Wiegand (2019 Congress)

Jack Wiegand
(University of Toronto)

“Text without Context, Context without Text:

Examining Absence in the Case of Grettisfærsla (A Response)”

Abstract of Response
To be presented at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2019)

Session on
“In the Absence of Manuscript Evidence:  Considering Lacunae in Manuscript Studies”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Justin A. Hastings and Derek Shank
2019 Congress Program

[Published on 14 March 2019]



Chapter 52 of Grettir’s Saga mentions a poem, “Grettisfærsla” (“The Handing On of
Grettir”), an obscene, versified account of Grettir’s sexual exploits.  The roughly 400-line
poem survives in only one manuscript, now in Reykjavik (Árni Magnússon Institute for
Icelandic Studies, AM 556 a 4°, spanning folios 52r‒53r), dating from the last quarter
of the 15th century.  In around the 16th century, this entire poem was meticulously
scraped off the pages.  In the 1950s, digital imaging allowed it to be recovered in part,
with only 52 lines remaining illegible.  “Grettisfærsla” has received little scholarly
attention in English, though an English language edition and translation are currently
pending publication.

This paper examines the current state of scholarship on the poem and pays particular
attention to the role absence or erasure — either through deliberation, negligence, or
simple accidents of nature — play a role in the ongoing construction of the Icelandic
Sagas.  We conclude by arguing for renewed efforts at digital imaging, as well as
imaging enhancement, and by introducing a platform by which scholars of the saga
may record translations or commentary on the text, in the hopes of generating renewed
interest in the poem.