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

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Del Zotto, Carla, ed. La letteratura cristiana in Islanda. Carocci, Neg/ Otia nostra--Piccola biblioteca del Dipartimento di Studi storico-religiosi. Sapienza Universita di Roma / 3, Roma 2010. Pp. 135.

This book, edited by Carla Del Zotto, offers a collection of three papers presented during a conference held on 30 March 2009 at the University of Rome. We should not make the mistake of approaching this book as a popularization intended for an Italian readership perhaps less familiar with Scandinavian studies than others, but rather as original research written in Italian by competent scholars. Carla Del Zotto teaches Germanic philology at the University of Rome and has published several books on the religious literature of the German Middle Ages, runes, and Nordic mythology. Silvia Cosimini not only graduated in Germanic 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. Tommasso Marani graduated in Germanic philology from the University of Rome, where he worked as a docent, and he is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Old Norse at the University of Durham.

The first part, written by Carla Del Zotto, introduces the subject with 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 conversion to Christianity and its consequences. She then narrows her approach to two texts that she uses to illustrate two notable aspects of the topic: 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 in approaching the phenomenon of the conversion and is good source material thanks to its helpful selection of excerpts followed by their Italian translations. In the corpus, in addition to passages translated from Kristni saga (8) and Hungrvaka (2), the reader will find excerpts from Islendingabok (2), Brennu-Njail saga (2), the prologue to Heimskringla (1), and the Jarteinabok Porlaks (1). She also undertakes a translation of 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 ("presidente" 16 [president], "presidente del Passemblea" 29 [president of the assembly]) and of godord ("il potere esercitato sul distretto che amministravano" 16 [the authority exercised in an administrative district]). If the first definition might be considered misleading, the latter term is far more complex than this simple definition. The chapter possesses an extensive series of notes, with some being quite exhaustive, such as the one on the adoption of Christianity running around 500 words (45 n.16). After her comment on the ethnicity of the settlers according to the Landnamabok, I would have liked to have seen a note pointing out the cautions to be observed with regard to this text and also some bibliographical references showing her awareness of the historiographical debate concerning this source (14-5).

In the second part, Silvia Cosimini undertakes a study of Christian literature after the Reformation and deals primarily with seventeenth-century literature (55-86). First she examines the Reformation in order to assess its impact on literature; in the second part, she introduces Hallgrimur Petursson and finally comments on excerpts from his Passiusalmar. Silvia Cosimini aptly connects the different aspects of her thinking. For example, in the historical framework she mentions the shock the Icelanders experienced in 1627 at the raid of the pirates from the Barbary Coast. They enslaved many inhabitants of the Westman Islands and took them to the Muslim world, from which only a few returned to Iceland (59). …