On the structure format and preservation of Möðruvallabók

  • Michael Chesnutt
Keywords: codicology


The aim of this essay is to explain the physical make-up of the fourteenth-century saga codex Möðruvallabók (AM 132 fol.). Njáls saga at the beginning of the extant book was intended, as already argued by Jón Helgason, to have preceded a copy of the lost *Gauks saga Trandilssonar in a separate codicological entity. Egils saga, now immediately following, was likewise designed to stand alone, and the first item signalling the commencement of an unbroken series of texts is Finnboga saga, prior to which another saga may have been lost. The extant AM 132 fol. represents a pile of loose, unbound groups of quires formerly kept in a bookshop with a view to being sold in combinations determined by potential buyers. The large double-column format represents a mid-fourteenth-century innovation in the production of manuscripts of Íslendingasögur, which previously had been copied in smaller formats with a view to being read aloud; it is suggested that pretentious and expensive copies of this literary genre reflect the ambition of the burgeoning fourteenth-century Icelandic aristocracy to appropriate traditional history. The cumulative physical deterioration of Möðruvallabók over the centuries is discussed with special reference to the text of Egils saga and Fóstbrœðra saga.