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Reviewed by:
  • Alexanders Saga: AM 519a 4° in the Arnamagnæan Collection, Copenhagen
  • Kirsten Wolf
Alexanders Saga: AM 519a 4° in the Arnamagnæan Collection, Copenhagen. Edited by Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen. Manuscripta Nordica: Early Nordic Manuscripts in Digital Facsimile, Vol. 2. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009. Pp. xxv + 352 + 2 plates + CD-ROM. DKK 800; $138.

Alexanders saga, a prose translation of Galterus de Castellione’s Latin epic Alexandreis about the life and career of Alexander the Great, has stirred the admiration of scholars and writers for centuries because of its exceptionally imaginative use of the resources of language and its engaging narrative style. Árni Magnússon had [End Page 276] it in mind to produce an edition of the work, but his plan never materialized. The first edition is that of C. R. Unger in 1848. In 1925, an edition by Finnur Jónsson appeared, and in 1966 a facsimile edition was published with an introduction by Jón Helgason. Modern Icelandic reading versions have been edited by Halldór Laxness and Gunnlaugur Ingólfsson and published in 1945 and 2002, respectively. Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen’s edition, then, is the sixth.

The translation, which is generally believed to have been undertaken by Brandr Jónsson, bishop of Hólar 1263–64, during the winter 1262–63, which Brandr spent in Trondheim, survives in five medieval Icelandic manuscripts. The chief manuscript, AM 519a 4to from about 1280, is incomplete, with two leaves lost. A fragment of Alexanders saga is found in AM 655 XXIX 4to. The saga also appears in AM 226 fol., Stock. Perg. 4to no. 24, and AM 225 fol. (a copy of AM 226 fol.); these manuscripts have a shortened text and contain a translation of an additional work, the Epistola Alexandri ad Aristotelem. Finally, the saga is found in a large number of late manuscripts, only one of which, Stock. Papp. fol. no. 1, has textual significance. This volume, the third in the facsimile series Manuscripta Nordica with Peter Springborg as the general editor, is an edition of the chief manuscript AM 519a 4to.

According to de Leeuw van Weenen’s preface, the project had its origins in her wish to give a morphological and orthographical description of an Old Icelandic manuscript dated to halfway between the Icelandic Homily Book (ca. 1200) and Möðruvallabók (ca. 1350), on both of which she has previously done extensive work; however, as she points out, such a description can only be based on an accurate transliteration of the manuscript. The end result is considerably more comprehensive in scope in that it consists of a printed book containing an introduction, a transliteration of the manuscript, a lemmatized index, and a CD-ROM with a facsimile-level transcription with links to the photographs, a diplomatic version, a normalized version, various textual aids, and supplementary material.

The introduction, which forms the first part of the book, consists of four chapters. Chapter 1 is a general introduction and provides an overview of the book, describes the Latin original, gives a survey of the other manuscripts and editions of Alexanders saga, and discusses the provenance of AM 519a 4to. It also contains a detailed account of the manner in which the project was conceived and carried out. Chapter 2 is concerned with codicology and paleography and describes the cover; the material, numbering, and measurements of the codex; the quires; the hands; prickings and rulings; glosses and marginals; and individual letter forms. The chapter is characterized by careful attention to detail and comprises an exhaustive account of the physical appearance of AM 519a 4to, though in the discussion of the material, a deliberation of the type of vellum used could and maybe should have been included. Likewise, it would have been interesting to know the arrangement and distribution of the leaves based on a study of hair and flesh sides, though this reviewer recognizes that it is often difficult to make this kind of distinction, when describing Old Norse-Icelandic manuscripts. Chapter 3 gives a survey of the orthography of the manuscript and is, as de Leeuw van Weenen points out, “a partly automatic analysis” (p. 47), though from her...


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