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Some observations on Íslendingasögur manuscripts and the case of Njáls saga

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This article surveys the extant pre-Reformation parchment manuscript evidence for the Íslendingasögur. The first half of the article focuses on the manuscript tradition of Njáls saga, noting how the preservation of this saga in some manuscripts - where it is the sole text - seems to be anomalous when compared with that of other Íslendingasögur in pre-Reformation parchment manuscripts. In the second half of the article, the focus is broadened and the extent to which the nature of the material preservation of Íslendingasögur has a bearing on the modern critical reception of individual narratives, and on notions of genre and 'the canon' more widely, is considered. Finally, some ways in which the manuscript evidence can give us insights into how the sagas have been read and understood over time are touched on.
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Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 55
EMILY LETHBRIDGE
Hvorki glansar gull á mér /
né glæstir stafir í línum
Some observations on Íslendingasögur manuscripts
and the case of Njáls saga
I. Introductory remarks
Texts of Njáls sagathe best known and most highly acclaimed of the
medieval Icelandic Íslendingasögur survive in 18 parchment manu-
scripts and fragments of manuscripts produced in Iceland in 14th, 15th
and 16th centuries.1 No other saga assigned to the Íslendingasögur cor-
1 The two fragments AM 162 b b fol. and AM 162 b d fol. are counted separately here but
since they are thought to have belonged to one manuscript (Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir and
The quotation in the title is the first half of a verse which is, according to Jón Helgason
(1958: 27), found in the margin of a parchment manuscript. The second half of the verse is
“fegurð alla inniber / eg í menntum fínum”; on the source of this verse see Gunnlaugur
Ingólfsson (2014). I thank the following for comments on aspects of this paper and/or for
giving me access to unpublished material: Karl-Gunnar Johansson and the anonymous
Arkiv för nordisk filologi reviewers, Beeke Stegmann, Bergdís Þrastardóttir, Guðvarður
Már Gunnlaugsson, Már Jónsson, Susanne Arthur, Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir. Thanks are
also due to Bart Besamusca and the HERA-funded “Dynamics of the Medieval Manu-
script” research group for inviting me to present parts of this research at their closing con-
ference in Utrecht, April 2013.
Lethbridge, E., Dr, Miðaldastofa and Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, Háskóli Íslands.
“‘Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum’: Some observations on Íslendin-
gasögur manuscripts and the case of Njáls saga”. ANF 129 (2014), pp. 55–89.
Abstract: This article surveys the extant pre-Reformation parchment manuscript evidence
for the Íslendingasögur. The first half of the article focuses on the manuscript tradition of
Njáls saga, noting how the preservation of this saga in some manuscripts – where it is the
sole text – seems to be anomalous when compared with that of other Íslendingasögur in
pre-Reformation parchment manuscripts. In the second half of the article, the focus is
broadened and the extent to which the nature of the material preservation of Íslendinga-
sögur has a bearing on the modern critical reception of individual narratives, and on notions
of genre and ‘the canon’ more widely, is considered. Finally, some ways in which the manu-
script evidence can give us insights into how the sagas have been read and understood over
time are touched on.
Keywords: Íslendingasögur, Njáls saga, Icelandic manuscript production and reception,
intertextuality, genre.
56 Emily Lethbridge
pus survives in as many pre-Reformation parchment manuscript wit-
nesses. In addition to these, there are four further parchment manuscripts
and fragments of manuscripts from the 17th century; 17 paper manu-
scripts from the 17th century; 21 paper manuscripts from the 18th cen-
tury; and one paper manuscript from the 19th century.2
The oldest of the Njáls saga manuscripts and fragments have been
dated to around 1300, making them almost contemporary with the time
that the saga is thought to have been first set down on parchment as a
written, literary composition (around 1280, or at any rate during the final
decades of the 13th century; see Einar Ólafur Sveinsson ed. 1954: lxxv–
lxxxiv). As is often pointed out, none of the Íslendingasögur survives in
an ‘original’ or autograph copy and the chronological gap between the
posited date of any single saga’s first written composition and the oldest
surviving manuscript text of it is often centuries rather than decades (see
further Örnólfur Thorsson 1990; Vésteinn Ólason 2007: 114–115; essays
in Mundal ed. 2013). Despite their fragmentary condition, these oldest
Njáls saga manuscripts are additionally interesting for the way that they
demonstrate how distinctive textual or scribal variation manifested itself
very early on in this saga’s written tradition. The manuscript evidence for
Njáls saga as a whole is not so divergent that different versions of the
saga can be identified but each manuscript witness presents subtly differ-
ing interpretations or understandings of individual characters and of the
action that the saga narrates.3
Ludger Zeevaert, forthcoming 2014), they are counted as one manuscript elsewhere, so the
total number of pre-Reformation parchment manuscripts of Njáls saga is given as 17, e.g.
in Table 1 below. Throughout this article, I use the term ‘pre-Reformation’ rather than
‘medieval’ to refer to the longer period in Iceland during which parchment was the primary
writing support, i.e. from the time when manuscript production began up until around the
mid 16th century when the Catholic Church was superseded by the Lutheran Church.
While a few vellum manuscripts produced in the 1600s are extant, by the 17th century, paper
had become the standard writing support both for copies of texts intended for domestic,
secular consumption and for texts copied out by professional scribes working for commis-
sioning patrons.
2 Three of the 17th-century parchment manuscript fragments (plus a fourth, now appar-
ently lost fragment), most likely belonged to the same book (see Arthur 2012).
3 Guðrún Nordal (2005, 2008) has drawn attention to variation between manuscript
texts of Njáls saga with regard to the number of skaldic verses incorporated into the narra-
tive; forthcoming and projected studies by members of the “Breytileiki Njálu” / “Variance
of Njáls sagaresearch group explore other types of textual variation (linguistic, stylistic,
narrative). The “Breytileiki Njálu” project was funded by RANNÍS (The Icelandic Centre
for Research) between 2012 and 2014 and led by Dr Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir at the Stofnun
Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum, Reykjavík, Iceland. The project website is at
http://www.arnastofnun.is/page/breytileiki_njalu.
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 57
The pre-Reformation manuscript tradition of Njáls saga is unusual in
another respect too. It is the only saga for which extant manuscript evi-
dence exists that shows it was copied out and circulated independently of
other sagas, that is, as the sole text in whole books. As far as can be seen
from the extant evidence for other sagas (if the manuscripts are not too
fragmentary to draw a conclusion one way or the other), all other pre-
Reformation parchment manuscripts that preserve Íslendingasögur texts
are compilation or multi-text manuscripts. Even given the major caveat
of the fragmentary nature of the surviving manuscript evidence, this is a
striking anomaly.4 Admittedly, Njáls saga is the longest of all of the Ís-
lendingasögur and one obvious and pragmatic explanation for the phe-
nomenon of it being copied out unaccompanied by other texts is, quite
simply, its considerable length. It is nonetheless worth exploring whether
or not other factors had an influence on the seemingly atypical textual
preservation of Njáls saga, as will be attempted in this article. In order to
contextualise these research questions, the extant pre-Reformation man-
uscript evidence for the Íslendingasögur more generally will be reviewed.
Since this surveying exercise both highlights certain issues and questions
of genre and corpus definition that are pertinent to modern saga scholar-
ship and discourse, and also gives certain insights into the practical proc-
esses and ideological impulses behind secular manuscript production and
consumption in pre-Reformation Iceland, it is hoped that the study will
make a contribution to our understanding of Icelandic manuscript cul-
ture more broadly.
II. Njáls saga in pre-Reformation manuscripts
None of the pre-Reformation manuscripts of Njáls saga contains a com-
plete, undamaged text of the whole saga.5 Many are classified as frag-
ments, being badly damaged and comprising only a few leaves whose
texts correspond (often discontinuously) to different parts of the Njáls
saga narrative. This damage means it is impossible to know whether Njáls
4 It has been estimated that what is extant from the pre-Reformation period – some 750
parchment manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts containing a wide range of texts in the
vernacular (Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson 2007a: 249) – may represent only 5 % to 10 %
of manuscripts produced in Iceland during these centuries (Driscoll 2004: 21).
5 Shelfmarks of Njáls saga manuscripts are formatted in bold type in Appendix 1; see Jón
Þorkelsson 1889, Einar Ólafur Sveinsson 1953, and handrit.is for overviews of the manu-
script tradition and details about individual manuscripts.
58 Emily Lethbridge
saga was originally copied out as the sole text in these manuscripts, or
preserved alongside other material as part of bigger compilatory
projects.
This uncertainty is also present in the cases of the more complete manu-
script texts in Kálfalækjarbók (AM 133 fol., c. 1350) and Skafinskinna
(GKS 2868 4to, c. 1350–1400). Although the quire arrangement and the
disposition of the text of the opening chapter of the saga in these manu-
scripts suggests that nothing else preceded them, both manuscripts end
defectively and therefore the possibility that other texts did once follow
Njáls saga cannot be ruled out. The beginning of the saga is copied out
on 1v in Skafinskinna, suggesting that this was most likely the first quire
of the book; 1r, the outer page, may have been left blank on account of it
being most susceptible to sustaining damage from rubbing, particularly
if the quires were loose. In Kálfalækjarbók, undamaged quires are made
up of four conjoint leaves; the first quire of the book, however, com-
prises three conjoint leaves (ff. 1 + 6, 2 + 5, 3 + 4) and a singleton (f. 7).
The beginning of the saga is copied out on 1r as the manuscript is foliated
today but the possibility that the last leaf of the first quire (f. 7) was once
conjugate with a (blank) leaf that functioned as a flyleaf at the beginning
of the book, so that the saga text originally began on 2r, is not implausi-
ble. This seems to have been the case with AM 468 4to, Reykjabók, as
noted below.
The codicology of Reykjabók (AM 468 4to, c. 1300–1325), Gráskinna
(GKS 2870 4to, c. 1300) and Oddabók (AM 466 4to, c. 1460) suggests
that despite some damage, these books as they are extant today represent
the original intentions of their producers and never contained texts other
than Njáls saga. Reykjabók only lacks two leaves on which text was
copied out (after f. 6 and f. 33 respectively). The outermost leaves of the
first quire have been lost but since the opening of the saga is preserved on
the leaf now foliated as 1r, the first leaf must have functioned as a flyleaf
(see further Jón Helgason (ed.) 1962: v).6 Unfortunately, the binding can-
not be used as evidence to support the argument that the book as it is
today was originally a complete unit. The two oak boards into which the
manuscript is bound and which define it as a single unit have been sub-
jected to dendrochronological analysis in order to establish their age:
that of the upper board is uncertain (an initial date of c. 1390 has been
retracted) while the lower board dates to after 1570 (see Bonde and
6 The present flyleaf at the end of the manuscript (f. 94), on which a Latin hymn to the
Virgin Mary and musical notation is found, seems to have been taken from a Catholic
litugical manuscript, perhaps after the Reformation (Jón Helgason (ed.) 1962: v).
