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The Book of Reykjaholar

The Book of Reykjaholar: The Last of the Great Medieval Legendaries

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Book of Reykjaholar
    Book Description:

    The Book of Reykjahólar, produced on the very eve of the Reformation, investigates what may be considered the last medieval legendary. The legendary's significance resides in its preserving in Icelandic translation a group of otherwise unattested medieval Low German saints' lives. Marianne E. Kalinke presents a literary analysis of the Reykjahólar legendary, demonstrating what kind of sources the translator used in his compilation and how he collected, combined, and adapted these texts to suit his Icelandic audience. The book also offers stylistic, thematic, and comparative analyses of the legends.

    A number of these Christian myths are apocryphal, some transmit folk tales and romances, such as the legend of the hairy anchorite (St John Chrysostom), the search for the highest king (St Christopher), the tale of the grateful lion (St Jerome), the tale of the dragon-slayer (St George), and the story of the holy sinner (Gregorius peccator). The legends belong to the vast corpus of German hagiography, yet the currency of these particular versions is documented today only in translation by virtue of their inclusion in this Icelandic legendary. The book opens with a survey of the development of German hagiography, goes on to a discussion of the religious and intellectual climate in early sixteenth-century Iceland, and then follows with a consideration of the legendary's Low German sources and its production by one of the wealthiest Icelanders of the time, Björn Thorleifsson of Reykjahólar.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8056-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 Legenden/Lügenden
    (pp. 3-23)

    Twenty years after the publication of his ninety-five theses, Martin Luther disseminated in three editions, in Wittenberg, Augsburg, and Strassburg, a narrative he calledDie Lügend von S. Johanne Chrysostomo.¹ In choosing to designate the legend of St John Chrysostom aLügend, Luther was playing on the German termLegende(or, in his time, alsoLegend); in English this would be equivalent to calling a sacred legend alie-gend, or invented story. Luther’s word play was typical of the rhetoric of the polemical writings of the Reformation period.² With the neologism, Luther proclaimed as fiction a type of narrative that...

  6. 2 The Eve of the Reformation in Iceland
    (pp. 24-44)

    The reference is to Ögmundur Pálsson, who in 1521 was consecrated bishop of Skálholt, the southern bishopric of Iceland, and who served until 1539, when he retired because of blindness. The priest in question, Jón Einarsson, presumably had gone to school at Skálholt, and had been in the service of Ögmundurʼs predecessor, Bishop Stefán Jónsson. He may have studied abroad² and is believed to have been the first Icelander to be attracted to Lutheran teachings.³ The account of the Candlemas sermon appears in the seventeenth-century annals of Jón Egilsson (1548-1636?), a not entirely reliable source. If the incident did indeed...

  7. 3 The Low German Sources of Reykjahólabók
    (pp. 45-77)

    At a time when the bishopric of Skálholt had already imported multiple copies of the two most important European legendaries of the time, namely the LatinLegenda aureaand the Low German redaction ofDer Heiligen LebencalledDat Passionael, and when the Reformation had already claimed most of northern Europe, Björn þorleifsson sat down to produceReykjahólabók. Linguistic evidence confirms - as we shall see - that his sources for most of the texts were Low German; in the nineteenth century scholars identified these sources as the legends of thePassionael.¹ Until Agnete Loth edited the entire codex in...

  8. 4 Björn þorleifsson of Reykjahólar: Copyist, Translator, Editor, and Compiler
    (pp. 78-124)

    All the evidence, however circumstantial, suggests that the scribe of Sth. Perg. fol. nr. 3, that is,Reykjahólabók, who has been identified as Björn þorleifsson, also translated the legends known to derive from Low German sources; copied some older Icelandic saintsʼ lives that had previously been translated from Latin; edited and compiled them - as he did also in the case of some of the translated texts that were available in more than one version; and brought these texts together in one manuscript.

    As was noted in chapter 2,Reykjahólabókmay be consideredthegreat hagiographic achievement of Iceland in...

  9. 5 The Communion of Saints
    (pp. 125-164)

    In the production of his legendary Björn þorleifsson operated on two levels: at every moment he not only took care in copying or translating the text that was his source but also maintained an awareness of the relationship of the legend at hand both to other legends inReykjahólabókand to the larger corpus of legends constituting his oeuvre. Accordingly, he deleted some matter in order to avoid redundancy, but also augmented the text of his sources for the sake of a complete record of a saintʼs life, death, and posthumous intervention in human affairs. As we learned in the...

  10. 6 ‘God alone knows whether this legend is true’
    (pp. 165-198)

    An anonymous fourteenth-century author gratuitously observed in the prefatory matter ofFlóres saga konungs ok sona hans, an indigenous Icelandic romance, that most people do not consider saintsʼ lives very entertaining.¹ Whether one agrees or disagrees with this observation depends upon the legends one has read; the pronouncement is applicable to some but not other legends inReykjahólabók. Several marginalia in the Icelandic legendary (see chap. 4) reveal that occasionally texts were received by their readers as nothing but fantastic tales. Presumably those readers expected factual or edifying matter and were disappointed to encounter fables. For the literary historian, however,...

  11. 7 Sacred Romances
    (pp. 199-237)

    The legends discussed in the previous chapter are based on motifs familiar not only from folk-tales but also from longer narrative forms, such as romance. The motif of the grateful lion, for instance, who plays such an important role inJeronimus saga, originated in the ancient tale of Androcles and the lion, and became known in the Middle Ages through Chrétien de Troyesʼs Arthurian romanceYvainand its translations and adaptations in other languages.¹ The twelfth-century French romance was translated into Old Norse in the second half of the thirteenth century, and this translation,Ívens saga, inspired the composition of...

  12. 8 Björn þorleifsson: Collector of Myths
    (pp. 238-248)

    Thus concludes the legend of St Nicholas of Tolentino, the Augustinian friar and most recent saint - he was canonized in 1446 - inReykjahólabók. The invocation of God and all the saints, and not infrequently of the particular saint whose legend has just been related, is a hagiographic topos both in Latin and in the vernacular. Only two legends in Björn þorleifssonʼs anthology,Maríu saga og ÖnnuandDominicus saga, do not contain such a formulaic ending. The legend of Mary and Anne is an incomplete text (six leaves are missing), and the conclusion has not been transmitted; the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 249-290)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-308)
  15. Index
    (pp. 309-322)