Plácidus saga, edited by John Tucker.

With an edition of Plácitus drápa by Jonna Louis-Jensen.

Editiones Arnamagnæanæ Series B, vol. 31.

Redactor: Mariane Overgaard.

1998. clviii + 124 pp. + 4 facsimiles.

The life of St Eustace, or Placidus as he was called before his conversion, was one of the best known legends in late medieval Europe, and is preserved in a large number of Latin collections of saints’ lives, and also translated into various vernacular languages, including Old Norse.

Placidus is a successful general under the emperor Trajan. One day while out hunting he has a vision in which Christ reveals himself to him in the form of a stag with a cross between its horns and instructs him to seek baptism for himself, his wife and their two sons. Placidus takes the name Eustace (Eustacius). Like Job in the Old Testament, Eustace is subjected to a series of trials in which his faith is tested: he loses his position, his home and possessions, his wife and sons, and winds up as a poor farm labourer in a foreign country. He remains steadfastly Christian, however. After many years he regains his position as general and the family is reunited. The brutal emperor Hadrian, who has succeeded Trajan, instructs Eustace to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods in celebration of a victory. When Eustace refuses, the emperor has him and his family thrown into a lion’s den, but the animal lies down at their feet and will not harm them. The emperor then has a large bronze furnace constructed in the shape of a bull in which Eustace and his family are burnt to death. When the furnace is opened it is discovered that their bodies have been miraculously unharmed by the flames.

Translated from Latin in the 12th century, Plácidus saga is among the earliest legends preserved in Old Norse. There are fragments of a Norwegian and an Icelandic prose translation preserved in AM 655 4to IX and AM 655 4to X respectively, both from c. 1200. In addition, the story is related in the Plácitus-drápa, preserved fragmentarily in a single manuscript, AM 673b 4to, also from c. 1200.

The Icelandic and the Norwegian prose translations are unrelated and derive from different Latin sources. There is no critical edition of the Latin legend, but John Tucker has found Latin versions of the legend in various European libraries, some of which are closely related to the Icelandic version (in the present edition these are called Q), while others (called P) are related to the Norwegian translation. The two Latin versions are themselves related, but have characteristics, for example different forms of the personal names, that are preserved in the Old Norse translations. While the Norwegian translation is preserved in only a single manuscript fragment (B), the original Icelandic translation can with a high degree of certainty be reconstructed, for, in addition to the early fragment (A1), there is a 17th-century paper manuscript preserving the complete text (A2). A complete text, although somewhat abbreviated vis-à-vis A2 and the Latin original, is also found in two manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries respectively (A3 and A4).

A third version of the legend (C) is preserved in its entirety in two manuscripts from the 19th century, the elder, Lbs. 1217 4to, dating from 1817. Despite the fact that it is preserved solely in late manuscripts and exhibits a modern style, there is much to suggest that this C version is medieval in origin and derives from the same translation of the Latin text as A. In some places C differs markedly from A and Q, but it also reproduces a few passages from Q not found in A. Interestingly, there are certain correspondences with regard to both content and wording between the C-version and the drápa. In the introduction the relationship between the drápa and the extant prose versions is examined. Because of the fragmentary nature of the drápa and the prose versions, the text of the drápa can only be compared with A and C. There can scarcely be doubt that the drápa goes back to the same translation as A and C, but it shows a particular affinity to C.

Part of yet another version of the story (D) is preserved on a damaged vellum leaf from c. 1400, AM 696 4to III. This appears to be a greatly abbreviated version, almost a précis, of the legend, making it difficult to assess whether it is related to A or C. D may have been translated from a Latin original which differed from both Q and P. Its abbreviated form could derive from its source, but it could also have been shortened by the Icelandic translator. In the edition the A, B, C and D versions are printed synoptically along with a Latin text (Q, with variants from P). The texts of A1 and A2 are given in their entirety, the later with a selection of variants from A3 and A4. Although A2 supplements the vellum fragment A1, the editor has not attempted a conflation of the other two. Such a conflation would be problematical for two reasons, firstly because filling the lacunae in the fragment with the text of the much younger A2 would be uncertain, as the text of the paper manuscripts is often shortened or altered with respect to the text of the fragment; secondly, a conflation of the two texts would in many places have resulted in rather bizarre orthographical combinations. The English translation of the A-version, on the other hand, is based on a conflation of the two texts.

In the first chapter of the introduction John Tucker discusses the origin and diffusion of the Placidus/Eustacius legend in medieval Europe. The introduction concludes with a lengthy bibliography and indices of the manuscripts and personal names.

Plácitus drápa

The first edition of Plácitus drápa was published by Sveinbjörn Egilsson in 1833 in a school programme from the Latin school at Bessastaðir. It was not based on the vellum manuscript itself, but on transcriptions made from it by two young Icelanders working in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen. These transcriptions are now lost, but it is evident from Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s edition that the manuscript was as badly damaged in 1830 as it is now; in many places the transcribers had rendered illegible stretches by dotted lines. There were also numerous mistakes in the transcriptions, some of which Sveinbjörn was able to correct by conjecture. The edition was one of the first to appear of skaldic verse, and scholarly understanding of dróttkvætt metre and skaldic vocabulary was clearly still in its infancy; but there is all the more reason to admire Sveinbjörn’s emendations, many of which still stand and in fact make up a substantial part of the drápa as it is presented in editions.

Finnur Jónsson edited the drápa twice, in and article in 1887 and in 1912, in Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning A I and B I; additional conjectures were put forward by E. A. Kock in his Notationes norrønæ 1923-44, and last, but not least, by Jón Helgason in an important article in Acta philologica Scandinavica 1932-33. The purpose of the present edition is to provide the readers of Plácidus saga with a text of the drápa which takes into account the work that has been done on the poem since Finnur Jónsson’s editions were published. The text is presented in normalized and emended form; the notes give information about the source of the emendations, and a prose arrangement of the stanzas is supplied at the bottom of the page together with an English translation.