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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Máríudrápa — Anon MdrVII

Anonymous Poems

Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Máríudrápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 476-514.


MáríudrápaDrápa about Mary’ (Anon Mdr) is partially preserved on fols 13v-14v of AM 757 a 4° (B) of c. 1400. The poem is essentially a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary and is in the dróttkvætt metre. Unlike much C14th Christian skaldic poetry, Mdr is not a narrative poem, but comprises a versified catalogue of epithets for Mary and prayers for her mediation and mercy. Two parallel sources of inspiration for the poem’s content and diction are evident. On the one hand, Mdr draws extensively on the C12th Christian drápur, notably the group of poems including Gamlkan Has, ESk Geisl, Anon Pl and Anon Leið, from which individual kennings, entire ll., refrains and structural techniques (such as the stefjabálkr:slœmr ‘link’ in st. 28) are borrowed. On the other hand, much of the poem’s Marian content derives from the wealth of Lat. or Lat.-inspired literature, the cult of the Virgin in the Christian liturgy, and hymns which circulated commonly throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia (see Warner 2000 for a wide-ranging study of the cult of Mary; Cormack 1994, 126-9 for a useful summary of the cult material in Iceland which relates to Mary, and Wrightson 2001, ix-xi for an account of Marian literature in medieval Iceland). Schottmann (1973, 535-8) has an analysis of the Marian diction in this poem.

Many of the staples of Marian symbolism, including imagery of the Virgin as a cure or salve, as queen, as reliquary and as gemstone, are here. Most of these figures were so commonplace that there is little point in seeking an immediate source for Mdr’s use of them. In three places, however, the sources can be pinponted exactly, since the Icel. poem offers a direct translation of a specific liturgical text. As Schottmann points out (1973, 49-59 and 493), sts 30-6 translate the antiphon for the Feast of the Assumption, Ave maris stella ‘Hail star of the sea’; sts 17-19 are a rendition of the antiphon Gaude virgo gratiosa ‘Rejoice, gracious virgin’, sometimes attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) (Schottmann 1973, 518-19), while st. 26 is a version of the Ave Maria ‘Hail Mary’ (Schottmann 1973, 494). In all cases, the translation is highly accurate, though the content of the Lat. has been slightly expanded, to allow the poet to reconcile it with the demands of dróttkvætt.

There is little reliable evidence for the dating or provenance of Mdr. Probable borrowings from the C12th drápur (cf. Schottmann 1973, 538) suggest that the poem is later than those texts. There are no independent borrowings from C13th texts. Mdr’s several correspondences with Anon Líkn invariably derive from a common source in the C12th drápur and there do not seem to be any direct borrowings from Mdr in later poetry. It seems likely, as Wrightson (2001, x) suggests, that latinate material, such as the Ave Maria, circulated widely in Iceland during the flourishing of the Mary cult in the C13-15th, although the fact that the Ave only became a part of obligatory Christian knowledge in Iceland from the later C13th may suggest a date for Mdr after 1275, the year of Bishop Árni’s Church Law in which the obligation first appears (for details, see Cormack 1994, 129 and nn. 311 and 312; Widding 1958). Finnur Jónsson (LH II, 125-7) dates the poem to the C14th and his dating is accepted here. To judge from the poem’s relatively regular metre, it probably belongs earlier rather than later in that century.

As with other poems edited from B, Mdr has suffered from that ms.’s poor state of preservation. There are remains of forty-three sts, representing the stefjabálkr (sts 1-27) and part of the slœmr (sts 28-43) of the original poem. The fact that the three refrains are initially quoted in full (sts 3, 6 and 9) and then abbreviated when repeated, and that st. 28 explicitly refers to the beginning of the slœmr suggests that the stefjabálkr has survived complete. If Mdr was indeed constructed on the model of the C12th drápur we can postulate an approximate ratio of upphaf:stefjabálkr:slœmr of 1: 1.5 : 1, which would give a total length of some sixty-three sts, arranged 18: 27: 18. This suggests that one st. has been omitted from the end of the poem in B’s text.

