Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Man Who Knew It All: Gudbrandur Vigfusson in Oxford

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Man Who Knew It All: Gudbrandur Vigfusson in Oxford

Article excerpt

IN MEDIEVAL STUDIES, the name of Gudbrandur Vigfusson is now all but forgotten except perhaps among Beowulf scholars who occasionally remember him as the man who in 1878 proposed a connection between Grettis saga and Beowulf, which is still widely accepted. Yet Vigfusson was, during the second half of the nineteenth century, the most prolific and veruatile of all Old Norse scholars in Scandinavia and elsewhere in fields as diverse as lexicography, folktales, editions and translations of Eddic and skaldic poetry, saga studies, and the history of Iceland during the Middle Ages. But in 1989, when a century had passed since his death, it was apparent that his name had faded to obscurity. The University of Iceland invited Benedikt S. Benedikz, a scholar who had made a study of Vigfusson's life and career, to give a lecture about him, but the only real attempt to revive his reputation came from Leeds University. There, two scholars at the School of English, Rory McTurk and Andrew Wawn, brought out a volume of essays under the somewhat quaint title of ur Dolum til Dala. (1)

Ur Dolum til Dala is a collection of fourteen articles by scholars from all over the world, and, as the editors put it in their preface, they hoped that the book would "serve as a modest tribute to the remarkable achievement of Gudbrandur Vigfusson as a scholar and as an unrivalled catalyst for Icelandic studies in 'the English-speaking community' and far beyond (McTurk and Wawn viii). However, Ur Dolum til Dala did little to celebrate Vigfusson's achievement. Most of the contributors simply said something polite about him in the introduction to their articles and then proceeded to discuss their chosen topics. This did not escape one reviewer who promptly rebuked the editors for including articles that did "not take Vigfusson as their subject" (Wolf 514). One of the contributors, Benedikt S. Benedikz, was certainly not guilty of this charge, however, as he contributed an essay called "Gudbrandur Vigfusson: A Biographical Sketch" to Wawn and McTurk's volume, and it is this biographical sketch on which I want to focus in the course of my discussion of Vigfusson's life.

Benedikt S. Benedikz's article is the fullest treatment of the life and career of Guobrandur Vigfusson that we have to date and drew praise from one reviewer as a "good framework in which to place Vigfussons accomplishments" and for including" a just and detailed analysis and evaluation of his career" (Kellogg 523). The first compliment is without doubt quite deserved, but the second one is more problematic as we shall soon see. In his article Benedikz follows Vigfusson's career from his birth in 1827 through his early schooling, graduation from grammar school (gymnasium) and entry into the University of Copenhagen where he took up the study of Old Norse, although no degree program existed in that subject at the time. This decision eventually led to his Icelandic fiancee's leaving him since there would be no prospect of a government position for someone without a formal university degree.

As was to be expected, Vigfusson's Old Norse studies soon landed him a fellowship at the Arnamagnaean Institute in Copenhagen and brought him into contact with leading Old Norse scholars of the time such as Jon Sigurdsson. During this period Vigfusson produced a long essay on the internal chronology of the sagas, which he published in Safn til sogu Islands (1856); an edition of Biskupa sogur with Jon Sigurdsson (1858); an edition of Bardar saga Snofellsass together with various minor sagas, which appeared in the Nordiske oldskrifter series m 1860; assisted with the final preparation of Sveinbjorn Egilsson's Lexicon poeticum for the press in the same year; and finally produced an edition called Fornsogur (Vatnsdola saga, Hallfredar saga and Floamanna saga) with Theodor Mobius in Leipzig, which was published there in 1860. Over the next eight years, Vigfusson worked on a diplomatic edition of Flateyjarbok with Carl Richard Unger, a Norwegian scholar, and prepared during this period an edition of Eyrbyggja saga, which was published in Leipzig in 1864. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.