Fäderneslandets antikviteter. The export of islandica in the 17th century

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URI: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bsz:21-opus-10779
http://hdl.handle.net/10900/46215
Dokumentart: Teil einer Konferenzveröffentlichung
Date: 2002
Language: English
Faculty: 5 Philosophische Fakultät
Department: Sonstige - Neuphilologie
DDC Classifikation: 839 - Other Germanic literatures
Keywords: Saga , Island
Other Keywords:
export icelandic sagas , icelandic manuscripts , collection of texts
License: xmlui.dri2xhtml.METS-1.0.item-dc-rights_value_ubt-nopod
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Abstract:

Árni Magnússon's huge job as a systematic collector of Icelandic manuscripts is well known. But how did he come to do this? Who were his precedessors? For he did not just get the idea to do this work all by himself. It has to be identified as the climax of some kind of tradition in collecting literary material in and on Iceland and in transporting it to continental Scandinavia. How did these activities start? Who were those outside Iceland who were interested in Old Icelandic texts? It was historians and book collectors of the late 16th and the 17th centuries, who first became aware of the existence of Old Icelandic sagas and poetry through the Latin works of Argrímur laerdi on Iceland (eg "Crymogaea"), and later through Bishop Brynjólfur Sveinsson who employed a number of scribes to copy the old material for scientists in Denmark and who also donated some of the most splendid codices to them and the Danish king. As the Icelandic sagas were thought to contain information on the heroic past of the Northern people, the scientific interest mingled with the political wish to prove Denmark's (and later also Sweden's) high level of civilization ever since the old times. The historians' aim was to show that the Scandinavian past was at least as heroic as the Romans' and the Greeks'. Besides, the use of the sagas as historical sources the Scandinavian scientists could also refer to the very advanced level of Old Icelandic poetry to support the thought of Nordic superiority.Against this backdrop, strong efforts were made during the 17th centrury to increase the Icelandic material, in order to exploit it in Continental Scandinavia. Since, at this time, Iceland belonged to Denmark, and since Denmark was, during long periods in the 17th century, an enemy of Sweden, the Danish historians didn't want the Swedes to get hold of Icelandic sagas; they got a royal decree according to which it was forbidden to export Icelandic "antiquities", as they were called then, to countries other than Denmark. Still, some cunning Icelanders kept selling manuscripts to the Swedish scientists, and it is noteworthy that in Sweden, many more Icelandic texts were published than in Denmark. When the copying and selling of the Icelandic manuscripts reached its climax (towards the end of the 17th century), a lot of material came to the Royal Libraries and to the "antikvitetskollegium" in Stockholm. Only some of these texts were sagas, poetry or law codices (in which people were most interested so as to prove the high Nordic standard of civilization in the old times). The manuscripts' contents even included medical treatises, Icelandic natural history, fairy tales and "papistic" catholic songs praising Virgin Mary, to mention just some of the various subjects. My aim is to investigate the combination of those very diverse texts that were put together into large codices. After all, it may be not that easy to believe that people wanted the Icelandic material to prove their excellent provenience and heroic past. I think that the interest for Iceland was much broader and perhaps, it ought to be put in context with the 16th and 17th centuries' idea of investigating the whole world. The collecting of both literary sources and material objects for this purpose and their presentation in the so called "Wunderkammern", their natural, art and curiosity cabinets maybe was to complete their knowledge about a - even for Scandinavians others than the Icelanders themselves - distant and exotic island in the Atlantic sea.

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