Associate 1990-91

Marianne E Kalinke

Germanic Languages and Literature

Late Medieval Icelandic Saints' Lives in Their European Context

On the eve of the Reformation in Iceland (1550), a monumental prose legendary, known today as Reykjahólabók, was produced by an Icelander. This anthology of 25 legends, ranging in length from 14 to 163 printed pages in A. Loth's edition (1970), derives from Low German sources and includes, in addition to traditional legends, matter more suited to romance than hagiography, such as the legends of St. Oswald, a bridal-quest romance, and Gregorius pecator, a courtly tale of incest about an apocryphal saint. The handwriting in the codex has been identified as that of Björn Porleifsson (d. ca. 1554), one of the wealthiest Icelanders of his time.

The Icelandic legendary is significant not only as a transmitter of late-medieval continental hagiography, but also as evidence of a new trend in the reception of foreign literature in Iceland. The legendary is a remarkable example of the art of translating and compiling. The legends alternate between translations from a single source and translations (with authorial commentary) of at least two sources. While Widding and Bekker-Nielsen identified a 1492 Lübeck imprint of the Passional, a Low German legendary, as the source of the compilation in 1960, it has been shown that the translator/compiler had additional sources, including a Plenarium, a handbook for preachers containg inter alia exempla and legends.

With the exception of Edward Edzardi's study of the legend of St. Oswals (1987) and Professor Kalinke's own research on the Gregorius peccator legend, none of the legends has been studied in respect to language, style, and method of composition, nor have the sources of Reykjahólabók been determined. Professor Kalinke intends to 1) establish the relationship of the Icelandic legends to Low German versions transmitted in variant imprints of the Passional and Plenarium; 2) analyze the translator/compiler's methodology; 3) study the style, structure, and typology of the Icelandic legends; and 4) reconstruct the historical, religious, and literary situation in which the legends were produced.