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This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Journal of Philology
Vol. 30, No. 2 (1909), pp139‑152.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

 p139  II. Classical Scholarship in Medieval Iceland

Research in the history of Medieval classical scholarship has done much to drive the term "Dark Ages" into disuse. We have peered into almost every nook and corner of Europe seldom failing to catch some glimmer of light. It is however with a feeling of boldness akin to diffidence that I ask the reader to follow me even into Ultima Thule with the promise that the way is not all darkness. But I am convinced that we have been too ready to believe Pythias, the discoverer of Iceland, who circulated a report that that region of the earth was a sort of "Great Boyg" which could not be penetrated.1

The notes I offer are not exhaustive, having been gathered from desultory reading in a very extensive field; but I present them in the hope that historians of that field may be tempted by them to do the work more thoroughly.

For the sake of orientation a few dates and incidents may not come amiss. Iceland, it will be remembered, was settled by the Norse in the year 874 A.D. For the next century the inhabits devoted their summers, for the most part, to plundering Europe, their winters to weaving the summer's adventures into song and story. In the year 1000 the island officially adopted Christianity. To be sure this did not materially lessen the amount of plunder at first, but it was nevertheless the beginning of a great change. Before 1150, the little island, with its meagre twenty thousand inhabitants, was the seat of two bishoprics, a hundred churches, and seven monasteries. The Sagas, a hundred or more vigorous tales of iron muscle and red blood, which were then in the making, had to give way to the anaemic saints' lives from the south. But there is another phase of the story. When the church had won its battle against the pagan worship and could afford to be conciliatory in matters non‑essential, many of the better educated native churchmen extended their sympathies to the lore of their own land. In fact it is to these churchmen  p140 that we owe the earliest transcription of native sagas. By a sort of reciprocity the people in turn gave ready ear to the learning imparted by the monastic and church schools, a learning that centered about the study of the Latin Grammar. Not only do we find numerous students in these native ecclesiastical schools, but the church records of the 11-14th centuries tell of many men of Iceland who attended the universities and monastic schools of France, Germany, England, and Italy for long courses of study; in fact the registration lists of continental and English schools contain many Icelandic names2 among their students, monks and masters.

The most definite evidence regarding the extent of interest in classical learning is to be found in catalogues of names and in lists of classical quotations and translations, but there is another kind of evidence, which is contained in the lives of the earliest native bishops of Iceland (cf. Biskupa Sögur, Copenhagen, 1858). These biographies reveal from a more personal point of view the eagerness with which the new learning was sought and fostered. I may give a few excerpts of facts and phrases from the life of John, the first of Iceland's saints in the canon of the church (Jons Biskups Saga).3 John (1052-1121), with several of the future priests and teachers of Iceland, learned his Latin in a native school conducted by Bishop Isleif and his sons. After several years of travel in Italy and northern Europe, and of preaching at home, he was appointed bishop of northern Iceland. It is significant that his first act as bishop was the establishment of a cathedral school. In making up the "faculty" of this school he sent to France for a teacher in "song and verse-making", and to Gothland for a learned man to teach grammatica (§ 23). The teacher from France, we are told, was a man skilled in the making of Latin verse. "Thus," the description continues, "at the bishop's seat there was much a doing, for some read holy writings, some copied, some sang, some studied, while others served as masters, but", continues the observant writer, "there was no jealousy to be found amongst them, nor  p141 envy". The list of scholars who learned their Latin at John's school is a long one. It even includes "a maiden, pure and chaste, by the name of Ingun, who was inferior to none in book-lore, for she knew her grammatica well and imparted her knowledge to any who wished. She had many a Latin book read to her while she herself sewed and embroidered, thus teaching the ways of virtue in example as well as in words" (§ 27).

The books that were accessible even at this time (John was made Bishop in 1106) were evidently not all "holy books", for one day the Bishop found his favorite pupil "reading a book of verse called Ovidius de Arte. In this book master Ovid tells of the love of women and how men may beguile them" (§ 24). The saint remarked that man's weak nature was prone enough to worldliness without the stimulus of lewd ditties, and immediately had the book removed.

These excerpts from John's saga, to be sure, have little to say regarding classical writers, but the repeated references to the importation of foreign teachers, the copying of manuscripts, and the journeys to southern schools4 reveal a certain eagerness for the southern education at a time when many parts of the continent were permitting their standards of scholarship to retrograde.

