Series episcoporum Othiniensium

From medieval
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by Karsten Friis-Jensen

Twenty-five anonymous distichs, each characterizing a bishop of Odense in Denmark, have been transmitted in Cornelius Hamsfort the Younger's (1546-1627) Latin chronicle of the bishops of Odense. In Hamsfort's text each distich has been placed in the section on the bishop it deals with, from Hubald, who died c. 1120, to Jens Andersen Beldenak, who died in 1537. However, formal criteria such as metre and rhyme suggest that they originally formed a sort of sequence in three parts, of which the two main parts are medieval, but composed at two different dates.


The title Series episcoporum Othiniensium is a modern adaption of Hamsfort's way of referring to the verses, and not particularly apt.


(but one initial distich may be missing): Hubaldus quorum primus regimen populorum.


exul ter, captus bis, dehinc Lubech sepelitur.


50 verse lines.


Part One (lines 1-14): variously-rhymed elegiac distichs. Part Two (lines 15-48): rhymed distichs consisting of two dactylic hexameters; among the various hexameter forms are leonini, trinini salientes and adonici (see also under Date, place and purpose). Part Three (lines 49-50): two unrhymed dactylic hexameters.


• NYBERG, T. & SAABY PEDERSEN, F. 1980: `De latinske vers om Odenses middelalderlige biskopper', Fynske Årbøger 1980, 76-98 (at 78-81; Nyberg is responsible for the historical commentary, Saaby Pedersen for the critical edition and the translation of the text); three editions (1653, 1747, 1792) of Hamsfort's chronicle of the bishops of Odense, containing the segmented distichs, are listed at p. 77.


  • (Danish) NYBERG, T. & SAABY PEDERSEN, F. 1980 (as above, Edition)


  • NYBERG, T. & SAABY PEDERSEN, F. 1980 (as above, Edition), 83-95.

Date, place and purpose

There are various reasons for the belief that the Series is a sort of sequence, but in at least three parts. Hamsfort claimed that he had used medieval manuscripts as sources for his work. In lines 29-34, consisting of three distichs, he could not read the second half of each line, which must point to a physical defect in a model which contained them in sequence. Moreover, there is a tendency to use the same rhyme scheme for two distichs in sequence (it happens in lines 3-6, 7-10, 11-14, 15-18), which again points in the same direction. However, Part One (lines 1-14) is in elegiac distichs, whereas Parts Two and Three are in distichs consisting of two hexameters. After lines 13-14 (according to metre), and after lines 17-18 (according to rhyme scheme) there are breaks in the sequence. Lines 13-14 deal with bishop Lage (elected 1213) and lines 17-18 with bishop Nicolaus (elected c. 1246), and there seems to be a veiled reference in the last distich to a conflict related to his election. All things considered, it is likely that lines 17-18, and therefore perhaps also the preceding lines, were composed at the middle of the thirteenth century. Lines 49-50 are unrhymed and mentions the death in 1537 of Jens Beldenak (bishop 1501-30), so that they are post-medieval. However, it is not unlikely that the lines in between (19-48) were composed during the episcopate of Karl Rønnow (1475-1501), who is characterized in definite and positive terms, whereas some of the older bishops are treated in a rather vague manner. Memorial verses of this kind abound in the Middle Ages, and NYBERG & SAABY PEDERSEN 1980 p. 94 n. 60 can point to a close parallel about the bishops of Freising in Bavaria. Most likely the verses of the present Series have been composed in the cathedral chapter in Odense, perhaps for definite purposes which cannot be ascertained any longer.

Medieval transmission

Hamsfort claimed to have had access to medieval manuscripts as sources for his chronicle of the bishops of Odense, as already stated. However, the textual transmission of the Series is entirely dependent on the text of Hamsfort's chronicle, cp. Edition above. The chronicle was not printed until after Hamsfort's death, but there exist nine manuscripts of it, some in Hamsfort's own hand, exhibiting different versions. NYBERG & SAABY PEDERSEN 1980 p. 77 list them all, and they argue conscientiously for their choice of model text for their edition of the verses.


NYBERG, T. & SAABY PEDERSEN, F. 1980 (as above, Edition). The present article is based on this excellent publication.