30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Ingvil Brügger Budal, "The Genesis of Strengleikar. Scribes, Translators, and Place of Origin"

It has long been taken for granted that the Old Norse collection of short stories commonly known as Strengleikar was translated from Anglo-Norman French lais in Norway during the middle of the 13th century. Known from a single manuscript dated to approximately 1270, the Old Norse collection is commonly considered to be a more or less faithful representation of the original translation. The text in the manuscript De la Gardie 4–7 has been written by two scribes, each with their own individual linguistic and orthographic characteristics. In addition, through the linguistic variations in the manuscript a group of earlier text redactors can be seen to emerge. Does this reflect a group of translators working simultaneously in medieval Norway? Or are these text redactors merely scribes copying a ready-made collection of texts? The question of the number and the skills of the(se) translator(s) has been a matter of debate for Old Norse scholars since Keyser and Unger’s preface to the first scholarly edition of the Strengleikar in 1850. The answers given have varied greatly: some scholars attribute the texts to a single, highly skilled translator, while others envision several translators with varying degrees of competence, each responsible for a smaller number of texts. None of these answers have arisen through close comparisons of the extant versions of the Old French source texts and the Old Norse translations. The varying content, style and chronology of the Old French manuscripts and the reflections of these in the Old Norse texts imply that the original source texts are more likely to originate from several rather than a single manuscript. The mapping of alliterative patterns in the Old Norse texts suggests a common redactor working with several source texts. In the rather scarce research on the place of origin of the translation, several Norwegian cultural and intellectual centers have been suggested as possible places of origin. Although a mid 13th century purchase of a single Anglo-Norman manuscript is imaginable, it is less likely that an emissary from the Norwegian king Håkon Håkonsson got hold of not only one, but several manuscripts, all containing texts of the lais-genre. Historical aspects as well as both Old Norse and Old French textual features strongly suggest that a learned center or a monastery in Anglo-Norman England is a possible location of the translation. If an Old Norse translator executed his work in England, this would explain the lack of both physical evidence and literary reference to Old French manuscripts ever having been in Norway. If the Strengleikar-translation was executed in England, it demands a re-evaluation of the genesis of several of the translated riddarasögur.


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