Noble heathens: the synthesis of the christian and the pre-christian in Plácitusdrápa

  • James Michael McIntosh PhD, University of Cambridge

Abstract

Plácitusdrápa is a twelfth-century skaldic poem based on the Legend of St Eustace. The drápa contains numerous kennings which allude to pre-Christian myth and legend. Scholars have largely dismissed these kennings as recycling material that had lost any cultural meaning as mere formal aspects of skaldic meter. An examination of the kennings and their distribution in the drápa, however, suggests that the skald was making conscious use of the material to embellish aspects of narrative and characterisation. Furthermore, the representation of heathen characters appears to have been influenced by the courtly drápa form. The relative positivity and negativity of the depiction of heathen characters appears to be tied to the nobility of their birth, with characters such as Emperors Trajan and Hadrian having more positive aspects. There is therefore evidence of a conscious two-way synthesis of Christian and pre-Christian material in Plácitusdrápa, rather than new Christian material being forced into a traditional secular form.

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Published
2019-09-21
Section
Articles