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 59
Springborg 2005, 2006). The disposition of the Njáls saga text at the end
of the manuscript, however, lends weight to the supposition that Njáls
saga was the sole text in this book from the start: the saga ends on 93r and
the originally-blank 93v has been filled with so-called ‘additional’ verses
in a hand other than that of the main scribe but thought to be contempo-
rary (see Einar Ólafur Sveinsson 1953: 6). This may have been an after-
thought, though, with the blank leaf thereby being put to convenient use;
other ‘additional’ verses are copied into the margins at earlier points in
the manuscript (at 24r-v, 29r, 31v, 32v, 33r, 37r, 39r, 40v, 47v and 52r; see
further Guðrún Nordal 2005 and 2008).
Neither the beginning nor the end of Njáls saga as preserved in
Gráskinna in the 14th-century scribal hand is extant: one leaf is lost from
the beginning and the last three quires of the manuscript (ff. 99–121),
which preserve text corresponding to the last part of the saga, are the
work of a 16th-century restorer. However, the Gráskinna manuscript has
a rare limp wrap-around cover made out of seal-skin which is thought to
be medieval and may even be contemporary with the time of the manu-
script’s production. If the cover is as old as the manuscript itself, it must
have been taken off the book and resewn onto it again in the 16th century
when the repairer was carrying out his work (which included adding
whole replacement quires) but it is nonetheless reasonably safe to assume
that the book is whole and that only Njáls saga was ever copied out in it.
In Oddabók, text corresponding both to the beginning and to the end
of the saga survives in the original scribal hand. The first quire comprises
four conjoint leaves; since the text begins on 1r but there is no lacuna
between the first and second quire (if the assumption that the book con-
tained nothing but Njáls saga is correct), 1r may originally have been
preceded by a hooked-in singleton that acted as a flyleaf. The seventh
and last quire of this manuscript (ff. 48–57) is now made up of four con-
joint leaves (49 + 57, 50 + 56, 52 + 55, 53 + 54) and two singletons (48 and
51). F. 51 must originally have been a conjoint leaf since text is missing
between ff. 55 and 56 (i.e. where the leafs corresponding half would have
been). On 57v (the outermost page of the manuscript), the Njáls saga text
ends three-quarters of the way down the page and the last quarter has
been left blank. It is most likely that f. 48, too, was originally a conjoint
leaf; its conjugate – which would have followed f. 57 – may either have
been left blank or could have contained some short text on the recto-side
the verso-side acting as a flyleaf. Originally, therefore, the last quire most
likely comprised six conjoint leaves. Elsewhere in the manuscript, how-
ever, complete quires with continuous text are made up of four conjoint
60 Emily Lethbridge
leaves: presumably, if other texts followed, or were intended to follow
Njáls saga, the final chapters of Njáls saga would have been copied into a
new quire larger than this last quire being expanded so that the saga could
be concluded in it, making it larger than average as a consequence. On
this basis, it is plausible to assume that Njáls saga was always the sole text
in this manuscript.
Two further manuscripts (as opposed to fragments) containing texts of
Njáls saga need to be considered. These are the 14th-century compilation
manuscript known as Möðruvallabók (AM 132 fol.) and the late 15th-
century manuscript known as Bæjarbók í Flóa (AM 309 4to). While both
of these manuscripts do contain other texts alongside that of Njáls saga
(and as such, are the only extant pre-Reformation manuscripts which do
not only contain Njáls saga), closer examination suggests that in their cur-
rent state, they do not reflect the original intentions of their producers.
Bæjarbók (or at least the first part of it) has been dated unusually pre-
cisely to 1498 on the basis of a scribal colophon on 2r (see further Scott
(ed.) 2003: 110*).7 The book now comprises 48 leaves arranged into 8
(defective) quires and contains texts of Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar (1r–26v),
Laxdæla saga (27ra–34va, with lacunae), Eyrbyggja saga (34va–38vb,
with lacunae) and, last of all, approximately one-third of the Njáls saga
narrative (39r–48v, with lacunae). The manuscript seems to have been
written by one scribe (Scott (ed.) 2003: 110*) but although the hand is the
same throughout, variation with regard to the layout of the text area and
the number of lines per page, for example, suggest that its component
parts may not originally have been intended to be bound together into
one volume.
The text is copied out in two columns with the exception of ff. 6, 13,
29, and 38–48 (i.e. the Njáls saga text). The Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar ex-
tracts (which derive from Flateyjarbók) are written out much more
densely than the other parts of the manuscript, with 56–57 lines per page;
the number of lines per page for the parts of the manuscript that contain
texts of Laxdæla saga and Eyrbyggja saga is around 46–47 lines; the Njáls
saga leaves contain only 42–43 lines per page. Thus it seems that while
Laxdæla saga and Eyrbyggja saga were clearly copied out together as a
pair, Njáls saga was probably not originally intended to accompany these
two Íslendingasögur as part of the original compilation. Whether or not
Njáls saga was (before being bound into Bæjarbók) part of another com-
pilation cannot be determined.
7 “hann [i.e. Óláfr Hákonarson] var konungr er su bok uar sk[rifu]d er þessi bok uar
epter skrifud þa var lidit fra hingad burd uors h[er]ra iesv christi .M.CCC.LXXX ok siau r.
enn nu erv fra hans hingadburd er sia bok er skrifud .M.CCCC. nivtiger ok atta ar”.
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 61
In Möðruvallabók, one of the best known extant saga compilation
manuscripts, Njáls saga is the first of 11 texts. The manuscript is dated
1330–1370 or more specifically to the mid 14th century (see Stefán Karls-
son 1967; van Weenen 2000: 1). It originally comprised 26 quires of 8
leaves (see further van Weenen 2000: 20–21); the contents of the book as
it is extant are as follows:
1. Njáls saga (1ra1–61rb8)
2. Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar (62va1–99ra41)
3. Finnboga saga ramma (100ra1–114ra41)
4. Bandamanna saga (114rb1–120vb21)
5. Kormáks saga (120vb22–129rb7)
6. Víga-Glúms saga (129rb8–141va32)
7. Droplaugarsona saga (141va33–147vb4)
8. =lkofra saga/þáttr (147vb5–149va31)
9. Hallfreðar saga vandræðaskálds (149va32–156rb10)
10. Laxdæla saga (156rb11–198rb8)
11. Fóstbræðra saga (198rb9–201vb41)
Attempts have been made to rationalise the selection and order of the
texts in Möðruvallabók and some critics have suggested that a certain
geographical logic may govern the arrangement of texts in it. Margaret
Clunies Ross, for example, writes that “the first seven [sagas] are ar-
ranged in a significant geographical order, following the Quarters of the
island of Iceland, beginning in the south and ending in the east, the same
trajectory as was followed by the original Landnámabók. Thus the col-
lection begins with Njáls saga, set in the south, and was to have continued
with another now lost southern saga that was never copied into the man-
uscript, *Gauks saga Trandilssonar ... It continues tracking west, then
north, then east ... then, breaking the geographical order, come ‘The saga
of Ale-hood’ ... Hallfreðar saga, Laxdæla saga with Bolla þáttr ... and
Fóstbræðra saga” (Clunies Ross 2010: 144). This is an attractive interpre-
tation but closer examination of the codicology of the manuscript ap-
pears to undermine it – largely because it seems that neither Njáls saga,
*Gauks saga nor Egils saga were, in fact, originally intended to be part of
the compilation – and *Gauks saga, furthermore (which is nowhere else
extant), may never actually have existed as a written narrative.
The text of Njáls saga in Möðruvallabók begins on 1r (in the hand of a
17th-century repairer whose text fills the first two quires) and it finishes
on 61rb8. The rest of the leaf is blank as is 61v and 62r; 62r is the first leaf
62 Emily Lethbridge
of a new quire. Egils saga starts at the top of 62v; on the blank leaves (61v
and 62r), there are traces of marginalia and drawings. A bearded figure in
armour fighting another figure fills most of 61v, with a bird of some kind
top-right; a smaller drawing and various scribbles fill 62r. In a study first
published in 1939, Jón Helgason claimed he could read a caption on 61v
which explained that the image was of Egill Skalla-Grímsson fighting the
berserkr Ljótr (an episode related in Egils saga); Jón also claimed to be
able to read the sentence “lattu rita her vid gauks sogu trandils sonar .
mer er sagt at [herra] Grimr eigi hana” at the bottom of the leaf (1959:
102). Jón Helgason identified this ‘Herra Grímr’ as a certain Grímr
Þorsteinsson who was lögmaður in the south and east 1319–20 and in the
north and west 1330–37, also possibly again 1346–49. He was knighted in
1316 and died around 1350 (Páll Eggert Ólafsson 1949: 108).8
Gaukr Trandilsson is a character in Njáls saga: chapter 26 of Njáls saga
notes how Gaukr is killed by his foster-brother, Ásgrímr Elliða-Gríms-
son, and this incident is referred to again later on in chapter 139.9 This
intersection would make *Gauks saga a good one to pair with Njáls saga
and Jón Helgason suggested that the Möðruvallabók scribe’s original in-
tention was to copy out Njála and *Gauks saga together in one codex,
with Egils saga being the first text in a second codex: “Hann [skrifari M]
virðist þá hafa gert ráð fyrir Njála og Gauks saga yrði codex út af
fyrir sig [...]; fyrir því byrjar hann næsta kver (þar sem Egla hefst) þannig
ljóst er að hann hefur ætlazt til þar yrði upphaf annars codicis”
(1959: 103; “The scribe of M appears to have made provision for Njáls
saga and *Gauks saga being in a codex by themselves [...]; for this reason
he begins the next quire (where Egils saga begins) in such a way that it is
clear he intended this would be the beginning of another codex”).
However, this marginalia is now almost entirely illegible. Andrea de
Leeuw van Weenen notes in her description of the manuscript that
8 Jón’s dating of Möðruvallabók to the period 1316–1350, a little earlier than the date
commonly agreed on by most scholars today, was made on the basis of this identification
of Grímr Þorsteinsson, taking the year of his death as a terminus ante quem; this is clearly
methodologically problematic.
9 Gaukr “í Stöng” is also named in Landnámabók and in Haukr Valdísarson’s Íslendin-
gadrápa (verse 19). Furthermore, he seems to be the Gaukr whose name is carved in runes
along with other 11th-century runic inscriptions on the walls of the Neolithic tomb at
Maeshowe, Orkney “Þessar rúnar / reist sá maðr, / er rýmstr er / fyrir vestan haf, / með
þeiri öxi, / er átti Gaukr / Tran[d]ils sonr / fyrir sunnan land” (see further Barnes 1994), and
whose farm, at Stöng in Þjórsárdalur, has been reconstructed on the basis of archaeological
excavations (see http://www.thjodveldisbaer.is/).