Mdr has been previously edited by Konráð Gíslason (1860, sts 1-9 only), Rydberg 1907, Skj A and B, Skald and by Attwood 1996a.

It has been necessary to rely on previous transcriptions and eds of the poem to reconstruct the text in many places. The transcription preserved in JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ (399a-bˣ) is not, unlike other transcriptions from B preserved in that loosely-bound collection of paper copies of poetic texts, the work of Jón Sigurðsson, though it does bear corrections in his hand. Nor does it appear to be the work of either Brynjólfur Snorrason or Jón Þorkelsson, both of whom are known to have produced transcriptions of the poetic texts from B during the 1840s (see Attwood 1996a, 31-5). The transcription in Lbs 444 4°ˣ (444ˣ), however, which appears to be a direct copy of the 399a-bˣ text, is Jón Sigurðsson’s work, and has suggestions for emendation and other marginal notes by Sveinbjörn Egilsson, although he did not publish an edn of Mdr alongside the other texts from B in his 1844 schooltext Fjøgur gømul kvæði. For ease of reference, 399a-bˣ in the apparatus should be taken as shorthand for both the 399a-bˣ and 444ˣ transcripts. Extensive use has also been made of Hugo Rydberg’s transcription of B (Rydberg 1907), which is generally reliable, though less conservative than the 444ˣ transcription, in that Rydberg incorporates speculative reconstructions (always annotated) in his edn. Finnur Jónsson’s transcription (Skj AII, 464-72) relies heavily on Rydberg. Where these two transcriptions are cited in the Readings, they appear as BRydberg and BFJ respectively.

Sts 36-9 are very badly affected by the severe damage to the lower half of B fol. 14. What remains legible has been included here, and the text has been reconstructed, where meaningful, according to 399a-bˣ, Rydberg’s transcription and Skj A, where the authors of those transcripts indicate certainty about the reading. The reconstructions of these sts proposed by Rydberg (1907, 56-7) and by Jón Sigurðsson or Sveinbjörn Egilsson (marginal notes to 444ˣ) have not generally been adopted, unless these can be reconciled, at least in part, with the remains that are still visible. Prose arrangements and translations have only been proposed for these sts where sufficient text remains to make this worthwhile.


  1. Bibliography
  2. 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.
  3. Attwood, Katrina. 1996a. ‘The Poems of MS AM 757a 4to: An Edition and Contextual Study’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Leeds.
  4. Cormack, Margaret. 1994. The Saints in Iceland: Their Veneration from the Conversion to 1400. Studia Hagiographica 78. Brussels: Société des Bollandistes.
  5. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  6. Schottmann, Hans. 1973. Die isländische Mariendichtung. Untersuchungen zur volkssprachigen Mariendichtung des Mittelalters. Münchner germanistische Beiträge 9. Munich: Fink.
  7. Warner, Marina. 2000. Alone of all her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary. London: Vintage.
  8. Widding, Ole. 1958. ‘Ave Maria eller Maríuvers i nørron litteratur’. MM, 1-7.
  9. Wrightson, Kellinde, ed. 2001. Fourteenth-Century Icelandic Verse on the Virgin Mary: Drápa af Maríugrát, Vitnisvísur af Maríu, Maríuvísur I-III. Viking Society for Northern Research Text Series 14. University College London: Viking Society for Northern Research.
  10. LH = Finnur Jónsson. 1920-4. Den oldnorske og oldislandske litteraturs historie. 3 vols. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Gad.
  11. Internal references
  12. Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Leiðarvísan’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 137-78.
  13. George S. Tate 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Líknarbraut’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 228-86.
  14. Jonna Louis-Jensen and Tarrin Wills 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Plácitusdrápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 179-220.
  15. Martin Chase 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Einarr Skúlason, Geisli’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 5-65.
  16. Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Gamli kanóki, Harmsól’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 70-132.

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