Writing in the twilight: The manuscripts of Magnús Jónsson í Tjaldanesi – University of Copenhagen

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Writing in the twilight: The manuscripts of Magnús Jónsson í Tjaldanesi

D.phil. Matthew Driscoll of the Arnamagnaean Institute gives his inaugural lecture, having been appointed full professor from 1 August 2017.

With his scholarly interest in Icelandic language and literature, textual scholarship, book history and manuscript studies, Matthew Driscoll has been employed at the Arnamagnaean Institute since 1995 and has recently held a Leverhulme Visiting Professorship at Ulster University. 

In 2011-12 he was Professeur invité at Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, and in 2006 he was Gastdozent at Abteilung für Nordische Philologie, Deutsches Seminar, Universität Zürich.

Abstract

Magnús Jónsson í Tjaldanesi (1835-1922), an ordinary farmer with no formal education, was one of the most prolific scribes of late pre-modern Iceland, producing in the course of his lifetime a vast number of manuscript copies of saga texts. He collected these into a huge anthology, 20 volumes in all, each of exactly 800 pages, to which he gave the title Fornmannasögur Norðurlanda ('Sagas of the ancient men of the north'). There are multiple copies of most of the volumes, and it appears that he copied the entire collection at least four times. The manuscripts contain, in total, texts of nearly 200 individual sagas – essentially everything that was in circulation in late 19th-century Iceland.

In my lecture I will examine the nature of the material in Magnús's collection and his treatment of it, and will try to assess what may have been his intentions with this monumental undertaking, and how it has fared in comparison with the official Icelandic canon which was being forged at roughly the same time.