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 63
“hardly anything [of the scribal note about *Gauks saga and herra Grímr]
can be made out now, although I could make out part of it in 1980 [with
ultraviolet light]. Stefán Karlsson told me that he had scrutinized this
passage and could not confirm the reading ‘herra’, and in fact was rather
sure that it was not that. He thought it might be a name with the second
part -grímr, but none of these names fitted in with the still visible parts of
letters” (2000: 27). Unfortunately then, the theory about the intended
inclusion of the ‘lost southern saga’ is now impossible to corroborate
though the arguments for Njáls saga and Egils saga at least being in-
tended as separate units are still convincing and accepted and developed
by Michael Chesnutt (2010: 152, 155). Furthermore, van Weenen notes
(2000: 19) that the standard number of lines per page in Njáls saga is 42
but 41 for every other text in the manuscript; this could be taken as an-
other small piece of evidence that supports the theory that Njáls saga was
not intended on first principles to be the first text in the Möðruvallabók
compilation – and that the quires containing it may instead at first have
been conceived of and executed as a complete and independent Njáls
saga unit, like Reykjabók, Gráskinna and Oddabók.
Other recent studies have examined aspects of Möðruvallabók’s codi-
cology and provenance and drawn attention to ways in which the book
as it is extant today differs in certain respects to supposed earlier states.
On the one hand, while Möðruvallabók may not, at first, have been in-
tended to preserve copies of Njáls saga or Egils saga, on the other hand,
it may have contained other texts that are no longer part of the extant
collection. Sigurjón Páll Ísaksson (1994: 110, 113) calculates that Fóst-
bræðra saga would not have filled the posited final 27th quire (now miss-
ing) so other texts could have been copied after it (he also notes that
original opening of Njáls saga alone would not have filled the first quire
of the book, so perhaps Njáls saga was not unaccompanied in this part of
the book). Michael Chesnutt has also drawn attention to the fact that
damage to leaves throughout the book is often worst at quire boundaries
where a new text begins (2010: 149–52) and he suggests that parts of the
book show signs of having been kept stacked in loose quires in one place
– perhaps in the place where the book was produced, if it was made ‘on
spec’ rather than on commission (assumed to be the most usual course of
action), and that what is extant comprises the remains of two or even
three books (2010: 154–55).
With regard to the book’s binding, Sigurgeir Steingrímsson notes that
the sturdy wooden boards which form its cover are actually too small for
64 Emily Lethbridge
it and do not protect the edges of the leaves (1995: 63). He suggests that
the leaves may not have been brought together before the 17th century
when the manuscript was taken to Denmark by Björn Magnússon (sýslu-
maður of Munkaþverá in Eyjafjörður) and given to Thomas Bartholin as
a gift in 1684.10 Árni Magnússon aquired the book after Bartholin’s death
in 1690, and after Árni’s death, the book became part of the Arnamag-
næan Collection, housed at the University of Copenhagen. Then, around
1890, the quires (bound together as one volume between wooden covers,
according to Kristian Kålund’s 1889 catalogue entry) were taken out of
their binding and arranged into three volumes; in the late 1920s, these
three volumes were taken apart and subsequently resewn together as a
single unit, and only laced into the wooden boards which form its cover
today as late as 1928 by the Danish bookbinder Anker Kyster (Sigurgeir
Steingrímsson 1995: 63).
Möðruvallabók often appears in photographs alongside other manu-
scripts with similar bindings and is presented as one of the foremost ex-
amples of 14th-century Icelandic compilation manuscripts. The fact that
the book’s contents do not necessarily reflect the original intentions of its
producer, and that its iconic appearance is due to modern modifications,
is often overlooked. Similarly, the work of Möðruvallabók’s 17th-century
restorer, who seemingly aimed to make good damage to the book by filling
in the lacunae in Njáls saga and elsewhere with recopied text correspond-
ing to missing material, deserves further attention and is one of a number
of examples of such later attempts at restoration. Something comparable
is found in the 16th-century ‘Gráskinnuauki’ additions to the Gráskinna
manuscript of Njáls saga. Understanding the dynamic processes of
change and reconfiguration that these pre-Reformation parchment books
and the texts preserved in them have been subject to over time (i.e. not
just physical decay or deterioration) gives us insights into their material
and ideological significance to different parties at different points in time.
This is relevant, too, when – as I argue – the modern, critical reception of
certain sagas is often contingent to a significant degree on the circum-
stances and nature of their manuscript preservation.
10 See Bartholin’s letter to the Icelander Torfæus (Þormóður Torfason, 1636–1719), Jan-
uary 16th 1686, preserved in AM 285 b I fol.: “Her var ellers i Sommer en gammel Islænder
Biörn Magnussen. Hand foræret mig et Manuskript paa Kalfveskin, men der var ickun
particulares Islandicæ historiæ, og en smuch der ibland, nemlig Kormaks saga, som er heel
fuld af Antiqviteter”; see also Árni Magnússon’s description of his acquisition of the manu-
script in AM 435 a–b 4to.
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 65
III. Defining the corpus
i) The manuscripts
Stopping to examine what, in fact, comprises ‘the corpus’ of manuscripts
on the one hand, and Íslendingasögur narratives on the other hand,
draws attention to a number of practical and theoretical issues that have
a bearing on our understanding of the Íslendingasögur as a genre. As
already mentioned, Njáls saga is preserved in an exceptionally large
number of witnesses compared to other Íslendingasögur. Egils saga
comes closest with 13 manuscript witnesses (many of which are fragmen-
tary); Hallfreðar saga vandræðaskálds is extant in 9 manuscripts (some of
whose particular characteristics will be described below); Laxdæla saga
and Þórðar saga hreðu are extant in 6 manuscripts each; Grettis saga Ás-
mundarsonar and Fóstbræðra saga in 5 each. Most Íslendingasögur sur-
vive in a single pre-Reformation parchment; some in none at all. Table 1
on the next page summarises this information.
Information about individual sagas and the manuscripts that preserve
texts of them is, of course, routinely included in introductions to text and
facsimile editions and found in familiar reference works and catalogues,
both printed and online (e.g. Kålund 1889–92; Kålund 1900; Gödel 1897–
1900; Páll Eggert Ólafsson et al. 1918–90; ONP vol. I; www.handrit.is).
On the basis of published catalogue records, I count 64 pre-Reformation
parchment manuscripts or manuscript fragments in which texts of Ís-
lendingasögur are preserved.11 Appendix 1 lists these manuscripts by
century and classmark. Inevitably, any such total count of manuscripts
will be provisional; there is always the possibility (albeit unlikely) of
hitherto uncatalogued manuscripts coming to light. More often, totals
will also vary depending on the criteria for inclusion or the chronological
parameters set. Thus Stefán Karlsson (2006: 492) counts 59 manuscripts
containing Íslendingasögur in a survey article about medieval Icelandic
manuscripts but his chronological parameters, 1200 to 1500, are slightly
narrower than those used in this study.
11 This total counts as one manuscript instances where books have been broken into
multiple parts and these parts given individual shelfmarks; see further below. It does not
include lost manuscripts known to have contained saga texts such as the *Vatnshyrna codex
which burnt in the 1728 Great Fire of Copenhagen (see Stefán Karlsson 1970); the so-called
*Membrana Regia Deperdita (see Loth (ed.) 1960: lxxix–lxxx); the so-called *Gullskinna
manuscript of Njáls saga (see Már Jónsson 1996); and another parchment saga-compilation
that the scribe and priest Jón Erlendsson at Villingaholt (d. 1672) used to make copies of
the sagas and þættir that are preserved in his paper manuscript AM 156 fol..
66 Emily Lethbridge
The history of the collection of Icelandic manuscripts from the 17th
century onwards, and the subsequent treatment of these manuscripts as
parts of book collections around Scandinavia and occasionally beyond, is
of course key to understanding how they are classified in catalogues. As
is apparent from Appendix 1, there is not always a straight one-to-one
ratio or relationship between classmarks and manuscripts. The lion’s
share of the parchment manuscripts extant today were gathered together
by Árni Magnússon (1663–1728; see Már Jónsson 2012 for a recent over-
view of Árni’s life). Much of the material Árni acquired was in poor con-
Table 1. Number of extant pre-Reformation manuscript copies of individual sagas. The notation + *1
indicates copies of sagas believed to have been preserved in now-lost manuscripts. Gull = Gullskinna,
JE = Jón Erlendsson exemplar, MRD = Membrana Regia Deperdita, Vatns = Vatnshyrna; see further
footnote 11 above.
0 1 2 3 4 5+
Fljótsdœla saga Bjarnar saga Droplaugarsona Bandamanna Bárðar saga Grettis saga
Hítdœlakappa saga saga Snœfellsáss Ásmundarsonar
(+ *1 Vatns) (5)
Gunnars saga Flóamanna saga Gísla saga Eiríks saga Eyrbyggja saga Fóstbrœðra saga
Keldugnúpsfífls (+ *1 Vatns) Súrssonar rauða (+ *1 Vatns) (5 + *1 MRD)
(+ *1 MRD)
Hávarðar saga Grœnlendinga Gunnlaugs saga Finnboga saga Króka-Refs saga
Þórðar saga hreðu
Ísfirðings saga ormstungu ramma (+ *1 Vatns) (6 + *1 Vatns)
Valla-Ljóts saga Gull-Þóris saga Harðar saga ok Laxdœla saga
Hólmverja (6 + *1 Vatns)
(+ *1 Vatns)
Þorsteins saga Heiðarvíga saga Kormáks saga Hallfreðar saga
hvíta (+ *1 JE) vandræðaskálds
(9)
Þorsteins saga Hrafnkels saga Ljósvetninga Egils saga
Síðu-Hallsonar saga Skalla-
(+ *1 MRD) Grímssonar (13)
Hœnsa-Þóris Víga-Glúms saga Njáls saga
saga (+ *1 Vatns) (+ *1 Vatns) (17, + *1 Gull)
Kjalnesinga saga Víglundar saga
(+ *1 Vatns)
Reykdœla saga
Svarfdœla saga
Vatnsdœla saga
(+ *1 Vatns)
Vápnfirðinga saga
=lkofra saga
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 67
dition and comprised little more than single, often badly damaged parch-
ment leaves. Árni sometimes managed to reunite leaves that had once
belonged to the same manuscript but had become separated; in a few
cases, he reconstructed more considerable parts of whole books that had
been broken up into smaller units at some point in their history prior to
collection. The late 13th- and early 14th-century manuscript known as
Hauksbók, now in three parts with three respective classmarks (AM 371
4to, AM 544 4to and AM 675 4to) is one such example (Lethbridge 2013).
