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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Heilagra manna drápa — Anon HeilVII

Anonymous Poems

Kirsten Wolf 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Heilagra manna drápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 872-90.


Heilagra manna drápaDrápa about Holy Men’ (Anon Heil), which is fragmentary, comprising 26 whole or part sts, belongs to the category of hagiographic literature. Composed in hrynhent metre, it tells of the passion of a number of male martyr saints. The saints included are, in the order in which they are presented: two English saints, Thomas Becket (sts 1-4) and King Edmund of East Anglia (sts 5-8); Dionysius (Denis [or Denys], bishop of Paris), and his associates, Rusticus and Eleutherius (sts 10-14), Blaise (bishop of Sebastea) (sts 15-19); King Knútr of Denmark and his brother Benedikt (sts 20-1); the Norw. Hallvarðr of Vík (Oslo) (sts 22-3) and Maurice and his legion (sts 25-6). Sts 9b, 14b, 19b and 24b contain the drápa’s one extant stef, though st. 4b is arguably the remains of another (see Note to 4/5-8 for discussion of this and the lost opening of the poem). The poet is anonymous. Finnur Jónsson (Skj) assigned the poem to C14th, but it may well be somewhat later, possibly from C15th. The title ‘Helgra manna drápa’ appears first in JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ (399a-bˣ) and may not be original.

Most of the martyrs celebrated in Heil were venerated in medieval Iceland (Cormack 1994). More detailed information about their legends, cults, and the churches which are known to have adopted them as patrons or possessed images of them is given in the Notes.

The only medieval ms. of Heil, Copenhagen, AM 720 a VI 4° (720a VI), of C15th, consists of only two leaves, the upper portions of which are severely damaged by two holes. 399a-bˣ, a ms. of C18th and 19th, contains the text of Heil copied from 720a VI by Þorvaldur Bjarnarson (1840-1906) and has been used selectively in the present edn. Lbs 2166 4°ˣ, c. 1885-1920, includes only the title of the poem in the hand of Páll Eggert Ólason (1883-1949).

Aside from the eds of Heil in Skj and Skald, there is an edn of the poem in Kahle 1898, 90-6 and 112-13.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Cormack, Margaret. 1994. The Saints in Iceland: Their Veneration from the Conversion to 1400. Studia Hagiographica 78. Brussels: Société des Bollandistes.
  3. Kahle, Bernhard, ed. 1898. Isländische geistliche Dichtungen des ausgehenden Mittelalters. Heidelberg: Winter.

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