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  • Creating the Medieval Saga: Version, Variability and Editorial Interpretations of Old Norse Saga Literature ed. by Judy Quinn and Emily Lethbridge
  • Elizabeth Ashman Rowe
Judy Quinn and Emily Lethbridge, eds. Creating the Medieval Saga: Version, Variability and Editorial Interpretations of Old Norse Saga Literature. The Viking Collection: Studies in Northern Civilization 18. [Odense]: UP Southern Denmark, 2010. Pp. 337.

This collection of essays results from a symposium at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Bergen in 2005 on the subject of editing saga texts. Most of the authors are senior scholars with extensive [End Page 508] experience in editing sagas and the skaldic poetry they contain, but their approaches to editing are shaped by the insights of the no-longer-new "new philology." Gone is the goal of reconstructing something close to the original text; taking its place is a respect for the multiplicity of manuscript witnesses to a text coupled with an acknowledgment that Icelandic editor-scribes often shaped their texts actively and worked from more than one exemplar at a time. As Judy Quinn points out in the introduction, even the goal of editing the codex optimus or "best text" can be complicated by incomplete manuscripts, small yet significant fragments, and an array of equally plausible variants (18). The modern editor is necessarily no less an active shaper of the text than the editor-scribes of medieval Iceland, and the essays in this collection review, reflect, and argue for various ways in which this shaping should be done.

In "Stitching the Text Together: Documentary and Eclectic Editions in Old Norse Philology" (39-65), Odd Einar Haugen distinguishes between "documentary editions" (those that keep strictly to one manuscript of a text) and "eclectic editions" (those that bring together readings from several manuscripts to approximate the original texts). He further underscores the apparent paradox of Lachmannian analysis of manuscript witnesses used to justify the choice of the particular witness that is to be edited as a Béderian codex optimus. With the nineteenth-century editions of Konungs skuggsjá and Barlaams ok Josaphats sagas as case studies, Haugen argues that electronic editions can mediate between the "documentary" and "eclectic" approaches, offering the reader a normalized eclectic text as well as facsimile, diplomatic, and normalized versions of the texts from multiple manuscripts from which the eclectic text is drawn.

Although also advocating electronic editions, Karl G. Johansson balances a higher level of abstraction with a finer granularity of what is to be edited ("In Praise of Manuscript Culture: Texts and Editions in the Computer Age," 67-85). He adopts Bo-A. Wendt's tripartite definition of text, which is an abstract "text-work" that comprises all extant and lost text-witnesses or some subset thereof with the text-witnesses carried in text-bearing objects and with the "text-work" capable of being defined in relation to its context of use at a particular time. When the text-bearer is a manuscript, nearly every text witness has a one-to-one relationship with its text-bearer. At the level of text-witnesses, text-works can be divided into "topical units," which are the smallest self-contained narrative, descriptive, or argumentative units, and text-bearers can be divided into "production units" (segments written at the same time) and "usage units" (segments used for the same purpose). The former concept is valuable for understanding the components of compilation manuscripts, whereas the latter concept [End Page 509] is valuable for understanding the variable components with a text-work, such as the riddle contest in Hervarar saga, which is extant in many quite different versions. Johansson proposes electronic "open corpus editions" that would allow readers to peruse manuscripts "horizontally" through the sequence of text-units within it or to pursue text-works and topical units "vertically" through the succession of their text-witnesses.

In "The Words on the Page: Thoughts on Philology, Old and New" (87-104), M.J. Driscoll, too, advances his own preferred terminology: the "work" (an abstraction), the "text" (a particular version of the work), and the "artifact" (a unique object containing a text). His goal is to show that editions in the Arnamagnæan tradition have considered artifacts...


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