Modern paleographical and codicological studies have identified other
cases (see e.g. Stefán Karlsson 1970 and McKinnell 1970 on the lost
*Vatnshyrna manuscript and the ‘Pseudo-Vatnshyrna’ manuscript; see
also Már Jónsson 1997). Árni employed scribes to make paper copies of
the parchment manuscripts he obtained (and also copies of those which
he could not obtain), and in some cases he himself was responsible for
the breaking up whole books into smaller units so that they could be
shelved in his collection according to their subject matter (Svanhildur
Óskarsdóttir 2013: 24). In these cases, two or more catalogue shelfmarks
together represent a single manuscript. In other cases, a single catalogue
shelfmark conceals the fact that originally separate manuscripts were
bound together into a single volume, either prior to or after becoming
part of a collection; AM 309 4to, Bæjarbók (discussed above), seems to
be a good example of this.
ii) The sagas
There is no argument over what Njáls saga ‘is’ or its place in the Íslendinga-
sögur canon but in the case of some other narratives, things are not
always so clear-cut. In some cases, I suggest that a direct relationship can
be detected between the manuscript evidence for the Íslendingasögur
narratives on the one hand, and on the other, judgements about which
texts belong, or do not belong, to the Íslendingasögur corpus. Factors
such as whether or not pre-Reformation parchment witnesses are extant;
if so, how many and how old they are; how the narrative in question is
rubricated and how complete the text of it is in these manuscripts might
be seen to have an impact on the degree of critical attention and acclaim
that a saga has (or has not) received.
Typically, in survey articles or encyclopedia entries, the Íslendinga-
sögur corpus is said to consist of some 35 to 40 narratives. An open-
ended answer (“at least X”) to the question “how many Íslendingasögur
are there?” is arguably the only useful one, not only because of the
68 Emily Lethbridge
nature of the textual evidence for these narratives and their treatment in
extant manuscripts – as will be elaborated on below – but also because we
do not know the extent of what has been lost. *Gauks saga Trandilssonar
has already been discussed; references are made in texts of Laxdæla saga
to a certain *Þorgils saga Höllusonar, for example, for which no text now
is extant, and also to *Njarðvíkinga saga (though this may be Gunnars
þáttr/saga Þiðrandabana). Then there are sagas which are not named
anywhere but which scholars have posited as once-extant written
sources for other sagas or written material: one example here is Sigurður
Nordal’s *Þorsteins saga Kuggasonar, which he proposed as a source for
Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa (see Sigurður Nordal 1938, lxxxi–iii; see also
Jesch 1982–85).
Correlating the number and kind of extant manuscript copies of indi-
vidual sagas with the critical accord granted to them, their inclusion (or
not) in the corpus, and their typical placement in the centre or on the pe-
riphery of the ‘canon’ gives pause for thought. Sagas such as Gunnars saga
Keldugnúpsfífls, Þorsteins saga hvíta and Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar,
which are not preserved in any pre-Reformation parchment manuscripts
although they are believed to be medieval compositions, are not always
included in survey lists of sagas (e.g. Schier 1970; Clunies Ross 2010).
Gunnars saga is generally deemed to be late and fantastic in terms of its
subject-matter and narrative style; Þorsteins saga hvíta and Þorsteins saga
Síðu-Hallssonar are relatively short narratives which are seen as supple-
mentary to other more ‘mainstream’ sagas (e.g. Vápnfirðinga saga in the
case of Þorsteins saga hvíta) with which they have geographical, genea-
logical or other connections or overlap. No pre-Reformation witnesses
for Fljótsdæla saga, Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings or Valla-Ljóts saga (also all
believed to be medieval compositions) exist either. These sagas, although
they are included on lists of Íslendingasögur narratives, cannot be said to
be amongst the better regarded or relatively well-studied of the sagas.
Similarly, those sagas that survive in only a handful of fragmentary
pre-Reformation leaves belonging to one manuscript might be said to
have suffered on account of this unlucky circumstance as far as their crit-
ical reception is concerned. Editors of Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa, Flóa-
manna saga, Hænsa-Þóris saga, Svarfdæla saga and Vápnfirðinga saga
are forced to supplement the fragmentary pre-Reformation witnesses
with texts from more complete post-medieval paper copies; these sagas
have not been the subject of much sustained literary-historical scrutiny
either, arguably at least partly on account of their patchy preservation.
An exception here, however, is Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða: although the
pre-Reformation evidence for this saga comprises a single parchment leaf
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 69
dated to around 1500, it is nonetheless one of the most praised and cri-
tiqued of the sagas and has been at the centre of the bookprose/freeprose
debate over saga origins (see e.g. Byock 2001 for a survey and further
references). At the other end of the spectrum, many of those sagas that
survive in more numerous but younger 15th- and 16th-century copies
have not been granted much attention on balance either. The proportion-
ally greater number of extant manuscripts of Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss,
Króka-Refs saga and Þórðar saga hreðu suggests their popularity in pre-
Reformation times (if, as is sometimes postulated, extant numbers of
manuscripts can be taken as an index for this). It is only relatively re-
cently, though, that saga scholars have begun to examine these narratives
on their own terms, rather than seeing them as representative of degenera-
ting literary tastes and skill (see e.g. Arnold 2003).
How sagas are rubricated in manuscripts (by the original scribes rather
than later owners or users, though this is also interesting from a recep-
tion perspective) is an aspect worth drawing attention to here. Rubrica-
tion is not found in all pre-Reformation manuscripts; where rubrics are
present, the formulation within individual manuscripts is not always
consistent, and the same narrative might well be rubricated differently
elsewhere. The rubrication of Möðruvallabók is illustrative: variation as
far as the formulation of introductory and concluding rubrics, and their
presence/absence is the norm, as demonstrated in Table 2 below.
Table 2. Original rubrication of narratives in Möðruvallabók.
Text Opening rubric or incipit Explicit
Njáls saga beginning missing ok lyk ek þar brennunials sogu
Egils saga her hefr upp egils sogu endir egils sogu
Finnboga saga ok lyk ek þar finnbogasogu
Bandamanna saga saga ofeigs banda kals lykr þar þessari sogu
Kormáks saga kormags saga lykr þar sogu þessi
Víga-Glúms saga her hefr viga Glums s0gu ok lykr þar sogu Glums
Droplaugarsona saga af katli þrym capitulum ... vetri siðarr en þangbranndr prestr
kom til islandz fell helgi droplaugarson
=lkofra saga/þáttr aulkofra saga ok lykr þar sogu olkofra
Hallfreðar saga hallfredar saga ok lykr her sogv hallfredar
Laxdœla saga laxdæla saga [merges with so-called Bolla þáttr
whose beginning is marked with the
rubric ‘af bolla bollason’ and ends with
the explicit ok hofum ver eigi heyrt
þessa sogu lengri’]
Fóstbrœðra saga saga þormod ok þorgeirs end missing
70 Emily Lethbridge
Some of these rubrics are the titles commonly used today; others are
less familiar (e.g. saga ofeigs banda kals for Bandamanna saga; saga þor-
mod ok þorgeirs for Fóstbræðra saga). Of immediate relevance for the
present consideration of ‘the corpus’ is the rubrication of the short nar-
rative about Þórhallr ‘=lkofri’ which is not generally included in survey
lists of Íslendingasögur but is nonetheless given the title ‘=lkofra saga’ in
Möðruvallabók, the sole pre-Reformation textual witness for it. In other
later paper copies, the titles ‘Ölkofra þáttur’ and ‘Ölkofra saga’ are used
interchangeably, as in the 17th-century manuscript AM 455 4to, where
‘Ölkofra þáttur’ is given as the title rubric at 70v but the explicit on 72r
reads ‘Og lýkur þar sögu Ölkofra’. The Íslenzk fornrit edition calls the
story =lkofra þáttr’ though the editor, Jón Jóhannesson, notes that
“Þar [in Möðruvallabók] er hann kallaður saga, og hefði ef til vill verið
rétt að halda því” (Jón Jóhannesson 1950: xxxviii; “there, in Möðru-
vallabók, it is called a saga, and it may be right to think of it as such”). In
English translation, the story is just called ‘Ale Hood’ in Hermann
Pálsson’s 1971 Penguin translation but it is given the title ‘Olkofri’s saga’
in the Complete Sagas of Icelanders series (Viðar Hreinsson (gen. ed.)
1997).
This variation with regard to the rubrication of =lkofra saga/þáttr un-
derlines an issue that is central to the question of medieval and modern
generic distinctions as far as medieval Icelandic prose narratives are con-
cerned. Is the narrative about =lkofri a saga or a þáttr? Does the deci-
sion, one way or another, affect how the narrative is regarded by modern
critics? The generic dividing line between saga and þáttr in this case is
clearly a very fine one: where length is often taken as one of the criteria
used to distinguish sagas from þættir, the narrative about =lkofri is ar-
guably just as much a short saga as a longer þáttr. Modern critics decid-
ing on one or the other generic type (i.e. saga/þáttr) may well be implic-
itly perpetuating certain hierarchical value judgements founded on as-
sumptions about the relative lengths and narrative value or complexity of
sagas (longer, more sophisticated) and þættir (shorter, less sophisticated).
The manuscript evidence shows clearly that the distinction is sometimes
not obvious, however (see further Ármann Jakobsson 2013 and Bergdís
Þrastardóttir 2014). In addition to rubrication and this kind of explicit
generic labelling, the arrangement of a text in its physical manuscript
context (i.e. its disposition on the page alongside the textual company
that it keeps in any single manuscript), is another type of evidence that
can be looked to for insights into how these texts were conceived of and
understood by those who copied them.
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 71
iii) The sagas in their manuscript contexts
In the case of some sagas, nowhere is a continuous text to be found in the
extant medieval parchment record. This is not because of damage to the
manuscripts but because of the way in which some sagas are copied out
in þættir-like instalments rather than as uninterrupted ‘whole’ textual
units. The narrative usually referred to as Grænlendinga saga, for exam-
ple, is only preserved in one pre-Reformation parchment manuscript.
This is the late 14th-century Flateyjarbók manuscript (GKS 1005 fol.), in
which the saga is copied out in two instalments inserted at two points
into the Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar hin mesta narrative; it might also be
noted that it is in fact rubricated “Eireks þáttr rauða” in Flateyjarbók
(see further Rowe 2005: 271–75). Grænlendinga saga has been criticised
for ‘lacking’ a conventional Íslendingasögur opening comparable to its
Vínland counterpart Eiríks saga rauða (or it is thought to have lost this
material), that is, a prelude with genealogically-framed character intro-
ductions and geographical scene-setting in Norway followed by land-
claims in Iceland. Sverrir Tómasson notes that the circumstances of its
preservation mean that considering it as an independent or discrete nar-
rative is problematic (2001: 35–36; see also comments in e.g. Ólafur
Halldórsson 1985: 369 and Ólafur Halldórsson 2001: 43–44). Invariably,
the nature of the narrative’s non-continuous preservation is viewed in a
negative light.
Hallfreðar saga vandræðaskálds and Fóstbræðra saga are two further
examples of this phenomenon of discontinous or intermittent textual
preservation. These sagas are extant in a relatively large number of pre-
Reformation manuscript witnesses: 9 in the case of Hallfreðar saga and 5
in the case of Fóstbræðra saga as already noted. In both cases, however,
many of these manuscript witnesses preserve the sagas in a discontinuous
way with episodes from them woven þættir-like into texts of other nar-
ratives, mostly the konungasögur Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar hin mesta and
Óláfs saga helga (e.g. in Flateyjarbók; AM 53 fol.; AM 54 fol.; AM 61
fol.; AM 62 fol., Holm perg 1 fol. (Bergsbók)).12 Sigurður Nordal writes
about Fóstbræðra saga as preserved in Flateyjarbók that “[það] vantar að
vísu ekki neitt, en undir lokin eru sögurnar svo fléttaðar saman, að von-
12 Fóstbræðra saga, or a part of it, is also referred to as a þáttr by the Flateyjarbók scribe
Jón Þórðarson in his prefatory material: “þikir af þui tilheyriligt at setia her nockurnn þatt
af hirdmonnum hans tuæimr Þorgæiri Hafarssyne ok Þormode Bessasyne” (Guðbrandur
Vigfússon and C. R. Unger (eds) 1862: 9; “it seems thus appropriate to include here a þáttr
about his [Óláfr’s] two retainers, Þorgeirr Hávarsson and Þormóðr Bessason”).
72 Emily Lethbridge
laust er greina heillagan texta Fóstbræðra sögu frá” (1943: lxx; “cer-
tainly nothing is lacking but towards the end, the sagas are so entwined
that there is no hope of distinguishing a whole text of Fóstbræðra saga
[from that of Óláfs saga]”) – a point which highlights the complexity of
genre definition and distinction.
Related to this is the phenomenon of what might be described as ac-
cretive þættir, that is, þættir or additional narrative units which function
as prologues, epilogues or generally as supplmentary narrative material
alongside ‘primary’ saga narratives, and which are found in some manu-
scripts but not in others that preserve the same sagas. The text of Ljós-
vetninga saga as preserved in the late 14th- or early 15th-century AM
561 4to (alongside Reykdæla saga and Gull-Þóris saga) does not include
the so-called Sörla þáttr, Ófeigs þáttr, Vöðu-Brands þáttr or Þórarins
þáttr ofsa episodes which are inserted at certain points into the saga narra-
tive in the other pre-Reformation parchment that preserves it, the 15th-
century AM 162 c fol. (see further Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson 2007b).
Here, the presence or absence of these þættir is key to different versions
of this saga being distinguished between. The opening and closing sec-
tions of Grettis saga, rubricated in some manuscripts as Önundar þáttr
tréfóts and Spesar þáttr, respectively, are not included in every manu-
script copy of that saga either but are invariably considered to be integral
parts of the saga as a whole (see Lethbridge 2012a: 362). While not con-
sidered to be a fundamental structural part of Laxdæla saga in the same
way, the so-called Bolla þáttr Bollasonar is sometimes found copied after
Laxdæla saga in both pre-Reformation manuscripts (e.g. Möðruvalla-
bók) and post-Reformation ones, as a kind of continuation to the narra-
tive. Kjalnesinga saga and Jökuls þáttr Búasonar is yet another example.
Manuscripts are thus a good starting point for considering questions
of genre and generic fluidity or ‘movement’ (see Mitchell 1991: 21–22;
29–30). Fóstbræðra saga and Hallfreðar saga arguably read quite differ-
ently in the Íslendingasögur-dominated frame of Möðruvallabók on the
one hand, and the konungasögur-dominated frame of the other manu-
scripts in which they are discontinously copied on the other hand, with
regard to which common generic markers stand out. Structural, thematic,
or motivic features that ally Íslendingasögur narratives and distinguish
them from, say, konungasögur or other saga narratives, are reinforced when
Íslendingasögur are found copied out together in manuscripts in which no
other texts assigned to different genres are preserved alongside them.
This is the situation with Laxdæla saga and Eyrbyggja saga as found
together in the 13th-century AM 162 e fol.; Eyrbyggja saga and Egils
saga as found together in the 14th-century Wolf Aug 9 10 4to; Bjarnar
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 73
saga and Kormáks saga as found together in the 14th-century AM 162 f
fol.; Reykdæla saga, Gull-Þóris saga and Ljósvetninga saga as found
together in the 14th-century/early 15th-century AM 561 4to13; Þórðar
saga hreðu and Króka-Refs saga as found together in the late 15th-cen-
tury Holm perg 8 4to; Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, Víglundar saga and Gret-
tis saga Ásmundarsonar as found together in the late 15th-century/early
16th-century AM 551 a 4to; Króka-Refs saga and Bandamanna saga as
found together in the 16th-century JS frg 6 4to. There are obvious con-
nections between the sagas in some of these collections (geographical
overlap or proximity for example, or thematic or stylistic similarities)
but there is also a large caveat here: the fragmentary nature of these man-
uscripts means that the possibility that texts typically assigned to other
genres (and not necessarily only saga genres) might also originally have
been part of these compilations cannot be ruled out.
The strongest pattern that emerges when the contents of all compila-
tion manuscripts containing Íslendingasögur texts are analysed, however,
is their decidedly mixed or generically heterogeneous character. Much
more often than not, Íslendingasögur are found copied into manuscripts
alongside texts assigned by modern critics to other prose genres. In the
so-called Pseudo-Vatnshyrna manuscript from the late 14th or early 15th
century (AM 445 b 4to + AM 445 c I 4to + AM 564 a 4to), texts of
Vatnsdæla saga, Flóamanna saga, Eyrbyggja saga, Gísla saga Súrssonar,
Víga-Glúms saga, Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, Þórðar saga hreðu and Harðar
saga are preserved, and in addition to these, some þættir (Bergbúa þáttr,
Kumlbúa þáttr, Draumur Þorsteins Síðu-Hallssonar) and the Melabók
version of Landnámabók. This material is relatively homogenous in that
it pertains (predominantly) to Iceland and the settlement age but since
the manuscript is badly damaged, other types of text may once have been
part of it. And it is not at all uncommon to find Íslendingasögur (often,
but not always, those thought to be younger or ‘post-classical’) copied
alongside texts assigned to fornaldarsögur and riddarasögur genres.
In AM 586 4to (Arnarbælisbók) from the 15th century, for example,
Þórðar saga hreðu and Króka-Refs saga are found together with some
exempla or ævintýri (Af þremur kumpánum; Af þremur þjófum í Dan-
mörk; Um bryta einn í Þýskalandi; Af meistara Perus; Af Vilhjálmi
bastarði og sonum hans; Roðberts þáttur); and the fornaldarsögur and
13 A text of Úlfhams rímur was added at 23v–24r and at 16r in this manuscript at some
point in the 17th century (see Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir ed. 2001: xlviii–xlix). This is a
good example of the dynamically accretive nature of these manuscripts over time, with
texts or parts of texts being added (or sometimes scraped away) as the respective users or
owners of these books from one generation to the next saw fit or desirable.
74 Emily Lethbridge
riddarasögur Flóres saga konungs og sona hans, Bósa saga ok Herrauðs,
Vilmundar saga viðutan, Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar, Hrings saga ok
Tryggva, and Ásmundar saga kappabana. Two scribes seem to have pro-
duced this manuscript, working in tandem and “shar[ing] out between
them the writing of pages and even of lines” (Loth (ed.) 1977: 17). Simi-
larly, in the 15th-century AM 471 4to + AM 489 I 4to, Þórðar saga hreðu,
Króka-Refs saga, Kjalnesinga saga and Bárðar saga are copied along with
the three ‘Hrafnistumannasögur’ fornaldarsögur (Ketils saga hængs,
Gríms saga loðinkinna, Örvar-Odds saga; as a trio, these narratives have
strong genealogical connections) and two riddarasögur (Viktors saga ok
Blávus and Kirijalax saga). The late 15th-century AM 556 a 4to + AM
556 b 4to (Eggertsbók) contains the three outlaw Íslendingasögur Grettis
saga, Gísla saga and Harðar saga alongside one fornaldarsaga (Þorsteins
saga Víkingssonar) and three riddarasögur (Sigrgarðs saga frækna, Mágus
saga jarls, Jarlmanns saga ok Hermanns). Grettis saga and Þorðar saga
hreðu are also found in the large compilation manuscript AM 152 fol.
from the early 16th century, along with fornaldarsögur (Hálfdanar sögu
Brönufóstra; Göngu-Hrólfs saga; Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar; Hrólfs
saga Gautrekssonar; Gautreks saga) and riddarasögur (Flóvents saga;
Sigurðar saga þögla; Ectors saga; Mágus saga jarls). In the 15th-century
GKS 2845 4to (seemingly the work of two scribes, see Jón Helgason (ed.)
1955: viii), Bandamanna saga accompanies þættir (Norna-Gests þáttr,
Orms þáttr Stórólfssonar, Rauðúlfs þáttr) and fornaldarsögur (Hálfs saga
ok Hálfsrekka, Göngu-Hrólfs saga, Yngvars saga viðförla, Eiríks saga
viðförla, Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs).
In the 15th-century manuscript AM 557 4to (Skálholtsbók), as well as
riddarasögur (Valdimars saga, Dámusta saga), a fornaldarsaga (Eiríks
saga viðförla) and þættir (Rögnvalds þáttr ok Rauðs, Hróa þáttr heimska,
Stúfs þáttr, Karls þáttr vésæla, Sveinka þáttr Steinarssonar), a contempo-
rary saga (samtíðarsaga) Hrafns saga Sveinbjarnarsonar is copied to-
gether with two of the Íslendingasögur sometimes sub-categorised as
skáldasögur (Gunnlaugs saga and Hallfreðar saga) and Eiríks saga rauða.