Passing over some two hundred years to the life of Bishop Laurentius (B. S., p789) we find the same activities continuing. This Laurentius (born 1267) began his studies in a native school under Thorarin, a noted master, "who had written many of the books of the church". His education was continued in Norway under the tuition of a master who had studied at Orleans and Paris (Laur., Saga, § 4-9). Laurentius' specialty seems to have been the making of Latin verse, for, the chronicle tells, he was a versificator of such ability that he could compose5 Latin verse as  p142 rapidly as another could converse in Latin. While in Norway, Laurentius became involved in a controversy which necessitated his appearance at a court trial, and the description of this trial throws an interesting sidelight upon the state of northern culture at the time. King Hakon in person, we are told, conducted the proceedings in Latin, and his secretary, "a very learned master who had been educated in foreign lands", delivered the speech for the prosecution in the same language.

After a few years of clerical activity, Laurentius entered an Icelandic monastery where he continued his studious pursuits. "His constant devotion", says the Saga, "was to read, study the books, and learn". In fact it was largely this devotion to learning that secured him his appointment as bishop. One of his first official acts in this capacity was the endowment of a public Latin school at the bishop's seat, where, according to the Saga, there were never less than fifteen students at any time during his life". The bishop himself went about among the students and examined them; nor did he discontinue his own studious habits. "After dinner he would take a walk, then he would study, constantly taking notes on a wax tablet. These notes his secretary would transcribe into a book for him. As twilight came on the secretary would read him the lives of holy men in Norse, or at times Latin stories" (§ 44-8).

These notes from the bishops' lives will perhaps give a general impression of the reception accorded the new learning in Iceland. For more definite data we must turn to book-lists and manuscripts.6 If we had the catalogues of the Benedictine7 monastery  p143 at Thingey, or of the Augustinian at Munkaþverá, both famed for their schools, we should doubtless find the names of several classics. As it is, the book-lists that have survived are from obscure localities and are made up chiefly of patristic and scholastic authors. The inventory of Helgafell cloisters, for example, made in 1397 (see Dipl., Isl. Vol. IV, pp170-171), contains the item of "35 Norse books and about 100 Latin books besides some breviaries". That of Kirkjubaer, after listing some 30 books used in the service, adds the item of "20 Latin and Norse books" (p238), while that of Möðrudaler, which is even less explicit, simply records "about 150 books".

The catalogue of Viðey monastery, however (1397), furnishes more definite information as to the nature of the monastic book shelves. It gives about 100 titles (Dipl. Isl., Vol. IV, p110). Among these are found most of the books of the Bible; homilies, sermons, and commentaries of St. Augustine, Gregory, Leo, etc.; several standard church books, as e.g., Vitae Patrum, "Martiriologium", Cura Pastoralis, Vitae Sanctorum; a fairly long list of text-books, as e.g., Isidore's Etymologiae, Quaestiones Orosii, Cato (disticha) með glossa, Tobias glossatus, a Doctrinale, a Graecismus, a Lucidarius; a few books of profane history, as a "chronica", two Annales, and an Alexander Magnus; and finally, nine books of poetry (IX versabaekur adrar). This undetailed mention of "nine other books of verse" may well indicate that they possessed books of the order of "Ovidius de Arte" which had better (at least officially) be relegated to obscurity.

The books of interest to classical scholarship which are cited in the inventories as well as in catalogues of surviving manuscripts may be conveniently grouped under the two general heads of a) textbooks, b) historical works.

In the first group, as might be expected, grammatical works are most abundant, for scholastic activity in a large measure centered about the Latin grammar. The best representative of this class is the work of one Olaf Hvitaskald, which is contained in the MS of the younger Edda (Olsen's and Egilsson's editions print this part). Olaf (abt. 1250) had adapted some 12th C. Latin grammars that contained Priscian, bks. 1 and 2, with late interpolations, and Donatus, bk. 3. The post-Priscianic material has much in common with Aelfric and Petrus Helias but antedates the influence of Villedieu's Doctrinale. See Islands Gram. Lit. II, Indledning, by Olsen. The purpose of Olaf is not to teach Latin  p144 grammar but to apply the aids of the grammatical and rhetorical sciences to native composition, for he replaces all the Latin illustrations by new ones taken from Icelandic poets. The effect is a bit startling. There seems to be something appropriate, to be sure, in the substitution of a line from Eilifr Guþrunarson for one of Vergil to illustrate the meaning of "barbarismus", but when one finds Olaf accusing his fellow-skalds of "labdacismus", "iotacismus" and "kakosintheton" one is tempted to ask: cui bono? Other brief grammatical treatises contained in the same manuscript discuss the alphabet and parts of speech, following the doctrines of Priscian.8

