Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series 2016–2017

Lena Rohrbach

The Textuality of Law

Modes of Rewriting in Late-Medieval Icelandic Legal Manuscripts

Thursday September 29, 2016, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Lena Rohrbach

Virtually all medieval Icelandic legal manuscripts contain more than one legal text, beginning with the 13th-century Staðarhólsbók, AM 334 fol., one of the two manuscripts of Grágás, that also contains the only medieval text of Járnsíða. Many of the codices from 1300 onwards contain both Jónsbók and Bishop Árni’s Church Law, and most of them also feature royal amendments, archiepiscopal statutes, historiographical notes and theological material in varying compilations. These texts are presented as material units in the manuscripts: The individual texts in the codices are arranged, connected and conjoined by means of different types of paratexts. Many manuscripts feature extracts and conflations of several texts with a notable peak of retextualisations of this kind in the latter half of the fourteenth century.

In this paper I will explore these compilations and rearrangements of texts in the medieval Icelandic legal manuscript tradition in the period 1300 to 1500 as they manifest themselves in individual manuscripts. I will discuss how the scribes formed coherent corpora of ‘the law’ by means of making use of the material qualities of the medium of the book. I will identify and discuss different modes of rewriting at work in the manuscripts. These modes are not exclusive to the legal textual tradition, but they unfold specific effect in these codices because of the administrative and at the same time highly political and ideological quality of legal texts. Drawing on media-theoretical and discursive notions of the archive, I will suggest to approach the codices as textual archives that claim—and unfold—normative status. These normative archives can be interpreted as material endeavours and strategies to inscribe the Icelandic legal community into different political discourses and entities over time.

Lena Rohrbach is professor of Medieval Scandinavian studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She holds a Dr. phil. in Scandinavian Studies from the university of Erlangen (published in 2009 as Der tierische Blick. Mensch-Tier-Relationen in der Sagaliteratur) and worked as a postdoctoral researcher in the Swiss NCCR Mediality — Historical Perspectives at the university of Zurich in the years 2006-09. Her research in the Nordic medieval tradition is informed by cultural narratology, as well as mediality and literacy studies, with a special focus on the Icelandic contemporary sagas and administrative textual culture. She is currently working on a book on new textual and paratextual forms in the late medieval Icelandic legal manuscript tradition

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.