This book seems to have been written by two scribes and although the
order of the quires as the manuscript is extant now has been altered at
some point in its history – it seems likely that the eighth and last quire,
containing þættir, may originally have been at the beginning of the book
– the distribution of texts over pages and quires suggests that it was con-
ceived of and executed as a whole (see Mårtensson 2011: 49–53). Another
example of a samtíðarsaga-Íslendingasaga combination is found in the
15th-century AM 551 d b 4to, which preserves Arons saga Hjörleifssonar
and then Þórðar saga hreðu. Similarly, the 16th-century AM 510 4to,
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 75
produced by three scribes (a father and two sons) working together (see
further Karl Óskar Ólafsson 2006), brings together the Íslendingasögur
Víglundar saga and Finnboga saga with Jómsvíkinga saga, as well as forn-
aldarsögur (Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns, Friðþjófs
saga ins frækna) and riddarasögur (Jarlmanns saga ok Hermanns, Drau-
ma-Jóns saga).
IV. Concluding remarks: Njáls saga and how
the Íslendingasögur were ‘read’
It is difficult to posit any kind of clear-cut development or trend over
time in terms of differing combinations of saga-texts as brought together
in compilation manuscripts, principally because of unknown factors such
as the ravages of time and vagaries of chance with regard to what survives
of all those pre-Reformation Icelandic manuscripts that once existed.
The earlier examples of compilation manuscripts are generally fragmen-
tary and thus direct comparison of this evidence with the more complete
compilation manuscripts that survive from the later medieval period is
problematic – like is not necessarily being compared with like. Despite
the loss of the great proportion of manuscripts once produced, however,
it does seem possible to say that from early times, the general impulse
seems to have been one of compilation. Manuscripts containing types of
texts other than sagas also demonstrate this (e.g. GKS 2365 4to Codex
Regius of the Poetic Edda from the late 13th century; the 14th-century
manuscripts of the Prose Edda (DG 11 Codex Upsaliensis, GKS 2367 4to
Codex Regius, and AM 242 fol. Codex Wormianus) with their varying
combinations of the component parts of Snorra Edda, Grammtical
Treatises, and in the case of the Codex Regius, Jómsvíkingadrápa and
Málsháttakvæði). Hauksbók, Haukur Erlendsson’s early 14th-century
compilation volume – which has been variously described or interpreted
as a personal encyclopedia or as a private library within the covers of one
volume (see e.g. Simek 1991, Sverrir Jakobsson 2007, Rowe 2008) –
exemplifies the extreme end of the spectrum.
Since manuscripts were time-consuming and expensive objects to pro-
duce, and accordingly must have been highly-prized and rare possessions
rather than common and numerous ones, some degree of pragmatism
may also have been a factor when they were commissioned by their pro-
spective owners. An explicit desire or need for copies of particular sagas
76 Emily Lethbridge
or other texts may have motivated the commissioning and production of
a manuscript book in the first instance but other items may have been
included on a more ad hoc basis along with these specified texts, if not
exactly “for the sake of it”, at least because they were available for copy-
ing and of interest. Once texts had been assembled together as part of a
bigger whole though, their material context clearly had a direct influence
on how those texts were received and understood from the perspective of
their themes and genre, and the ways in which they intersected or inter-
acted with other texts/narratives. The manuscript book as a whole can be
seen as framing each narrative, and – whether deliberately planned or not
– the co-existence of several narratives together within the single framed
material unit forced dynamic, intertextual reading, and generated count-
less connections between narratives that modern critics would most
likely approach as discrete texts (see Lethbridge 2012b).
Intertextuality is thus a fundamental characteristic of saga narratives
and their transmission. The way in which the texts of some Íslendinga-
sögur were broken up and recombined or reassembled with other texts in
different manuscript contexts – in conjunction, moreover, with the way
in which these narratives lived in the Icelandic landscapes and were ac-
cessible through place-names, for example, which functioned as mne-
monics that prompted the recall of saga characters and events – explicitly
draws attention to this and illustrates one way in which these Íslendinga-
sögur narratives were not conceived of as discrete entities but rather as
flexible and often overlapping constituent parts of a bigger whole or nar-
rative world, the immanent saga world (see Clover 1986; Gísli Sigurðs-
son 2004, 2007; also Cochrane 2010). This flexibility (in combination with
certain other impulses and circumstances surrounding their composition)
also encouraged the continuous rewriting which is a fundamental charac-
teristic of their dissemination (see Quinn and Lethbridge (eds) 2010).
What then, are the implications here with regard to Njáls saga, if it was
– going against the grain of the compilatory impulse – more often than
not deliberately copied and circulated as a stand-alone text, the sole con-
tent of whole manuscripts, as some of the extant manuscript evidence
suggests? If the material circumstances of a saga narrative’s textual pre-
servation directly and indirectly affect how it is ‘read’, was Njáls saga,
then, read or consumed from the earliest times of its tranmsission in dif-
ferent kinds of ways to other saga narratives, copied as they were in var-
ying textual constellations that meant that they would have been accessed
and digested in a more cumulative, overlapping manner? The answer to
this question, I would argue, is “probably, yes”.
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 77
But why was Njáls saga transmitted as a stand-alone text when other
sagas do not seem to have been? As already mentioned at the beginning
of this article, doubtless, logistics must have come into play here, to some
degree at least. It cannot be a coincidence that Njáls saga is easily the
longest of the Íslendingasögur. Copied out on its own, Njáls saga would
require a similar amount of parchment as that needed for several shorter
sagas copied out consecutively. But books such as Hauksbók and Möðru-
vallabók are proof that certainly from the end of the 13th century, larger
volumes were being produced; ultimately, therefore, the amount of
parchment required for a text of Njáls saga alone need not have dictated
its unaccompanied status in manuscripts. One might think that once the
investment in terms of time and expense had been made and Njáls saga
had been commissioned and copied out, the inclusion of some þættir at
least (perhaps those set around the south, for example, or associated with
individual characters from other parts of the country who appear in Njáls
saga) might have been an appealing supplementary option. Perhaps it
was – but the fragmentary state of most copies we have of Njáls saga does
not allow us to to pursue this speculation much further. One clear direc-
tion for the future development of this study would be to look to the
post-Reformation paper tradition, however; limitations of time and space
did not allow these manuscripts to be taken into consideration here but
it could be illuminating to chart which texts assigned to other genres (e.g.
fornaldarsögur, riddarasögur, samtíðarsögur?) Njáls saga is copied along-
side in these younger manuscripts.
What, then, is the relationship between the exceptionally rich manu-
script tradition of Njáls saga and the saga’s status as one of the cornerstones
of Icelandic literature, a narrative of huge ideological importance to Ice-
landers and one which has played an important part in constructions of
Icelandic identity over time (see Jón Karl Helgason 1995 and 1999)? In
some ways, it is difficult to unravel this. Either, initially the length of the
saga dictated the unusual circumstances of its transmission as a single text
in manuscripts, and this resulted in it being set apart or regarded as differ-
ent in some way to other Íslendingasögur. Or, from the earliest times of its
dissemination, Njáls saga was perceived as having a particular intrinsic
worth and a different symbolic significance, and because of this, it was
transmitted in this unusual fashion – unaccompanied by other texts.
Narrative themes and motifs such as the importance of the law and
legal procedure (and, by extension, the conversion to Christianity), Gun-
narr of Hlíðarendi’s fatally emotional attachment to the fertile slopes of
Fljótshlíð, and the independence and success of those characters who
78 Emily Lethbridge
travel abroad and spend time at royal courts, certainly later became high-
ly idealised metaphors for Icelandic nationalism, and contributed to the
saga becoming a kind of literary emblem for Iceland. Perhaps these nar-
rative elements or motifs seemed more prominent and invited ideological
appropriation because of the self-contained nature of the saga’s preserva-
tion in manuscripts such as Reykjabók and Gráskinna: unlike Hallfreðar
saga and Fóstbræðra saga, it was always possible to define the narrative as
a whole, to hold up the volume and to say “This is Njáls saga”. While the
textual variation that exists between manuscript copies testifies to differ-
ing interpretations of infinite aspects of the Njáls saga narrative, this
variation and the rewriting impulses behind it is demarcated or bounded
in a sense; the fact that dramatically diverging versions of Njáls saga do
not exist could be significant, though this ought not necessarily be seen
as a mark of greater status or ‘respect’ accorded to the saga during the
course of its transmission, with people being more hesitant about ac-
tively intervening and altering the text.
The great geographical sweep of the Njáls saga stage all around Iceland
must be recognised as fundamental to the nationally-acclaimed status of
the saga – the physical reach or extent of the narrative (see Appendix 2)
meant that most Icelanders, in most parts of the country, could find some
direct connection between it and their locality. Other sagas, copied, read
or told in tandem, complement each other and cover wider districts
around Iceland; the inclusion of other sagas alongside Njáls saga in man-
uscript copies perhaps seemed unnecessary because it already covered
such a great part of the country. The only other saga comparable in this
respect is Grettis saga – interestingly, the only other saga with a similarly
wide geographical reach (see Appendix 3), one which has enjoyed endur-
ing popularity at a national level over time (see Hastrup 1990), and one
which also survives in more pre- and post-Reformation manuscript cop-
ies than most other sagas.
It is significant with regard to understanding the place of the Íslendinga-
sögur in Icelandic cultural history over time that geography is the order-
ing principle behind the 14-volume Íslenzk fornrit set of Íslendingasögur
editions. But where authority, completeness and uniform order with re-
gard to discrete texts and ‘the corpus’ is the general impression that this
printed series and others implicitly convey to their users, the manuscript
evidence for the sagas tells a different story as has been shown. The state
of the preservation of Íslendingasögur in these books and fragments is
often anything but complete or ordered and their complex manuscript
paradosis (and that of other kinds of saga texts) forces us to question our
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 79
assumptions about what these narratives are in terms of narrative unity
and wholeness, and from generic perspectives. Charting and attempting
to better understand the variation in the manuscript evidence is the most
productive way of building up a more nuanced picture of the nature of
these medieval Icelandic narratives, and of the dynamic ways in which
they were disseminated and received in Iceland, right up until the 20th
century.
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Sigurjón Páll Ísaksson (1994): “Magnús Björnsson og Möðruvallabók”. Saga 32,
103–51.
Simek, Rudolf (1991): Altnordische Kosmographie: Studien und Quellen zu Welt-
bild und Weltbeschreibung in Norwegen und Island vom 12. bis zum 14.
Jahrhundert, de Gruyter, Berlin and New York.
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 83
Stefán Karlsson (1967): “Möðruvallabók”. Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for Nordisk
Middelalder XII, Rosenkilde og Bagger, Copenhagen, pp. 185–86.
Stefán Karlsson (1970): “Um Vatnshyrnu”. Opuscula 4, Bibliotheca Arnamag-
næana 30, pp. 279–303.