The Doctrinale mentioned in the Viðey-catalogue above was doubtless the versified grammar of Alex. de Villedieu, one of the famous schoolbooks of the continent. The Graecismus is probably to be identified with Evrard de Béthune's work of about 1200. The "Cato með glossa" is, of course, an edition of the Disticha with vocabulary, arranged for school use, as it was on the continent. In Iceland its terse proverbs so popular that it was soon translated for general use,9 or are we to suppose that the sons of the vikings refused to work out their Latin without some kind of a "Bohn"? Isidore's Etymologiae, also in the list at Viðey, was in Iceland, as on the continent, the favorite encyclopedic dictionary — if we may so designate it. Finally our  p145 list of grammatical works must include several less important10 fragments dealing with versification and parts of speech.

Grammar, however, was not the only science that flourished on the island. Medicine, astronomy, mathematics, natural history and geography as taught in the Latin schools of the continent were also introduced here. A fragment of a materia medica in Icelandic, containing prescriptions of Galen and Dioscorides is printed by Gislason (Pröver, pp470-475). The manuscript is in a hand of about 1250. A later but fuller one is edited by Kålund in his edition of the interesting Old‑Icelandic "Encyclopedia", Alfraeði Islenzk, pp61-77, 1908. Students who frequented a school like Bologna were doubtless eager enough to acquire the medical knowledge of the ancients and substitute it for the enchanted brews still in vogue at home. The Rimbegla11 (about 1300) contains very full discussions of the Julian and Gregorian calendarsa and various elaborate astronomical treatises. Its author takes a high place among medieval students of these subjects. In the matter of natural history, Iceland fared with the rest of Europe. It will be remembered that in the fifth century some "nature faker" of Alexandria garbled and mythified the physiologies which had had their source in Aristotle. The Latin version of this Greek Bestiary spread like a romance throughout Europe. Its vogue in Iceland is attested by fragments of two elaborately illustrated manuscripts12 written in the vernacular of about 1200. Finally we may mention a native treatise13 on  p146 geography, which gains most of its information regarding southern Europe from Isidore's Origines. Now that the vikings were being transferred into crusaders and pilgrims, knowledge of the eastern Mediterranean was eagerly sought after.

These fragments of textbooks, brief though they are, speak clearly after all of how far the light from the south succeeded in penetrating the remote14 parts of Europe.

Under the group of classical-historical works we have fuller remains. There are various brief summaries of ancient history, usually in annalistic form, some historical romances, notably of Troy and Alexander, and finally a few translations and paraphrases of Roman historians.

Of the Annales and Chronica mentioned in the old inventories, several still survive, and have recently been edited by Storm (Islandske Annaler, 1888). These,15 like many of the annals  p147 collected in the Monumenta Germ. Hist. are founded upon the annalistic work of Dionysius and Bede, with later insertions from St. Jerome, Isidore, Ekkehard v. Aura, and other chronographers. Somewhat fuller than the annales is the Veraldar Saga which gives a brief history of the world according to aetates in the manner of Isidore, extending from the creation to the time of Barbarossa. It devotes a chapter to the Trojan war following the interpretation of Dares, and two chapters to the founding of Rome, and the wars of Caesar and Augustus, in which the author relies chiefly upon the Historia Miscella or upon some of its dependents. The history of the Empire is summarized very briefly. Parts of a fuller version of the same Saga occur in the Rimbegla, which shows that the story was circulating in various forms during the thirteenth century.

It may have been this saga that acquainted the Icelandic people with the story of the Trojan wars. At any rate the story reached Iceland before the thirteenth century, creating the mischief it had so often done before. Troy once more had to stand father to a nation looking for a respectable pedigree. Snorre (abt. 1225), for instance, in the introduction to the younger Edda, claims Trojan ancestry for the northmen, and the lawyer Hawk left a genealogical table which traces his family through Odin, Thor ("i.e.= Tros"), Priam, Jupiter, Javan, etc., to Adam (Dipl. Isl., Vol. III, p5).

