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A stemma of Sigurgarðs saga frækna

Alaric Hall, University of Leeds


Since 2009, I've been chipping away at making a stemma of Sigurgarðs saga frækna, a fifteenth-century romance saga. This involved a major detour as I tried to establish a sound, transparent, and efficient method for making the stemma by testing approaches on the relatively well understood romance saga Konráðs saga keisarasonar (Hall and Parsons 2013) and got drawn into work on the stemma of Njáls saga (e.g. this working paper). But I'm still working on Sigrgarðs saga when I can.

The saga saw a popular edition in 1884 (Einar Þorðarson 1884), which is included in the stemma, and a scholarly edition in Loth’s milestone edition of Icelandic romance-sagas (1962--65, V 41--107). Loth used the oldest manuscript, AM 556a 4to (Eggertsbók), where available, and otherwise the near-identical AM 588m 4to, occasionally recording or using alternative readings from AM 123 8vo and AM 167 fol. I was involved in publishing a normalised edition and translation of Loth's text (Hall, Richardson, and Haukur Þorgeirsson 2013).

Why Sigurgarðs saga?

In reality there are various tangential reasons why I wanted to work out the stemma of this saga. But the short answer is that I'm interested in studying the kinds of social networks between scribes and other literary practitioners during the long history of Icelandic manuscript production from the Middle Ages right down to the early twentieth century. This is a bit like the kind of work cool people like Davíð Ólafsson (2009) have been up to, but from more of a big-data perspective. This perspective provides a valuable contextualising factor for manuscript-orientated approaches to texts promoted by 'artefactual/material philology' (olim 'new philology'), as well as potentially helpful information for historical linguists wishing to use manuscripts as evidence for linguistic change. Romance sagas were widely copied, widely adapted into verse, and so clearly widely read during this period, but have received less attention from editors and literary critics than the Íslendingasögur or fornaldarsögur. Meanwhile, whereas some other saga genres came to be well represented in print during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most romance sagas did not become widely available in Iceland in print, encouraging the continuation of manuscript culture into the twentieth century, and giving us an even bigger and more interesting dataset. So they seemed a fun place to start (for a survey of work so far, with links to stemmas, see Hall and Parsons 2013, §1.3). With a sprightly story and some great characters, as well as nearly twice as many manuscripts as the average for an Icelandic romance-saga (56), Sigurgarðs saga seems a pretty reasonable case study. Working out the stemma of Sigurgarðs saga is intended as part of a raft of investigations into romance-saga stemmas which will cast considerable new light on how Icelandic scribes worked: who copied off whom? How did they alter the texts they copied? How did they choose which texts to copy? And, ultimately, why did they bother at all? XXXXXcf. Slavica Rankovic on distributed authorshipXXXXX

For a sense of the diversity and complexity of the tradition, check out this diagram, which combines the romance-saga stemmas established by previous scholarship (for Konráðs saga, Dínus saga drambláta, Gibbons saga, Mírmanns saga, and Viktors saga og Blávus) into one monstrous über-stemma:

Mostly all you'll see is a mess, but one striking thing is how seldom two of these sagas ever appear in the same manuscript. Yet at the same time, the romance sagas composed in medieval Iceland, of which we have over thirty, are pretty cohesive in their manuscript groupings---romance-sagas tend to be grouped with other romance-sagas (Hall and Parsons 2013, §1.3). What this tells us is that we need a much large number of accurate stemmas before we reach a critical mass for understanding how scribes chose (or, as the case may be, were constrained in choosing) what sagas to copy. Alongside Sigurgarðs saga, I and/or Sheryl McDonald Werronen are also working on Nítíða saga (cf. McDonald Werronen 2013), Nikulás saga leikara (working paper, drawing on Wick 1996), Jarlmanns saga og Hermanns, and further down the track perhaps other well attested texts like Bærings saga fagra, Mágus saga jarls, Sigurðar saga turnara (cf. Spaulding 1982), Ambrosius saga og Rósamundu, Flores saga og blankiflur, and Halfdanar saga Eysteinssonar.