Stefán Karlsson (2006): “From the Margins of Medieval Europe: Icelandic Ver-
nacular Scribal Culture”. O. Merisalo and P. Pahta (eds), Frontiers. Pro-
ceedings of the Third European Congress of Medieval Studies, FIDEM,
Louvain-la-Neuve, pp. 483–92.
Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir (2013): “Með handrit á heilanum. Safnarinn Árni
Magnússon”. Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir (ed.), 66 handrit úr fórum Árna Mag-
nússonar, Bókaútgáfan Opna, Reykjavík, pp. 9–37.
Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir and Ludger Zeevaert (forthcoming 2014): “Við upptök
Njálu. Þormóðsbók – AM 162 b fol. delta”. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir
(ed.), Góssið hans Árna, Reykjavík.
Sverrir Jakobsson (2007): “Hauksbók and the Construction of an Icelandic
Worldview”. Saga-Book of the Viking Society 31, 22–38.
Sverrir Tómasson (2001): “Ferðir þessa heims og annars”. Gripla 12, 23–40.
van Weenen, Andrea van Arkel de Leeuw (ed. 2000): A Grammar of Möðruval-
labók, Research School CNWS, Leiden.
Vésteinn Ólason (2007): “Family Sagas”. Rory McTurk (ed.), A Companion to
Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture, Blackwell Publishing, Malden
and Oxford, pp. 101–118.
Viðar Hreinsson (gen. ed. 1997): Complete Sagas of Icelanders, 5 vols, Leifur
Eiríksson, Reykjavík.
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á íslenskum fornbókmenntum”. Skáldskaparmál 1, 28–53.
84 Emily Lethbridge
Appendix 1
Pre-Reformation parchment manuscripts containing
Íslendingasögur texts
The date of each manuscript follows that given on handrit.is; in the ‘State’
column, ‘frg’ = fragmentary; ‘–’ = more complete though in many cases
with lacunae; in the ‘Type’ column, ‘mt’ = multitext; ‘st’ = single text’;
‘–‘ = unknown on account of fragmentary condition; in the ‘Contents’
column, titles of texts other than Íslendingasögur are indicated in italics.
Shelfmark Date State No. of leaves Type Contents
13th century
AM 162 a g fol. 1275–1300 frg 2 Egils saga
AM 162 a d fol. 1290–1310 frg 8 Egils saga
AM 162 a z fol. 1250–1300 frg 4 Egils saga
AM 162 a q fol. 1240–1260 frg 4 Egils saga
AM 162 d I fol. 1290–1310 frg 5 Laxdœla saga
AM 162 d II fol. 1250–1300 frg 1 Laxdœla saga
AM 162 e fol. 1290–1310 frg 7 mt Laxdœla saga
Eyrbyggja saga
AM 371 4to 1290–1360 18 + 107 + 16 mt Fóstbræðra saga
AM 544 4to Eiríks saga
AM 675 4to Landnámabók; Kristnisaga;
(Hauksbók) Geographica qvædam et phys-
ica...; Theologica qvædam...;
Völuspá; Trójumanna saga;
Seven Precious Stones;
Cisiojanus; Breta sögur; Two
Dialogues; þættir; Hervarar
saga ok Heiðreks; Algorismus;
Skálda saga; Af upplendinga
konungum; Prognostica
temporum; Elucidarius
14th century
AM 53 fol. 1375–1400 72 mt Hallfreðar saga
Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar hin
mesta; Færeyinga saga; þættir
AM 54 fol. 1375–1400/ 76 mt Hallfreðar saga
1500 Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar hin
mesta; Færeyinga saga; þættir
AM 62 fol. 1375–1400 53 mt Hallfreðar saga
Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar hin
mesta; Færeyinga saga; þættir
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 85
AM 132 fol. 1330–1370 200 mt Njáls saga
(Möðruvallabók) Egils saga
Finnboga saga
Bandamanna saga
Kormáks saga
Víga-Glums saga
Droplaugarsona saga
=lkofra saga/þáttr
Hallfreðar saga
Laxdœla saga
Fóstbrœdra saga
AM 133 fol. 1350 frg 95 Njáls saga
(Kálfalækjarbók)
AM 162 a b fol. 1340–1360 frg 1 Egils saga
AM 162 a e fol. 1390–1410 frg 3 Egils saga
AM 162 a k fol. 1390–1410 frg 2 Egils saga
AM 162 b b fol. 1300 frg 1 + 24 Njáls saga
AM 162 b d fol.
(Þormóðsbók)
AM 162 b g fol. 1315–1335 frg 5 Njáls saga
(Ossbók)
AM 162 b e fol. 1350–1375/ frg 8 Njáls saga
(Hítardalsbók)
1500
AM 162 b z fol. 1315–1335 frg 5 Njáls saga
AM 162 b h fol. 1340–60 frg 3 Njáls saga
AM 162 b q fol. 1315–1335 frg 2 Njáls saga
AM 162 b k fol. 1340–1360 frg 2 Njáls saga
AM 162 f fol. 1350–1400 frg 3 mt Bjarnar saga
Kormáks saga
AM 325 VIII 1375–1400 frg 1 + 1 mt Hallfreðar saga
2 e–f 4to Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar
AM 445 b 4to 1390–1425 frg 11 + 5 + 7 = 23 mt Vatnsdœla saga
AM 445 c I 4to Flóamanna saga
AM 564 a 4to Eyrbyggja saga
(Pseudo-Vatnshyrna) Víga-Glúms saga
Gísla saga
Bárðar saga
Þórðar saga hreðu
Harðar saga
Þættir; Landnámabók
AM 468 4to 1300–1325 93 st Njáls saga
(Reykjabók)
Shelfmark Date State No. of leaves Type Contents
86 Emily Lethbridge
AM 561 4to 1390–1410 41 mt Reykdœla saga
Gull-Þóris saga
Ljósvetninga saga
Úlfhams rímur
GKS 1005 fol. 1387–1394 225 mt Hallfreðar saga
(Flateyjarbók) Eiríks saga
Grænlendinga saga
Fóstbræðra saga
Konungasögur; þættir;
Orkneyinga saga; Færeyinga
saga; Jómsvíkinga saga
(see handrit.is for full details
of contents and foliation)
GKS 2868 4to 1350–1400 45 Njáls saga
(Skafinskinna)
GKS 2869 4to 1400 frg 11 Njáls saga
(Sveinsbók)
GKS 2870 4to 1300/1500 121 st Njáls saga
(Gráskinna)
Holm perg 7 4to 1300–1325 58 + 34 mt Egils saga
AM 580 4to Konráðs saga keisarasonar;
Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar;
Jómsvíkinga saga; Ásmundar
saga kappabana; Örvar-Odds
saga; Elis saga ok Rósamundu;
Bærings saga; Flóvents saga;
Mágus saga jarls
Lbs frg 1 1300–1350 1 + 54 = 55 mt Heiðarvíga saga
Holm perg 18 4to Gunnlaugs saga
Holm perg 10 1350–1375 frg 2 Laxdœla saga
IX 8vo
Wolf Aug 9 1330–1370 54 mt Eyrbyggja saga
10 4to Egils saga
15th century
AM 61 fol. 1400–1449 132 mt Hallfreðar saga
Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar hin
mesta; Ólafs saga Haralds-
sonar
AM 75 e V fol. 1400–1500 frg 15 mt Fóstbræðra saga
Þættir
AM 162 a h fol. 1450–1475 frg 2 Egils saga
AM 162 a i fol. 1400–1500 frg 1 Egils saga
AM 162 b a fol. 1400–1500 frg 2 Njáls saga
Shelfmark Date State No. of leaves Type Contents
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 87
AM 162 b i fol. 1400–1425 frg 4 Njáls saga
(Reykjarfjarðarbók)
AM 162 c fol. 1420–1450 frg 11 mt
Ljósvetninga saga
Vápnfirðinga
saga
Droplaugarsona saga
Finnboga saga
Þorsteins þáttr stangarhöggs;
Sálus saga ok Nikanórs
AM 162 g fol. 1400–1500 frg 2 Hænsa-Þóris saga
AM 162 h fol. 1400–1450 frg 2 Bárðar saga
AM 162 i fol. 1490–1510 frg 1 Hrafnkels saga
AM 309 4to 1498 48 mt Laxdœla saga
(Bæjarbók) Eyrbyggja saga
Njáls saga
Excerpts from Flateyjarbók
AM 445 c II 4to 1440–1460 frg 1 Svarfdœla saga
AM 466 4to 1460 57 st Njáls saga
(Oddabók)
AM 471 4to 1450–1500 108 + 26 = 134 mt Þórðar saga hreðu
AM 489 I 4to Króka-Refs saga
Kjalnesinga saga
Bárðar saga
Ketils saga hængs; Gríms saga
loðinkinna; Örvar-Odds saga;
Viktors saga ok Blávus; Kirja-
lax saga
AM 551 a 4to 1490–1510 53 mt Bárðar saga
Víglundar saga
Grettis saga
AM 551 d b 4to 1400–1450 frg 8 mt Þórðar saga hreðu
Arons saga Hjörleifssonar
AM 556 a 4to 1475–1500 88 + 46 = 134 mt Grettis saga
(AM 556 b 4to) Gísla saga
(=Eggertsbók) Harðar saga
Sigurgarðs saga frækna;
Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar;
Mágus saga jarls; Hermanns
saga ok Jarlmanns
AM 557 4to 1420–1450 48 mt Gunnlaugs saga
(Skálholtsbók) Hallfreðar saga
Eiríks saga
Valdimars saga; Hrafns saga
Sveinbjarnarsonar; Dámusta
saga; Eiríks saga viðförla;
þættir
Shelfmark Date State No. of leaves Type Contents
88 Emily Lethbridge
AM 586 4to 1450–1500 33 mt Þórðar saga hreðu
(Arnarbælisbók) Króka-Refs saga
Ævintýri; Flóres saga konungs
ok sona hans; Bósa saga;
Vilmundar saga viðutan;
Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar;
Hrings saga ok Tryggva;
Ásmundar saga kappabana
GKS 2845 4to 1440–1460 73 mt Bandamanna saga
Þættir; Göngu-Hrólfs saga;
Yngvars saga viðförla; Eiríks
saga viðförla; Hervarar saga
ok Heiðreks
Holm perg 1 fol. 1400–1425 210 mt Hallfreðar saga
(Bergsbók) Fóstbræðra saga
Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar hin
mesta; Færeyinga saga; þættir
Holm perg 8 4to 1450–1500 27 mt Þórðar saga hreðu
Króka-Refs saga
JS frg 6 4to 1475–1500 frg 2 mt Króka-Refs saga
Bandamanna saga
16th century
AM 152 I fol. 1500–1525 201 mt Grettis saga
Þórðar saga hreðu
Hálfdanar saga Brönufóstra;
Flóvents saga; Sigurðar saga
þögla; Göngu-Hrólfs saga;
Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar;
Hektors saga; Mágus saga
jarls; Gautreks saga
AM 162 a a fol. 1500–1600 frg 3 Egils saga
AM 510 4to 1540–1560 96 mt Víglundar saga
(Tómasarbók) Finnboga saga
Bósa saga; Jarlmanns saga ok
Hermanns; Þorsteins þáttr
bæjarmagns; Jómsvíkinga
saga; Drauma-Jóns saga;
Friðþjófs saga
AM 571 4to 1500–1550 frg 12 mt Grettis saga
Ála flekks saga; Hálfdanar
saga Brönufóstra; Þorsteins
þáttr bæjarmagns
DG 10 1500 55 Grettis saga
Shelfmark Date State No. of leaves Type Contents
Hvorki glansar gull á mér / né glæstir stafir í línum 89
Appendix 2
The geographical distribution of places named in Njáls saga
Appendix 3
The geographical distribution of places named in Grettis saga
90 Emily Lethbridge
... Icelanders', sometimes called 'Icelandic family sagas') (Ólason 2005). Extant narratives in this category number around 40 and are preserved in hundreds of medieval and post-medieval manuscripts, the oldest of which date to the mid-thirteenth century (Lethbridge 2014;McDonald Werronen 2018). They range in length from around 20 to 300 pages in printed editions or paperback translation and some are prosimetric in form: the prose is studded with verses uttered by characters to mark certain occasions or to serve as commentary on events (Harris 1997). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
The relationship between narrative and place in Iceland (as elsewhere) is an intricate and symbiotic one that is always in process. Digital mapping tools make it possible to take steps towards establishing chronologies of storied places. In addition, such tools aid in the interrogation and characterisation of the reciprocal dynamics of story and place in Iceland in ways not conceivable before. The ongoing Icelandic Saga Map (ISM) project attempts to link Iceland’s rich medieval textual corpus with the country’s geography, thus facilitating a better understanding of the various functions the landscape fulfils in the medieval sagas and in other works, as well as encouraging reflection on the role that landscape has played in the transmission and reception of these works over a time-period of a millennium or so. This chapter provides an overview of the medieval Icelandic textual corpus and a description of some technical aspects of the ISM project, followed by a discussion that focuses on the methodological challenges encountered and theoretical insights gained from the mapping process. Examples drawn from the most famous of all sagas, Njáls saga, provide a sense of the complexity of correspondences between textual representations of Icelandic landscape and its ‘real-world’ counterpart(s).
