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A stemma of Nikulás saga leikara

Alaric Hall and Sheryl McDonald Werronen, University of Leeds

This is a nascent working paper, gradually establishing a stemma of the Icelandic romance saga Nikulás saga leikara. The saga survives in no medieval manuscripts (and so was omitted from Kalinke and Mitchell's 1985 bibliography of the genre), but does seem to have been part of the now fragmentary fifteenth-century manuscript Stockholm, Royal Library, Perg. fol. nr 7 (Sanders 2000, 17, 21). The saga does survive in over sixty post-medieval manuscripts, however, in two main recensions, and was also twice printed in popular editions: in Winnipeg by the Heimskringlu Prentstofa (1889) and in Reykjavík by Helgi Árnason (1912). This makes it an interesting example of Canadian-Icelandic literature, and an unusually late example of Icelandic readerships for printed romance sagas. The saga was edited by Wick (1996), on whose work our own depends; we also benefit from the fact that it happens to be particularly well represented at handrit.is. Despite the dearth of other commentary on the text in past scholarship, Nikulás saga leikara is both interesting in its own right and for its possible relationship with Nítíða saga fræga (McDonald Werronen 2013, 102--16). The project of completing this stemma complements our ongoing work on the manuscript and print transmission of a wider range Icelandic romance-sagas from the Middle Ages down into the early twentieth century, and what it can tell us about Icelandic scribes, readers, social networks, literature and culture (see Hall and Parsons forthcoming on Konráðs saga keisarasonar; McDonald 2009 and 2012, and McDonald Werronen 2013, on Nítíða saga; Hall working paper on Sigurgarðs saga).

We are establishing the stemma mostly using the methods developed by Hall and Parsons (forthcoming). The ongoing collection of samples from the saga is available here. A hint of what an unrooted stemma generated using the phylogenetic program Pars will look like en route to a fully worked out stemma is afforded by this interim example:

The main methodological advance afforded by this paper arises from our use of Wick's edition: Wick gave complete variants from six early manuscripts of the longer of the two recensions of the saga. We have rendered these variants as a spreadsheet. (NB we did not attempt to clean up the sometimes faulty optical character recognition of Wick's thesis in making this, so the text in the spreadsheet sometimes looks a bit grisly; but the analysis was based on consultation of her actual, and correct, text.) From this we generated this Pars infile, recording 2039 sites of variation ('parsimony-informative characters') in these six manuscripts. Unusually, compared with our other experiments, Pars analysis of this file produces only one tree--perhaps because there are only 6 items, and tons of data, such that the outcome fairly easily becomes unambiguous. This is probably the first stemma of an Icelandic saga to be based on all variants from the oldest manuscripts. We will be using this dataset to develop Hall's past work on sampling in stemma-making (Hall and Parsons forthcoming). A few quick and dirty experiments suggest that things are stable down to 150 characters, but then the software starts to produce multiple possibilities.

The stemma for the top of the saga produced by Pars, rendered using Drawgram, using the factory settings and the full dataset is:

But we'll be subjecting this to some human analysis too!


Acknowledgements

This project is indebted to the kindness and hospitality of the National Library of Iceland, the Stofnun Árnamagnússonar in Reykjavík and the Arnamagnæanske Hꜹndskriftsamling in Copenhagen. Sheryl's involvement was funded by a Leeds University Teaching Fellowship held by Alaric.


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