The MSS of Sigurgarðs saga were helpfully surveyed by Kalinke and Mitchell 1985. They accidentally included two manuscripts that actually contain Sigurgarðs saga og Valbrands: Lbs 1496 4to, Lbs 2319 4to. They also omitted a manuscript found in XXXXX in Winnipeg by Katelin Parsons. Thus the most up to date list of MSS (plus the 1884 edition) is:

This article analysed all those MSS in public European collections, thus omitting the last 5 on this list.


Hall and Parsons 2013 produced a stemma of a representative Icelandic romance-saga, Konráðs saga keisarasonar on the basis merely of short transcriptions from the beginning and end of the saga (c. 300 words per manuscript). This demonstrated that a small sample of this kind produces enough data to replicate and arguably improve on an existing stemma made using traditional (but otherwise unstated) methods and samples (except perhaps at the top of the stemma, where data is patchiest). This brought a new degree of transparency to making and publishing stemmas in Old Norse studies.

However, we did not explore whether fuller (or smaller) sampling would produce substantially different results. The present study, then, takes five samples, spread through the saga (and otherwise chosen for being moments of literary interest whose manifestation I wanted to trace throughout the textual tradition), totalling 616 words. As well as using these manually to determine the best possible stemma, the idea is to make a stemma using phylogenetic software from each of these samples, and then see how similar the trees are to one another, and maybe to different combinations of samples too. For these purposes, only complete MSS can be included, so the following MSS are omitted as fragmentary or partially illegible: AM123___8o, AM556a__4o, AM 592a 4to, IB426___4o, LBS1217_4to, NKS1804_4o, Papp17__4o, Winnipeg__.

(Imagining that it would provide a useful cross-check, I also recorded the 151 occasions where Loth recorded or used an alternative reading for those manuscripts that she referred to for her edition, providing a cross-section of readings already known to be sites of variation throughout the saga. However, I concluded that to add substantively to my understanding of the transmission gained from the five samples, this dataset would require the addition of a large proportion of the manuscripts which are primary witnesses to *Sigurgarðs saga; I tried adding Lbs 423 fol, AM 588n 4to, and Lbs 222 fol, but concluded that this laborious task was not practical.)

Hopefully when I've done all this I'll not only have a nice verdant stemma, but I'll also have developed a stronger sense of how worthwhile all that extra effort was, and whether I could have done without some of it. I'd also like to explore the value of minor variants (such as function words) a bit more and---not least because Lethbridge has been discussing their literary interest (2012, 361--63)---titles. It would be interesting to have a sense of how far scribes intervened in titles and rubrics. And it would be very handy if you could work out a rough stemma from the title of a text, as these are normally given in library catalogues. Albeit that probably you can't. Worth checking though.

All the samples are available in their raw format, as aligned transcriptions in a spreadsheet, as infiles in the format used by Phylip Pars, and as unrooted stemmas generated from Pars analysis by Phylip Drawtree in this folder.

Here are the vital statistics of the samples I took:

sample number number of words (Loth) number of parsimony-informative characters number of variants per character (mean)
1 109 47 5.5
2 111 55 6.2
3 154 71 5.8
4 122 61 5.2
5 131 101 5.2

Stemmas so far

The final stemma in .svg format is taking shape thus:

And in .html format (the creation of which is integral to the process of checking readings---albeit perhaps an unduly laborious way to do it) thus. Text in bold shows alterations from the parent manuscript. Bold ellipses in curly brackets ({...}) indicate omissions from the parent. $ indicates an illegible letter; uncertain readings are marked with [?]. Line- and page-breaks in the MS are not replicated, but NB that hyphens marking word-breaks across lines, catchwords, etc., are still included.