Thesis
Full-text available
The rich medieval Icelandic literary record, comprised of mythology, sagas, poetry, law codes and post-medieval folklore, has provided invaluable source material for previous generations of scholars attempting to reconstruct a pagan Scandinavian Viking Age worldview. In modern Icelandic archaeology, however, the Icelandic literary record, apart from official documents such as censuses, has not been considered a viable source for interpretation since the early 20th century. Although the Icelandic corpus is problematic in several ways, it is a source that should be used in Icelandic archaeological interpretation, if used properly with source criticism. This dissertation aims to advance Icelandic archaeological theory by reintegrating the medieval and post-medieval Icelandic literary corpus back into archaeological interpretation. The literature can help archaeologists working in Iceland to find pagan religious themes that span time and place. Utilizing source criticism as well as interdisciplinary methods, such as animal aDNA, this work presents two case studies of often ignored grave goods. These grave goods are found in both Icelandic pagan graves as well as in the graves of the pagan Scandinavian homelands, spanning from the Stone Age up until the Middle Ages.
Article
Full-text available
There was never any such thing as a medieval Icelandic short story. Nevertheless it had its presence as a category of scholarly thought for most of the twentieth century in the form of the saga subgenre known as the þáttr.1 Below I will explore how this came about. I will discuss the circumstances of its birth, the premises for its well-being, the ideological context it thrived in, and the reasons for its eventual decline and fall. This study is concerned with the how no less than the what, as it aims to illuminate the whole story of this category. The medieval Icelandic short story had its own name, and the term “short story” was rarely used. Scholars flirted with the term, mainly in the 1970s and the 1980s, without daring to use it openly.2 The Icelandic word þáttr actually has entirely different connotations, as I will discuss in more detail below. However, the terms were successfully disregarded throughout most of the twentieth century, and the Icelandic þáttr was widely believed to be a short story—an independent narrative conceived as such—and eventually it gained its own generic features. In the 1970s a typical þáttr structure was diagnosed and eventually made it into the curriculum of Icelandic high schools.3 And even though the term “short story” was not often used without a caveat, there were some scholars who went all the way,4 sometimes even crediting medieval Icelanders with the invention of the short story, beating out powerful, if not particularly well-chosen rival claimants, such as Boccaccio and Chaucer, by two centuries.5 These examples may have been exceptions, but they were nevertheless an integral part of a dominant school of thought that may have just shied away from calling the þættir short stories but nonetheless believed them to be more or less the same thing: minisagas of Icelanders abroad and closely related to the Sagas of Icelanders. One of the main features of the concept of the þættir as a distinct category was the grouping together of Íslendingasögur and Íslendingaþættir—novel and short story—in works of reference and in the most influential editions, as I will discuss below. However, despite the fact that only in recent decades have scholars discussed sagas as novels in a serious way,6 it was the rule for most of the twentieth century to discuss Íslendingasögur and Íslendingaþættir together as the respective long and short version of the same form.7 In this study I will explore how the þættir were reinvented as independent narratives in the twentieth century, with editors taking the lead and scholars following close behind, juxtaposing this with the actual medieval preservation of the þættir in the kings’ sagas. This will be followed by a closer look at the prehistory of the þættir as independent narratives, reviewing the manuscript evidence from the late Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Then I will discuss the premises for the twentieth-century editions and how they evolved from romantic nationalism to the late twentieth-century emphasis on form and content. This story of the þættir is essentially not the full story of the þættir but of how twentieth-century scholarly thought was dominated by the work of editors.8 It may be regarded as a case study of how the work of editors may provide an invisible frame for scholarly thought, guiding it toward predetermined results. The year 1904 is important in the history of Iceland, as it was the year when Iceland gained home rule.9 The first þættir edition also appeared in this year, and it was a sign of the changing times that it was published in Reykjavík, rather than Copenhagen, which had been the center of publications of Old Icelandic texts by Icelandic scholars in the nineteenth century.10 This edition was named Fjörutíu Íslendinga-þættir and was edited by Reverend Þórleifur Jónsson of Skinnastaðir (1845–1911), an old hand in this business, having been involved with Old Norse editions both in Copenhagen and Reykjavík since 1874.11...
Article
This article traces the life of the loth-century Icelandic chieftain Sidu-Hallr Porsteinsson and that of his ancestors and descendants, through numerous mentions in extant sources particularly Islendinga sogur and Pattir. Hallr is descended from significant Landnamsmenn on both his mother and father's sides. Most significant of these is Hrollaugr Rognvaldsson who settles Iceland on the advice of a mysterious prophecy which seems to relate his female guardian spirits (fylgjur) to Iceland. A relatively consistent family tree of Hanes ancestors and descendants can be ascertained from disparate sources, with only a few discrepancies, particularly around the number and names of Hanes sons. Hallr himself is portrayed consistently as honourable, magnanimous and a noble heathen before becoming an early convert to Christianity. There is however also a suggestion that Hallr had some degree of cunning and shrewdness. The most important single event in his life story is his role in the conversion of Iceland to Christianity in the year 999 or 1000. His actions at the Alpingi underline the picture of him both as generous peacemaker, but also shrewd political realist. If we turn to his sons Dorsteinn, Didrandi and Egill, we find many of the same characteristics, though without the same degree of patience as their father. Hallr are his sons are ancestors of many of the notable bishops, literary figures and chieftains of the saga-writing age. Having assembled the material for this *Sidu-Halls saga ok sona bans the article then argues that the story forms a relatively coherent whole. Although there are some inconsistencies of detail, there is a consistency in the portrayal of the central characters and the themes addressed in the texts. For example the theme of supernatural female guardianship runs throughout, as does the theme of Christianity and conversion. The notion of this saga actually having existed in medieval times is rejected primarily on the grounds that throughout the assembled material no such saga is ever mentioned as a source. The conclusion is therefore that the story of Sidu-Hallr and his sons developed orally. It had, no doubt, some kernel of truth, but as such stories were told and retold they developed an ever increasing organisation. Whenever new material was added it needed to agree in terms of characterisation and theme with that which existed. Having reached such a point as to be an immanent saga, it would have taken a saga author only comparatively light touches to change the oral material into an artistic whole. In
Article
The aim of this essay is to explain the physical make-up of the fourteenth-century saga codex Modruvallabok (AM 132 fol.). Njals saga at the beginning of the extant book was intended, as already argued by Jon Helgason, to have preceded a copy of the lost *Gauks saga Trandilssonar in a separate codicological entity. Egils saga, now immediately following, was likewise designed to stand alone, and the first item signalling the commencement of an unbroken series of texts is Finnboga saga, prior to which another saga may have been lost. The extant AM 132 fol. represents a pile of loose, unbound groups of quires formerly kept in a bookshop with a view to being sold in combinations determined by potential buyers. The large double-column format represents a mid-fourteenth-century innovation in the production of manuscripts of Islendingasogur, which previously had been copied in smaller formats with a view to being read aloud; it is suggested that pretentious and expensive copies of this literary genre reflect the ambition of the burgeoning fourteenth-century Icelandic aristocracy to appropriate traditional history. The cumulative physical deterioration of Modruvallabok over the centuries is discussed with special reference to the text of Egils saga and Fostbroedra saga.
Article
The medieval Norse-Icelandic saga is one of the most important European vernacular literary genres of the Middle Ages. This Introduction to the saga genre outlines its origins and development, its literary character, its material existence in manuscripts and printed editions, and its changing reception from the Middle Ages to the present time. Its multiple sub-genres-including family sagas, mythical-heroic sagas and sagas of knights-are described and discussed in detail, and the world of medieval Icelanders is powerfully evoked. The first general study of the Old Norse-Icelandic saga to be written in English for some decades, the Introduction is based on up-to-date scholarship and engages with current debates in the field. With suggestions for further reading, detailed information about the Icelandic literary canon, and a map of medieval Iceland, this book is aimed at students of medieval literature and assumes no prior knowledge of Scandinavian languages.
Chapter
The Earliest Writings in the Latin AlphabetManuscriptsScriptNorwegian scriptAbbreviations
Chapter
Íslendingasögur as a Form of NarrativeThe World of the SagasSagas in SocietyÍslendingasögur in Literary History