With the adoption of this relationship, the Troy-tales of the South became popular in the North. The Icelandic Troy-tale (Trojumanna Saga; see Jónsson's excellent ed. of Hauksbok, Copenhagen, 1896; also the later variants in Ann. f. Nord. Oldk., 1848)m differs from any hitherto found on the continent. It is in good Icelandic prose and follows Dares fairly closely in parts, though it is never a slavish translation of him. The first seven chapters relate by way of introduction, the myths regarding Jupiter. They are told with full appreciation of whatever humor these may contain. The author has gone beyond Ovid for his mythology. In the remainder of the work the author elaborates freely, inserting  p148 additional adventures from the story of the Argonauts, from "Homer" (in fact, the Ilias Latina), from Theodulus (the "Ecloga"), and even from Vergil.16

While speaking of historical romances, we may call attention to the northern form of the Alexander story. The catalogue of Viðey mentions an "Alexander Magnus". Seemingly this is a Latin work. It may, therefore, be a copy of Ph. Gautier's Latin version which followed Quintus Curtius and was usually styled the Alexandereis. At any rate, a translation of Gautier's poem was made into Icelandic about the year 1250 by a Bishop Brand, several manuscripts of which are to be found in the Copenhagen Library (published by Unger, 1848). This translation is called the Alexanderssaga. It has no direct connection with the numerous French Alexander romances which came by way of Julius Valerius and the Pseudo-Callisthenes.

We come finally to some documents that are more closely connected with the classics. Two short Icelandic manuscripts give in abbreviated form the Livian version of the beginnings of Rome. These may be found printed in Gislason (Pröver, p381 ff.) under the title Upphaf Rómverja, and discussed by Meissner in Nach. v. d. Königl. Gesell. z. Göttingen, 1903, p657 ff. The fuller version cites Teitr hinn ofund-sjúki (evidently = Titus Lividus, i.e. Livius), Orosius and Lucan as its sources, but Meissner shows that it is largely a paraphrase of Martin of Oppau (cf. Mon. Germ. Hist. SS, Vol. 22), who in this part follows the Historia Miscella (> Paulus Diaconus > Eutropius) very closely. The Icelandic writer, however, makes free to explain difficulties and to give his own motivation whenever he sees fit. He tries, for example, to explain what is meant by the auguries of Romulus and Remus, but the last confusion is worse than the first; and he represents Brutus as the husband of Lucretia, else why should he avenge her wrongs?

Another17 group of manuscripts, also printed by Gislason (pp108-380) under the title of Rómverja Saga (The Story of  p149 Rome) gives a fairly close paraphrase of Sallust's Jugurtha and Catiline and portions of Lucan's Pharsalia. This work, affording as it does the most detailed bit of evidence regarding classical interests in the north, merits, perhaps, a fuller description.

There are two manuscripts of this story. The earlier one (Gislason, No. 9) was originally the fuller, but it is now badly broken. The later version (G., No. 8), which is a condensation of the earlier, is much shorter, but the manuscript is not marred by any serious lacuna. It may also be noticed that the epitomizer occasionally takes the liberty of inserting statements from his own resources.18

 p150  Relying upon the epitome wherever the earlier version fails, we can determine with a fair degree of accuracy what the original document contained. It gave a free translation of Sallust's Jugurtha, rejecting, however, what seemed irrelevant to the story, particularly geographical and pseudo-philosophical digressions. It then summarized into some five pages the Roman history of the years 104-63 B.C., quoting "Roman books" as its source. A free translation of Sallust's Catiline followed, omitting, however, the larger part of chapters 1-15, and condensing speeches and descriptions. After a brief summary of events from 63 to 49 B.C., a largely reduced epitome of Lucan's Pharsalia was given. Finally "Roman books" were drawn upon to complete the story up to the birth of Christ.

In condensing Lucan the author works with skill and freedom. He mercilessly cuts catalogues of armies and of prodigies; he greatly reduces speeches, though he endeavors to retain the better lines of them. He is interested in the story. One cannot help admiring the ease and understanding with which he has traced the thread of a Saga through the mazes of Lucan's rhetoric.

