Alison Finlay

A Thing of Shreds and Patches

The Lacunae in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa

Tuesday November 17, 2015, at 16.30
Oddi 101

Alison Finlay
Alison Finlay

Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa is not one of the best known of the Sagas of Icelanders, partly because of its poor state of preservation. It survives only in paper manuscripts of the seventeenth century and later, apart from two leaves from a fourteenth-century manuscript — enough to show that the surviving copies do not closely represent the medieval text. The verses are particularly garbled. More significantly, the beginning of the saga is missing; and there is a further lacuna, probably caused by the loss of a single manuscript leaf.

By good luck, we can substitute for the lost beginning of the saga an extract from it that was incorporated in Bæjarbók, an expanded fourteenth-century version of the Separate Saga of St Óláfr that drew on the saga for material about Icelanders visiting the Norwegian court. The first five chapters of the edited saga use this text, substituted for an unknown number of chapters in the original. There is no way of reconstructing the later lacuna.

This paper deals with the strategies used by editors and copyists to reconstruct the saga as far as possible, and considers what can be known or surmised about what we have lost. Bjarnar saga is one of the so-called poets’ sagas, which share the narrative of a quarrel between poets over the love of a woman. What can be deduced from comparison with the other sagas of this group, and with other Íslendingasögur? What does the substituted beginning of Bjarnar saga tell us about relationship between konungasögur and Íslendingasögur? The construction of the saga is haphazard in many ways: to what extent have the textual problems served as an alibi for this?

The lecture will be delivered in English.

Alison Finlay is Professor of Medieval English and Icelandic Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. She has written on the poets’ sagas, edited skaldic poetry and translated many texts into English, most recently Heimskringla in collaboration with Anthony Faulkes. She is currently working on a translation of Sturlunga saga.