vísur about Mary I-III’ (Mv I-III) are structured in the same way (st. 1: invocation to God and Christ; st. 2: prayer to S. Andrew, followed by the narrative of a Marian miracle and a final plea to the Virgin Mary), and the four poems are all recorded in 713 and/or 721. Therefore some scholars have held the view that they were composed by the same poet (so Kahle 1898, 17; Sperber 1911, xi; Wrightson 2001, xv-xvi), while others find that unlikely (so LH III, 17 n. 5; Schottmann 1973, 352-4). It is true that the invocations to Andrew, all of which occur in st. 2, are striking (on the cult of S. Andrew in Iceland, see Jón Þorkelsson 1888, 61; Cormack 1994, 78-80; and Anon Andr in this vol.). Moreover, according to Vitn (st. 2), the poet had previously composed poetry in honour of Mary, and there are verbal correspondences between the poems, especially between Vitn and Mv I. However, the four poems contain linguistic variation, which suggests different times of composition (see Schottmann 1973, 353 n. 18). Although the possibility that two or more of the poems can be attributed to the same poet cannot be excluded, it is more likely that they were composed within the same tradition but by different poets.
Vitn is composed in dróttkvætt metre with certain irregularities like extrametrical pronouns, which have been retained in the present edn. The poem exhibits linguistic features consistent with a late C14th or early C15th date of composition (see Jón Þorkelsson 1888, 41; Kahle 1898, 3; LH III, 16; Schottmann 1973, 351-2; Wrightson 2001, xvii-xviii).
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