The older manuscript, as I have said, is badly broken. It has lost the beginning of the Jugurtha up to ch. 31; chapters 15-40 and 47-5230 of the Catiline; the connecting chapters between the Sallust and Lucan; the beginnings of Lucan up to bk. 3130; the beginnings of bks. 5, 6, and 7 of Lucan, the latter part of bk. 7, all of bk. 8, and everything after Lucan 9250.

The author of the Saga doubtless used several sources in making up the connecting links which cover the years 104-63, 62-49 and 47-1. Most of the facts contained in these portions were furnished by books that had a large circulation in the north, such as Orosius, the Historia Miscella, Isidore's Origines, and Vincent of Beauvais. The account of the years 62-49 contains some medieval myths regarding the death and burial of Caesar which must have come from the Mirabilia or Graphia, or from some author19 who had access to these. Finally, it is interesting to note  p151 that in the telling of the civil wars between Marius and Sulla (pp328-9), the author draws independently from Lucan II.80-190, and that Sallust's mention of Masinissa reminds him of the dream of Scipio as given in "Macrobio" (p109).

My interest in the Rómverja Saga was first aroused by the hope that it might possibly reveal a good text tradition with which to fill in the troublesome lacunae of the Jugurtha. In this hope, however, I was disappointed. The Saga proves to be based upon ordinary 12th or 13th century texts. The manuscript20 used in the paraphrase of Sallust belonged to the second of the three classes of Dietsch's edition. In fact its readings are exceedingly near to those of g2, a 13th century MS of Wolfenbüttel21 except that it is not mutilated at Jug. 107 as is g2. The author has treated Lucan with such free hand that it is difficult to determine his source. His use, however, of several interpolated lines (e.g. III.167-8 and V.795-6) proves that he had in hand a MS of the same group as V, R, and G.

In this summary account we have not been able to point to new MSS of classical authors, nor even to long lists of quotations that might serve as testimonia. We have nevertheless found a classical scholarship which, for all its meagerness, shows a certain vitality and sanity that it does not always reveal in the more pedantic south. There is something unique about the deliberate way in which the learned Ari sets about to study Priscian before undertaking his assigned task of codifying the laws of Iceland, and the poet Olaf strikes Vergilian and Horatian examples out of his Donatus, substituting lines from the skalds in his attempt to serve the needs of native poets. Thus the new learning is shaped to immediate ends. The literature as well, which made its way to the north, must adapt itself to native demands. A few historical tales are found serviceable and they are at once translated. Even Lucan's Pharsalia is transferred into a saga, and the Latin sermons are excerpted for entertaining anecdotes.  p152 These things, trifling though they may seem, were full of meaning to the new learners. The north was teeming with unwritten native lore which needed only the example of the artistically written tale to assume permanent form. This the new learning provided, and the result was a remarkable body of literature — not, to be sure, the equal of its model — but after all the finest fruit of the Germanic mind before the Renaissance. And when all this is quite accomplished we find Petrarch (Epp. III.1) sitting one night among his manuscripts, delving in Pliny and Solinus for some hint by which to settle the old question de situ insulae Thules.

Tenney Frank.

Bryn Mawr.


The Author's Notes:

1 See Strabo II.4.

2 See for example the Icelandic names in Reichenau's list of pilgrims entered from 950 to 1100 under the title "Hislant terra", ed. in Antiquarisk Tidskrift, 1843.

3 I follow Gunnlaug's version (written about 1200), taking notes from the other version when it seems more explicit.

4 The Bishops Isleif and Gissur attended the schools of Herford. Bishops Thorlak and Jon Haldorson, as well as John the Fleming, studied at Paris (see B. S., pp267, 799 and 838). Lincoln in England, Orleans, and Bologna were also favorite schools according to these accounts.

5 To be sure an anecdote that follows this statement justifies a doubt as to whether the quality of the verse was as remarkable as the speed of production. The story goes that when Laurentius was introduced to the archbishop he was asked to give some evidence of the skill for which he was so far‑famed. He innocently produced some verses that he had composed in praise of a certain fair nun. Needless to say the archbishop was far from pleased. "I would have you know", he said, "that versificatura nihil est nisi falsa figura." Laurentius, unable to resist an opportunity to turn a rhyme, at once replied, "I only know that versificatura nihil est nisi maxima cura." He was directed to study holy books henceforth. The verse is of course a leonine, not a classical meter.