The top of the stemma

Hall and Parsons (2013, §43) found that although the sampling method used was generally successful, it did not generate enough data to reach a reliable conclusion about the top of the stemma, partly because the early manuscripts of the saga were fragmentary. This is also the case for Sigurgarðs saga: the earliest manuscript, Eggertsbók (AM 556a 4to), lacks more than half of the beginning of the saga, while the second oldest, AM 123 8vo, has a number of lacunae, including towards the end. For lower sections of the stemma, filiation is relatively easy as we have good representatives of the parents of surviving manuscripts (and sometimes the parents themselves), whereas in most cases the top of the stemma (the archetype, and often its near descendants) has to be reconstructed. Thus some major stemmatic work on the romance sagas has declined to speculate on the top of the stemma entirely (e.g. Slay 1997 and McDonald Werronen 2013). And indeed mine and Sheryl's work on Nikulás saga leikara indicates that in problematic cases, even a third of the complete dataset might sometimes produce different results from the whole dataset. XXXXXthough proportion not actually important: finite numbers areXXXXX.

The main conclusion so far from philological human analysis in that the oldest manuscript, AM 556a 4to, is not the ancestor of most manuscripts, and that we are dealing with a lost archetype. Rooting in AM 556a 4to seemed pretty sensible at first. It is indeed a parsimonious interpretation and so is methodologically attractive, and would be similar to Hast's positioning of Harðar saga, from the same MS, as the archetype of all surviving MSS of that saga (1960a, 1960b), along with the view that this MS is the archetype of all MSS of the shorter version of Gísla saga (Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson 2010, 108). On the other hand, Loth obviously assumed a lost archetype of which AM 556a 4to and AM 123 4to were independent witnesses. This would make AM 556a 4to more comparable to the vellum Vestfirðir MSS of Viktors saga og Blávus, which are short on direct descendants, most of the textual tradition deriving instead from one or more lost medieval manuscripts. Certainly this interpretation would explain why it's only AM 556a 4to (and sometimes AM 588m 4to) that call Ingigerður's kingdom Taricia instead of Tartaria---otherwise you have to assume that at least two if not more scribes changed that to Tartaria independently. But that's not unthinkable. I became convinced that 556a can't be the ancestor of all MSS because of some archaic spellings in (particularly) Lbs 423 fol (which I had initially written off as being the product of an archaising scribe, like the -r endings without the epenthetic vowel which you see in Lbs 222 fol, written XXXXX, or ÍBR 38 8vo, written 1828-1831), which seem likely to go back to a medieval exemplar independent of AM 556a 4to: Lbs 423 fol sometimes has -o for -u in unstressed syllables; v̈vine in §1; at in §§2, 3; an instance of lute for hlute in §3, and liöp for hljóp in §4 where AM 556a has hliop, and it's hard to imagine a later intermediary scribe dropping the h- there; Tartariam in §3, rendered as Tartaria in catchword (cf. Loth 74#15 readings). Those geofumm (for gjöfum) type spellings are really weird---what's going on with them? And a few marginal corrections in a hand that looks as old as the scribal one (is it the scribal one?), though never in the transcribed passages, showing that someone's taking care in their copying. Some of these archaic forms may echo in Rask 32 and even (at least úvini) LBS 3891 4to or ÍB 165 4to (which also has rꜹt for hraut in passage 3 along with -r, oc and lots of other weirdly archaic looking stuff), but that might be wild fantasy on my part. I'll have to have a proper look. Given all this, it might even make us think twice about previous rootings of Harðar saga and Gísla saga. LBS 222 fol 'af $$rdar uorþit' (Loth 76#9): the u- is surely not a deliberate archaism?

Cool stuff about scribal culture

As with Konráðs saga, this stemma also emphasises how a text that looks so radically different from the archetype that it must be a different recension can actually be the product of gradual alteration.

I plan to do with this saga what I did with Konráðs saga (Hall and Parsons 2013, §5.3) and look at scribal cultures. Similar patterns appear to what I found there, though I haven't refined this data yet: around C17, the kind of long-distance links between episcopal seats and the magnates in the Vestfirðir that Springborg sketched in 1977 (the yellow and pale blue plots on the rough and ready map below). But around C18--19, more localised patterns of distribution appear, with one tight cluster around the Dalir (red plots), and another around Reykjavík (purple). Those Dalir manuscripts! Strikingly conservative, and tightly distributed. If my current stemma is right, Magnús Jónsson í Tjaldanesi, writing in the early twentieth century, gives us an independent witness to a lost medieval manuscript. Pretty amazing.

