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15 June 2019

A Medieval Love Story

Manuscript of the Month

Persenober og Konstantianobis is the title of a courtly romance in Danish from the fifteenth century. The fragment AM 151 b 8vo from around the year 1600 is one of five witnesses that contain the story.

Fragments of a Courtly Romance

AM 151 b 8vo is one of the smaller manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection. The fragment contains a small section of the rhymed courtly romance Persenober og Konstantianobis, a fifteenth-century adaptation into Danish of the French verse romance Parténopeus de Blois composed in the last third of the twelfth century. Although ultimately based on the French romance, the direct source of the Danish adaptation is not known. It has been suggested that, together with the only other Nordic version of this French romance, the Icelandic Partalopa saga, it derives from a lost Norwegian adaptation in prose from the time of King Håkon Håkonsson (ruled 1217-1253). Another suggestion has been that Jep Jepsen, the otherwise unknown author of the Danish romance Den kyske Dronning [The Chaste Queen], adapted Persenober og Konstantianobis. According to the printed version preserved, however, the Danish was translated from German by a Henrik Christensen from Bergen. 

In addition to the fragmentary text in the Arnamagnæan manuscript, Persenober og Konstantianobis is preserved in one more manuscript and three printed editions. The story is one of six Danish romances contained in the manuscript Stockholm, National Library of Sweden, K 47 from around the year 1500. Persenober og Konstantianobis is the fourth romance in the manuscript comprising the leaves 169v-196r and consisting of a total of 1590 verses. The epilogue dates the text to 1484: “twsind oc iiii hwndret aar firæ sindis tywe paa thet fierde”. In 1572, the Copenhagen printer Lorentz Benedicht printed the story in a “Nu nylige offuerseet oc Corrigerit” [new, recently revised and corrected] edition. However, according to the somewhat longer epilogue of the printed edition, the first edition in print was published in 1560, only no copy of this print is known to have survived. The title page of the second print edition is missing, but it is assumed that it was issued in northern Germany some time after 1572. The third print edition was published in Copenhagen in 1700.

AM 151 b 8vo, 1v-2r. The fragment contains a small part of the courtly romance Persenober og Konstantianobis. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

A Knightly Love Story

Persenober og Konstantianobis is a love story. In short, the plot goes like this: the king of Constantia (Constantinople) and his queen do not have any sons. Instead of a male heir, the king leaves his kingdom to his youngest daughter, the beautiful and clever Konstantianobis, who is skilled in magic. As queen, she dispatches twelve knights in order to find herself a suitable husband. She takes a liking to the twelfth candidate Persenober, the nephew of the French king, and with her magic she makes herself invisible to pay him a visit and lure him. When Persenober arrives at her castle she remains invisible and silent in the daytime, only to talk at night. Persenober is then put to a chastity test; he is allowed to lie next to the queen and talk to her, but he must not see her until half a year has passed. As one could expect, he cannot help his curiosity, gets cast off by Konstantianobis and lives as a recluse in the woods for seven years. After various episodes of complications, the story reaches a happy ending as the two unite in marriage.

The Arnamagnæan Manuscript

It is not known how and when the fragment was incorporated into the Arnamagnæan Collection. The fragment shares a shelfmark with the manuscript AM 151 a 8vo, an Icelandic ‘kvæðasafn’, i.e. a collection of ballads and poems written in the beginning of the eighteenth century by farmer Magnús Einarsson from Jörvi (in Dalasýsla), which Árni Magnússon acquired from the scribe himself in 1725. Árni Magnússon’s manuscripts and books were organised according to 1) format and 2) content. Thus, the octavo format manuscripts bearing the shelfmarks from AM 126 8vo to AM 167 8vo all contain Icelandic poems, ballads, songs, and rímur, AM 151 b 8vo containing Persenober og Konstantianobis being the only non-Icelandic manuscript in this group.

In the old handwritten catalogues from 1730-1731, AM 384 fol. and 477 fol., compiled by Árni Magnússon’s amanuensis Jón Ólafsson of Grunnavík (1705-1778), AM 151 8vo has a single entry as a single item with an addition to its contents: ”item Nockur Erende ur Skriptar-Minning” [also some stanzas from Skriptarminning]. In the printed catalogue put together by the manuscript librarian Kristian Kålund (1844-1919) and published in the years 1889-1894, AM 151 8vo has been divided into AM 151 a 8vo and AM 151 b 8vo. Kålund questions whether the additional title could in fact refer to the actual manuscript: “Kan der ved den i den gamle katalog opførte titel (…) være sigtet til dette stykke?” [Does the title (…) in the old catalogue refer to this piece?]

Skriptarminning is the title of a small poem, preserved among others in AM 714 4to from 1600, but this poem is not found in AM 151 a 8vo. If the word ‘skriptarminning’ could mean something like ‘Some sections/stanzas from a written relic’ it could refer to the Persenober and Konstantianobis fragment which Jón Ólafsson had not been able to identify. On a blue accompanying slip, another archivist working with the Arnamagnæan Collection, Jón Sigurðsson (1811-1879), has written that the fragment is from (“ex”) AM 151 8vo. This attribution is probably why it was decided to keep the fragment together with AM 151 a 8vo instead of putting it in a more obvious place in the collection following the two duodecimo format manuscripts of the Icelandic Rímur of Partalopa, AM 440 a 12mo and AM 440 b 12mo, both from the seventeenth century.

AM 151 b 8vo, librarian slip with the identification of the text, a date and a note on the archival provenance of the fragment: AM 151 8vo. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

On the basis of its materiality, little can be deduced about the origin and use of this small booklet. The fragment consists of four leaves; two pairs of conjugate leaves (bifolia). The leaves measure 71 x 49 mm and the upper edges of the leaves appear to have been cut. The paper is of good quality, with horizontal chain lines. In the upper right corner of 2r there is a small part of a watermark, which so far remains unidentified. The script is a non-professional, but practiced New Gothic script from the earlier period, which in Denmark covers the sixteenth century from the time of the Reformation to the middle of the seventeenth century, and the layout of the text follows the contemporary convention of a running text with punctuation signs (double dots similar to a modern colon) separating each verse.

The text in the fragment covers 126 consecutive lines in verse from the story: the last four lines of chapter 6, in which Persenober betrays Konstantianobis by failing the knight’s test, the entirety of chapter 7 dealing with the seven years of separation of the two lovers, and the first third of chapter 8 concerning the threatening of Konstantianobis by heathens. These 126 verses correspond to slightly more than one twelfth of the entire romance (1590 lines including the epilogue of five lines in Stockholm, K 47; 1628 lines including the epilogue which covers 35 lines and a final poem of two lines in the 1572 print edition), which means the whole text in the small duodecimo format of AM 151 b 8vo would have comprised around 50 leaves, a neat little pocket-size edition of a popular love story.