Archive for the ‘Manuscripts’ Category

CopenhagenArni_Magnusson_portraitHappy 350th Árni Magnússon! (You can supplement the wikipedia link w/ this more official bio). Thanks to Árni, I have a profession. We owe a lot to this guy who gathered the bulk of the Old Norse-Icelandic manuscripts that we have today. The institute where I did my dissertation research, and where I took a seminar in Old Norse paleography, is named after him: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum (The Arnamagnaean Institute for the Study of Icelandic Studies). Árni’s collection was severely damaged in the Copenhagen fire of 1728. He died a bit over a year later. 😦  File:University of Iceland-Arnagardur.jpgThe collection was divided in the 20th century between Árna Stofnun in Reykjavík (Iceland) and Árna Stofnun in Copenhagen (Denmark–in fact, the Queen of Denmark is visiting Iceland right now to commemorate Árni’s b-day).



Árni has inspired a few fictional variants (which you can find listed on the wikipedia page)–my favorite is Arne Saknussem in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, with his ridiculous and clearly non-Scandinavian name (in his attempt [or in spite of it] to mimic the sound of an Icelandic name, Verne ended up completely losing the patronymic -son). I read Journey right as I was leaving for my own studies in Iceland (and I enjoyed checking out Snaefell, the mountain through which the adventurers supposedly clamber down into the earth. Fun book, and a neat example of how “exotic” Iceland was to the rest of Europe at the time.

In honor of his birthday, I did a quick sketch of Árni as a Viking, posted below for your enjoyment (as well as on my tumblr and on deviantart). If folks like it, I will put together a cleaned-up version of the picture to sell as a tshirt or print on my new Redbubble store. And as always, check out my post on the term “Viking” in Medieval Iceland if you want more info about just what the word means. Sorry for such a quick post today, but things are finally getting rolling on this translation job (a book on the theology of the body), plus my cousin and his family are in town, so no time for anything thorough…

Árni as a Viking.

Árni as a Viking.

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Snorra Edda

The medieval copies of the Eddas are generally not illustrated (after all, shouldn’t a good Christian save the expensive pictures for the Bible or Kingly exploits?)–but here we have the frame of Gylfaginning (which, incidentally, highlights the nature of the myths recounted as “lies,” in case the medieval audience were to be tempted from orthodoxy), in the Codex Upsaliensis manuscript (c. 1300, if I remember correctly). I like this illustration as an example of the problems of Christian remembering of Pagan material in Medieval Iceland.

I recently had my review of Mikhael Gronas’ Cognitive Poetics and Cultural Memory published in Cultural Analysis, a journal on culture and folklore (in a fairly broad sense), covering all sorts of “expressive and everyday culture” (I’m a big fan of interdisciplinary efforts like this, and even more a fan of the fact that the journal is available for free online, and is supplied for free in print form to academic institutions–those of us who write the material for these journals don’t make any money, after all…)  You can find the review here, but you will have to scroll down a bit, as all the book reviews are on the same page (a PDF of the page can be downloaded here). The book takes Russian literature as its case-in-point for its larger theoretical argument, so I got to enjoy learning a bit about Russian lit and history while working through the theoretical material (the latter being my main interest in the book).

Cultural Memory‘s relevance as a theoretical framework for the study of Old Norse literature and Religion has been my main research interest (though not my only one) since filing my dissertation (if you want something more than the wikipedia explanation, check out the introduction to this book; I’ve also found this book to be an easy to read exercise in Cultural Memory studies). I mostly take the term Cultural Memory from the work of Jan and Aleida Assmann (especially this book), where it is roughly equated with concepts such as Derrida’s Archive, among others, and in particular is associated with the sort of collective remembering made possible by the technology of literacy, where, in contrast to oral cultures, the “out of the way” and peripheral (like, say, pagan myths in Christian society) may still be preserved (but yes, things are still a bit more complicated with the Old Norse myths, given that we have an apparent gap of 200+ years after the conversion before the pagan material was written down). I gave a paper with some of my thoughts on the relevance of Cultural Memory theory for the study of Old Norse lit (esp. the mythology) at the 2012 conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies, but there has been plenty of work by other (senior) scholars on related topics, so if you are interested in reading up on the topic (I still have some more reading to do myself), here are some of the works I referenced in my paper (or have found otherwise pertinent to my research–this is just a selection though, so please don’t treat it as a comprehensive bibliography!):

Assmann, Jan and John Czaplicka 1995: “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity.” New German Critique 65, 125-133.

Assmann, Jan 2006: Religion and Cultural Memory. Trans. Rodney Livingstone. Cultural Memory in the Present. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bauman, Richard and Charles Briggs 1990: “Poetics and Performance as Critical Perspectives on Language and Social Life.” Annual Review of Anthropology 19, 59-88.

Byock, Jesse 2004: “Social Memory and the Sagas: The Case of ‘Egils Saga.'” Scandinavian Studies 76:3, 299-316.

