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  • 66 Manuscripts from the Arnamagnæan Collection eds. by Matthew James Driscoll and Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir
  • Jonas Wellendorf
66 Manuscripts from the Arnamagnæan Collection. Eds. Matthew James Driscoll Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. 2015. Pp. 237.

The saying that each book has its fate holds true for manuscripts, as 66 Manuscripts from the Arnamagnæan Collection amply attests. It celebrates Árni Magnússon and his monumental collection of manuscripts by presenting short descriptions and gorgeous sample photos of sixty-six of the manuscripts in his collection. The volume was published to celebrate Árni Magnússon's 350th birthday, and has also appeared in Icelandic (2013) and Danish (2015). Árni Magnússon appears to have lived for his collection (one of the editors of the collection characterizes him as a "manuscript junkie" near the beginning of her otherwise very readable opening essay). Árni Magnússon died in 1730 at the age of 66, and each manuscript can be said to represent one year of his life. In addition to the sixty-six manuscripts, the volume also presents a handful of charters.

No less than thirty-five scholars, all affiliated with the Arnamagnæan Collection in Reykjavik or Copenhagen, have contributed to the publication. Just as the volume presents both older and younger manuscripts (dating from the twelfth to the early eighteenth century), the contributors also represent both seasoned and younger scholars (their years of birth range from 1936 to 1980). Although the particular interests of the contributors shine through in many cases, taken together, their presentations nevertheless show a remarkable continuity and similarity in approach to the materials in the Arnamagnæan Collection across three generations of scholars.

The volume opens with an inspired account of Árni's life and death and traces the subsequent history of his collection down to the present day, where the collection has been inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. This introduction is followed by relatively brief entries on the sixty-six manuscripts. No rationale is given for the order of presentation of individual manuscripts, but the overarching organizational principle is thematic. The individual descriptions provide more or less the [End Page 427] same kind of information, and one learns about the dating and contents of the manuscripts, as well as their provenance, that is, how they ended up in the Arnamagnæan Collection. In addition to the importance of the texts they contain, many of the manuscripts have interesting histories. The entries on individual manuscripts are followed by a richly illustrated and enlightening text on medieval book production and various indices.

The format of this attractive volume is that of a small coffee-table book. The presentation is aimed at a general audience and therefore understandably eschews a scholarly apparatus. Quotations from the texts are few and are always accompanied by translations into English (on p. 100, some errors of translation have escaped the attention of the editors, and some modern Danish has made its way into the text on p. 138).

One of the strengths of the book, in addition to its lavish illustrations, is its insistence on giving all parts of the collection their due attention. Magnificent codices are presented alongside scraps of parchment, and the most famous Icelandic manuscripts in the collection are presented alongside lesser-known counterparts from mainland Scandinavia, as well as a single manuscript that has been localized to the Iberian Peninsula. An Icelandic print from the early 1700s has also found its way into the volume. The Arnamagæan Collection contains an embarrassment of riches, and choosing which manuscripts to include and which to exclude cannot have been easy. Should one nevertheless point to a gap in the coverage of the volume, one candidate could be AM 619 4to, The Norwegian Book of Homilies, the oldest Norwegian book to have come down to us. However, the coverage of various types of manuscripts and writings is impressive, and although they may occasionally miss the scholarly apparatus, even scholars specializing in older Scandinavian literatures and written culture will undoubtedly find the publication informative and illuminating in many respects.

This remarkable book is a worthy celebration of the man who devoted his life...


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