6 Direct quotations from classical authors, apart from the translations which we shall presently mention, are rare in the books of Iceland. The few that I have found are traceable to intermediate sources. Scandinavian writers on the continent are more given to a show of pedantry. For example, the first Norse historian, the monk Theodoricus, tries the patience of his readers with pointless quotations from Lucan, Horace, Pliny and Ovid (edited by Storm in Mon. Hist. Norw., 1880), and a Northern crusader varies his scriptural citations with lines from Vergil and Juvenal (Script. Rerum Danic. V, p349). But these are beyond our present province. See Class. Phil. IV.82.

7 This monastery, founded in 1133, was the oldest in Iceland. Seemingly it was always true to the high standards of the Benedictines, for some of the best literary activity of Iceland in native, as well as in Latin, writing emanated from its walls.

8 The fourth of these, seemingly in reference to the first native grammar in Iceland (before 1150), contains a very curious statement. In the introduction we read: skal yðr sýna hinn fyrsta leturshátt sva ritinn eptir sextán stafa stafrófi í danskri túngu, eptir því sem Þóroddr rúnameistari ok Ari prestr hinn fróði hafa sett í móti Latinumanna stafrófi er meistari Priscianus hefir sett. It would seem from this that when Ari the Wise and his coworkers were delegated by the Icelandic council in 1117 to inscribe and codify the still unwritten law of Iceland, they decided to abandon the cumbersome runes and learn the Latin system of writing from a study of Priscian. This gives a not insignificant place to Priscian in the history of Icelandic culture (see Keyser, Efterladte skrifter, p64 ff.). The accuracy of the statement has been questioned (see Olsen). However the brilliant first treatise proves at least how timely was the arrival of Priscian for the preservation of Norse literature. On this whole subject see Jónsson's Oldnorske Lit. Hist. II.921 ff.

9 Entitled Hugsvinnsmal. Numerous manuscripts of it survive to tell of its popularity. See Cat. of the Arnamagnaeus Library of Copenhagen. The Cato is the first Latin book cited in Icelandic. It is quoted in the first grammatical treatise, written about 1140. The Doctrinale and the Graecismus were used in the making of the fourth treatise, written about 1310. See Jónsson II.938.

10 Cf. Catalogue of the Arnam. Library at Copenhagen: A. M. 732 b, 4to (3 and 7), a discussion of the Greek alphabet in Latin, also Latin metrical matter; A. M. 921, 4to, a fragment of a Latin grammar in the vernacular (see Olsen's edition, p156); A. M. 792, 4to, Latin grammatical and metrical notes, and a brief glossary printed in Småstykker, 1884.

11 Edited with a Latin translation by Björnsen, Copenhagen, 1801.

12 Cf. Dahlerup, Physiologus, Copenhagen, 1889.

13 From the manuscript of Hauksbok (about 1290). Printed by Kong. Nord. Oldskrift-Sels., 1896. This manuscript, by the way, written in the hand of the lawyer Hawk, tells an interesting story of the literary and scientific interests of the cultured layman of Iceland. Here is a judge who, besides gaining fame for his excellent performance of public duties, has time to write extensively on the history of the North, to acquire command of Latin and French, and an interest, at least, in Hebrew, to familiarize himself with the textbooks in astronomy, geography, natural history, theology, mathematics (his copy of the Algorismus is seemingly the first translation of the Arabic arithmetic — through Latin — into Icelandic), to acquaint himself with native as well as classical history, and with the British and French romances as well as with the native saga literature! See his biography by Munch in Ann. f. Nord. Oldk., 1847. The Alfraeði Islenzk, cited above, adds an interesting itinerary to Rome and the Holy Land (pp1-31) taken from the notes of one Nikulas Bergsson, who travelled about 1150. This work ought to be included in future editions of medieval itineraries.