Cool stuff in different versions

For example, the saga’s second earliest manuscript and a major witness to the earliest version of the saga, AM 123 8vo, probably copied within a decade of 1600 and thus possibly a rather rare example of a sixteenth-century saga manuscript, was a manuscript made to be read. Copied onto vellum originally pricked for quarto production, it is small, portable, and no-nonsense. In the century or so over which it was used before coming into the hands of Árni Magnússon, it was read almost to death, now being both dirty and fragmentary and bearing various marks of past readers. This unprepossessing manucript provoked Árni to a hasty, mostly Icelandic, and taciturn accession slip: ‘aptanaf Tiodels sógu, af jlluga gridarfostra. Sigurgardz saga. af Drauma Jons. nockur æfintir. af þorsteini bæiarmagn. recentissima membrana’ (‘the latter part of Tiodels saga, [some] of Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra, Sigrgarðs saga, of Drauma-Jóns saga, some exempla, and [some] of [the saga of] Þorsteinn Bæjarmagn. A very recent parchment’). By contrast, another of our earliest manscripts of Sigrgarðs saga is the monumental, velvet-covered, gold-edged, two-volume Gks 1002–3 fol., produced in the 1660s by Páll Sveinsson for the wealthy farmer Jón Eyjólfsson and subsequently presented, around 1690, to King Christian V of Denmark. This exceptionally late vellum folio offers rather truncated and innovative versions of its texts (cf. Zeevaert et al. forthcoming on its version of Njáls saga), but as Árni catalogued its contents for the king it still inspired him to an altogether more gracious, albeit somewhat sceptical, representation of Sigrgarðs saga, this time in an elevated Danish:

en relation om en kongeson af Ryssland, ved nafn Sigurgard, som fick til egte Ingerd, kong Herculis daatter af Tartarien, oc blef der saa siden konge. denne Roman haver aldelis intet hvor af mand kunde udleede hvad tiider dens auctor skulle hafur villet applicere den til
an account of a prince of Russia called Sigurgard, who succeeded in marrying Ingerd, the daughter of King Herculis of Tartarien, and thus became king there. This romance contains nothing from which one may deduce what period its author might have wanted to set it in.

The remarkable robustness of Skúli--does any version not have this character by name? herskatt--cool! Lbs 4070 8vo gives the fosterbrothers more of a united front in §4, diminishing our sense of Sigurgarður's lack of self-control. Lbs 1491, 1493, 1494, 1498, 1502, 1503, 1504, 1505, 1507, and maybe 1508 (not brought up for some reason--maybe on display?) 4to have a formáli saying where Magnús Jónsson í Tjaldanesi got his exemplars from, but the others in this series (Lbs 1491--1510) don't. ÍBR 38 8vo (and relatives) give Ingigerður more agency at the end. Lbs 4447 4to mentions at the end that 'var ekki herskátt á Gardaríki um daga þeirra' which looks like it might be a topical reference?

Jóhannes Jónsson's rewrite is hard to filiate but very interesting as a complete (and relatively feminist?) rewriting of the text.

For the record, here's the first draft of the stemma I did way back in about 2010:

Amd here's the Pars stemma from the spreadsheet of extra readings based on Loth's critical apparatus here:
One most parsimonious tree found:

  |                +------------Lbs222___f
  |                |       +-----------AM588n___4
  |                +-------5  
  |                        |      +------------Lbs423___f
  |                        +------4  
  |                               |            +--------------AM167____f
  |                               +------------2  
  |                                            +----AM123____8


This project is thoroughly indebted to the kindness and hospitality of the National Library of Iceland, the Stofnun Árnamagnússonar in Reykjavík and the Arnamagnæanske Håndskriftsamling in Copenhagen. It also received funding from the British Academy, for which I am grateful, and the Leverhulme, for which I'm grateful too. XXXXXdetailsXXXXX. Haukur Þorgeirsson and Andrew Wawn have had the misfortune to be my main sounding-boards for this project throughout its tortuous existence. udger copped a lot of it too.