Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Heilagra meyja drápa — Anon MeyVII

Anonymous Poems

Kirsten Wolf 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Heilagra meyja drápa’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 891-930.


Heilagra meyja drápaDrápa about Holy Maidens’ (Anon Mey) is a martyrology within the genre of hagiographic literature. Composed in hrynhent metre and under the same kind of new rhetorical influence perceptible in Anon Lil, it tells of a number of female saints, including some that are otherwise unknown in Iceland. The introductory sts (upphaf) are devoted to holy women named Mary. The first ten sts are in praise of the Virgin Mary and her mother, S. Anne, and of her two half-sisters, Mary the wife of Alphaeus and Mary the wife of Zebedee. The story of the Marys is continued with the account of Mary Magdalene in sts 11-13 and Mary of Egypt in sts 14-16. The first stef (refrain) occurs in st. 17 and introduces the middle section of the poem (sts 17-37), the stefjabálkr, ornamented with two refrains. The first is found at sts 17/5-8, 21/5-8 and 25/5-8, the second at sts 29/5-8, 33/5-8 and 37/5-8. In this middle section the poet turns to the virgin martyrs and describes the passions of Cecilia (sts 18-21), Catherine of Alexandria (sts 22-4), Agatha (sts 26-8), Agnes (sts 30-2) and Margaret of Antioch (sts 34-6). In Mey’s concluding section or slœmr the poet treats SS. Lucy of Sicily (sts 38-9), Lucy of Rome (sts 40-1), Anastasia (sts 42-3), Juliana (sts 44-5), Eufemia (sts 46-7), Christina (sts 48-9), S. Brigid of Kildare (sts 50-1), then SS. Barbara (st. 52), Sunniva (st. 53), Ursula and the 11,000 virgins (st. 54), Petronilla (st. 55), and Scholastica (st. 56). In st. 57, the poet makes brief mention of the little-known SS. Felicity, Sabina, Praxis, Putentiana, Constantia, Clare, Prisca, and Pusina, and in st. 58 of Sophia and her daughters, Fides, Spes, and Caritas. In st. 59, the poet notes that a much larger group of notable women than those mentioned serve the Virgin Mary, and that it is to these exemplary women that the poem is dedicated. The final st. (60) is a plea to the Blessed Virgin for her intercession on the Day of Judgement.

The poem has been dated to the C14th by Finnur Jónsson, though there is no firm evidence for this and it may equally have been composed in the C15th. The title ‘Heilagra meyja drápa’ is not original, but has become traditional; in Reykjavík, AM 721 4° (721), a later hand has added the title ‘Af heilögum meyjum’, and in AM 713 4° (713) the title ‘Meyja drápa’ has been added.

Mey is extant in two vellum mss, 713 and 721, both of the first half of the C16th. 721 has been chosen as the base ms. for this edn because it is in better condition than 713, which is almost illegible in several places. Sts 1-2 are also in Lbs. 444 4°ˣ (444ˣ) of c. 1829-50; the text of Mey (here called ‘Um heilagar meyjar’) is copied from 713 by Jón Sigurðsson (1811-79) but with variants from 721. The pages of 444ˣ, which consists of leaves and slips of paper, are unnumbered. Lbs. 2166 4°ˣ of c. 1885-1920 includes only sts 1 and 60: the text of Mey (here called ‘Meyjadrápa’ or ‘Drápa af heilögum meyjum’) is copied from 713 by Páll Eggert Ólason (1883-1949) but incorporates variants from 721.

The leaves of 721 on which Mey has been copied have been disturbed at some time from their correct order, and the present folio numbering of the ms. is consequently incorrect. Kålund (1888-94, II, no. 1818) listed Mey as occupying fols 8v-10r, and commented that there was a lacuna after fol. 8. At some time between Kålund’s inspection and the present, the original foliation has been changed and the leaves wrongly ordered, so that the poem begins in the middle of 8v (st. 1 - st. 4/7), continues with 4/7 hrein to the end of st. 4 on fol. 11r-v (this should be 9r-v), and concludes on fol. 10r, where it is followed half-way down the page by Cecilíudiktur. To add to the confusion, fol. 11r now bears both the numbers 11 (crossed through) and 9.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Kålund, Kristian. 1888-94. Katalog over den Arnamagnæanske håndskriftsamling. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
  3. Internal references
  4. Martin Chase 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Lilja’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 544-677.
  5. Not published: do not cite ()

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