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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Kátrínardrápa — Kálf KátrVII

Kálfr Hallsson

Kirsten Wolf 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Kálfr Hallsson, Kátrínardrápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 931-64.


KátrínardrápaDrápa about S. Catherine’ (Kálf Kátr) belongs to the genre of hagiographic literature. Composed in hrynhent metre, and with the use of many kennings, it tells the story of the passion of S. Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine, a young woman of noble birth and learned in the sciences, presented herself to the Emperor Maxentius (r. 306-12), who was violently persecuting the Christians, and endeavoured to prove how iniquitous was the worship of pagan gods. Unable to vie with her in point of learning, the emperor summoned fifty philosophers, with whom she successfully disputed and whom she converted. Enraged, the emperor then ordered her to be tortured and imprisoned. Meanwhile, the empress, eager to meet Catherine, went with Porphyry, the head of the troops, to visit her in the prison. Yielding to Catherine’s exhortations, the empress and Porphyry were baptised and immediately won the crown of martyrdom. Catherine herself was subsequently beheaded.

On the whole, the poem follows the ON-Icel. prose legend (ed. Unger 1877, I, 400-21; Wolf 2003, 123-41 [text], 174-6 [commentary]) closely, and the number of verbal similarities between the two texts led Kahle (1898, 12) to conclude that the poet knew and used the prose version. On the sources of the prose text, see Foote 1962, 26. The drápa is divided into the introductory upphaf (sts 1-16), the stefjabálkr (sts 17-33) and the concluding slœmr (sts 34-51). There is one refrain or stef at sts 17, 21, 25, 29 and 33. The title ‘Kátrínar drápa’ may not be original; in AM 713 4° it is added in the margin in a later hand. The poem probably dates from the second half of the C14th; it shows metrical laxity in places and at least one revealing misunderstanding of the kenning system (see Notes to 14/3-4 and 20/6).

Kátr has been previously edited by Kahle (1898), Sperber (1911), Finnur Jónsson (Skj A and B) and Kock (Skald).

Manuscripts and their dates:
Reykjavík, AM 713 4° (713): first half of C16th. The ms. is damaged in places, and the paper transcripts, made when 713 was more legible, have sometimes provided readings which are lacking in 713. They are used selectively in the present edn where 713 is defective.
Lbs 444 4°ˣ (444ˣ): c. 1820-1850 (only sts 1-2); the text of Kátr is copied from 713 by Jón Sigurðsson (1811-79). It is not possible to give page numbers for 444ˣ, as this ms. consists of unnumbered leaves and slips of paper.
JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ: C18th and 19th; the text of Kátr is copied from 713 by Þorvaldur Bjarnarson (1840-1906).
AM 920 4°ˣ: C19th, written primarily by Steingrímur Thorsteinsson (1831-1913); the text of Kátr is copied from 713.
Lbs 2166 4°: c. 1885-1920 (only l. 1 of st. 1) in the hand of Páll Eggert Ólason (1883-1949).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Unger, C. R., ed. 1877. Heilagra manna søgur. Fortællinger og legender om hellige mænd og kvinder. 2 vols. Christiania (Oslo): Bentzen.
  3. Skj A = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15a. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. A: Tekst efter håndskrifterne. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1967. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. Sperber, Hans, ed. 1911. Sechs isländische Gedichte legendarischen Inhalts. Uppsala Universitets årsskrift, filosofi, språkvetenskap och historiska vetenskaper 2. Uppsala: Akademische Buchdruckerei Edv. Berling.
  6. Wolf, Kirsten, ed. 2003. Heilagra meyja sögur. Íslenzk trúarrit 1. Reykjavík: Bókmenntafræðistofnun Háskóla Íslands.
  7. Foote, Peter G., ed. 1962. Lives of Saints. Perg. fol. nr. 2 in the Royal Library, Stockholm. EIM 4.
  8. Kahle, Bernhard, ed. 1898. Isländische geistliche Dichtungen des ausgehenden Mittelalters. Heidelberg: Winter.

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