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Morkinskinna ed. by Ármann Jakobsson and Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 85, Number 1, Spring 2013
pp. 110-114 | 10.1353/scd.2013.0003

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

A new publication in the Íslenzk fornrit (Old Icelandic Texts) series is a major event in the realm of Icelandic saga scholarship. The first volume published in the series, Sigurður Nordal's edition of Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar, became available eighty years ago in 1933, and after progress that the publisher's website describes a little generously as "steady rather than spectacular," we now have the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh volumes to appear out of a planned thirty-five. But while the wait for some volumes has been long indeed, and some of the earlier ones are inevitably now dated in some respects, the Íslenzk fornrit editions of the sagas remain the ones most widely used and cited internationally by those students, scholars, and translators whose needs are met by sound and attractively produced normalized editions of saga texts. These handsome books also enjoy considerable prestige in Iceland, even if many book buyers there elect for less scholarly editions or versions employing modern orthography.

Morkinskinna, the work that has now appeared, is a chronicle of the kings of Norway. Both the beginning and the end are missing, and in its present form it extends from about 1035 to 1157, but scholars believe that it originally probably covered the period 1030 to 1177. The first two kings of the period, Magnús Óláfsson and his remarkable uncle Haraldr harðráði (hard ruler) Sigurðarson, whose highly dramatic career ended at Stamford Bridge in 1066, receive considerably more attention than most later monarchs. (The text relating to the first two kings is in volume 1, the remainder in volume 2.) Rather awkwardly, the name Morkinskinna refers both to the literary work and to the primary manuscript that preserves it, GKS 1009 fol in the Royal Library in Copenhagen. "Morkinskinna" means "rotten parchment," a name given to the manuscript late in the seventeenth century by the Icelandic scholar Torfæus (Þormóður Torfason). As GKS 1009 fol, despite its defects, is not rotten, the name is mysterious and may allude to an original binding no longer extant.

The task of editing Morkinskinna for the Íslenzk fornrit series was entrusted in 2003 to Ármann Jakobsson, who has published extensively on the text, including a 2002 monograph Staður í nýjum heimi: Konungasagan Morkinskinna (A place in a new world: The saga of kings Morkinskinna). When the task of editing this long text proved more demanding than expected, Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson was appointed in 2008 to assist. Þórður Ingi augmented the notes on the text Ármann had prepared and played a major role in seeing the work through the publication process. Ármann had laid the groundwork for the edition of the text, and the lengthy introduction is mainly his work, except for the section "Um þessu útgáfu" (About this edition), which is by Þórður Ingi, the jointly prepared section on the verses embedded in the text, and the acknowledgments.

Somewhat usually split between the two volumes, the introduction includes sections covering ground one would expect to find in any scholarly edition of an ancient or medieval text. There is discussion of the manuscript, dated here, as is usual, to about 1275, and of the authorship, date of the original text, and provenance. Ármann uncontroversially dates the original Morkinskinna text to about 1220, notes difficulties with the concept of an "author" for sagas of this kind, and affirms its Icelandic provenance. After exploring the widely held view among earlier scholars that there was an older Morkinskinna significantly different from the presently extant one, often regarded as having numerous later interpolations, he resolutely concludes that there is no incontestable evidence for such a view. Sources and works influenced by Morkinskinna are duly considered, as are earlier editions (and the only translation into any language to date, that of Theodore M. Andersson and Kari Ellen Gade into English for the Islandica series in 2000, the helpfulness of which to the Íslenzk fornrit project is acknowledged).

Following the lead of Finnur Jónsson in his 1928-1932 edition, Ármann and Þórður Ingi use later works that include material likely to be almost identical to what was in...

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