Derrida, Jacques 1998: Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Trans. Eric Prenowitz. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Fortier, Ted and Jeanette Rodríguez 2007: Cultural memory: Resistance, Faith, and Identity. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Gísli Sigurðsson 2004: The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition: A Discourse on Method. Trans. Nicholas Jones. Publications of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature no. 2. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.

Glauser, Jürg 2000: “Sagas of Icelanders (Íslendinga sögur) and þættir as the literary representation of a new social space.” Old Icelandic Literature and Society. Ed. Margaret Clunies Ross. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 42. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 203-20.

Glauser, Jürg 2007: “The Speaking Bodies of Saga Texts.” Learning and Understanding in the Old Norse World. Ed. Judy Quinn, Kate Heslop, and Tarrin Wills. Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe vol. 18. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 13-26.

Gronas, Mikhail 2010: Cognitive Poetics and Cultural Memory: Russian Literary Mnemonics. New York: Routledge.

Halbwachs, Maurice 1992: On Collective Memory. New York: Harper.

Hastrup, Kirsten 1985: Culture and History in Medieval Iceland: An anthropological analysis of structure and change. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hastrup, Kirsten 1990: Island of Anthropology: Studies in past and present Iceland. Viborg: Odense University Press.

Hastrup, Kirsten 2009: “Northern Barbarians: Icelandic Canons of Civilization.” Gripla 20, 109-136.

Hermann, Pernille 2010: “Founding Narratives and the Representation of Memory in Saga Literature.” ARV Nordic Yearbook of Folklore 66, 69-87.

Jesch, Judith 2008: “Myth and Cultural Memory in the Viking Diaspora.” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 4, 221-226.

Kaplan, Merrill 2000: “Prefiguration and the Writing of History in ‘Þáttr Þiðranda ok Þórhalls.'” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 99:3, 379-394.

McKinnell, John 2007: “Why Did Christians Continue to Find Pagan Myths Useful?” Reflections on Old Norse Myths Ed. Pernille Hermann, Jens Peter Schjødt, and Rasmus Tranum Kristensen. Studies in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 1, 33-52.

Torfi Tulinius 2009: “The Self as Other: Iceland and the Culture of Southern Europe in the Middle Ages.” Gripla 20, 199-216.

Viðar Pálsson 2008: “Pagan Mythology in Christian Society.” Gripla 19, 123-159.

Ward, Elisabeth 2012: “Nested Narrative:Þórðar Saga Hreðu and Material Engagement.” UC Berkeley (dissertation)

Wellendorf, Jonas 2010: “The Interplay of Pagan and Christian Traditions in Icelandic Settlement Myths.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 109:1, 1-21.

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Yay alliterating blog titles! OK, OK, not a big post here, just passing on some neat news and a bit of a mystery for the professionals out there. The folks at the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog have posted about the Macclesfield Alphabet book, recently acquired by the British Library, containing patterns for letters and illumination. The full manuscript can be viewed at the British Library’s website. The mystery is this page, with an image of a tree and an “R-B” emblem:



The meaning of the picture and the “R-B” is unknown, and they are hoping someone out there will have a guess. Neat, huh? We’ll see if they figure it out. Could be one of those mysteries that lingers for a long time, or perhaps it will be solved right away, now that the manuscript has come to light.The discovery of a new manuscript isn’t all that common, at least not when it comes to the texts I study–although a friend of mine did have her masters thesis screwed up when a new fragment of a Heliand manuscript showed up…

I’m afraid this sort of paleography/codicology is not my speciality, although I think it is both fascinating and essential to our work with medieval texts (although I did attend the Arnamagnaean Institute’s paleography summer seminar two years in a row, and got to work with the manuscripts and their facsimiles a bit while I was writing my dissertation–would like to do more of that).The nitty-gritty sort of work that gets done with the books themselves is pretty important both to our understanding of the culture in which they came to be, and to our interpretations of the manuscripts themselves. Speaking of common models for the art in manuscripts, in the course of my dissertation research I found out that the illustration of Gylfi interviewing High, Just as High, and Third in the Uppsala MS of Prose Edda is actually based on an illustration from one of the king’s sagas (or vice-versa–I’m afraid I don’t remember which is the case, or which MS the other illustration is found in–it was a few years back, and I didn’t do anything with this fact in my dissertation).

From the Edda DG 11 - 3 lords

Just a little detail, but fun. The fact of the illustration is itself interesting as the other medieval manuscripts of both Eddas are quite plain (and Uppsala Eddan isn’t much better). It is a stark contrast with the richly illuminated Flateyarbók (a history of the Norwegian Kings, and meant for a king) or religious texts–not that you find oodles of rich decoration through all the other medieval Icelandic manuscripts (not the ones I typically find a reason to look at, at any rate), but I would imagine that one would be less inclined to  give the same exalted treatment to the “lies” (as Snorri presents them) of pagan mythology as was given to the more elevated topics of the Norwegian throne and Sacred (Christian) texts.

Oh, and if you aren’t sure what the Eddas are, check out my last post (some of my over-simplified metrical explanations possibly to be expanded on at some point… we’ll see).

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