Carla del Zotto, Ed.: La Letteratura Cristiana in Islanda

Article excerpt

* Carla Del Zotto, ed. La letteratura cristiana in Islanda. Rome: Carocci, 2010. Pp. 135.

The present book is published under the direction of Carla Del Zotto and offers a collection of three papers presented during a conference held on 30 March 2009 at the University of Rome, entitled "Christian Literature in Iceland." We should not make the mistake of approaching this book as a work of vulgarization intended for ala Italian readership--maybe less familiar to Scandinavian studies than others--but as an original piece of research written in Italian by competent scholars in Scandinavian humanities. Carla Del Zotto teaches Germanic philology at the University of Roma and published various books around the thematic of religious literature of the German middle ages, runes and Nordic mythology; Silvia Cosimini, not only graduated both in German philology from the University of Florence and in Icelandic language and literature from the University of Iceland, but is also a well-known translator of Icelandic authors; Tommaso Marani graduated in German philology from the University of Roma where he worked for a while as a docent and is currently doing his PhD in Old Norse studies ar the University of Durham.

The first part written by Carla Del Zotto introduces the subject by an analysis of the Christian literature in Medieval Iceland (13-53). She takes the reader from the wider background of the Settlement and the socio-political organization of Medieval Iceland, to the episode of the conversion to Christianity and its consequences. Then she narrows her approach to two texts that she uses to illustrate two noticeable aspects: the Kristni saga as a history of the conversion and the Hungrvaka as a short history of the Icelandic Church. This chapter focuses only on the written sources to approach the phenomenon of the conversion and can be considered as a good reader thanks to its helpful selection of excerpts followed by their Italian translations. In the corpus accepted, in addition to passages translated from Kristni saga (8x) and Hungrvaka (2x), the reader will find excerpts from Islendingabok (2x), Brennu-Njall saga (2x), the Prologue of Heimskringla (IX) and the Jarteinabok Porlaks (Ix). Carla Del Zotto proposes also to translate the technical vocabulary, common to Icelandic society, such as godar ("local chieftains"), varping ("regional assembly held in the spring"), etc. I confess that I have some trouble with her definition of logsogumadr ("president" 16, "president of the Assembly" 29) and of godord ("power over a district under the jurisdiction of the local chieftain" 14). If the first definition might be considered as misleading the latter term is far too complex for this simple definition. The chapter possesses a very complete apparel of notes, with some quite exhaustive such as the one on the adoption of Christianity comporting around 500 words (16 p. 4-5). I would have like to see after her comment on the ethnicity of the settlers according to the Landnamabok, maybe a note pointing out the cautious to observe towards this text and also some bibliographical references showing her awareness of the historiographical debate connected to this source (14-5).

In the second part, Silvia Cosimini proposes a study of the Christian literature after the Reformation and insists mostly on seventeenth century literature (55-86). First she looks at the episode of the Reformation, in order to induce the impact on literature in a second part, then introduces Hallgrimur Petursson and finally comments on many excerpts of his Passiusalmar. Silvia Cosimini follows a didactic presentation, connecting with aptness the different parts in her reasoning. For example, in the historical frame she mentions the choc of the episode of 1627 for the Icelanders who endured a raid from the pirates of the Barbary Coast. They reduced many inhabitants of the Isles Vestman to slavery in the Muslim world and only a few came back to Iceland (59). …