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Tracing the Invisible. Old Norse and Latin in medieval manuscripts.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Invisibilia (Tracing the Invisible. Old Norse and Latin in medieval manuscripts.)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

In the project “Tracing the Invisible. Old Norse and Latin in Medieval Manuscripts (INVISIBILIA)”, I investigated bilingualism in medieval Northern Europe by focussing on the most popular media of the time: manuscripts. I traced their Latin components, which have mostly been neglected in research until the present day, and made them accessible to the scientific community digitally, thus providing essential texts and finding aids for the Latin sections. I analysed the interaction of the Latin with the Old Norse texts. By relating them to the production, dissemination and use of manuscripts by people from different social backgrounds, I gave a deep insight into the European literacy of medieval Icelanders and Norwegians in the time span ca. 1100 – ca. 1550.

The project focussed on the manuscripts held in the Arnamagnaean Collections in Copenhagen and Reykjavik, which represent approximately 90 % of the total number of Old Norse codices. Out of these, all manuscripts containing both Old Norse and Latin as clearly distinct entities constituted the corpus of the study, 629 manuscripts in total. This corpus was approached according to three major objectives, namely a full catalogue of the Latin parts, a comprehensive multi-level digital edition, and comparative studies. The results of the three research objectives were integrated in an open-access on-line website linked to existing scholarly databases.

By spanning the borders between Traditional and Material Philology, Cataloguing and Editing, and Traditional and Digital Humanities, INVISIBILIA reaches out to scholars of medieval Scandinavia and Medieval Latin alike. The research results are directly comparable to other pre-modern bilingual literary systems. Moreover, they challenge the isolationism still found in Old Norse-Icelandic scholarship by showing that despite the impression given by previously available catalogues and editions, Latin text parts can be found in all manuscript types from medieval Norway and Iceland across the Middle Ages while being mostly religious (including devotional and ecclesiastical) and scientific in nature.
The work comprised of three areas: the database, the manuscripts as such, and the data collected from those manuscripts. For the database, I drafted a structure to be developed by IT experts and fine-tuned it in collaboration with them, together with a homepage to display the database and feature additional material. The manuscripts were examined based on the photograph collection in Copenhagen together with their existing catalogues entries. In single cases, the artefacts had to be accessed directly for clarification. Following a priority-based schedule, I studied the manuscripts, created descriptions/catalogue entries, transcribed the Latin texts on three levels (facsimile, diplomatic, normalised) and entered all data in the database. The data itself was studied in a comparative approach, enabled through systematising the key features of both manuscripts and Latin entities. However, the evidence showed that the material did not lend itself to a comparative study, as it was too disperse. Instead, single manuscripts were studied in more detail.
Out of 629 manuscripts in the corpus, 400 have been thoroughly investigated. Out of these 400 manuscripts, 31 % have been shown to contain Latin text. The data suggests an even higher percentage for complete manuscripts compared to fragmentary ones, as Latin entities obviously had a higher chance of survival if none of the pages were lost. Only a third of the bilingual manuscripts had actually been listed previously as containing Latin. Contentwise, most Latin text is somehow related to the Christian faith, be it in the form of prayers, quotations from the bible, or constituting parts of the ecclesiastical law. There is an overall preference of short texts as opposed to longer texts. Despite its oftentimes religious character, Latin text is found in all kinds of manuscript and not limited to religious manuscripts as such. For 82 manuscripts, the project rendered complete descriptions and editions on facsimile, diplomatic, and normalised level together with an introduction setting the Latin entities into a wider perspective. For single manuscripts, in-depth analysis rendered new findings, among these the identification of new texts, the revelation of mechanisms of international knowledge transfer, the use of manuscript based on their Latin marginalia, and the identification of a characteristic mise-en-page for Latin poetry in Iceland. All findings of the project are accessible in an open-access database available at Beyond that, there are two forthcoming articles, one on devotional manuscripts co-authored with Beeke Stegmann, and the other on the mise-en-page of Icelandic Latin poetry together with Gottskálk Jensson. The project has been presented in four invited lectures at the Universities of Bonn, Copenhagen, Bergen, and Lund.
INVISIBILIA has tracked, catalogued and made available through a multi-level edition more Latin entities and bilingual manuscripts than were known previously, thus providing resources that can be used in future research and significantly increasing the accessibility of the material. On a detailed level, Invisibilia enhances our knowledge of individual manuscripts, their production context and usage.
On a larger scale, it emphasizes the importance of the Latin language in medieval Iceland, contradicts outdated convictions, and promotes more recent trends in Old Norse and Medieval Latin Studies. Moreover, Invisibilia has demonstrated that the linguistic landscape of medieval Iceland and Norway was actually comparable to other medieval countries and thus encourages cross-national research in the future.
Detail of AM 62 fol. f. 33r, showing Old Norse and Latin marginalia.
AM 732 b 4to f. 1v, a full manuscript page showing Old Norse and Latin main text.