14 As a matter of literary curiosity we may be permitted, in discussing the extension of learning, to suggesting that Latin was doubtless studied in Greenland in the eleventh century, and used at least in the ritual on American soil in the twelfth century. I would not pretend that the facts are so conclusively established, or, if proved, so important as to warrant any considerable enthusiasm, however, we undertake in this study to track the classics in their remotest journeys. What we know is that in the twelfth century Greenland already had two monasteries, and a bishop regularly stationed on its soil (see Grønland's historiske mindesmaerker II.672-85, and III.810-13). The mission in Greenland was an extension of the work in Iceland, which was, as we have seen, conducted by men well taught in Latin. An Icelandic priest by the name of Erik was the first bishop stationed in Greenland (1112 A.D. See Landnámabok, I.13). The traditions of the Icelandic church would hardly allow an untutored man in the bishop's office at that time. This Erik went to the American continent (Vinland) in 1121, doubtless to look after the welfare of the church among the people who had emigrated thither, possibly also to preach to the natives. We know nothing further of this man. The second bishop of Greenland was Arnold of Norway, certainly a man of education, for he was brought up in the court circles of Norway. Arnold held office from 1124 to 1150 (see Grøn. hist. m., cited above, II.672).

15 The so‑called Annales Regii (Storm, pp79-155), covering the period from Julius Caesar to the year 1306, may be taken as a typical example. The entries before the tenth century are usually in Latin. The kind of ancient history that these annalists chose to preserve may be learned from entries like these:

Egiptus Romana provincia fit. quam primus Cornelius Gallus poeta rexit et ex hoc loco quidam primum annum Augusti monarchie supputant.

Incarnatio domini secundum Dionisium et Helpricum.

(I omit several ecclesiastical items here.)

LX. Θ Lucanus meistari af éðablóði ok Seneca meistari Neronis með sama dáuða (i.e. death of master Lucan of blood-letting, and Seneca, Nero's teacher, of the same cause.)

16 The last sentence: En her efter hefir sogu frá Enea, ok þeim er Bretland bygðu, may imply that the story came north from England. There is nothing improbable, however, in the assumption that an Icelandic writer might have had direct access to the sources that have been used in this saga. A more thorough study of all the manuscripts, together with all possible sources, may determine the question. See Jónsson's preface XCVII.

17 To be sure, the Upphaf may have been the introduction to the Rómverja Saga in the original MS.

18 The method of work employed by the translator and by the epitomizer may be illustrated by a passage that corresponds to Sallust, Cat. 59.4.

A; the fuller version (Gislason, p352).

B; the epitome (G., p177)

Antonius then led his army against Catiline. Being sore of foot so that he was unable to walk he placed Petreius in command of his troops. This man had the rank of Legatus. Antonius (sic) was mounted on his horse. In the front rank he placed the veteran soldiers and arranged them in cohorts,

B follows A.

according to the Roman custom. In the rear he stationed another army for support.

B omits.

Then Antonius rides all about the army, scrutinizes and arranges all things,

B follows A.

calling each man by name to encourage him. Then he speaks to the army

B omits.

and begs them to remember that they are to do battle in defence of their country against robbers and evil-doers that are almost weaponless. and speaks to them. He bade them advance boldly: "for now you must do battle with weaponless rascals and defend your goods and your liberty."
Antonius was a man of military training, says Sallust, having been in the army over forty years, always holding high rank, for

B follows A.

he had been tribune or prefect, legatus or praetor, he had been consul or legatus or dictator or praetor or prefect.
and knew the deeds and the names of most of his soldiers, and when he reminded them of these things then was he much loved by them.

B omits.

The translator of A follows Sallust with a fair degree of accuracy except for the substitution of Antonius for Petreius. This error is probably due to the misapplication of ipse in the second sentence. Perhaps the Northman failed to comprehend how a trifling ailment (pedibus aeger) could keep a general from the joys of a battle. It may be noticed that B is prone to omit descriptive matter. He is even more reckless with the use of misunderstood technical terms than A. The methods of work illustrated in the above-quoted passage prevail throughout the manuscripts of both authors.

19 The Mirabilia had such a wide circulation that it may well have reached Iceland. However, I find the myths mentioned above in Gothfrid of Viterbo's Speculum Regale, in Petrus Comestor, in Ranulf who quotes Petrus, in Vincent of Beauvais, and in Martin who quotes "Escodius" as source. Several of these books circulated in Iceland.

20 The manuscripts of this class do not know the reading of neque muniebantur ea at Jug. 44.5, while, on the other hand, they have filled in the long lacuna at Jug. 1032-1123. Rómverja Saga answers to this test.

21 For instance, g2 is one of the few MSS which read confecto and belienum in Jug. 104. Rómverja Saga has vel sýslað and belienū respectively.


Thayer's Note:

a Something has obviously gone wrong here! The Gregorian calendar was devised in the late 16c.


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Page updated: 13 Feb 19