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Footnotes on Life. Marginalia in Three Medieval Icelandic Manuscripts

Ágúst 2010

This project investigates what paratextual material—specifically marginalia—can tell us about the way medieval Icelandic readers felt about their books, and how they participated in the creation of the reading experience for future readers through the marks they left on the page. This branch of Material Philology is shedding light on reading and literary practices across medieval Europe, but within the realm of Icelandic literature much still remains to be uncovered.
This thesis discusses and provides a transcription of the marginalia in three particular medieval Icelandic manuscripts, focusing first and foremost on a little-noted Jónsbók manuscript: Rask 72a. This book contains a fairly extensive collection of
comments by the scribe on his environment and equipment, all written into the margins. I argue that the scribe was led to record such comments in the margins because of the specifically written (and therefore specifically physical) nature of the Jónsbók law code, which is quite different from the sagas or eddas that had at least some roots in the oral history tradition.
As a supplement to this discussion of the Jónsbók manuscript, I also examine AM 604 4to (a manuscript of rímur) and AM 433a 12mo (Margrétar saga). This secondary investigation provides a broader basis for the discussion of Icelandic book culture. I argue, for instance, that the extensive recording of proverbs in AM 604
indicates a certain awareness of the manuscript as an archival force—a lasting physical artifact instead of simply a record to prompt oral performance in reading. The presence of such collections of deliberately-formulated marginalia in all three manuscripts indicates a certain consonance of attitude toward these three very different kinds of books: on some level conscious or unconscious, the scribes were aware of the physical,
enduring nature of their material as much as they were of the value of the text, and at the same time they participated in the creation of future reading experiences by inscribing themselves on the page.


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