Mírmanns saga, edited by Desmond Slay.

Editiones Arnamagnæanæ, Series A, vol. 17.

Redactor: Jonna Louis-Jensen.

1997. clxxi + 216 pp.

Mírmanns saga belongs to the group of Icelandic romantic sagas (riddarasögur) for which no demonstrable foreign sources or models have been found. Its plot is unusual, especially with regard to the assertiveness of the female characters (and the decided nastiness of some of them).

Mírmann, who has grown up in France and become a Christian, attempts to convert his pagan father, the earl of Saxland. They quarrel, and Mírmann accidentally kills his father. In revenge for this, his mother Brígiða inflicts leprosy on him by means of a magic potion. Mírmann leaves home in disguise and eventually reaches Cecilía, princess of Sicily, who is famous for her medical knowledge. Cecilía cures him, and he marries her. They live happily for some years, but then Mírmann takes leave of Cecilía to visit his foster-father, the king of France. During this visit the old king dies, and his young widow, Katrín, who has earlier made unsuccessful advances to Mírmann, deceives him into marrying her. Disguised as a knight, Cecilía now travels to France, challenges and defeats Mírmann in single combat and finally carries him off with her, having had the deceitful Katrín imprisoned and her tongue cut out. Mírmann and Cecilía reign over Sicily for many years, after which they retire to a monastery, there to end their lives in the service of God.

Mírmanns saga was evidently popular, for it survives in 34 manuscripts, complete or incomplete. Two of the manuscripts are medieval, namely Stockholm Perg. 4:o nr 6 (early fifteenth century) and AM 593a 4to (second half of the fifteenth century), called A1 and B in Desmond Slay's edition, in addition to which two narrow strips from a leaf of a third fifteenth-century manuscript have been found in the bindings of seventeenth-century books printed at Hólar (now Lbs. 1230 8vo III). The saga has previously been edited from A1 and B by E. Kölbing (in Riddarasögur 1872). Both these manuscripts are defective, A1 lacking the second half of the saga and B the beginning, but the lacuna in A1 can partly be filled from two paper manuscripts, AM 179 and 181 fol. (called A2 and A3), which are transcripts of A1 in a less defective state than the present. However, the last fifth or so of the saga was lacking from A1 even when it was copied in the seventeenth century, and Professor Slay argues that the original ending of the A-text may be traceable, not in A2 or the supplementary pages which have been added to A3, but in a group of later manuscripts more distantly derived from A1 (A4-7).

The remaining primary manuscripts of the saga (C, D, E and F) are post-medieval, and while C, D and possibly E seem to go back to medieval versions for stretches of their texts, F appears to be completely rewritten in more recent times, possibly through the intermediary of the older Mírmants rímur (unpublished), which would also seem to have influenced part of the D-text.

The new edition presents five of the six primary texts synoptically, as far as they go, the second half of the A-text being pieced together from A2, A3 and A4, with variants from A3-5, A4-5 and A5-7, respectively. The sixth text, the modern F, is printed after the others. The texts are unnormalised, but expanded abbreviations are not italicised.

The introduction gives a detailed study of the primary manuscripts, their history, palaeography and orthography, and a full description of the secondary manuscripts, followed by a summary and three diagrams showing the stretches of text covered by the seven complementary A-manuscripts, the stretches of text covered by the six printed texts, A-F, and the relationship of the A-text manuscripts, both primary and secondary. The introduction includes a bibliography and four appendices. Appendix A gives the text of the small vellum fragments of the saga, Appendix B discusses the special agreement between D and F (and Mírmants rímur), Appendix C surveys the evidence for the name forms Mírmann/Mírmant, and Appendix D gives an English summary of the story of Mírmanns saga.

The volume concludes with indices of the names in the saga and the names and manuscripts in the introduction.

About the editor

Desmond Slay, (1927-2004), took his degree in English from St Catherine's College, Oxford in 1948. He then became a lecturer at the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth.  After taking his doctorate, he remained at Aberystwyth for the rest of his career, becoming Rendel Professor of English Language and Literature in 1978.

His earliest major project was on Hrólfs saga kraka, on which he produced a monograph in 1960. His approach of studying the entire history of the text's transmission, taking into account manuscript copies that had been considered secondary, anticipated by decades ideas which were later promoted as the "New Philology" of the 1990s.