The Arthur of the North: The Arthurian Legend in the North and Rus' Realms

Article excerpt

MARIANNE E. KALINKE, ed. The Arthur of the North: The Arthurian Legend in the North and Rus' Realms. Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages 5. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011. Pp. x, 223. isbn: 978-0-7083-2353-3. $85.00.

The Arthur of the North is the fifth volume in the Series 'Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages,' which is intended as a collection of volumes dealing with Arthurian material in the national languages of Europe. Together, this series will replace R.S. Loomis' Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1959). So far have appeared: Volume 1, The Arthur of the Welsh, ed. Rachel Bromwich, O.H. Jarman, and Brynley F. Roberts (1991) (reviewed in Arthuriana 6.3, 83-84); Volume 2, The Arthur of the English, ed. W.R.J. Barron (2001) (reviewed in Arthuriana 12.3, 112-13); Volume 3, The Arthur of the Germans, ed. W.H. Jackson and S.A. Ranawake (2000) (reviewed in Arthuriana 11.3, 122-24); and Volume 4, The Arthur of the French, ed. Glyn S. Burgess and Karen Platt (2006). Volume 6, The Arthur of Medieval Latin Literature, ed. Siân Echard, also appeared in 2011 and volumes on the Arthur of the Iberians and the Arthur of the Italians are promised. The editor of this volume, Marianne Kalinke, CAS Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and Trowbridge Chair in Literary Studies Emerita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is hardly a stranger to readers of this journal. She is the foremost authority on the Arthurian literature of Scandinavia, and her publications in this field include King Arthur North-by Northwest (Copenhagen, 1981), Norse Romances, 3 volumes, part III of the Arthurian Archives (Cambridge, 1999) (reviewed in Arthuriana 10.4, 78-80), as well as numerous handbook and encyclopedia contributions on the subject and a large number of articles in learned journals. Nor does this volume disappoint. Its nine articles on various aspects of Arthuriana in the Scandinavian Languages and a concluding article on the influence of Arthur on the medieval literature of Belarus and the Ukraine are all first rate contributions. Each contribution has its own bibliography (which leads to some duplication), and there is a brief general bibliography at the end of the volume where can also be found a list of manuscripts cited and a comprehensive index.

After a brief introduction to the subject matter, Kalinke opens the volume with an essay dealing with the introduction of Arthurian material into Scandinavia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The earliest text to be translated was the 'Prophetiae Merlini' from Book VII of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae, which was turned into a poem of 103 stanzas around 1200 as Merlinsspá, followed shortly afterwards by a prose version of the Historia under the title Breta sögur (The Histories of the Britons). However, the Golden Age for the translation of Arthurian materials into Norse is the thirteenth century, particularly during the reign of Hákon IV Hákonarsson of Norway (1217-63). He promoted the translation of romances involving the matière de Bretagne beginning with Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar. This is an important text as it preserves the complete narrative of the Roman de Tristan by Thomas de Bretagne which otherwise survives in French only in fragmentary form. This translation was followed by three romances of Chrétien de Troyes, which appeared as Erex saga, Ívens saga, and Parcevals saga with a separate Valvens þáttur (The Tale of Gawain). A collection of Breton lais, many by Marie de France, was also made under the Strengleikar [Stringed Instruments] and a translation of the Lai du cort mantel (Möttuls saga). Arthurian material was only a part of Hákon's program of translation, and Kalinke's essay is particularly useful in the way it contextualizes the different demands made on the translators and the consequences of this translation program for subsequent Icelandic literary history, particularly the development of the riddarasögur [stories of knights]. …