Genesis and Provenance of the Oldest Soul-and-Body Debate in Old Norse Tradition

  • Alice Fardin


This article traces the manuscript filiation and the routes of textual transmission of Viðrǿða líkams ok sálar, the first soul-and-body debate that is preserved in Old Norse translation, a fairly faithful yet succinct translation of the Anglo-Norman poem known alternatively as Desputisun de l’âme et du corps and Un Samedi par nuit. The Norse text survives today in four manuscripts: AM 619 4to (Old Norwegian Homily Book), AM 696 XXXII 4to, AM 764 4to, and JS 405 8vo. Through a qualitative analysis of concurrent readings, the present study confirms and expands the stemma hypothesized by Ole Widding and Hans Bekker-Nielsen in 1959. The presence in the Norse text of readings typical of a newly identified “Continental tradition” within the Anglo-Norman family of manuscripts indicates that the nowlost manuscript source may have been a French codex, produced in all probability in a Flemish Benedictine monastery (Picardy, northeastern Artois or Hainaut) during the second half of the twelfth century. Subsequently, the codex may have been transferred from Flanders to a sister Benedictine house in Norway—such as Munkeliv in Bergen—via well-attested profitable monastic and trade networks that connected Flemish and Norwegian scriptoria between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries.