The Development of Education in Medieval Iceland (The Northern Medieval World) 1501518550, 9781501518553

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Table of contents :
Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education
Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People
Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum
Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica
Index of Names
General Index
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Ryder Patzuk-Russell The Development of Education in Medieval Iceland

The Northern Medieval World

On the Margins of Europe Editorial Board Carolyne Larrington, St. John’s College, Oxford (Chair) Oren Falk, Cornell University Dawn Hadley, University of Sheffield Kate Heslop, University of California, Berkeley Jana Schulman, Western Michigan University Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Universitetet i Oslo

Ryder Patzuk-Russell

The Development of Education in Medieval Iceland

ISBN 978-1-5015-1855-3 e-ISBN (PDF) 978-1-5015-1418-0 e-ISBN (EPUB) 978-1-5015-1443-2 Library of Congress Control Number: 2020947125 Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available on the internet at © 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston Cover image: Excerpt Uppsala-Eddan. The original belongs to Uppsala University Library, shelfmark: DG 11 (91). Typesetting: Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd. Printing and binding: CPI books GmbH, Leck

Acknowledgements I have had an incomparable support network during the seven years it took to complete this book and it would be impossible to sufficiently thank everyone. Particular gratitude goes to those who endured reading the manuscript in full at some point or another: David Cole, Margaret Cormack, Chris Callow, Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, and Gottskálk Jensson. Thanks to my fellow Brum Old Norse specialists, Dale Kedwards and Bernadette McCooey, for helping me feel like a part of the community, and always being there to encourage me. Thanks to my mom and sister, Lynne and Cassidy; I would not have even been able to start this process without their support. Thanks to James McMullen, Rebecca Merkelbach, Tiffany Nichole White, and all the friends around the world that have continued to hold off the loneliness and isolation of academic work. To anyone not listed here who should have been: I owe you a beer. Finally, I would like to thank Haraldur Bernharðsson and everyone at the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar and Háskóli Íslands for providing the resources it took to finish this project.

Contents Acknowledgements Abbreviations



Introduction 1 Medieval Iceland 4 Medieval Education 8 Primary Sources for Icelandic Education and Grammatica Outline of this Study 23 Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education 27 What is a School in Medieval Iceland? 28 Subjects of Pre-Christian and Secular Education Law 33 Magical Arts and Lore 37 Runes 41 Hannyrðir 44 History and Genealogy 46 The Enigma of Poetic Education 48 The Intersections of Secular Subjects 53 Fosterage and Educational Contexts 56 Students and Teachers 59 The Value and Role of Education in Fosterage Conclusion 64




Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People 67 Sources for Medieval Icelandic Schools 69 The Biskupasögur and Narrative Sources 70 Documentary Sources 72 Law Codes 74 Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals 75 Missionary Education and Apprentice Relationships 76 Education at Major Churches 81 Christian Education in the Home 89 Cathedral Schools 92 Skálholt 94



Hólar 100 Monastic Schools 107 The First Two Centuries of Monastic Foundations and Education 110 Monastic Foundations and Education from the Late Thirteenth Century 116 Education Abroad 125 Finance and Society in Education 133 The Price of an Education 133 The Value of Teaching and Learning 139 Conclusion 144 Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum 147 Icelandic Latinity 148 Liturgy, Booklists, and the Missing Latin Corpus 150 Latin in Devotion, Prestige, and International Communication 156 A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum 159 Elementary Education: Alphabets and Music 160 Elementary Learning: Computus and Calendrical Learning 165 Elementary to Intermediate: Basic Reading, Grammatica, and the Clerical Curriculum 167 Grammatica, Booklists, and Advanced Learning 177 Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises 191 The English and German Models 191 Old English, German, and the Origins of Icelandic Grammatica 196 Grammatical Terminology in ON and OE 202 Conclusion 209 Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica 213 The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica The Precedent of Runacy 215 The Development of Textualization and Vernacular Grammatica 221 Intersection of Developing Grammatical Traditions 232 Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica 245



Vernacular Normalization, Truth, and Interpretation 245 Complex Language and Interpretation 250 Simple Language and Interpretation 262 Teaching vernacular Grammatica 269 The Pedagogical Functions of Vernacular Grammatica and of Latin Grammatica 270 Teaching Vernacular Grammatica to the Laity 274 Conclusion 278 Bibliography Index of Names General Index

285 303 309


Abbreviations 1GT 2GT 3GT 4GT AM DI DN GKS Holm Perg Lbs M MG OE ON ONP

First Grammatical Treatise Second Grammatical Treatise Third Grammatical Treatise Fourth Grammatical Treatise Árni Magnússon Manuscript Collection, Reykjavík and Copenhagen Diplomatarium Islendicum Diplomatarium Norvegicum Gamle Kongelige Samling, Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen National Library of Sweden, Stockholm Landsbókasafn Íslands, National Library of Iceland, Reykjavík Málskrúðsfræði, the second part of the Third Grammatical Treatise Málfræðinnar Grundvǫllr, the first part of the Third Grammatical Treatise Old English Old Norse Dictionary of Old Norse Prose

Introduction In the far northwestern corner of the European world, the island of Iceland was settled in the late ninth century, largely by migrants from Norway and the British Isles. By the end of the Middle Ages, this tiny country had produced one of the most fascinating and distinctive bodies of literature in history, written almost entirely in the native language, Old Norse (ON). The sagas and poetry of medieval Iceland have fascinated and entertained readers, students, and scholars for centuries. Behind this literature was an intellectual culture made up of a melting pot of ideas from Christian, European literate traditions and native oral discourses. Behind this intellectual culture, in turn, were schools and pedagogies which were similarly heterogeneous. These educational practices, however, did not only produce a body of compelling literature. They created the priesthood that would help establish Christianity and the institution of the medieval Catholic church across the island. Education bound people together throughout society, both rich and poor, linking patrons, teachers, and students together through many different bonds, from the ideological to the financial. Educational practices helped negotiate the relationship, both ideological and practical, between the Latin language of the wider European church and the native, vernacular ON. Even by medieval European standards, Iceland had distinctive conditions under which educational practices operated. It was highly decentralized, with a scattered population that was entirely rural. Nothing in Iceland resembled a city, or even a town. Teaching took place in schools run by cathedrals and monasteries, but these were very small communities of learning, and located on isolated farmsteads. Many students learned at home from parents or foster-parents, or were apprenticed to a priest, who might have been training his replacement, and professional teachers were confined to cathedrals and monasteries. Many aspects of pre-Christian learning continued in Christian Iceland, as history, genealogy, poetry, and other subjects were passed down orally between generations, and eventually with some support from written texts. The Latin language governed the activities of the church, and the performance of the Latin liturgy was the main goal and duty of the clergy, so learning Latin was among the first tasks that the first Christian Icelanders had to deal with in order to incorporate the new religion into their society. Yet almost the entire surviving corpus of manuscripts are in ON. This study aims to show that there was not a single model or overarching curriculum that governed education in medieval Iceland, but rather a broad range of teaching and learning practices varying according to individuals and contexts.



The evidence that survives for education is similarly varied. On the one hand, there is the evidence for the contexts of education and the people involved. Sagas, particularly the sagas about the Icelandic bishops, name and characterize teachers and students, and offer some brief descriptions of how young clerics were taught. Education contracts and other documents, as well as law codes, fill in some details about the social and economic aspects. Sagas about pre-Christian Icelanders, though written long after the conversion to Christianity, offer some grounds for considering how the earliest Icelanders taught and learned, and hint at later forms of secular education. On the other hand, there is the actual content of learning, the curriculum of the clergy, and the more uncertain and heterogeneous learning of lay people. For this we must gather scattered references from a wide range of sources. One body of texts stands out as the most compelling and distinctive evidence of medieval Icelandic pedagogical practices: the ON grammatical treatises. These, gathered together in fourteenth-century manuscripts, are unusual compilations of many different sources. They are, in essence, a combination of translated Latin grammatical writings with the first textual analysis of ON poetry and poetics. By definition, they are a melding of at least two pedagogical worlds: the learning and practice of ON poetry, and the Latin tradition of ars grammatica (the art of grammar), arguably the most important discipline of medieval European learning in western Europe, that encompassed both literary interpretation and the basic learning of the Latin language. Any understanding of medieval Icelandic education must account for these treatises, both their genesis and their use and function. This book will cover the full medieval period, from the settlement of Iceland in the 870s until the Reformation in 1550. Certain periods have more detailed sources, and before the formal conversion to Christianity, c. 1000, we can only speculate from much later sources. It will examine the development of schools and other educational contexts, some of the social and economic aspects of teaching and learning, the core Latin clerical curriculum, and the unusual development of the Old Norse grammatical and poetic treatises. Such a broad view means that not every topic can be examined in depth, and in many places the main goal will simply be to explain what sources exist and how they fit into the larger picture. However, by viewing all of these aspects of educational history together, we can better understand how they interconnect, and how education itself functioned within the society and culture. No study has ever attempted to take into account all of these sources, all of these perspectives, and all of these components of and perspectives on medieval Icelandic education. The subject has, however, been of interest to many scholars, and has often been used in scholarship on ecclesiastical history or Old Norse poetics. Many scholars have either pushed for a nationalistic understanding of medieval



Icelandic education or literacy as being of unusually high quality,1 or offered narratives of educational rise and decline which have supported the idealization of the Icelandic commonwealth as a golden age.2 To a great extent, education has drawn scholarly interest as a tool to characterize elite identity and a hyperbolic concept of the quality of medieval Icelandic literature. As the highly influential scholar Gabriel Turville-Petre wrote in 1942: It was partly because clerical education was common among men of the foremost families who were proud of their traditions, that the Icelanders, alone among Scandinavian nations, produced a great medieval literature.3

The study does not aim to rewrite the general narrative of the relationship between literature and education. Rather, it seeks to provide a more complete view of education, to supplement and help shape a more nuanced and accurate perspective through a more complete reading of the sources. While past scholarship has studied educational history with certain ulterior goals in mind – explaining the origin of the sagas, characterizing the secular elite, and emphasizing the exceptionalism of medieval Icelandic culture – the study aims to study educational history for its own sake, as a subject valuable in itself. To a large extent, this means addressing different topics than have previously been the focus of scholarship: the teaching

1 See, for example, comments on the high quality of medieval Icelandic education in Jón Sigurðsson, “Um skóla,” 87–88, and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “The Education of Sturla Þórðarson,” 20. For arguments that education in Iceland was of the same quality as Europe’s, see Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 21–22, citing Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 34–35, and Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Skálholtsskóli,” 199. Some scholars have taken the opposite view, and Sverrir specifically notes that he is reacting to Halldór Hermannsson’s earlier comments that the education of priests in Iceland was more primitive than elsewhere (The Hólar Cato, vx). When citing Icelandic scholars, I will adhere to the Icelandic practice of giving precedence to the first name over the patronymic or matronymic; for example, Sverrir Tómasson is listed in the bibliography under S, not under T. 2 See in particular Jónas Gíslason, “Island.” Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta” is framed entirely around the question of how the quality of Icelandic education rose and fell. Most recently, Gunnar Harðarson has characterized Iceland as having a high “educational standing” in the twelfth century, but considers that in the thirteenth century Norwegian elites were better educated than Icelandic ones by European standards (Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 42–43). See Hanson, “Icelandic Education,” 49, for a particularly extreme example of this type of thinking: he suggests, among other points, that the school at Skálholt closed down in 1236 and did not reopen until 1491, despite the clear reference to schooling at Skálholt in a 1440 document (DI IV, 614–15). He likewise suggests that there is almost no mention of schools in Iceland from 1393 to 1474, despite a number of significant education contracts surviving from that period, as will be discussed in chapter 2. 3 Turville-Petre, “Notes on the Intellectual History of Icelanders,” 113–14.



and learning of elementary topics and poor or incomplete education, the predominance of clerical education over secular in society, and the financial issues of teaching and learning. At the same time, however, these subjects are not divorced from the qualities of educational history that have interested scholars. Only through taking a holistic approach to the social, economic, intellectual, and literary components of education in medieval Iceland can we advance our understanding of it.

Medieval Iceland Iceland was settled from Norway and other parts of northern Europe in the later ninth century, probably beginning around the 870s. While lacking any kind of direct royal rule, Icelandic political life was overseen by a group of chieftains known as goðar: men who possessed a goðorð, an office of authority not defined by strict geographic boundaries, and who led groups of followers, known as þingmenn, often acting as advocates in legal disputes.4 There likewise existed a legislative body, the Alþing, led by the lǫgsǫgurmaðr (Lawspeaker). In the year 999/1000, with pressure from the king of Norway, Óláfr Tryggvason, Christianity was accepted as the official religion of Iceland by agreement of the Alþing. The first bishopric in Iceland was in the south, at Skálholt, the estate of the first bishop, Ísleifr Gizurarson (1056–1080), a member of the powerful Haukdælir family. It became a diocesan see when his son, Gizurr Ísleifsson, took over the office in 1082. Apart from Skálholt, all other churches were proprietary churches, where the owner of the farm retained proprietary rights over the establishment. A tithe was established in 1097, based on property values, which gave church owners a means of funding and supporting their churches, and potentially for funding a greater number of priests.5 Many of these priests were socalled chieftain-priests: Icelanders who were secular leaders, having control over a district or goðorð, who were also ordained as priests. The general scholarly consensus is that by owning churches and being priests, chieftains could consolidate their power, drawing their neighbors to their own wealthy churches

4 For a discussion of goði and goðorð see Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Chieftains and Power, 9–83; Gunnar Karlsson, Goðamenning; Byock, Viking Age Iceland, 13–14, 118–41. While emphasizing the limitations of their authority, Byock defines goðar as leaders of interest-groups of þingmenn, groups which were based on shared self-interest (Byock, Viking Age Iceland, 13). 5 For a full discussion of the tithe law and its implications, see Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 67–92.

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and thereby showing off their own wealth and power, extracting tithes, and strengthening social bonds.6 In 1106 a northern bishopric was founded, centered at Hólar. In 1133 the first monastery run by native Icelanders was founded, also in the north, at Þingeyrar. Over the course of the Middle Ages, fourteen monastic foundations would appear in Iceland, nine of which would endure until the Reformation. All of these were either Benedictine or Augustinian, and two were Benedictine convents.7 The relationship between Icelandic chieftains and the priesthood, and by implication their relationship with clerical education, also began to shift in the twelfth century. The rise of the Oddaverjar and other powerful families meant that the Haukadælir lost some influence over ecclesiastical politics, and in the latter half of the twelfth century more chieftains tended to have younger sons or other family members ordained, rather than the heads of family themselves.8 Iceland, while never entirely isolated from the great ecclesiastical movements of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was increasingly affected by ecclesiastical reform after it came under the control of the newly created archbishopric of Niðaróss in 1152. In 1190 the archbishop issued a decree that anyone in a position of secular authority, namely any goði, could not be ordained and take orders.9 However, local leaders’ families that did not possess a goðorð continued to be ordained as aristocratic priests after the late twelfth century, again presumably to solidify their social and political relationship with the areas they controlled.10 The first half of the thirteenth century was dominated by a period of conflict between increasingly powerful and wealthy families, known as the Age of the Sturlungs, which saw the gathering together of multiple goðorð under the control of individual chieftains. Around 1262, after a long period of struggle, Iceland came under the rule of the Norwegian king. The system of goðar and goðorð ended, and by the mid-fourteenth century a series of officials replaced

6 Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 238. 7 Medieval Augustinian canons were not normal secular clergy, but neither were they, strictly speaking, monks. However, this distinction is rarely made in the Icelandic sources, and though more research needs to be done to clarify the relationship between the two groups within Iceland, here both Augustinians and Benedictines will be referred to generally as monks and their houses as monasteries. For a general overview of the origins of the Augustinians in the eleventh century and their early development, see Barrow, The Clergy, 100–114. 8 For a full discussion of chieftain-priests see Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 182–94. 9 DI I, 289–91. The date of this decree is also given as 1191, see for example Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 20. 10 Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 238–40.



them: a single hirðstjóri, the highest official, two lǫgmenn, who replaced the earlier office of the Lawspeaker, and up to twenty sýslumenn, who were essentially sheriffs over newly formed administrative districts.11 Equally fundamental changes affected the church. Continuing efforts at reform from the archbishopric of Niðaróss, and the enactment of the New Church Law of Bishop Árni Þorláksson in 1275 brought a greater influence of canon law. A series of conflicts known as the staðamál took the control of much church property out of secular hands and turned many major estates into benefices provided by the bishops, rather than lay owners, as they had been previously.12 During the period 1238–1380 most Icelandic bishops came from Norway, primarily clerics who had held high positions at Norwegian monasteries and cathedral chapters.13 Under these bishops a system of church officials developed based on Norwegian models: the officialis and ráðsmaðr, or vicar-general, both worked at the bishopric itself, while profastar were representatives stationed in each district, responsible for maintaining church law in their territory. The combination of these new offices with the system of benefices helped to cause the wealth and power of the Icelandic clergy to vastly increase from the later thirteenth century through the fourteenth and fifteenth.14 After 1380, with the union between Norway and Denmark, Iceland and Norway came under Danish rule, and papal influence over the Icelandic bishoprics increased. From 1380 to 1442 Icelandic bishops were appointed by the papacy, and came from diverse national backgrounds, including Danish, English, and Dutch. The social networks of clerics which defined much of the Icelandic church in the fourteenth century, however, continued to be maintained, and there are some examples of these later foreign bishops fitting into Icelandic society. After 1442 Icelandic bishops were chosen from among the clerical elite who had been diocesan officers before.15 The Plague struck Iceland twice, in 1402–1404 and 1494–1495, and is believed to have dealt a devastating blow to the Icelandic population, as well as its institutions, including the church and schools. However, several recent arguments have suggested that the impact of the Black Death has been overstated,

11 Sigurdson, The Church, 16–17. 12 Sigurdson, The Church, 21–25. For the most complete study of the staðamál, see Magnús Stefánsson, Staðir og staðamál. See also Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 84–93. 13 Sigurdson, The Church, 89. 14 Sigurdson, The Church, 99–100. 15 Sigurdson, The Church, 178–79. The change was not immediate, and Marcellus de Niveriis, a German, and Jón Stefánsson Krabbe, a Dane, were both bishops at Skálholt after 1442.

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and that there is no evidence for disruptions of administrative activities.16 Finally, the Reformation came to Iceland from Denmark in the 1540s, the monasteries and convents were closed down, and the last Catholic bishop of Iceland, Jón Arason of Hólar, was executed in 1550. The fundamental changes in both educational ideology and practice that came with the Reformation makes it a natural end point for this study. Throughout this period, despite its small rural population, Iceland produced one of the most impressive extant corpuses of medieval vernacular writing. A wide diversity of prose narrative genres survive: sagas of kings, of Icelandic chieftains and poets, bishops’ sagas, romances and sagas of ancient heroes, and a variety of translations. Learned vernacular texts include encyclopedic and homiletic collections, theological texts, grammatical and computistical treatises, and various miscellanies. An extensive body of vernacular poetry, both religious and secular, survives as well. This can be roughly divided into the more complex meters of courtly poetry, or skaldic verse, and the simpler and older meters found in poems known as Eddic verse. This poetry influenced almost every aspect of vernacular literary culture, and a fairly distinctive prosimetrical form is very widespread in the Icelandic corpus.17 Among this great body of vernacular writing, very little Latin writing survives, and what is extant is largely fragmentary. Scholars have frequently asserted that the authority of ON language and literature was among the most unique and exceptional aspects of medieval Icelandic culture and society, and the writing of vernacular treatises was largely oriented around producing and encouraging this linguistic authority.18 In exploring education and grammatica, however, this study will show that rapid ON literary development and linguistic authority did not prevent an active use of Latin in Iceland, and the ON grammatical treatises were not

16 Sigurdson, The Church, 28. Callow and Evans have suggested a mortality rate lower than those suggested by earlier scholars, not much more than 25 percent (Callow and Evans, “The Mystery of Plague,” 281–83). 17 Clunies Ross, A History, 80–81. For a full recent discussion of the development of the prosimetrical form in Iceland, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 194–212. 18 Stephen Tranter argues, regarding the 3GT, that by “incorporating skaldic verse into his grammatical tracts he maintains the equal right of the native tradition to be treated, like the works of Latin Antiquity, as a canonical corpus.” (Tranter, “Medieval Icelandic artes poeticae,” 147). Clunies Ross is somewhat more cautious, suggesting that, for Icelandic writers, the “vernacular handbooks of vernacular poetics” were intended to confirm “the status of their native poetry not only to themselves but in comparison with the rhetorical and grammatical tradition of medieval European Latinity” (Clunies Ross, A History, 233). Mikael Males’s most recent work characterizes the thirteenth-century development of vernacular grammatica as being largely oriented around creating vernacular authority (Males, “Applied Grammatica”).



solely concerned with vernacular authority. The education of the clergy was fundamentally based around a Latin education that could prepare them for their liturgical duties, and though the liturgical texts they used do not survive except in scattered fragments, they were just as important as the surviving vernacular texts to the overall literary and textual culture of Iceland. Characterizing Icelandic education thus involves discussing the role of both ON and Latin in pedagogical practices.

Medieval Education To understand how education developed in medieval Iceland, we must have a general sense of medieval education as a whole.19 Ideas and institutions were brought to Iceland with Christianization, and adapted there to serve local needs. Three key concepts are important to contextualize Icelandic education in the medieval world: monastic schools, episcopal or cathedral schools, and the septem artes liberales (seven liberal arts), above all the most basic of them, grammatica. Before the formation of the first universities in the twelfth century, monasteries and cathedrals were the prime educational centers of the European Middle Ages. However, likely in part because of the lack of any population centres on the island, universities never formed in medieval Iceland. Early medieval episcopal schools were based around the domus episcoporum, small communities of students clustered around the bishops. Cathedral schools as institutions of education developed extensively during the Carolingian era, and the number of such institutions began to increase in the ninth and tenth centuries, with rapid growth in the eleventh. The growth of these schools was tied to the growth of urban environments, which provided immediate access to greater resources, including lodgings for the growing number of students. However, because of cost and distance most parish priests did not attend cathedral schools.20

19 For a useful survey of scholarship on medieval education, see Barrow, The Clergy, 173–76. 20 For a survey of the development of cathedral schools, see Bellitto, “Revisiting Ancient Practices,” 37–39; Barrow, The Clergy, 180–200. As Barrow discusses, there was a parallel development of schooling at the large clerical communities of collegiate churches, including in urban environments. However, because the size of clerical communities outside the monasteries and cathedrals in Iceland appears to have been extremely small – only a handful of very wealthy churches had more than three clerics at a time – collegiate church schools will not be considered here as a distinct model for education in medieval Iceland, though it is certainly not impossible that they had some influence.

Medieval Education


Even from the beginning, the earliest cathedral schools were influenced by the monastic concern for learning.21 Considering that the purpose of medieval monasteries was to perfect the ascetic life, they were in a broad sense always schools, and had always accepted children and adolescents who came to them.22 The massive growth and dissemination of monasteries in the early Middle Ages supported their role as educational sites: by the end of the sixth century, for example, there were at least two hundred monasteries in Gaul.23 To a large extent, monasteries were concerned with the education of their own members, and there was sometimes a distinction between the scola interior and scola exterior, a school for future monks and a school for future clerics, though this was not always the case, and cannot be assumed to have been practiced in Iceland.24 Lay education could also be provided, particularly for aristocratic boys sent to the monasteries for the purpose. By the early thirteenth century in England, Augustinians and Benedictines had developed so-called Almonry schools, where poor boys could receive some education along with meals and accommodation.25 The septem artes liberales were the standard educational scheme of the Middle Ages, inherited from Roman tradition. They were used to describe and shape much, though not all, of the curriculum of medieval schools, and were divided into the trivium and quadrivium. The trivium was the language arts, the basic groundwork of an education: grammatica, rhetorica, and dialectica. The quadrivium, in turn, consisted of the more advanced subjects: musica, arithmetica, geometria, and astronomia. While this was a highly influential and important system, it was not a monolithic curriculum: there was elementary education that occurred before and apart from the trivium, and law and theology were among the most important advanced subjects taught at medieval schools,

21 Riché, Education and Culture, 124–28. 22 Riché, Education and Culture, 100. The prescriptions of the Benedictine Rule assumes that the monks are literate, and as such would have required that some sort of schooling was available to prepare those entering the monastery for their new life (Leclercq, The Love of Learning, 12–14). 23 Riché, Education and Culture, 290. 24 For a thorough discussion of the two schools system at St. Gaul, see Grotans, Reading, 53–67. For a more general and critical look at external schools in the Carolingian world, see Hildebrandt, The External School. Monastic education could vary greatly, and monasteries could make use of other institutions like collegiate churches to run external schools. The potential for regional distinctions in practice is exemplified by the Anglo-Saxons, who ran undifferentiated schools and tended not to be concerned about monks and clerics coexisting in the same communities (Barrow, The Clergy, 182–3). 25 Orme, “The Augustinian Canons,” 226–27.



but were not a part of the quadrivium. Likewise, in certain contexts the focus was more on practical religious education, such as teaching clerical students to read, chant, and fulfill their basic sacramental duties.26 As this study will argue, education in Iceland is best understood through exploring the centrality of grammatica to clerical learning, alongside the importance of elementary and practical religious learning. Indeed, grammatica was arguably the most important discipline in the Middle Ages: it dealt with the teaching and learning of the Latin language, as well as various forms of interpretation and linguistic ideologies.27 In its concern with interpretation of form, style, and figurative language it overlapped with rhetorica, though the latter was generally more concerned with composition, while grammatica dealt more with interpretation.28 For the purposes of this study, a broad understanding of grammatica will be employed, including some aspects of rhetorica. In the context of Iceland it seems unlikely that the hard distinctions between disciplines were often relevant.29 In his seminal 1994 study on the cultural history of grammatica in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, The Making of Textual Culture: Grammatica and Literary Theory, 350–1100, Martin Irvine describes how the discipline of grammatica went beyond its role in school curricula: [B]y supplying the very conditions for textual culture, the culture of the manuscript book, grammatica functioned as an irreducible cultural prerequisite, a status never given to rhetoric or logic. In the terms of medieval scholars themselves, grammatica was “the source and foundation of liberal letters” or “the source and foundation of all the textual

26 Barrow, The Clergy, 217–27; Bellitto, “Revisiting Ancient Practices,” 38. 27 For various medieval iterations of the traditional definition of the discipline, see Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 1, note 1. 28 Medieval Grammar, 28. By the thirteenth century grammatica and rhetorica were increasingly difficult to separate, particularly in the treatises known as artes poetriae which arose during the period (Purcell, Ars poetriae, 3–10). For more general overlap see also Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 7–8. 29 There is little direct reference to the idea of rhetorica as a discipline or system of thought in the Old Norse tradition. The only explicit reference to rhetorica in the extant grammatical treatises is a single reference in the Málskrúðsfræði, where it is noted that alliteration is heavily used in both Norse poetics and rhetorica, which is translated as málsnilldarlist (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 96). Málsnilldarlist is not a common word, but it does appear elsewhere in the Old Norse corpus, and usually only refers to “eloquence” in the most general sense, not as a particular academic discipline. Another instance where it directly translates rhetorica, in Ágústínuss saga, is a strictly historical reference to St. Augustine’s teaching of rhetorica in Carthage (Heilagra manna sögur, Vol. 1, 125).

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arts,” not only because grammatica was the only point of entry into literate culture but because grammatica was universally understood to supply the discursive means for constructing language and texts as objects of knowledge.30

A more recent and equally important work is Rita Copeland and Ineke Sluiter’s 2009 Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric: Language Arts and Literary Theory, AD 300–1475, which collects and introduces excerpts from grammatical and rhetorical works across this period. They describe grammatica in both functional and philosophical terms, including its relationship with dialectic: John of Salisbury spoke of grammar as the “cradle of all philosophy.” The technical field of grammar was a foundation for explanatory systems of how language signifies and meaning is produced. Through grammatical theory, ancient and medieval readers could move from questions of signification to questions of meaning, from signs to semantics, and ultimately to questions of literary representation, that is, the relationship of poetic language to different kinds of truth, including the possibilities that the poetic language of Scripture offered to speculative theology. Because of its concern with signification, grammar was linked closely with the logical science of dialectic.31

In light of current scholarship, then, it is clear that grammatica is fundamental to studying not only medieval education, but the relationship between education and the wider intellectual and cultural landscape.32 This in turn makes the discipline particularly useful in relating the history of education to other fields in medieval Icelandic studies, including poetics and literary history.33 The interpretative side of grammatica – the part beyond the essential learning of the Latin language – was traditionally given four core divisions. Lectio involved pronunciation and reading aloud, enarratio the principles of interpretation and figurative language, emendatio the creation and maintenance of correct language, and iudicium the criticism and judgment of writings.34 As with most intellectual or pedagogical disciplines, the influence of grammatica can be inferred from almost any text, but grammatica is particular in its fundamental role in all textual and manuscript production. It is evidenced not only through grammatical treatises,

30 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 2. 31 Medieval Grammar, 14. 32 In a more recent article, Irvine affirms that “grammatica, in the medieval sense, is not be reduced to what is found in a primer text like Donatus’s Ars grammatica, but should be understood to include a range of literate and literary practices shared by the grammatically educated” (Irvine and Thomson, “Grammatica and Literary Theory,” 16). 33 Males has made use of the broader understanding of grammatica as “systematic textual study” in reference to the Icelandic poetic corpus, specifically twelfth-century poetics (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 32). 34 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 4–6.



various forms of commentaries, and encyclopedic works, but through “the form and content of manuscript books produced within grammatical culture.”35 Through these methods, grammatica was also closely involved with the creation and maintenance of textual authority. On the level of texts and the literary corpus, the authorization was two-way and cyclical: grammatica conferred authority to texts, and in turn, those texts which already carried authority, whether through grammatica or by other means, conferred authority to grammatical discourses and the ideologies that made use of them. The interaction between Virgil and Donatus’s Ars grammatica – his ars minor and ars maior, written in fourthcentury Rome, arguably the most important grammatical textbook of the Middle Ages – is the clearest classical example of this bilateral interaction.36 On a broader linguistic level, grammatica helped produce Latinitas (Latinity), the principle of correct linguistic usage and normalized, authoritative language based on systematic principles, literary authorities, and convention.37 While at its most advanced levels grammatical learning underwent many changes and new cultural developments, at the elementary and intermediate levels of learning grammatica remained surprisingly consistent from the fifth century to the growth of humanist education during the Renaissance, which paralleled the consistency of medieval elementary education in general.38 Innovations in teaching technique and ideology did occur, however. A classical tradition was steadily Christianized and adapted to new cultural conditions. Bede and other important teachers argued that Scripture was as complex and sophisticated as any classical auctor,39 and adaptations by Insular grammarians to new linguistic conditions in the seventh and eighth centuries had a wide impact.40 The late twelfth and thirteenth centuries brought the rise of verse grammars, making use of the verse format for mnemonic reasons, as well as other new genres, and the pedagogical dynamics of the discipline were changed.41 But among these changes there remained a remarkable consistency to the discipline and its role in education.

35 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 8–12. 36 As Martin Irvine describes the interaction: “[W]ith Vergil as the object-text for grammatical discourse, grammatica constructed itself as dependent on the authority of cultural scripture, but the authority of the discipline, the discourse of a systematic ars, constructed this objectified text with the authority emanating from an institutional and professional power base” (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 80). 37 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 74–78. 38 Irvine and Thomson, “Grammatica and Literary Theory,” 17; Barrow, The Clergy, 217–18. 39 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 291–93. 40 Law, The Insular Latin Grammarians. 41 Medieval Grammar, 544–50.

Primary Sources for Icelandic Education and Grammatica


The discipline of grammatica requires particular attention in the study of medieval Icelandic education for several reasons. Foremost is the fact that the Icelandic grammatical treatises are some of the very few pieces of explicitly pedagogical writing surviving from medieval Iceland. Yet, as vernacular texts that deal primarily with ON language and poetics, they are divergent from the core Latin grammatical tradition, and in their extant forms represent only one narrow aspect of education in Iceland. This dissonance between the wider discipline of grammatica and the Icelandic grammatical treatises means that the function and genesis of these treatises can only be understood in the context of all other aspects of Icelandic education. At the same time, the core Latin grammatical tradition remained of central importance even in Iceland, for the training of priests and the dissemination of Christian teachings.

Primary Sources for Icelandic Education and Grammatica A wide variety of sources must be used to explore Icelandic education. We have descriptions of the pre-Christian period in the Sagas of Icelanders, Íslendingasögur, and the þættir, shorter narratives that are sometimes included in longer sagas and compilations. However, since they were written in the thirteenth century and later, their reliability for earlier periods is uncertain. Sagas of Icelandic bishops, biskupasögur, along with some information from annals and other narrative sources, give the main chronological, social, and political context for clerical education. Laws and documentary sources provide important social and economic information, particularly about how contracts between students, patrons, and teachers were arranged and prescribed. Regarding grammatica and the clerical curriculum, the lack of Latin sources is limiting, as the extant sources can only show how vernacular culture adapted and responded to the Latin tradition. Information about the core tradition of Latin grammatica must be reconstructed from a diversity of sources. The surviving ON grammatical treatises show how native poetic and linguistic learning was adapted and textualized, but also how the terminology and techniques of Latin grammarians were vernacularized. The broader understanding of grammatica can also be seen in religious poetry and translated hagiography, most notably those which incorporate commentary on language and interpretation into their texts. The writing of commentary was central to the practice of grammatica,42 and any type of text which comments on language and composition can potentially be a source for grammatica.

42 Martine Irvine identified commentary on the auctores as one of the main categories of grammatical writing (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 464).



Íslendingasögur and þættir deal roughly with the period from the settlement of Iceland to just after the conversion to Christianity in 1000, but were written in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.43 Though artful, no doubt often highly fictional, and written long after the events they describe, these sagas provide invaluable information on social and cultural practices like education, despite the fact that they may reflect more the practices of the later medieval period than of the pre-Christian period.44 Samtíðarsögur, the contemporary sagas, were written mostly in the mid-thirteenth century, and possibly adapted by later compilers. They deal with events of the so-called Sturlunga Age, from the early twelfth century until the end of the Icelandic commonwealth around 1262.45 Biskupasögur, the bishops’ sagas, are sometimes included among the samtíðarsögur. They deal with Icelandic bishops in both hagiographic and non-hagiographic modes, and were written from the late twelfth century into the fourteenth.46 In addition, Íslendingabók, though not usually classified among the biskupasögur, is the earliest extant vernacular text in Iceland, a source for many later narratives, and main source for the conversion to Christianity and the earliest period of the Icelandic church. While there are a significant number of issues with using all of these texts, some of which will be addressed in this study, they remain the basis for the accepted historical narrative of medieval Iceland.47

43 For a recent survey of the issues of Íslendingasögur datings and origins, see Callow, “Dating and Origins.” 44 For a defense of the use of the Íslendingasögur and samtíðarsögur as historical sources, specifically as sources for the social history of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, see Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking, 44–51. 45 Most of them are part of the Sturlunga saga compilation, which includes around twelve sagas, including the þættir, as well as the extremely long Íslendinga saga, which takes up the bulk of the collection. For an overview in English, see Úlfar Bragason, “Sagas of Contemporary History,” and for a more recent and complete overview in Icelandic, see Úlfar Bragason, Ætt og Saga. Among the difficulties in classifying the contemporary sagas as a separate genre are the numerous ways they overlap with the Íslendingasögur: see Andersson’s comments on Þorgils saga ok Hafliða as an intermediate point between the two genres (Andersson, “The Long Prose Form,” 403). They also share similarities with the biskupasögur, and Margaret Cormack offers a distinction between the clerical contemporary sagas, including sagas of bishops that also have Vitae written about them, and secular contemporary sagas, mostly represented by Sturlunga saga (Cormack, The Saints, 49–51). 46 For a recent general discussion of the genre see Sigurdson, The Church, 35–38. 47 This use of these types of sagas is well-established: “The bishops’ sagas and other contemporary sagas provide a good deal of information about the intellectual life in the monasteries and schools of Iceland” (White, Non-Native Sources, 1). The reliance of historians on the greater reliability of the samtíðarsögur and biskupasögur, written more closely to the events

Primary Sources for Icelandic Education and Grammatica


Diplomatic sources are also relevant for education, though they rarely survive in their original manuscripts. Church charters, máldagar, are extant from the twelfth century onwards and offer some evidence for liturgical prescriptions and church activities, which can reflect educational practices. From the fourteenth century and later, these máldagar become much more numerous and detailed, and begin to record the books owned by churches for both the diocese of Hólar and Skálholt, which is key evidence for the use of Latin in Iceland. Educational agreements and references to educational agreements in other types of documents survive from the mid-fourteenth century, but in greater numbers from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The laws of medieval Iceland from before the Norwegian takeover are preserved largely in two thirteenth-century codices – Konungsbók from the midthirteenth century, and Staðarhólsbók from c. 1270, known collectively as Grágás. Norwegian laws from the period after 1262 were promulgated in the 1271 code known as Járnsíða, which was soon replaced by Jónsbók in 1281. Jónsbók survives in a huge number of manuscripts from the fourteenth century and later. According to Íslendingabók, the laws of Iceland were first written down in the winter of 1117–1118, though it is unclear and often debated to what extent the extant Grágás manuscripts reflect those earliest laws.48 As it stands, the Kristinna laga þáttur, the “Christian law section” of Grágás contains educational and other provisions that are relevant here, though it is possible more educational law existed which does not survive. These sources are key for understanding the social, political, institutional, and economic dynamics of education in Iceland. The descriptions of subjects of learning in the biskupasögur and the documentary evidence is limited, however, and must be supplemented by surviving pedagogical texts and literary works which incorporate commentary. There are numerous theological, computistical, and encyclopedic translations and compilations which cannot be sufficiently surveyed here.49 The best sources for grammatica in Iceland are the grammatical treatises, of which there are four, plus the compilation known as the Snorra Edda and some fragmentary material. All of these are written in the vernacular, and

they describe than the Íslendingasögur, has been criticized on multiple grounds, but it still remains a fairly standard practice (Úlfar Bragason, “Sagas of Contemporary History,” 440–42). 48 For a brief general survey, see Sandvik and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Laws,” 224–28. 49 A significant amount of religious literature is summarized in Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir “Prose of Christian Instruction.” On encyclopedic writing, see Simek, Altnordische Kosmographie, 11–31. The standard edition of Icelandic encyclopedic writings is the three volumes of Alfræði Íslenzk, see bibliography.



thus represent a distinct grammatical discipline, both influenced by and separate from the core discipline of Latin learning and textual interpretation. These treatises deal with the normalization and analysis of the ON language, and the interpretation of ON texts, particularly skaldic poetry.50 Because they are the most unusual and distinctive evidence for Icelandic education, and because they are highly complex and often technical texts, it is worth introducing them in some detail. All four grammatical treatises take their names from the order in which they appear in the Codex Wormianus, the fourteenth-century manuscript which is the only place where all the treatises appear together.51 The oldest of the treatises is the so-called First Grammatical Treatise (1GT), dated roughly 1125–1175. It is an orthographic treatise, which proposes a distinct and highly precise vernacular alphabet for ON, and goes on to discuss the reasons for the various graphic distinctions it proposes. Its alphabet was never put into consistent use, however, and it is only extant in the Codex Wormianus. Another very short orthographic treatise, known as the Second Grammatical Treatise (2GT), has been dated on linguistic evidence to the late thirteenth century, and is extant in both the Codex Wormianus and in a somewhat different version in the Codex Upsaliensis, from the early fourteenth century. Rather than a prescription for a new alphabet, the 2GT introduces the basic philosophical distinctions of sound – a technique of traditional grammatica which the 1GT does not use – and then goes on to describe each letter of the ON alphabet, using some but not all those proposed in the 1GT. It supplies some of its own characters as well, including some abbreviation marks, and in the Codex Upsaliensis two illustrated exemplary figures are included.52

50 For a survey of past scholarship on all the grammatical treatises, see Raschellà, “Old Icelandic Grammatical Literature.” 51 The most recent thorough study on the manuscript and its contexts is Johansson, Studier in Codex Wormianus. 52 There are two standard editions and translations of the First Grammatical Treatise: Hreinn Benediktsson’s from 1972 and Einar Haugen’s from 1950, re-edited in 1972. Haugen will be used for the most part in this study, though Hreinn Benediktsson’s work remains an important commentary on and study of the treatise. Both versions of the Second Grammatical Treatise are edited in Raschellà’s 1982 edition, which also includes a collated edition and translation. The Codex Upsaliensis version of the 2GT has more recently been edited and translated by Heimir Pálsson in The Uppsala Edda from 2012. The 1GT, because of its several unique qualities and linguistic insights into early Icelandic, has received significant scholarly attention, while the 2GT has been much more sparsely studied, and Raschellà’s edition remains the main scholarly commentary on it.

Primary Sources for Icelandic Education and Grammatica


The Snorra Edda is thought to have been written by the chieftain and famous author Snorri Sturluson c. 1220–40.53 It is a composite work in three parts, with an additional Prologue which, it has been speculated, may have been written later. The first part, Gylfaginning, presents a series of prose myths based on the frame narrative of King Gylfi visiting the Æsir, the Norse gods, and hearing stories of the gods and other pagan myths. The second part, Skáldskaparmál, continues the mythological material, but leads into a discussion of poetic diction: specialized poetic terms known as heiti, as well as the circumlocutions known as kennings, which are a key component in most ON poetry. Háttatal, the final section, is a clavis metrica written by Snorri for King Hákon Hákonarson and Duke Skúli of Norway, framed by a prose commentary on the different metrics of each verse, and continuing some discussion of diction.54 There is little evidence for direct influence of Latin grammatical writing on the Snorra Edda, except in the most general sense that grammatica pervaded medieval textual culture, and certainly impacted some structural elements of the treatise.55 However, in terms of its reception within Icelandic clerical culture, there are many aspects of the treatise that fit neatly into grammatical discourse. The euhemerizing frame narrative of Gylfaginning and the Prologue deal with the tension of teaching pagan myth in a Christian society, and provide a single authoritative version of these myths, which can aid in the interpretation and composition of poetry. Skáldskaparmál and Háttatal deal with the dual subjects of diction and metrics, which were often the core of the grammatical study of poetics in the Latin tradition.56 This clerical reception is evidenced in the two surviving poetic treatises based on translations of Latin texts, which were also influenced by the Snorra Edda: the Third Grammatical Treatise (3GT) and Fourth Grammatical Treatise (4GT). The 3GT

53 Snorri Sturluson, Prologue and Gylfaginning, xii–xvi. For a recent examination of the production and purpose of the text, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 110–75. 54 Anthony Faulkes has published both the standard three-part edition of the Snorra Edda, as well as the standard translation. See bibliography. 55 In contrast to arguments that the genre of artes poetriae influenced or inspired the Snorra Edda, Faulkes has argued that there are no significant correlations (Snorri Sturluson, Prologue and Gylfaginning, xx). The artes poetriae aimed at teaching composition through enarratio, generating new texts through the exegesis of old ones (Reynolds, Medieval Reading, 27), which seems comparable to the Snorra Edda, but this is such a general technique that it might have as easily been derived from native poetic pedagogies as from the grammatical tradition. The Snorra Edda and its sources will be discussed further in chapter 4. 56 As, for example, in Bede’s composition of a De arte metrica and a De schematibus et tropis.



is attributed to Óláfr Þórðarson, the nephew of Snorri Sturluson, and can be roughly dated to the period after his return to Iceland from the Danish court of King Valdemar, around 1242, and before Óláfr’s death in 1259.57 The treatise itself is divided into two parts: the Málfræðinnar Grundvǫllr (MG), based on a translation of part of Priscian’s Institutiones Grammaticae as well as other texts,58 and the Málskrúðsfræði (M), based on a translation of Book Three of Donatus’s Ars Maior, conventionally known in the Middle Ages as the Barbarismus, almost certainly through the intermediary of a commentary text.59 The 4GT has no established author, though there has been speculation, but on paleographic and internal historical evidence it has been dated to c. 1320–1340.60 It was written as a continuation of the M, using material primarily from Alexander de Villa-Dei’s Doctrinale, but also some from Eberhard of Béthune’s Græcismus, both standard verse grammars across Europe during the thirteenth century and afterwards. The MG deals with the characteristics of sounds, letters, syllables, and words, and is in essence a standard introduction to grammar. Its adaptation to deal with ON, however, involves several changes: it compares the Latin and runic alphabets, the significance of syllables in Latin and ON poetics, and carefully avoids discussions of syntax and inflection normally included with such introductions, as they would be less translatable between languages and less significant to native speakers of ON. It is thus in part an orthographic treatise, like the 1GT and the 2GT, but more general, philosophical, and comparative. The M and the 4GT are poetic treatises, structured like Háttatal as a series of stanzas framed by prose commentary, and are both concerned with a collection of terms and ideas that we will refer to here by the prevailing Norse term fígúrur (figures, Lat. figurae). In the M these are the faults and virtues of speech, covering a variety of exegetical and prescriptive ideas. What the M terms barbarisms are faults in individual words, solecisms are faults in phrases, and the other faults were miscellaneous and sometimes later recast as virtues. For the virtues, metaplasms are changes in the form of words, schemes are changes in 57 Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 6–7. 58 The core source may of course be a text derived from Priscian, and there is additional material from Petrus Hispanus’s Summulae Logicales, native material from Háttatal, original material on runes as well as other vernacular topics (Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 143). As will be discussed in chapter 3, there was also almost certainly extensive influence from Ælfric’s Excerptiones (Gade, “Ælfric in Iceland,” 338). 59 Following the work of Valeria Micillo, in 2018 Mikael Males identified the so-called Pseudo-Remigius commentary as the most likely source for the second half of the 3GT (Males, “Pseudo-Remigius”), and this attribution was confirmed in 2019 by an in-depth source study of the text in an MA thesis by Victor Frans (Frans, “Sub regulis Donati”). 60 The Fourth Grammatical Treatise, xii–xiii.

Primary Sources for Icelandic Education and Grammatica


phrases, and tropes involve some sort of semantic changes. The significance of Donatus’s take on this system of stylistics in the Middle Ages is shown by the fact that even after most of the Ars maior was rendered largely obsolete by Priscian’s Institutiones grammaticae, the Barbarismus continued to circulate.61 The 4GT’s collection consists of a variety of terms, for the most part virtues rather than faults of speech, which the Doctrinale added to Donatus’s list. The 4GT itself is distinctive and innovative in its focus on using religious poetry for its examples, and adding some interesting theological exegesis to its commentary. The exegetical functions of the sources of the 3GT and 4GT represent some of the most basic, well-known, and consistent functions of grammatica. Donatus’s Ars maior was originally a grammatical commentary on Virgil, while Priscian broadened that scope to include a massive number of references on nearly the whole classical canon.62 The Doctrinale was intended above all to prepare students to read the Vulgate Bible, and would come to essentially replace Priscian, while being supplemented with other texts.63 The Graecismus was generally transmitted with the Doctrinale, and functioned alongside it in the same ways.64 The vices and virtues of the Barbarismus were the core theory of figurative language in the Middle Ages, and all other treatments of the subject were based ultimately upon Donatus’s.65 The centrality of these vices and virtues, these fígúrur, to medieval composition and enarratio is in part derived from the Stoic idea that readers devalue plain writing, and that serious writing and its interpretation required figurative speech.66 The Christianization of this idea is exemplified by Bede, who developed the widespread idea that the fígúrur could be found in the Scriptures themselves, and were not simply a classical idea being superimposed upon the holy text. His examples in De schematibus et tropis are scriptural, and the treatise thus became a guide for reading and interpreting biblical language.67 Overall, the M and the

61 Law, The History of Linguistics, 69. The Barbarismus tended to circulate with books XVII and XVIII of Priscian’s Institutiones, neither of which are used in the 3GT. 62 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 107. 63 Medieval Grammar, 574–75. 64 Medieval Grammar, 584. 65 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 107. 66 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 230. See also Irvine and Thomson, “Grammatica and Literary Theory,” 34. 67 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 291–96. These fígúrur were also the key area where the disciplines of grammatica and rhetorica overlapped (Reynolds, Medieval Reading, 27), which speaks to their universal significance in medieval culture. To a grammarian, whose traditional goal was correctness, the tropes in particular were often faults – or at least deviations from the prescriptive norm – while to a rhetorician they were essential to embellishing a text.



4GT are a vernacularization of an organized, formal system and vocabulary capable of speaking abstractly about figurative language, morphological variation in poetry, rhetorical and grammatical devices, and more. All these grammatical treatises in the Old Norse corpus are transmitted in manuscripts containing a part or the whole of the Snorra Edda, and usually additional poems. While the manuscript context of these treatises in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries cannot be reconstructed, it is clear from the earliest manuscripts at the beginning of the fourteenth century that the Snorra Edda, and vernacular poetry in general, are at the center of vernacular grammatica. These manuscripts have been surveyed most recently in the major studies of the Snorra Edda by Nordal, Faulkes, and Clunies Ross.68 Apart from this tradition of vernacular grammatica, there is some manuscript evidence of grammatical texts involved with the teaching of the Latin language.

The great compromise between the disciplines inherited in the late Middle Ages was largely Priscian’s: a certain level of incorrectness was acceptable among the auctores, because there was deeper, truer grammar that was being served, a platonic ideal of linguistic structure. This deepened the importance of enarratio as applied to the fígúrur, and led to them becoming of much greater importance themselves (Reynolds, Medieval Reading, 21–24). Scholars have often tended to view the fígúrur of Icelandic grammatical treatises as rhetorical: Clunies Ross refers to the figures of the Barbarismus as “rhetorical figures” and “the core of grammatical rhetoric” (Clunies Ross, A History, 191), and Peter Foote titled his 1984 article on Latin influence in the treatises “Latin Rhetoric and Icelandic Poetry: Some Contacts.” See most recently the terminology section in Clunies Ross and Wellendorf’s 2014 edition of the 4GT. However, in this study they will be viewed as primarily grammatical, while it must be acknowledged that the distinction could be very fluid in the Middle Ages. 68 Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 41–72; Clunies Ross, A History, 187; The First Grammatical Treatise, 19–21; Snorri Sturluson, Prologue and Gylfaginning, xxviii–xxxi. Three manuscripts contain the entire Snorra Edda: Codex Upsaliensis, DG 11 4to, from c. 1300–1325; Codex Regius, GKS 2367 4to, from c. 1300–1325; Codex Wormianus, AM 242 fol., from c. 1350. For a study of vernacular grammatica the Codex Wormianus is the most important manuscript, as it is the manuscript from which the four grammatical treatises take their names, and the only manuscript which contains the 1GT and 4GT. The Codex Regius contains the whole of the Snorra Edda and two skaldic poems, but none of the grammatical treatises; the Codex Upsaliensis contains the 2GT. Three other manuscripts contain Skáldskaparmál separate from the rest of the Snorra Edda: AM 748 Ib 4to, from c. 1300–1325; AM 757 a 4to, from c. 1400; AM 748 II 4to, from c. 1400. AM 748 Ib 4to also contains the sole surviving fragment of the Fifth Grammatical Treatise, several poems, the very short treatise on kennings known as Litla Skálda, the metrical lists of heiti known as þulur, and the 3GT. AM 757 a 4to likewise contains several poems, the 3GT, the þulur, and Litla Skálda. AM 748 II 4to, in addition to part of Skáldskaparmál, only contains the þulur and a genealogy of the Sturlungar family. While the fourteenth-century manuscripts show a strong connection between all the grammatical treatises, the relationship between Skáldskaparmál and the 3GT is thus most apparent, emphasizing the central role of discussions of diction and figurative language in vernacular grammatica.

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AM 921 III 4to is a direct translation of some of Ælfric’s Excerptiones, specifically a paradigm of the Latin verb amare (to love), with direct Norse translations of each form of the verb, and the names of the tenses, persons, moods, etc. which describe the paradigms, where Ælfric’s text had Old English. As in Ælfric, the goal here appears to be to use the vernacular to teach Latin at an elementary level. While the manuscript itself is quite late,69 it will be argued that the translation of such an elementary text from an Old English original is likely to be no later than the eleventh or twelfth centuries. In addition, there are two glossaries in Latin with Old Norse glosses, GKS 1812 4to and AM 249 I fol. The original manuscript from which both derive dates to somewhere around the end of the twelfth century.70 A few other very small pieces of evidence survive in compilations which may reflect Latin grammatical learning in Iceland.71 The last body of evidence for grammatica and grammatical education is the extant corpus of poetry and hagiography. The Old Norse poetic corpus is one of the largest of vernacular verse for medieval western Europe.72 Most of the poetry survives in a prose context, as many of the Icelandic sagas are on some level prosimetrical,73 though many of the surviving verses are also preserved in the grammatical treatises. There are two main types of Old Norse poetry: Eddic and skaldic. Eddic poetry is the poetry that appears in the older, somewhat simpler meters. It is often discussed in terms of oral tradition, mythology, or the prosimetrical fornaldarsögur (sagas of ancient times) in which it appears,74

69 AM 921 III 4to itself dates to around 1400, but it is certainly a copy of an older manuscript (Gade, “Ælfric in Iceland,” 335). 70 Scardigli and Raschellà, “A Latin-Icelandic Glossary,” 299; The First Grammatical Treatise, 21. 71 The compilation AM 732 b 4to contains Greek glosses, ciphers, macaronic and Latin poetry, edited in “Lønskrift og lejligedsoptegnelser fra et par islandske håndskrifter” by Finnur Jónsson (see bibliography). 72 Clunies Ross, A History, 6. The main edition of skaldic poetry has up until recently been Finnur Jónsson’s four-volume Skaldedigtning. However, this is in the process of being expanded upon and replaced by the Skaldic Project (, which in addition to the online database is in the process of releasing volumes of the complete poetic corpus, including English translations. 73 For the role of verse in the sagas, see Bjarni Einarsson, “On the Role of Verse”; O’Donoghue, Skaldic Verse. For a more specific look at the prosimetical form in the context of ON poetic and grammatical learning, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 194–276. 74 Most of the Eddic poetry which does not appear collected in the Codex Regius is contained in prosimetrical form in the fornaldarsögur (Torfi Tulinius, “Sagas of Icelandic Prehistory,” 448). See also Clunies Ross, A History, 10–12 and Friis-Jensen, Saxo Grammaticus as Latin Poet, 46–49, for discussion of prosimetrum in the fornaldarsögur.



though there is also a body of Eddic Christian and wisdom poetry composed in the Middle Ages. Probably the best-known extant poems come from the great manuscript of mythological and heroic poems, the Codex Regius manuscript, from c. 1275.75 Skaldic poetry, a much larger corpus of court poetry, appears in many of the other genres of saga. It was also a significant component of the vernacular grammatical tradition, and holds a special place in discussions of chronology and historicity, as by all but the most critical estimations it represents the earliest Old Norse compositions with narrative historical content.76 Likewise, the skalds have long been viewed by scholars as a type of preChristian historian.77 There is some evidence that there was a medieval conception of Eddic meters of poetry as older and more mythic, spoken by gods, while skaldic poetry was attributable to known, human poets.78 Both types of poetry interacted with imported Latin culture and were impacted by translation. The fairly rapid confluence of Latin Christian tradition and skaldic poetry is evidenced by Christian kennings and religious themes appearing in poetry from the very time of conversion, and the massive achievement of Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli, written for St. Óláfr, to be recited at his shrine at Niðaróss, probably in 1153.79 Several Christian poems are particularly important to discussions of grammatica. Merlínusspá, the late twelfth-century ON translation of the Prophetia Merlini, contains several verses of commentary on its own use of symbolic language and the interpretation of prophecy. Lilja and several other related religious poems of the fourteenth century comment directly on the Snorra Edda and the use of complex language. Háttalykill, finally, is a clavis metrica which is thought to have been among the sources and inspirations for Háttatal.80 75 In addition to the Codex Regius, or GKS 2365 4to, some of the most important manuscripts for Eddic poetry include the Codex Wormianus, which in addition to the grammatical treatises contains the sole surviving, but incomplete, text of the poem Rígsþula, and AM 748 IA 4to, which contains parts of Skálskaparmál and a collection of mythological poems, some of which do not appear in the Codex Regius (Clunies Ross, A History, 7–9). 76 For general introductions to the poetic corpus and the types of Old Norse poetry, see Clunies Ross, A History 6–29. 77 The prologue of Heimskringla has been very influential in this idea (Andersson, The Problem of Icelandic Saga Origins, 28, note 5). 78 Clunies Ross, A History, 10. 79 For a full description of the development of Christian poetry, see Attwood, “Christian Poetry” and Clunies Ross, A History, 114–40; the standard edition and commentary of Geisli is Martin Chase’s 2005 edition, though it has also been more recently edited and translated in Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7. 80 The dating of Merlínusspá is based on its attribution to the monk Gunnlaugr of Þingeyrar in AM 573 4to. Merlínusspá is edited with the rest of the early fourteenth-century manuscript Hauksbók, the only place where it survives, in Finnur Jónsson’s edition from 1892–1896, and

Outline of this Study


In addition to this poetry, there is a small corpus of ON hagiography which incorporates commentary from Latin sources into older, more direct translations of hagiographic texts. This corpus thus evidences the practice of grammatica, though it has not been considered in terms of grammatica before. These are primarily fourteenth-century texts, though a version of Jóns saga baptista from c. 1280 is particularly interesting in that a text survives discussing its composition, glossing, and the interpretation of symbolic language, which parallels in several respects a short epilogue to the saga. To understand Icelandic education and how the distinctive discipline of ON vernacular grammatica developed within it, all of these texts must be taken into account. When surveying these sources, it is also important to keep in mind the number of manuscripts that have been lost, and the huge corpus of Latin books mentioned in the máldagar as being owned by Icelandic churches. The lack of Latin texts, and the focus of the extant grammatical writing on ON language and literature, need not indicate a lack of Latin or Latin education in Iceland. Likewise, the almost complete lack of direct references to lay education does not mean that only clerics were educated or literate. Having to speculate heavily about the details of lay education and Latin grammatica does not mean that such things were not important to Icelandic society and culture. Using the full diversity of available sources is vital to exploring the range of possible dynamics and discourses in medieval Icelandic education and grammatica.

Outline of this Study Chapter 1 will begin by presenting education terminology, and the limited use of the term “school” that this study will proceed with. With that established, it will explore the descriptions of education in the Íslendingasögur and several other sources, and suggest how these might reflect, to a limited extent, both pre-Christian educational practice, and oral, secular education from closer to the time they were written. The Íslendingasögur are not highly valued for their historical accuracy, but they are useful descriptions of these subjects, and likely reflect some continuities in educational practice, or at the very least aspects of how certain types of education were conceptualized. They can help provide a list of likely pre-Christian educational subjects: law, runes, history and genealogy, textile handicrafts, and

more recently in Skaldic Poetry in the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 8, 38–189. Lilja has recently been re-edited and translated in Skaldic Poetry in the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 554–677. Háttalykill is transmitted only in two seventeenth century manuscripts; its early dating is based on the mention of its composition in Orkneyinga saga (Clunies Ross, A History, 155).



magical lore. Poetry stands out as a subject that was undoubtedly very important, and often played a major role in the Íslendingasögur, but is never mentioned as an educational subject. These subjects were all taught either in the home or through fosterage relationships, as there is no evidence for any schools in pre-Christian Iceland. Chapter 2 will consider the contexts of education in Iceland after the conversion to Christianity, including social, institutional, and economic factors, making use primarily of biskupasögur, documentary sources, and law codes. It will survey the sources available and general chronological framework, i.e. what important teachers, students, and schools existed, and how they developed. It will discuss the context and institutions behind education and schools, including monasteries and cathedral schools, but also social context, such as when education intersected with fosterage relationships and conflict resolution. Financial factors have also tended to be neglected in the scholarship, and it can be shown that the cost of education could be quite high, and must have been a consistent factor in who was educated, what sort of education they received, and the context of the education. There was clearly a range of possible methods of obtaining a Christian education, but the monasteries and cathedral schools stand out as the most important and enduring institutions, and the only institutions that can definitively be called schools. Chapter 3 will describe Latin and bilingual educational subjects and the available evidence for them. Education which made use of Latin was oriented around the training of priests and the practice of the liturgy. The evidence for the use of the septem artes liberales is limited, and here education will be considered in terms of elementary, intermediate, and advanced forms of learning, among which grammatica was the key intermediate discipline that impacted all other forms of learning. This division emphasizes the potential diversity of learning and Latin literacy among educated Icelanders. While there is significant evidence for elementary and grammatical learning, the evidence for more advanced forms of learning is limited, and may have been in part confined to a clerical elite who could travel to Norway or further abroad for education. The final section of chapter 3 will propose that the translated vernacular grammatical treatises can be used as evidence of Latin grammatica in Iceland, based on the model of scholarship on Old English (OE) grammatical texts. There is solid evidence that Icelanders based some of their grammatical practices on the model of OE grammatical pedagogy, particularly Ælfric’s Excerptiones. This likely produced a similar form of bilingual grammatica, with ON being used extensively for the teaching of Latin, and an extensive vernacular metalanguage developing thereby. Medieval Iceland can thus be seen in terms of wider vernacular adaptations to Latin grammatica and metalinguistics in the medieval West.

Outline of this Study


Finally, chapter 4 will characterize the discipline of vernacular grammatica as an intellectual and pedagogical practice. Several forms of pre-Christian and secular learning, including law, runes, and poetry, all had linguistic concerns which fed into the development of vernacular grammatica, including the extant ON grammatical treatises. Vernacular grammatica in part represents the mixing of these aspects of secular learning with clerical ideas about language and pedagogy. As there was no need to teach native speakers their own language, the largest part of this discipline had to do with interpretation and normalization of language and literature, and from this perspective the discipline can be seen not only in treatises, but also in poetry and the incorporated commentary of hagiography. The fourteenth century shows a culmination and mixing of many threads of vernacular grammatical discourse, particularly through the different influences on the 4GT. These threads involve various methods and ideologies of interpretation and normalization. The teaching of vernacular grammatica, however, can only be speculated about, and it does not seem to be as widely significant as Latin grammatica for the core of clerical learning at any point. By taking a broad perspective on different aspects of education and grammatical discourse in Iceland, this study will show both the diversity of educational practices and the wider significance of education to other subjects of study, including literary and ecclesiastical history. It emphasizes the multilayered way in which Latin and European culture interacted with native Icelandic culture. Education in medieval Iceland produced the great sagas and poems that have come down to us today. At the same time, it also trained priests for the daily task of performing the liturgy. These different facets of education in medieval Iceland offer a fascinating glimpse into a society and culture that was both wholly unique and a part of a much larger medieval world.

Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education From c. 870 until the official conversion in 999/1000, Iceland was a largely pagan country. Some Christians certainly lived there, but they appear not to have had any legal or institutional support for their faith, though there must have been significant enough numbers of them by around 1000 to make the official conversation possible. It took another half century for clear evidence to emerge of Christian education and the first steps towards an institutional school, with the teaching organized by bishop Ísleifr at Skálholt, in 1056. The 180 years between 870 and 1050 have been a particularly interesting period for students and scholars, as the period when the great narratives of the Íslendingasögur take place. It is also the period when the culture and society of medieval Iceland, from which Icelandic Christianity would develop, established itself. An educational history of Iceland must therefore begin with this period, with the teaching practices and subjects of learning which prevailed at this time, to truly understand how education developed later. Scholars have speculated little about these early modes of learning, pagan or Christian, and what comments have been made are very general.81 However, secular education after the conversion must have been heavily influenced by, if not based on, preChristian practices. Many subjects, like law, poetry, and genealogy, remained important long after the conversion, particularly for the social elite. Even clerical education at monasteries, cathedrals, and churches around Iceland should not be considered entirely independent, and must have been in some way influenced both by pre-Christian practices and contemporary secular learning. However, the source material for studying both pre-Christian education and secular education, at least those aspects of secular education that differed from clerical education, is highly problematic. In essence, in the Íslendingasögur corpus, we have literary depictions of some components of how pre-Christian Icelanders taught and learned, written by Icelanders of the thirteenth and later centuries. On the one hand, this is valuable insight into how Icelanders of these centuries thought about pre-Christian education, and they must have also incorporated elements of secular education from their own time. On the other, this combination of

81 Pre-Christian education was touched upon in Jón Sigurðsson’s brief history of Icelandic schools, where he emphasized law as the most important subject, but also runes, seiðr and Eddic poetry (Jón Sigurðsson, “Um Skóla,” 83–84). Gunnar Harðarson has more recently suggested that there must have been pre-Christian schools, particularly for the teaching of law (Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 41).


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

past and present makes these sources of uncertain value for both the periods. Elements of these texts very likely reflect something of pre-Christian education, whether through the preserved knowledge of oral tradition or through the maintenance of older practices in later medieval education. We cannot know for certain, however, what elements these are, or how much continuity existed from pre-Christian to Christian education. At the same time, because Íslendingasögur are deliberately presenting, or attempting to present, a past society, the educational practices presented in them cannot be assumed to fully reflect the practices of the authors’ own society. It can be said, however, that as largely incidental details, references to education are likely to reflect some aspect of the contemporary society of the author and audience. Despite the problems with the Íslendingasögur, they are the best sources we have for understanding pre-Christian education and the distinctive features of post-Christianization secular education. Other sources will also be useful here, poetry and romances and legendary sagas, though these are even more loosely connected to any sort of historical reality, and mainly provide insight into literary conceptions about education. Yet, when so little is known about preChristian and secular education, no source can be ignored, and we must simply proceed with caution.

What is a School in Medieval Iceland? Before delving any deeper into this topic, it is important to clarify one key point: not all education takes place in a “school,” and what constitutes a medieval Icelandic school must therefore be defined. It is, however, difficult to present a clear definition, and any will have an element of subjectivity. Education, even the formal education of a cleric, could take place wherever there was a willing teacher. For a textual education, some sort of book or other text would be used, but many different books could be and were used for elementary reading in the Middle Ages, and more specific texts would only be necessary in the intermediate stages of a clerical education. For education in oral subjects, nothing would be required but a teacher with the right skills. As such, we must be cautious in what we call a school in medieval Iceland, with all the implications of a defined institution that the term might have for a modern reader. For the purposes of this study, a school should, above all, have a professional teacher: a person whose primary role and work is the teaching of students. References to such figures are quite rare in medieval Iceland, and can be considered a significant sign of a school. While, as this study will show, physical locations of schools could move, they should have at least some sort

What is a School in Medieval Iceland?


of institutional identity that allows them to endure even as teachers change. A priest or other master taking on an apprentice does not inherently constitute a school, as the location where they were teaching would have no institutional identity, and no basis for supporting continuing educational activities. The idea of a school implies some sort of community of learning governed by pedagogical structure, and thus must have consistently more than one student, and should have at least some outline of an established curriculum. The sources are usually unclear on the nature of the curriculum or the number of students, and professional teachers are not often explicitly mentioned, so speculative judgments must be made. But it remains necessary to draw some kind of distinction, to avoid assuming that educational institutions existed where references appear in the sources that may only indicate a single part-time teacher and their student. Taking this definition into account, the actual terminology used for schools and schooling in the Middle Ages could be highly variable. Nicholas Orme has pointed out the variable terms for and understanding of schooling in England, with words for “school” in Latin, English, and Anglo-Norman functioning together. He suggests that the Latin scola/schola usually referred to the teaching of children, but could also refer to higher education, and could denote the a school building, a classroom, or even a group of people studying or learning together outside of such structures.82 As this range of meanings suggests, medieval teaching in general had a fairly informal quality by modern standards.83 ON educational terminology, while similarly flexible and variable, makes some distinctions that support using a narrow definition of “school” in a medieval Icelandic context. By far the most common terminology to describe an educational situation or event are the verbs kenna (to teach) and nema (to learn), followed by their derivatives kennsla and nám (education/learning). The Íslendingasögur corpus, the main source for secular education examined in this chapter, only uses these two verbs, and seems to avoid even the abstract nouns kennsla/nám, preferring specific terms for the subjects tought and learned.84 ON does make use of the loanword skóli, but it is not common, and in the sources examined for this study it

82 Orme, Medieval Schools, 53. Sverrir Tómasson has suggested that there are essentially four types of medieval schools – monastery, cathedral, court, and private – but does not speculate as to how these might apply to Iceland, nor how distinct functions or characteristics might be divided between them (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 16). 83 This informality itself could contribute to the dearth of sources (Birkett, “The Pastoral Application,” 212–14). 84 The verb venja is sometimes used in the sense of “to teach” or “to train” in connection with íþróttir, which can refer broadly to physical and athletic skills.


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

is entirely confined to cathedrals, monasteries, and places outside of Iceland.85 Even the fosterage and education of future bishops at major farms like Oddi and Haukadalr, which many scholars have described as taking place in schools, is never described using skóli or related compounds. From what context can tell us, even within this narrow usage, skóli does still have a variability of meaning comparable to Orme’s description of English usages. In at least two cases, it seems to indicate a specific room or building at the see of Hólar, a physical school.86 More often, however, the verbs setja and halda are used with skóli to describe when teaching is taking place at a cathedral or monastery, or the compound skólahald may even be used, indicating the activity of teaching and learning, rather than the location.87 Other terminology offers further distinctions between the sources’ description of secular and clerical education within Iceland. The verb læra (to teach) and related nouns, lærdómr and læring (learning/education), are confined to descriptions of clerical teaching, and as noted above the nouns kennsla/nám do not appear in the Íslendingasögur and appear to be used primarily for clerical education.88 This distinction does not prevail in translated texts, which naturally take place outside

85 References to skóli within Iceland appear in both the biskupasögur and documentary sources, and full citations of these passages will appear throughout chapter 2. In Jóns saga and Guðmundar sögur the term skóli appears in references to the school at Hólar cathedral, while in Lárentíus saga it is used both for the Hólar school and the monasteries of Þingeyrar and Þykkvibær. In documentary sources skóli appears in relation to both the Skálholt and Hólar cathedrals and the monastery of Helgafell, while the compounds skólabǫrn and skólahald are used in reference to the Skriða monastery. If the word skóli was in fact narrowly used throughout the medieval period, that may have quickly changed after the Reformation: a certain Vilborg (b. 1555), daughter of Bishop Gísli Jónsson, is said by the eighteenth-century scholar Jón Ólafsson of Grunnavík to have run a skóli within her home, giving boys singing lessons (Margrét Eggertsdóttir, “‘Let the children come to me,’” 116, note 38). 86 In Jóns saga helga, the skóli is referenced as being west of the doors of Bishop Jón’s new church at Hólar (Jóns saga, 17, 82, 123). In Guðmundar sögur, Bishop Guðmundr, his schoolmaster Þórðr, and all the students are driven from Hólar, and Arnórr Tumason threatens to burn both the school and all the people in it, a clear indication that a physical place is being referenced (Guðmundar sögur, 179). 87 These usages appear in the biskupasögur, documentary sources, and there is even one instance in the annals where a skóli is said to be held, though it is unclear why this moment of education is recorded, and further study would be useful (Islandske Annaler, 423). In one document, skóli appears more or less synonymous with kennsla, during a legal case in the early sixteenth century when money has not been paid for the skóli of a certain student (DI IX, 90–92). 88 Being connected to verbs that do have wider use suggests that kennsla/nám likely do not have as strong an association with clerical education as læring/lærdómr. There are some other words to describe a person’s general knowledge, such as kunnátta, which had similar clerical associations, and is used comparably with læring in DI IV, 642–44 and DI VIII, 516. However,

What is a School in Medieval Iceland?


of Iceland, and notably in certain romances læra is applied to the secular skills of both men and women.89 Terms for a student, like kennslupiltr and lærisveinn, are confined to those pursuing an ecclesiastical career, often simply referred to with the diminutive prestlingr, sveinn (boy), or even just klerkr (cleric). Skólasveinn/ skólaklerkr are uncommon, and when they are not describing students in translated texts and other contexts outside of Iceland, they appear confined to the cathedrals.90 As will be discussed in chapter 2, the office of skólameistari (schoolmaster) is entirely confined to cathedrals. Other terminology translating the Latin magister, namely lærifaðir, is rarely used for teachers in Iceland, but does have slightly more flexibility of meaning, and could apply to monastic teachers.91 Perhaps the closest thing to a general medieval Icelandic word for a teacher is fóstri (foster-father), but, as will be discussed over the course of the next two chapters, fóstri has a complex meaning that likely changed over time, and does not necessarily describe someone involved in teaching. With all this in mind, none of the education described in this chapter should be conceptualized as taking place in a school. Indeed, before Christianization, it would be misleading to identify anything as a formal school in Iceland. There is no evidence for a person whose primary work was teaching, or of a location where groups of students, year after year, would seek out an education. Equally, there is no evidence for secular schools appearing during the late medieval period in Iceland, as they did in many other places in Europe.92 As this chapter will explore, however, the practice of fosterage – a diverse collection of practices whereby someone other than a biological parent raised or helped raise the child – did provide an established means for bringing students and teachers kunnátta also appears in many other contexts, notably in reference to magical knowledge. See the example of magical education in Eyrbyggja saga (Eyrbyggja saga, 28). 89 As will be discussed later in this chapter, this usage of læra appears in both Dínus saga drambláta and Dámusta saga to describe the learning of not only clerical skills, but also runes, knightly skills, feminine skills, and handicrafts. 90 The compound skólabǫrn is also used, but only once in the sources examined for this study, in reference to two presumably quite young students at the Skriða monastery in 1524 (DI IX, 244–45). Chapter 85 of the C version of Guðmundar sögur contains the only reference I know of to the term smáklerkr, describing a student at Hólar. 91 In Lárentíus saga, lærifaðir appears to explicitly describe Lárentíus’s role as a teacher of Bergr Sokkason (Biskupa sögur III, 382). The teaching took place at Þingeyrar monastery, but the description appears after Lárentíus has become bishop of Hólar. An even more explicit monastic connection appears in DI VIII, 516, where Narfi, the abbot of Helgafell, is called the lærifaðir of a student there. 92 Benjamín Kristjánsson noted the lack of secular schools in medieval Iceland, but speculated as to the possibility of some kind of law schools existing in the pre-Christian period, after the establishment of the Alþing in 930 (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 2).


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

together. Providing children with foster-parents was a primary mode of secular education, but it was also important to clerical education, and had an impact on the development of Icelandic schools, as the next chapter will address in more detail. However, education did not necessarily begin with foster-parents. Early education in the Middle Ages took place in the home, often with the mother as a teacher.93 While most of the references collected here deal with foster-parents, there are some hints as to this early education, and we should not discount its potential importance. Exploring the Íslendingasögur and other sources for pre-Christian and secular education thus not only provides an important framework for a more nuanced study of clerical education, but can also suggest to us how much education happened in Iceland outside of any sort of formal institution. Even as educational references in the Íslendingasögur are presumably made up of an uncertain mix of late medieval practices, distant memories of pre-Christian practices, and pure fiction, it is telling that they do not attempt to project any sort of idea of pagan schools into the past.

Subjects of Pre-Christian and Secular Education The educational references of the Íslendingasögur and the other sources used here suggest at least six major subjects of secular and pre-Christian education in Iceland: law, magical lore, runes, hannyrðir (handicrafts/textile skills), history and genealogy, and poetry. History here is meant in the broadest possible sense, as any sort of learning or storytelling about people and events of the past, and thus overlaps extensively with both genealogy and poetry.94 This list is not intended to be exhaustive, and many other skills must have had some element of formal teaching, particularly physical, martial, and agricultural skills. But these

93 Shahar, Childhood, 100, 113–16; Orme, Medieval Children, 242–46; Clanchy, Looking Back, 163–91. There is at least one notable literary example of highly advanced maternal education in the Icelandic corpus, though not taking place in Iceland, in Mírmanns saga, a romance with strong clerical elements. There, Mírmann begins an education in Latin with his mother at the age of eight, which advances into an education in grammatica, before social pressure leads him to continue his education under other masters (Mírmanns saga, 3–4). 94 Sigurður Líndal, in speculating about necessary forms of knowledge among illiterate Icelanders, has noted the usefulness of genealogical knowledge for issues of inheritance, marriage, and litigation, as well as the overlap between general oral tradition, poetry, and history (Sigurður Líndal, “Upphaf Kristni,” 260). See also Ásdís Egilsdóttir, “Mannfræði Höllu biskupsmóður,” 12–13, and De Vries, Altnordische Literaturgeschichte, 351–53.

Subjects of Pre-Christian and Secular Education


six are those which are either explicitly referenced in educational contexts in the sources, or are important for later developments in Christian education and literary culture. Many of these subjects are closely related. Law, runes, history and genealogy, and poetry all involve the analysis of language, and thus made an impact on the introduction and development of textual culture and grammatica. Law could be taught together with history, and many known lawyers were also adept poets, which suggests that those subjects might also have been taught together. A complete education before the conversion likely often involved multiple skills, as priests would later learn Latin, computus, song, and other skills necessary to their career together.95

Law Law was vitally important to medieval Icelandic society. As it is presented in the Íslendingasögur and Samtíðarsögur, legal knowledge was a key skill for the social elite to negotiate their many conflicts and disputes. It could bring prestige, attract friendships and followers, and be used to gain wealth and power. While daily life for most Icelanders was certainly not quite as ridden with conflict as the sagas represent, law must have been among the most practical skills for elite Icelanders to master. Excelling at legal knowledge and practice also could carry significant prestige, as several passages in the Íslendingasögur emphasize.96 The office of Lawspeaker was the highest office on the island before the Norwegian takeover, and it demanded extensive knowledge of the law. Law codes were among the earliest texts written in the vernacular, and law was thus a key point in the development from oral to literate culture, relevant to both secular and clerical elite. The law code Grágás shows that not only the Lawspeaker himself, but also a collection of elites around him, would have had to obtain a substantial legal education. According to Grágás, the Lawspeaker was required to recite all the sections of the law, the misseris tal (calendar), and rehearse the observance of Ember Days and the beginning of Lent. If he did not have the legal knowledge to

95 This clerical curriculum will be discussed in chapter 3. 96 Functional knowledge of the law can be viewed as utterly essential to any chieftain who was involved in litigation (Gísli Sigurðsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga, 57).


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

begin with he would be given a day to consult with five or more legal experts.97 This passage shows not only the eventual amalgamation of clerical and legal learning, but also the continuing relevance of oral, memorized knowledge of the law after it had been written down. Gísli Sigurðsson has argued that the writing down of the laws in the early twelfth century began a period of conflict and dispute as the new technology of writing drew power away from the authority of the Lawspeaker and men who received their legal education orally.98 Grágás, however, does not offer any suggestions as to how or where such men would have been educated, or how the technology might have affected such educational contexts.99 We must therefore turn to the manner in which the sagas describe legal education. Two sagas present examples of legal education and knowledge in hyperbolic terms, emphasizing the potential prestige of such an education. In Njáls saga, a conflict between the great chieftains Njáll and Ásgrímr is settled with Njáll’s son Helgi marrying Ásgrímr’s daughter Þórhalla, and Njáll fostering Ásgrímr’s son Þórhallr. Njáll is said to have taught Þórhallr so well that he became the best lǫgmaðr (lawyer), on the island. The extent of Þórhallr’s knowledge is referenced again during a later legal dispute.100 This idea of individual men gaining the reputation and skill to become widely known as the best lawyers in Iceland appears again in a very different context in Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss. Bárðr himself is a mythical sort of figure, part troll/giant, fostered by a mountain king in Norway named Dofri.101 He becomes a

97 Grágás, Vol. 1, 209–10. “Rehearse” here is a translation of the verb tína, and refers to speaking, recounting, or narrating something. Because the beginning of Lent, and the accompanying Ember Week, would have fallen well before the Alþing, which took place ten weeks into summer, what exactly is meant here is ambiguous. Presumably the idea is some sort of preparation, or rehearsal, for the beginning of next year’s Lenten season, something that might have been particularly important in the context of a population still adapting to Christian customs. 98 For the full discussion of the process of transition from oral to textual law in Iceland, see Gísli Sigurðsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga, 53–92. 99 Halldór Hermannsson has emphasized that someone must have taught the laws to the Lawspeakers, but does not speculate as to how this might have happened (The Hólar Cato, x). Gísli Sigurðsson has emphasized the role of public recitation of the law in passing down knowledge to the next generation (Gísli Sigurðsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga, 56). 100 Brennu-Njáls saga, 73–74, 388. 101 Harðar saga, 103. Bárðar saga is a saga full of supernatural and mythic elements, and as such might be thought of as more dubious as a source than other Íslendingasögur. However, it has been convincingly argued that there is every reason to think that the saga was understood as historical by its contempory audience (Ármann Jakobsson, “History of the Trolls?”), and as such, setting aside certain obvious hyperboles and exaggerations, it is as likely as any other saga to reflect the ideas of it’s author’s time as to what real education entailed.

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positive yet problematic representative of pagan Iceland over the course of the saga, before his own descendant finally rejects him after the coming of Christianity. Among his many skills and gifts is the spreading of legal knowledge. When a certain Oddr comes to stay with Bárðr for a winter and courts Bárðr’s daughter Þordís, Bárðr teaches him law, and his legal knowledge becomes greater than that of any other man. Only a few pages later, Bárðr himself comes as an anonymous guest to stay with a certain Skeggi and his son Eiðr for the winter, and seduces Skeggi’s daughter. Bárðr, seemingly in repayment to Eiðr, teaches him law and mannfræði (history/genealogy) over the course of the winter so that he becomes the most learned man in law, and known as lǫg-Eiðr.102 These are clearly fictional episodes, and the idea of obtaining a thorough legal education over a winter is striking and likely exaggerated, though certainly not impossible. Yet they emphasize that even in a saga written long after Christianization, and long after even the Norwegian takeover of Iceland, the prestige of supreme legal skill still resonated. Two other sagas present legal education in less hyperbolic terms. In Droplaugarsona saga, the two sons of Droplaug stay with Þorkell Geitisson after they are involved with a killing. One of the brothers, Helgi, is said to have acquired knowledge of the law while staying with him, and at the same time being involved with lawsuits against their enemies.103 In Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, Gunnlaugr leaves his father and essentially negotiates his own fosterage with Þorsteinn Egilsson, and it is noted that Gunnlaugr studied law with Þorsteinn. Yet this was clearly a part-time education, as shortly after Gunnlaugr is said to have divided his time between Þorsteinn and his father.104 While becoming the best lawyer in Iceland in a single winter seems impossible, these examples suggest that many different levels and styles of legal education likely occurred over different time frames. Legal education was also not always isolated. As noted above with Barðr and Eiðr, it could overlap with historical and genealogical learning, and scholarship has noted more implicit evidence for this overlap in other sources.105 During and after the conversion to Christianity, a legal education could take 102 Harðar saga, 135, 139–40. 103 Austfirðinga sögur, 147. 104 Borgfirðinga sögur, 59–62. 105 Íslendingabók discusses Markús Skeggjason, Lawspeaker 1084–1107, as a source, and his acquisition of knowledge from family members. Gísli Sigurðsson argues that this indicates not only the passing down of learning through families, but also the connection between historical learning and legal expertise. Gísli further suggests that Snorri Sturlsson’s own education, authorship, and career are emblematic of the connection between oral knowledge of the law and “a command of the rhetorical uses of language inherent in literature” (Gísli Sigurðsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga, 69, 91).


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place alongside the learning of basic Christian knowledge. In Færeyinga saga, the formerly pagan Þrándr teaches his foster-son legal matters, but is also said to have tried to teach him the Credo. Though this is not an Íslendingasaga and the events are taking place in the Faroe Islands, this fits with a passage in Grágás that calls for every Icelander to know their basic prayers, the Pater Noster and the Credo.106 Not all teaching was necessarily competent, however, and the boy’s mother chastises Þrándr for teaching a Credo with incorrect mynd (form).107 Such mixing of subjects likely occurred not only after the conversion, but for any children who were raised Christian in Iceland before c. 1000. The actual manner and methods of a legal education were probably variable, with a few important characteristics. Most legal education references simple state that the law was taught, but in the Færeyinga saga passage Þrándr teaches his foster-son Sigmundr allar saksóknir at sœkja ok réttarfar sitt ok annarra (to press all lawsuits and his rights and those of others), which hints at the content, or at least the value, of legal learning. The recitation of the full law code by the Lawspeakers was, among other things, a sort of public education, a reminder and update of legal knowledge for all those attending the Alþing. With such a model present, and in the context of an oral society, it seems certain that most legal education involved some amount of simple rote recitation and memorization. This may often have involved, in some part, simply bringing children or foster-children to the Alþing to hear the Lawspeaker recite.108 Yet Helgi’s education in Droplaugarsonar saga suggests that practical knowledge could be a component as well, learning via participating directly in lawsuits. The sagas also contain many instances of a legal expert being questioned for advice, and laying out exactly how the questioner should proceed with a case. Such activity, even though it might serve largely expositional purposes in the

106 Grágás, Vol. 2, 215. While a serious education in the Middle Ages was not generally expected to begin until the age of seven, at younger ages some basic skills were taught, particularly basic prayers like the Credo and Pater Noster, often by the mother rather than the father (Shahar, Childhood, 99–116). Exceptional children of course could learn quickly, and some commentators recommended this, even suggesting learning to read before the age of seven (Orme, Medieval Children, 245). 107 Færeyinga saga/Óláfs saga, 115–16. This passage is discussed in Quinn, “From Orality to Literacy,” 40–41, Foote, “Þrándr and the Apostles,” and Foote, “A Note on Þránd’s Kredda.” 108 Gísli Sigurðsson has pointed to the dual role of the yearly recitation, in that it both kept the Lawspeaker’s own knowledge fresh and passed knowledge down to the next generation (Gísli Sigurðsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga, 56).

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saga, would be in a very real sense educational, and the training of young lawyers and the social elite may have included comparable modelling of legal practicalities.109 Likewise, people simply observing cases prosecuted at the Alþing could have gained a significant amount of knowledge. Apart from magical lore, discussed in the next section, references to legal education are the most frequent type of educational reference in the Íslendingasögur corpus. There is no doubt that in pre-Christian Iceland, legal learning was among the most important forms of education for the elite. Since the laws were among the first vernacular texts to be written down, this significance must have endured for some time as literacy developed.110 Legal education then must have developed and changed with the growth of textual culture and the influence of clerical culture, but the influence of its origins in pre-Christian, oral education would have lingered for some time.

Magical Arts and Lore The learning of some kind of magical lore is distinctive and important for several reasons. It is the most frequent type of educational reference in the Íslendingasögur.111 While Christianity’s taboos regarding magical practices certainly had an impact, some form of such practices must have continued under the new religion, and Christian understandings of magic must also have influenced and reshaped existing practices.112 Among the best evidence for both the presence of magical education after Christianization, as well as its distinctive status as a condemned form of learning, is in Grágás: the passage

109 Though the context is vastly different, it is worth considering the development of education in common law in medieval London, where early informal education involved students simply coming to court when it was in session to listen to the barristers and judges plead and judge cases (Orme, From Childhood to Chivalry, 75). 110 In the account of the conversion in Ari Þorgilsson’s early twelfth-century Íslendingabók, it is worth noting that the law is presented as the thing that holds a peaceable society together, and that great conflicts would arise if pagans and Christians lived under separate laws (Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 17). 111 For the most recent and thorough survey of magical terminology in medieval Icelandic law, sagas, and mythological texts, see Korecká, Wizards and Words. 112 For a brief survey of Christian magic in the Nordic world and some possible relations to pre-Christian practices and beliefs, see Mitchell, Witchcraft and Magic, 43–51; Dillmann, Les magiciens, 463–504.


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which lists magical crimes notes that any teaching of magic is punishable by lesser outlawry.113 Cases from non-literary sources in late-medieval Norway and Sweden also show magical practitioners discussing those they learned their skills from.114 In the context of certain narratives, magical skills are described with a notable lack of explicit condemnation. Most of the references collected here are presented in either positive or ambivalent contexts.115 Bárðar saga presents a distinctly historicizing explanation for this attitude: while obtaining his education from his foster-father Dofri, the author suggests that among the set of skills he definitely obtained, Bárðr probably learned magic and ancient lore, which granted him the foresight and magical powers which he displays in the saga.116 Both the uncertain tone of the reference and the separation of learned skills and the practical results of them are unique among educational references, and suggest an author adding their own thoughts to an existing text, using a fosterage education to explain Bárðr’s powers. The authorial intervention goes further, stating that magical arts were valuable skills to powerful and prestigious men at the time, because of their ignorance of the true God.117 The learning of magical subjects in the context of a pagan society is forgiven by the author, 113 Grágás, Vol. 1, 22. 114 Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 132–33. 115 A number of other sagas that deal less directly with Iceland mention magical teaching, and have a greater predominance of negative associations. These references have been collected and discussed by Stephen Mitchell: the future queen of Norway Gunnhildr’s learning of magic from Sámi practitioners in Heimskringla; Rǫgnvaldr rétillbeini’s learning of magic, from a Finnish nutrix in the Historia Norwegiae, but from an unknown teacher in Heimskringla; the villainous Ǫgmundr Eyþjófsbani’s learning of magic as a child in Lapland in Ǫrvar-Odds saga; finally, Busla’s teaching of magic to her foster-son Smiðr in Bósa saga, which Bósi refuses (Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 140–43). 116 Harðar saga, 103. Giant foster-parents, both foster-mothers and foster-fathers, are an important and widespread trope in ON literature (Ellis, “Fostering by Giants”). Another Dofri, perhaps sharing some literary or cultural connection with the one from Bárðar saga, appears as a giant foster-father and teacher in the narrative of Haraldr hárfagri in Flateyjarbók, where he teaches the future king of Norway both íþróttir (physical/athletic skills) and fræði (lore) (Flateyjarbók, 51–52). 117 “Váru þetta allt saman kallaðar listir í þann tíma af þeim mönnum, sem miklir váru ok burðugir, því at menn vissu þá engi dæmi at segja af sönnum guði norðr hingat í hálfuna” (Harðar saga, 103) (All these were, at that time, considered skills by those men who were great and highborn, because men then did not know the stories being spoken about the true God here in the northern part of the world). Where translations of quotations in this text are my own, the citation to the source text will appear before the translation; where I am using the translation and original language from a dual-language edition, the citation will appear after the translation.

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and at the same time it is even elevated, presented as an important form of education for the elite. This reference in Bárðar saga suggests potential ways in which other references to magical education might have been interpreted, without explicit condemnation.118 It may even suggest why some such references were composed in the first place. One of the more notable aspects of education in magical lore is the interaction of men and women. In Þorsteins þáttur uxafóts, the baby Þorstein is found in the woods by a man named Krum and raised by him and his wife Þorgunna. Þorgunna is said to foster him and teach him fræði (lore), clearly meant in a magical sense in this context.119 In Eyrbyggja saga, Gunnlaugr is said to be námgjarn (eager for knowledge) and goes to spend a lot of time with a woman named Geirríðr because she is margkunnig (very knowledgeable), again in the context clearly referring to magical knowledge.120 In these two examples, we have men learning from female teachers: in one instance in a relatively expected manner from his foster-mother, but in the other by seeking out knowledge and finding a skilled teacher in an apparently independent woman.121 Other examples of different types of female teachers will be noted throughout this chapter, but regardless of their occult curriculum in the sagas themselves, the frequency of female teachers of magical lore hints at the potential importance that women’s teaching in general may have had throughout medieval Icelandic education.122 In at least two instances, magical education is referenced in the context of magical performance, chants and songs. These examples invite speculation as to what exactly the readers and writers of the sagas thought was being learned by students of magical lore.123 In Eiríks saga rauða, when the prophetess Þórbjǫrg is asking for assistance with a ceremony, Guðríðr reluctantly admits that her foster-mother Halldís had

118 Namely, that in certain temporal contexts magical learning is not explicitly condemnable. Korecká notes how the term forneskja, as it described magic, “is associated with otherness in a temporal sense – it is defined as something that belongs to the past and must be regarded as something strange and unfamiliar in the present” (Korecká, Wizards and Words, 140). 119 Harðar saga, 349. 120 Eyrbyggja saga, 28. For a survey and discussion of Old Norse magical terminology related to knowledge, particularly ancient knowledge, see Korecká, Wizards and Words, 19–49. See also Dillmann, Les magiciens, 188–212. 121 The Eyrbyggja saga episode is discussed at length in Ármann Jakobsson, “Two Wise Women.” 122 Mitchell has noted the overwhelming predominance of female teachers of magic, with the exceptions, like Bárðr’s foster-father, being somewhat otherworldly in nature (Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 141–42). 123 For Old Norse magical terminology related to chanting or speaking, see Korecká, Wizards and Words, 183–225. See also Dillmann, Les Magiciens, 118–25.


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taught her varðlokkur (ward/guardian songs) and proceeds to help with the prophesying.124 In Fóstbræðra saga, the sorceress Gríma is said to stand ashore and recite forn kvæði (old songs), which she had learned in her childhood, in order to assist a man, Kolbakr, to obtain a good wind to sail from Iceland and escape the vengeance of the saga’s protagonists.125 In both cases, the impression given is of carefully memorized oral knowledge, comparable to the memorization of poetry, particularly when a term like kvæði, which can also refer to poetry, is used.126 This memorization of what is taught in childhood is even presented as problematic in Grettis saga: the saga explains the magical knowledge of the woman Þuríðr by the fact that what is learned in childhood becomes habitual, as she had been a child before the conversion to Christianity.127 Finally, another reference to magical education shows patterns of hyperbole and flexible contexts similar to the references to legal education. In Þorleifs þáttur jarlsskálds, Þorleifr is raised by his uncle Skeggi until he is eighteen, and Skeggi is said to have taught Þorleifr more í fræðum fornligum (in ancient lore) than anyone else could know. After he turns eighteen, however, he kills a man and is forced to spend a winter hiding out with his father, Ásgeir, who also teaches him fræði forn (old lore), i.e. magical knowledge.128 Here, as in Droplaugarsonar saga, a student continues an education during a winter hiding out after a killing, emphasizing that education could occur in almost any situation where a teacher was available. There also seems to be an association in these two narratives between winter and education, and it seems likely that the relative lack of farming duties allowed greater time for teaching and learning during that season.129 Þorleifr, like the students of Bárðr, is said to have received an education beyond that of anyone else in 124 Eyrbyggja saga, 207–8. 125 Vestfirðinga sögur, 169. 126 Mitchell notes that in non-literary examples from late medieval Scandinavia, in contrast to the sagas, magical learning is presented as the specific passing down of a single spell or charm (Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 144–45). 127 “þat varð tamast, sem í œskunni hafði numit” (Grettis saga, 245–46). 128 Eyfirðinga sögur, 216. 129 References survive from just after the Reformation and later to the reading of sagas during the long winter nights, as entertainment while other tasks were done, the so-called kvǫldvaka. There are also nineteenth-century descriptions of education taking place during these evening times, and the recitation of sagas was likely related to the need for entertainment during the long, dull task of working wool. See Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, Wasteland with Words, 85–98, and Driscoll, The Unwashed Children, 38–47. There may have been a much broader medieval association between practices like reading or teaching and the wintertime, as the Benedictine Rule allows more time for monks to read in the winter than in the farming months (Hildebrandt, The External School, 25). This Benedictine practice may be intersecting with the Icelandic kvǫldvaka, or influencing its development, in an episode described in Lárentíus saga: after he

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Iceland, yet even this is soon supplemented by a second teacher and a further period of learning. Because of the legal restriction noted in Grágás and a general taboo, the teaching and learning of magical lore may have had a lesser impact on the general development of education that other subjects. However, these examples offer important clues as to how teaching and learning were carried out. In the Christian period, women were involved with teaching both boys and girls, even outside of ecclesiastical institutions, where, as the next chapter will show, women and girls taught and learned alongside men and boys. The practice of learning magical lore may also have been comparable to legal and poetic education, in the sense that it involved memorization and eventual recitation in some performative respect. Both parents and foster-parents could be involved with teaching children, even simultaneously, and if Eyrbyggja saga is any indication, students could seek out teachers for their particular skill outside of organized fosterage relationships.

Runes Extant narrative descriptions of a runic education are very few and problematic, yet as a pre-Christian writing system it had significant potential to influence the development of later educational practices. The earliest of extant Old Norse grammatical treatises, the 1GT, uses runic terminology, and the 3GT contains significant discussion of runic characters interpolated into its translation of standard Latin grammatical texts. While there was certainly a revival of academic interest in runes in thirteenth-century Denmark, and thus possibly also Iceland, the continuing use of runes after the conversion to Christianity, outside of an academic context, cannot be discounted: the runesticks discovered at Bryggen in Bergen show use of runic inscriptions continuing in Norway into the fourteenth century.130 Where runes continued to be used, runic education must have continued, and both influenced and been influenced by other educational practices, particularly in the development of literacy. While these later dynamics will be discussed further in chapter 4, here it is important to discuss the ground upon which these future pedagogical developments might have been based.

becomes bishop in the second quarter of the fourteenth century, the saga states that Lárentíus, who was also a Benedictine monk, has Deacon Einarr Hafliðason read ON hagiography and Latin texts to him when it got dark in the winter (Biskupa sögur III, 379). On religious education during the kvǫldvaka, see Margrét Eggertsdóttir, “‘Let the children come to me,’” 101. 130 For a survey of Norwegian runes, see Spurkland, Norwegian Runes.


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The evidence for Icelandic runic literacy is limited. Runic writing was certainly known in Iceland, but there are few surviving inscriptions.131 However, runes carved in wood are very unlikely to have survived, and we cannot be confident that the dearth of surviving examples is in any way representative. Scholars have speculated about the extent of the connection between Viking Age runes from Scandinavia and medieval and early modern runes in manuscripts from Iceland.132 Whether or not these arguments are convincing, at least some knowledge of runes must have existed continuously in Icelandic intellectual culture, enough to affect how conceptions of language, vernacularity, and educational practices developed. Moreover, the continuing relationship between intellectual culture in Iceland and Scandinavia would have meant a continuing influence on Iceland of runic pedagogies and discourses throughout the Middle Ages, particularly from Norway. The corpus of Eddic poetry, the mythological and heroic poems in the simpler ON meters, contains accounts of runic learning. While the dating and original context of their mythic contexts are uncertain, these accounts provide a glimpse into how medieval Icelanders conceptualized pre-Christian runic learning. In the wisdom poem Hávamál, Óðinn learns the runes while hanging himself. In Rígsþula, where Rígr is the progenitor to the different classes of humankind, Rígr is described as teaching runes to the most upper-class of his offspring. Finally, in Sigrdrífumál, the hero Sigurðr is taught several types of useful runes by the valkyrie Sigrdrífa.133 All three accounts emphasize the mysterious, cryptic side of runic literacy, but also show the connection with elite cultural practices, and the prestige of runic knowledge. The Íslendingasögur, likewise, contains several references to the use of runes, and some of them suggest some interesting possibilities as to their utility. Egils saga famously shows the most interest in runes, always in relation to poetry, and one verse partly matches a runestick dating from the late twelfth or early thirteenth century.134 In Þorsteins þáttur uxafóts, a girl named Oddny, who cannot speak, communicates twice using runes.135 In Víglundar saga, a runestick is found on a

131 For an edition of the extant inscriptions, see Islands Runeinskrifter. 132 Þórgunnur Snædal has argued for a continuous Icelandic runic tradition based on the similarities between the cryptic runes appearing on the Rök stone and in Jón Ólafsson’s 1752 treatise Rúnareiðsla (Þórgunnur Snædal, “Between Rök and Skagafjörður”). 133 These references are collected and discussed in Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 169–70. For the texts of the poems, see Eddukvæði, 48–54, 244–47, 391–93. 134 See discussion of this connection in Knirk, “Runes from Trondheim.” 135 Harðar saga, 346–47.

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path with an entire conversation carved upon it.136 In Svarfdæla saga, runes are carried by two children as evidence of their family connections, and appear carved into a ship to show ownership of the vessel.137 While in many cases such references seem to exist mostly for literary convenience, the wide variety of forms of communication on the Bryggen runesticks suggest that such saga accounts might not have been entirely unrealistic. A runic education could thus have been a very practical skill both in pre-Christian and post-conversion Iceland, and it is quite possible that the descriptions in the Íslendingasögur are modelled on thirteenth-century and later practices. Even though the Íslendingasögur and biskupasögur do not contain any references to runic education, if we look further afield to romances and legendary sagas, there are some hints as to how medieval Icelanders conceptualized and contextualized this sort of education. Above all, the references in such texts suggest prestige, and an association with an aristocratic context outside of Iceland. In Vǫlsunga saga, Regin is the foster-father and teacher of Sigurðr, and teaches him physical skills, languages, chess, and runes.138 In the romance Dínus saga drambláta, the princess Philotemia is said to have learned the seven liberal arts, as well as magic and the runic alphabet.139 While not framed in strictly pedagogical terms, Prince Livorius in Nítíða saga is said to be able to read books and runes and to play chess.140 In Ynglinga saga, Óðinn is said to teach runes and magic to his priests and followers, and to have taught all those skills that people in the northern lands used afterwards, including poetry.141 Unlike law, runes could not be learned orally, through memorization and recitation. Practice would have been required in the physical act of carving, in addition to learning the fuþark, the runic alphabet itself, and the sounds represented by each character. Education beyond that might often have been very limited, considering the brief, simple nature of so many runic inscriptions: the memorization of one’s own name, as well as a few key words and phrases. Thus, as with other types of literacy, there must have been many levels of runic literacy, from the master carver to the neophyte who might only know a few characters. Evidence from Norwegian sources, and from the grammatical treatises, can fill out the picture of runic educational practices a little further, and will be discussed in chapter 4.

136 Kjalnesinga saga, 100. 137 Eyfirðinga sögur, 155, 160–61. 138 Die Prosaische Edda, 171. 139 Dínus saga, 12. 140 Late Medieval Icelandic Romances V, 9. 141 Heimskringla I, 17–20.


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Hannyrðir There is a significant gap in this discussion of pre-Christian and secular educational practices: physical, agricultural, and domestic skills. As this study aims to view medieval Icelandic education from as broad a perspective as possible, it is important to point out that for most Icelanders, even for many of the elite, learning the skills required to farm, herd, and manage a household successfully was the most important education they would receive. These types of education are overlooked, first, because there are almost no solid references to them, and second, because they probably did not directly intersect and influence the development of clerical and textual education. Martial and athletic skills, equally, are among the most commonly praised in the sagas, and so learning them must have been very important, and while educational references to learning them survive, they represent too tangential a topic to discuss here.142 The exception discussed here is hannyrðir, translated in a broad sense as handicrafts or skilled textile work, but likely signifying most often specifically needlework, embroidery, or other textile crafts that were seen as particularly artful. There is one very significant educational reference to hannyrðir in the Íslendingasaga corpus, and this can be related to other passages among the riddarasögur and fornaldarsögur. This reference is important, because it can help us better understand the education of women in Iceland, and in particular to contextualize where hannyrðir are referenced in the context of a clerical education in a passage from Jóns saga helga. In Víglundar saga a woman named Ólof is born to Earl Þórir in an unnamed part of Norway. The earl dotes upon his daughter and sends for women to teach her all the feminine skills a noblewoman should know, and specifically desires that she should surpass all other women in hannyrðir.143 A few chapters later, when Ólof has married and come to Iceland, she is sought out by a man named Hólmkell, who wishes his own daughter to be fostered by Ólof and to be taught hannyrðir by her, the most cultured woman in Iceland.144 The saga presents 142 For the learning of martial skills, games, and agricultural and domestic skills in medieval Europe more generally, see Shahar, Childhood, 210–14, 222, 229–30, 242–45; Orme, Medieval Children, 178–83, 307–10; Orme, From Childhood to Chivalry, 181–210. Among the skills which Bárðr is said to have learned during his fosterage in Bárðar saga is vígfimi (skill at arms) (Harðar saga, 103). In Fljótsdæla saga, the sons of Droplaug stay alternatively with their mother and with a man, Bersi, who teaches the young Helgi íþróttir (physical feats/skills) (Austfirðinga sögur, 236), a very common term in the sagas for the sort of athletic and martial skills that were glorified among young men. 143 Kjalnesinga saga, 64–65. 144 Kjalnesinga saga, 75–76.

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Ólof as a sort of conduit, a teacher bringing an aristocratic skill over into Iceland. As with many examples above, she is described in hyperbolic terms. It cannot be unrelated that this is also the only example in the sagas of a fosterparent being sought out specifically for their ability to teach. In Víglundar saga, education in hannyrðir is as prestigious for young women as Bárðr’s legal teaching for young men. Considering this, it should not be surprising that kings’ daughters in the romances and legendary sagas are credited with skill in hannyrðir.145 In this sense, it is comparable to the aristocratic and royal associations of runic learning in texts like Rígsþula, though the term can refer to such a broad range of skills, and spinning and weaving were practical abilities that certainly did not have strictly aristocratic connotations.146 All the same, references to aristocratic women being skilled in hannyrðir are not uncommon, and at least two sagas put the references in an educational context. In Dámusta saga, the education of Gratiana, the daughter of the emperor of Grikkland, involves learning from books at a young age, becoming eloquent and skilled in all languages, and excelling the best cleric in her learning. This education complete, she is set to learning feminine skills and hannyrðir, and it is said that no maiden could equal her.147 In Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar, we do not have any comparable description of an aristocratic education, but Ingigerðr Skúladóttir is said to have learned hannyrðir from her namesake, Ingigerðr the daughter of the king.148 In this sense, the education of Ingigerðr is particularly comparable to Víglundar saga, in that it is a higherranking woman helping to raise the status of another through her teaching. It is not certain, but Víglundar saga suggests it is very likely that some of the prestige of teaching and learning hannyrðir, expressed in the romantic and legendary sagas, had some historical basis. An even more convincing piece of evidence for this prestige – and a more historical parallel to Gratiana’s mixing of clerical

145 It is unfortunately difficult to determine when education in hannyðir is being described, as the phrase nema hannyrðir can mean to learn handicrafts, but it also seems to have been used frequently to mean something like to take up one’s sowing or embroidering, i.e. referencing the actual practice of hannyrðir, rather than the teaching or learning of the skill. I have selected here those references available which are unambiguously concerned with teaching and learning. 146 In Rígsþula itself, for example, while the term hannyrðir itself is not used, there is a clear division of skills among the three classes of humanity that the poem presents, and it is in the middle group, not the aristocratic one, where the woman of the household is presented as spinning and weaving (Eddukvæði, 387). Even here, however, it is notable that it is not presented as a skill of the lowest class. 147 Þjalar-Jóns saga/Dámusta saga, 50–51. 148 Hálfdanar saga, 94.


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education with hannyrðir – appears in Ingunn, a young woman at Hólar from Jón saga helga. While teaching and learning in the early twelfth century at the bishopric of Hólar, Ingunn is said in the thirteenth-century narrative to have excelled at Latin and grammatica, and at the same time practicing hannyrðir while listening to and correcting the saints’ lives read aloud to her.149 Gratiana and Ingunn show how a complete secular education for well-bred women, centered around hannyrðir, could be understood and presented as overlapping and even interacting with a clerical education. At the same time, Víglundar saga argues that for secular women in Iceland, hannyrðir itself could still function as the core of a worthy and prestigious education.

History and Genealogy Learning about past event and peoples – that is, genealogies and historical lore – is fundamental to the intersection of medieval Icelandic educational history and literary history. This is the form of learning which, alongside poetry and poetics, probably contributed the most to the content of the corpus of many sagas, above all Íslendingasögur and konungasögur. The development of these sagas suggests that such education may have begun to take on a textual component as more sagas began to be written over the course of the thirteenth century. A reference to written genealogies in the 1GT, from the mid-twelfth century, indicates that the process may have begun even earlier. However, pre-Christian education in history and genealogy was of course oral, and there is some evidence that it continued to be so for some time. This type of oral, secular historical and genealogical learning is a vague concept that could have had many dimensions. There are certainly many aspects of history in runic writing and skaldic poetry, in the sense of commemoration and preservation of certain types of knowledge. In line with the multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted nature of historical lore, there could be many different attitudes and associations with it. The monk Oddr Snorrason’s version of Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar contrasts the superior pleasure and truth of his own account with the inferior stjúðmæðrasǫgur (stepmother sagas) told by shepherd boys, which

149 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 219–20. The passage concerning Ingunn only appears in the latest redaction of Jóns saga, the L-version, a more ornate version written in the fourteenth century. However, in the earlier H-version, a certain Guðrún Daðadóttir is mentioned, “móðir Ingunnar er fyrr var getit” (mother of Ingunn, who was mentioned before) (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 245), which suggests that a reference to Ingunn, in some form, goes back to an earlier version of the saga.

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are of doubtful truthfulness.150 Yet tales passed orally between shepherd boys were certainly a form of education, if an entirely informal one. In Þorláks saga the education of the great saint-bishop Þorlákr Þórhallsson in the twelfth century involves times away from his clerical learning to learn ættvísi (genealogy) and mannfræði (history/genealogy) from his mother, Halla.151 Either case could be presenting a comparable form of oral storytelling, but in different contexts, and the texts they appear in take opposing perspectives on the value of such learning. The terms ættvísi and mannfræði themselves are likely interchangeable: both the 1GT and the Hungrvaka contain lists of genres of texts which have been written in ON in the twelfth century, and the 1GT mentions ættvísi, while Hungrvaka mentions mannfræði.152 Presumably they are referring to more or less the same types of texts. The role of women as conveyers of stories and genealogies, through Halla’s teaching, invites comparison with the appearance of women as sources for written texts.153 The earliest and most often repeated reference is to Þuríðr en spaka Snorradóttir, one of Ari’s informants for Íslendingabók,154 the foundational document for ON vernacular history from the early twelfth century. Oddr himself names a woman who is very likely the same Ingunn from Jóns saga as a source of his Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar.155 When speaking of more informal, oral forms of education, the lines between a teacher, a storyteller, and a source for a saga are hardly concrete. The role of medieval women as educators within the household, particularly for very young children, supports the idea that we should consider medieval Icelandic women as a key component of historical and genealogical teaching, both before and after the conversion.156 Men, of course, were also involved in such teaching, and Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss provides excellent examples of the potential associations of historical

150 Oddr Snorrason, Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar, 2. 151 Biskupa sögur II, 50–51. 152 This observation was made in De Vries, Altnordische Literaturgeschichte, 351–52, where De Vries also suggests that within the overlapping meaning, there could be a variable emphasis on either genealogy in the sense of a list of relationships or on particular people and the details of their lives. 153 Ásdís Egilsdóttir has also made the comparison between Halla and the role of women as sources (Ásdís Egilsdóttir, “Mannfræði Höllu biskupsmóður,” 12–13). 154 Quinn, “From Orality to Literacy,” 40. 155 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 220, note 1. 156 Orme, Medieval Schools, 60–61; Orme, Medieval Children, 243–45; Shahar, Childhood, 113–14. Shahar notes specifically that oral tradition in the Middle Ages would have often been transmitted through the songs and tales taught to children by the mothers and wetnurses who taught them to speak.


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and genealogical learning. In Bárðr’s own education under King Dofri, the two skills specified are ættvísi and fighting. This placement among physical skills in a Scandinavian context presents genealogical lore as an aristocratic skill, placeable alongside runes or chess.157 However, when Bárðr himself is teaching law to Eiðr, he is said to also teach him mannfræði. So here, in an Icelandic context, the prestige of historical or genealogical learning is associated with practicing law, rather than fighting skills, perhaps suggesting different core skills for success and prestige in different places and times. In either case, ættvísi and mannfræði are presented as supplemental skills to core disciplines, much like the same skills were taught by Þorlákr’s mother while he pursued a serious clerical education. History and genealogy thus appear to have been important to many different types of education in medieval Iceland, tied strictly to no particular context, but probably most often used as a supplemental form of learning.

The Enigma of Poetic Education Vernacular poetry was fundamentally important to Icelandic society and culture from Iceland’s initial settlement and throughout the Middle Ages. The question of how it was taught and learned is thus central to medieval Icelandic cultural, literary, and social history. Traditions of panegyric skaldic poetry came to Iceland from Norway with the first settlement of the country, and numerous Icelanders are recorded as working as professional poets in Norway at the end of the tenth and the first half of the eleventh centuries, with somewhat smaller numbers in the twelfth and thirteenth, suggesting a drop-off in the Norwegian court as the primary context for poetry.158 There is excellent evidence for the genre of níð, a type of insulting verse, being widely used and having an important social impact, and scholars have argued that spoken verse fulfilled an important and widespread social role in Iceland in both pre-Christian and post-conversion periods. Slanderous verses, for example, are serious legal offenses in several law codes.159 The genre of mansǫngskvæði “love poetry” also may have been a widespread practice, as it is banned in Grágás and could have sorcerous

157 For medieval literary depictions of aristocratic male education, see Orme, From Childhood to Chivalry, 81–86. 158 Gade, “Poetry and its Changing Importance,” 76–82. 159 Gade, “Poetry and its Changing Importance,” 68–69; Quinn, “From Orality to Literacy,” 42–43; Clunies Ross, A History, 40–41.

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connotations.160 Jóns saga helga specifically mentions that Bishop Jón, among his other efforts at improving the state of Christianity in his diocese, cracked down on the practice of mansǫngskvæði in the early twelfth century.161 Already in an early, oral context, Christian poetry of various types began to develop and be incorporated into Icelandic society. Scholars of poetics have long noted the adaptation of European verse forms into skaldic meters, presumably under the influence of hymns and other ecclesiastical verse, from the early eleventh century on.162 Hrynhent meter almost certainly developed from the standard skaldic dróttkvætt meter being influenced by Latin church meters – perhaps suggesting that poets were impacted by listening to Latin liturgies – and appears in poetry as early as 1045.163 Kristni saga describes the missionary Þorvaldr reciting a vernacular religious verse.164 Taken together, mythological and heroic poetry, wisdom poems of both a Christian and more secular nature, Christian panegyric poetry, and numerous other types of poetry developed and were transmitted over the course of the Middle Ages in Iceland, potentially intersecting with almost every aspect of intellectual culture. All of this was influenced by the existing, pre-Christian models of poetry, and thus the pre-Christian models of poetic education. Surprisingly, almost nothing is said in the extant sources about how exactly this poetry was learned.165 Yet there is every reason to expect that some descriptions of poetic education should exist. The corpus of extant poetry is large, even though the majority of poetry composed was probably never written down, and, as noted above, it played many roles in society. While there are numerous references to other types of education scattered across the Íslendingasögur corpus, there are essentially none concerning the education of a poet, with some unusual exceptions noted below.166 In Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, Gunnlaugr is said to learn law during

160 See Clunies Ross, A History, 41–44, who argues for the apparently magical ability of mansǫngskvæði to direct “a woman’s affection to a particular man, without her knowledge and often against her will.” 161 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 211. 162 Quinn, “Eddu List,” 70; Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 252–53. 163 Skaldic Poetry in the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, liv. Males speculates that some of the influence from Latin hymns upon skaldic verse could have even begun with Icelandic poets travelling in the British Isles (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 280), though there is no reason why such a geography would be more likely than the poets being influenced by Latin verse closer to home, in Iceland or Norway. 164 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 9–10. 165 This section is strictly concerned with vernacular ON poetry. Latin poetry was an important part of clerical education and is referenced in the extant sources, as will be discussed in chapter 3. 166 There is a line of verse in Egils saga which seems to refer to the person who taught Egill poetry, but it is unclear (Jaeger and Mundal, “Obscurities,” 32–33).


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his upbringing, yet never uses this skill, while he constantly recites poetry, with no indication of whether he learned it from his father, foster-father, or someone else. Skalds appear frequently as characters and protagonists in narrative sources, and the childhoods and upbringings of many of these poets are described, yet their poetic educations never are. For the thirteenth century and later, there are references within the poetic treatises to their use for the training of young poets, but there is no explicit indication of how the texts would be used, and no indication whether or not these references to young poets might be purely rhetorical. These texts, moreover, are referring to a literate, textualized poetic learning, not the purely oral learning which functioned in pre-Christian Iceland, and likely for a long period after. Elena Gurevich has suggested that there is only one extant narrative description of a poet’s education, and it is entirely supernatural: in Þorleifs þáttr jarlsskálds a certain shepherd named Hallbjǫrn hali learns how to compose poetry from a dead man reciting a poem to him, while the dead man tugs on Hallbjǫrn’s tongue. The dead mound-dweller tells Hallbjǫrn to compose a full poem in praise of the man, taking care to make the meter, style, and kennings correct. The closest comparable example Gurevich notes is in Hreiðars þáttr heimska, which involves Hreiðar simply discovering his skill as a poet by attempting to compose a poem and succeeding.167 In addition to the example of Hallbjǫrn, there are two cases where poetic education and the supernatural intersect, in the examples of magical education noted above. In Eiríks saga rauða, the varðlokur that Guðríður learns from her foster-mother are identified as a type of kvæði, which suggests a form of poetry.168 In Fóstbræðra saga, the sorceress Gríma similarly learned fornu kvæði in her childhood. Certainly these sagas present such magical kvæði as a very specific type of poetry, distinct from the courtly poems of skalds, but these are still examples of poetic education.169 Moreover, they are both indicative of the potentially widespread role of women in poetic education. This dearth of sources, Gurevich argues convincingly, is not a coincidence, nor are the seemingly supernatural associations of what few poetic education references do appear. Recalling the mythological origins of poetry described in

167 Gurevich, “Ok varð it mesta skáld,” 213–16. The lack of descriptions of skaldic education is also commented upon in Wanner, “Strategies of Skaldic Poets,” 184. 168 Helga Kress associates foster-mothers and poetry in this example and in the reference to a foster-mother in the verse of Helga Bárðardóttir in Bárðar saga (Helga Kress, “Fyrir dyrnum fóstru,” 90). 169 There are also examples, however, of formal courtly verse being presented as having magical effects, see Dillmann, Les magiciens, 123–24.

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the Snorra Edda, and the general association between the poetic craft and the god Óðinn, she argues that skalds were “mythologizing their craft . . . to emphasize the exceptional quality and value of their own poetry and the individual nature of their art.”170 Poets, in other words, may have deliberately obscured or avoided discussing their methods of education and training, emphasizing the innate, even mystical qualities of their craft. Kevin Wanner has more recently suggested that this mystification through claims of supernatural origin and divine inspiration was a direct attempt to gain certain forms of capital from the poetic art, while admitting that it is not certain whether claims of supernatural origin were ever taken very seriously.171 But it is worth speculating that runic pedagogy, because of a similar connection with Óðinn, may have benefited from a similar type of capital by maintaining a certain mystic obscurity. And as the previous section noted, outside of romantic and legendary sagas, there are no references to the teaching of runes in the saga corpus. The idea of obscure or divine origins links some of the rhetorical techniques that can be seen in medieval Christian skaldic poetry to this deliberately obscured pedagogy, and suggests that this obfuscation functioned over a long period of time. Some Christian skalds communicated this through self-effacement, characterizing their poetry and skill as insufficient without divine aid.172 In a particularly early example, the 1153 poem Geisli opens with the comment Þrenning eins guðs má kenna mér óð ok bœnir, “The Trinity of one God can teach me poetry and prayers.”173 Divine assistance here is presented explicitly as a form of teaching. The rhetoric of both Christian and pagan poets about divine inspiration may not, then, be unrelated to the obscurity in the sources about the training of poets. As noted with Hreiðars þáttr heimska, however, even where there is no divine or supernatural element, becoming a poet is still presented more as a matter of spontaneous composition than education. When Íslendinga saga describes Snorri Sturluson’s rise to power, it is stated that he became a good poet when he composed a poem for Jarl Hákon and received a sword, shield, and byrnie in reward.174 Nothing is mentioned in the saga about his education, or any previous training. As with Hreiðarr, who is shown to be a poet simply

170 Gurevich, “Ok varð it mesta skáld,” 219–21. 171 Wanner, “Strategies of Skaldic Poets,” 194–96. 172 See example stanzas in Skaldic Poetry in the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 73, 141, 516, 530. 173 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 7, following the prose word order. 174 “Hann gerðist skáld gott ok var hagr á allt þat, er hann tók höndum til, ok hafði inar beztu forsagnir á öllu því, er gera skyldi. Hann orti kvæði um Hákon galin, ok sendi jarlinn gjafir út á mót, sverð ok skjöld ok brynju” (Sturlunga saga, Vol. 1, 269).


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through his sudden display of ability, Snorri simply becomes a good skald, and it only bears mentioning in the saga when he composes a poem successful enough to warrant a reward. Despite the continuous appearance of skalds like Snorri in the narratives, and despite the role insult poetry often plays in the conflicts described in Íslendinga saga, the implication remains that poetry is an innate, often spontaneous, ability, and wholly divorced from education.175 We can, however, catch glimpses of components of poetic learning, in the most general sense. Above all, the sources give us a strong sense that simple memorization by rote must have been an important part of the process, as was noted earlier concerning legal education. Heiðarvíga saga presents a simple example of memorization, where Þorbjǫrn recounts some verses he heard in a dream to a farmhand, and the farmhand is said to have learned both verses.176 The implication is that, once memorized, the poetry can be recited and disseminated. People who were not themselves poets could thus play an important part in the social role of poetry through simply memorizing and sharing verses. Some poets may have even begun with such activity, and advanced from there. The negative impact of, and social anxiety about, insulting verses must have stemmed to a large extent from normal Icelanders, not only skilled poets, memorizing and reciting verses. The Grágás passage on poetry specifically mentions not just speaking defamatory poetry, but teaching (kenna) it to someone else.177 Equally, the value that a king or chieftain placed in a poet composing a praise poem must have stemmed to some extent from the poem being heard and recited widely. The step between such informal activity and elementary forms of poetic education was probably not a large one. As noted in the introduction, there are several claves metricae (metrical keys) surviving in Old Norse: the twelfthcentury Háttalykill of Earl Rǫgnvaldr of the Orkneys, and Snorri Sturluson’s own early thirteenth-century Háttatal, transmitted with a prose commentary as part of the Snorra Edda.178 Claves metricae are tools for learning metrical forms, with each stanza composed in a different meter. Even in the literate context of these twelfth- and thirteenth-century poems, and certainly in an oral context,

175 This can be contrasted to magic which, as Mitchell has observed, the sagas focus on as a learned rather than inherent skill (Mitchell, “Magic as Acquired Art,” 146). 176 Borgfirðinga sögur, 291–92. 177 Grágás, Vol. 2, 183. 178 See Tranter, Clavis Metrica for an in-depth discussion of both poems.

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memorizing such works would have served as an effective pedagogical means of internalizing their metrical forms.179 We can only speculate about the details of how such poetic learning occurred, but it is very likely that, at least in the sagas, the enigma of poetic education was deliberate. Such a constructed dissociation between education and skill or talent could be very valuable to poets and their prestige, and probably to other forms of learning as well. Króka-Refs saga provides a useful example of a character deliberately disparaging the idea of education. The protagonist Refr becomes known as a master craftsman, and when a certain Gestr wants him to build a boat, Refr wants to do it in secret, claiming that if the boat turns out well, people will claim that someone had taught him how to build it, rather than it being a result of his own talent.180 The Snorra Edda and the grammatical treatises seem to reveal explicitly that some part of the poetic skill needed to be learned, and that it could even be learned from books, even if these treatises represent the pedagogical developments of their time. The need for poetic enigma, at least by the thirteenth century, was thus to some extent a literary conceit of the sagas. Yet the possibility remains that the emphasis of those sagas on innate talent and unlearned ability reflected some prevailing social and cultural attitude towards poetic education.181

The Intersections of Secular Subjects This chapter has presented the evidence from narrative sources, primarily the Íslendingasögur, for forms of education which could have prevailed before the conversion to Christianity. These educational practices continued to represent important aspects of secular and oral education into the later Middle Ages, both influencing and being influenced by the development of ecclesiastical and Christian learning. Because of the limitations of these sources, and the disparity between the time they were written and the time period they describe, they only offer a rough and uncertain indication of either pre-Christian or later secular education. We cannot say what the curriculum was, if any, of a secular Icelander obtaining a primarily oral education in the tenth century or in the

179 While it could in itself serve as a tool in oral education, it is important to keep in mind that Háttalykill is almost certainly a result of grammatical influence on ON poetics in the twelfth century, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 31–33. 180 Kjalnesinga saga, 127. 181 Males has emphasized the possibility that poetic rules were simply not expressed in pedagogy in Iceland before the introduction of grammatica, and that “skaldic poetry was probably largely a matter of learning by doing” (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 249).


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fourteenth century. Yet the subjects examined here were very likely a part of this curriculum and, moreover, it is very unlikely they were ever learned in isolation. The idea of a continuing influence of pre-Christian educational practice on Christian learning is strongly supported by the interconnectivity of the subjects discussed in this chapter. Few, if any, of the secular disciplines existed in isolation. In some cases, like Bárðr’s breadth of knowledge, all of the subjects discussed above – with the exception of hannyrðir – were conceived of as potentially being taught together. But apart from such literary, hyperbolic examples, which clearly must be suspect, there is other evidence for the idea that many subjects were taught together to form a complete education.182 As already noted, the teaching and learning of history and genealogy tended to take a supplemental role to other forms of learning, and continued to do so after the conversion, as the case of St. Þorlákr shows. Oral legal education also had strong links to poetic learning. On a broad social level, there are references in Sturlunga saga and elsewhere to insulting verses having important legal ramifications, starting disputes and even leading to killings.183 This suggests that being able to interpret such verses was a necessity for negotiating legal disputes, and thus for anyone educated in the law. There is a textual indication of such links: both Grágás and later law codes stipulate that defamatory words must be interpreted in only their literal, not their figurative sense, when it is being determined whether a case can be made against them as libel or níð.184 The social harmfulness of some poetry can be related to magical learning, and there are instances in the sagas of curses and the like taking poetic form,185 which from an educational perspective thus suggests a potential relationship between poetic, magical, and legal learning. Likewise, at least six Lawspeakers during the commonwealth period, before the Norwegian takeover of Iceland, are mentioned as being poets as well. This makes sense from the perspective of the skills required for both, as the disciplines of law and poetics are linked by their linguistic, performative, and

182 Gísli Sigurðsson has also speculated generally regarding the links in the learning of different oral disciplines (Gísli Sigurðsson, “Óláfr Þórðarson hvítaskáld,” 117). 183 For an example of a killing over an insulting verse in Íslendinga saga, see Sturlunga saga, Vol. 1, 262–63. 184 Specifically, it states that the words should not be interpreted in their poetic sense “scal ecke at scáldscapar male raða” (Grágás, Vol. 2, 181). Exactly what this means is somewhat ambiguous – it probably refers to a limitation on kennings and other metaphorical language being actionable as slander – but the need for poetic skills to interpret such cases is clear. 185 See discussion of magical verse and song in Dillmann, Les magiciens, 118–25, particularly his comments on Þorleifs þáttr jarlaskálds.

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mnemonic requirements.186 Two eleventh-century Lawspeakers, Skapti Þóroddsson and Markús Skeggjason, the latter of whom instituted the tithe law in 1096, are said to have composed Christian verse. It is possible that the legal authority of the Lawspeaker could have been assisted by the rhetorical and cultural force of poetic composition, recitation, and learning during the process of conversion.187 Markús Skeggjason is also cited as a source in Íslendingabók, which suggests the potential for historical learning as a part of this complex of oral pedagogy. History and poetry are also fundamentally linked. Skaldic poets who praised the deeds of kings and chieftains also recorded those deeds, in a form that could be preserved and, of equal importance, disseminated orally. The education of a poet, in the sense that it would have involved memorizing older poems, could be a historical education as well. Similarly, the practice of creating praise poetry could in a sense be the practice of composing or inventing history. Snorri Sturluson’s comments on the value and reliability of skaldic poetry as a historical source are the clearest and most famous assertion of this connection.188 These intersections between poetry, history, and law are the most apparent, but they were certainly not the only ones. In several literary examples we can see the hyperbolic or mythologized ideal of a holistic, multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary education. Certainly Óðinn has many layers as a teacher: Ynglinga saga presents him as the great teacher of poetry, magic, and runes, as well as a giver of law.189 But a broad and extensive education is also a trope of romance that finds extensive voice in several Icelandic texts.190 Dínus saga Drambláta, mentioned above, is exhaustive: Dínus begins his education at the age of four, when he first learns the seven liberal arts, but then proceeds to chivalry, juggling, some type of rope skills, as well as runes. Then, after the age of twelve, he proceeds to knightly skills like archery.191 Such ideas of aristocratic education likely had little direct impact on education practices in Iceland, but the presence of such literary examples must have impacted conceptions of education, and the presence of runes in the list suggests some active localization of the chivalric curriculum.

186 Burrows, “Rhyme and Reason,” 216. 187 Burrows, “Rhyme and Reason,” 217–22. 188 Heimskringla I, 3–5. Maria Cristina Lombardi has also suggested that the very structure of kennings in ON poetry may have had an important pedagogical function, helping in the memorization of information through the very difficulty in interpreting them (Lombardi, “Kennings”). 189 Heimskingla I, 17–20. 190 For a discussion of education and childhood as a literary trope in the Icelandic romances, see Divjak, Studies, 66–73. 191 Dínus saga, 6–7. The uncertain word for rope skills is reipaganga, which may suggest a sort of tightrope walking, though this appears to be a unique word and it is uncertain.


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

There is no evidence for clearly defined delineations between different forms of education in medieval Iceland, and, as the next section will explore, all of these subjects were learned in similar contexts. As figures like Þorlákr and Ingunn emphasize, the shared contexts between different subjects and forms of learning continued long after Christianization. The history of education in medieval Iceland thus cannot start with the foundation of the first cathedral school, and the teaching and learning of the great chieftain-priests of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but must also take into account the social and cultural factors that preceded them.

Fosterage and Educational Contexts The secular and pre-Christian educational subjects discussed in this chapter are united by their context, taught and learned outside any place that could be described as a school. Education here happens in households, the relationship between teacher and student is determined by social rather than institutional bonds, and the majority of the time it involves some sort of fosterage. The fact that education within fosterage is written about so frequently suggests that it was still an important part of education in the thirteenth century and later. As such, any details regarding educational context and the social relationships involved are likely more of a reflection of late medieval practices than of those of pre-Christian society.192 However, some form of fosterage, in whatever form it was practiced in the ninth and tenth centuries, was almost certainly a key tool in pre-Christian education, in that it provided a social structure for selecting specific teachers for a child, allowing children to learn subjects outside the knowledge base of their parents and family. In its broadest sense, fóstr and related terms could encompass essentially any relationship where someone other than the biological parents was involved in the guardianship or care of a child.193 Across medieval Europe, it was fundamentally important for the strengthening of social bonds.194 The common Latin 192 Ármann Jakobsson has argued that the descriptions of fosterage in the biskupasögur represent a new type of fosterage that entered Iceland through Christianization (Ármann Jakobsson, “Ástin,” 68–70). This will be discussed more thoroughly in chapter 2. 193 For an overview of the various fóstr- compounds and other related terminology, see Kreutzer, Kindheit und Jugend, 223–24 and Gunnar Karlsson, “Barnfóstur,” 38–39. 194 Indeed, used in its broadest sense, Kreutzer argues that something like fosterage can be found in most cultures at most points in history (Kreutzer, Kindheit und Jugend, 221). For creating social bonds as a motivation for Icelandic fosterage, see Mundal, “Children, Parents, and Society,” 180–85. For a general survey of medieval aristocratic fosterage and its relationship to clerical fosterage, see Barrow, The Clergy, 158–69. Orme characterizes the use of fosterage

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term for a foster-father was nutritor, and indeed, this was a title that Einhard bestows upon Charlemagne in his Vita Karoli Magni.195 There is also an extensive vernacular vocabulary describing the local forms of fosterage in medieval Irish texts and law codes.196 Some fostering arrangements involved lower-status households fostering the children of higher-status parents, others involved two sets of parents of roughly equal status, and some could involve the guardianship of poor or orphaned children. Servants raising children within wealthier households could be considered foster-parents. Like marriage, fosterage could be used to resolve conflicts or maintain peace, and the motivations behind establishing a relationship of fosterage could be complex and multi-layered.197 The broad range of ideas behind fosterage are particularly noticeable when fosterage terms are used in ON translated texts, describing people far from Iceland.198 Children could be under the care of both foster-parents and biological parents at the same time. Fosterage could be highly variable in practice, carefully governed by law and tradition, as was the case in Ireland, or more informal – someone might be widely or personally considered a foster-parent without it being a formal contractual arrangement. Within this idea of fosterage, there is thus a range of social and legal dynamics, and a range of different practices for bringing up children, all described by a single term.199 The fosterage presented in the sagas and laws is of uncertain historical provenance, and in any given case a reference to fosterage may represent a conflation or distortion of ideas and practices from before the settlement of Iceland to the time a particular text was written. Peter Parkes has extensively analyzed

terminology in medieval England as having such a broad scope, in describing the general feeding and rearing of children, that even parents could be described as giving fosterage to their own children (Orme, Medieval Children, 55–56). 195 Einhard, Vita Karoli, 4. 196 For a recent survey see O’Donnell, “The Affect of Fosterage,” 26–29. 197 See Hansen, “Fosterage and Dependency,” 73–76; Miller, “Some Aspects of Householding,” 331–33. 198 In Alexanders saga, Aristotle is called both the meistari and fóstrfaðir of Alexander the Great (Brandr Jónsson, Alexanders saga, 3). However, fóstrfaðir and fóstri could be perfectly reasonable translations for terms like nutritor, so the Latin source texts of such ON translations would need to be checked before determining to what extent the translator is overlaying Icelandic cultural or social ideas onto their material. 199 See Gunnar Karlsson, “Barnfóstur,” for the most recent survey of the forms of fosterage described in both the sagas and Grágás, as well as some discussion of the potentially numerous motivations for fosterage.


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and compared fosterage practices in medieval northwestern Europe, and many of the categories he discusses appear in Icelandic sources. Kin fosterage involves grandparents or parents’ siblings becoming delegated parents, affirming the entitlements of the extended family. Allegiance fosterage, wherein the fosterage of children can effect political allegiances between hierarchically ranked kin groups, appears in two main categories: cliental fosterage, wherein higher-class children are given to lower-class client families, and patronal fosterage, wherein children of lower-class families are given to be raised by their patrons.200 Many sources, like Laxdæla saga, explicitly present cliental allegiance fosterage as the normative practice, and Parkes argues that this was an earlier, pre-Christian, Norwegian practice, which gradually changed in the context of a less stratified, geographically scattered society in commonwealth Iceland.201 By the time Norwegian rule was established in the mid-thirteenth century, Parkes argues that forms of patronal fosterage, identified and conflated with forms of godparenthood during the conversion period, had largely replaced the earlier forms of cliental fosterage as the predominant form of adoptive kinship.202 Discussion of the chronological developments of fosterage requires further in-depth study. However, it is important to mention these potential shifts in fosterage practice here; it is possible that the sagas may more closely represent thirteenth- or even fourteenth-century fosterage than pre-Christian practice. Víglundar saga, for example, presents Ólof as an aristocratic woman, and the request for her services as a foster-parent may represent a form of patronal fosterage. If Parkes is correct, this may be a somewhat anachronistic relationship, perhaps made more grandiose to fit the imagined past. However, it may be equally the case that any normative hegemony that cliental allegiance fosterage had in Norway before the settlement of Iceland mutated very quickly within Iceland, very possibly under the influence of Irish practices.203 Keeping in mind

200 Parkes, “Fostering Fealty,” 742–43. 201 Though focused very narrowly on legal texts, and not generally concerned with anything like the cliental/patronal distinction, it is worth noting that Kreuzer seems generally opposed to this type of historical framework, arguing against older scholarship which saw Icelandic fosterage as representing the trace remnants of an ancient Germanic tradition (Kreutzer, Kindheit und Jugend, 226–29). 202 Parkes, “Fostering Fealty,” 753–54. 203 Parkes notes that allegiance fosterage in northwestern Europe is most definitively represented in Celtic regions and in the variable forms of Norse-Icelandic fosterage, and that the Icelandic practice may have been impacted by an early Celtic influence (Parkes, “Celtic Fosterage,” 379). This in turn may have resulted from the influence of a shift to patronal fosterage and education that was already taking place in Irish monasteries: by the ninth century, the children of many noble families were being sent to monastic schools at around the age of

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the possibility of some anachronism, it is not out of the question that a situation like that presented in Víglundar saga was quite possible, even in ninthand tenth-century Iceland.

Students and Teachers The examples above show an interesting variety of students, teachers, and student-teacher relationships and interactions. Above all, the Íslendingarsögur present the forms of education they are concerned with as incidental, rarely involving someone whose primary role was as a teacher. Parents or foster-parents generally had other responsibilities, and were only teachers in a broad sense of term, not in any clear professional way.204 There are exceptions, however, and even among parents and foster-parents, there were clearly a number of different types of educational relationships.205 In particular, because the idea of fosterage is so variable, in the context of education it does not really represent a single pedagogical practice, but a number of different ways in which students and teachers could be brought together and interact. Likewise, while many references focus on male students and male teachers, the references to women in both roles suggest there were not consistently strict gender boundaries to men and women teaching and learning together, at least for some subjects.206 Njáls saga provides a vital example of education in what was a very important form of fosterage: a fosterage agreement which was part of a conflict

seven, replacing early models of nursing from infancy and training by lay fosterers (Parkes, “Celtic Fosterage,” 370–71). Kreutzer has argued that there was a clear Irish origin for the particular legal form of fosterage represented in Grágás, and that such a practice does not appear in Norwegian law codes (Kreutzer, Kindheit und Jugend, 223–33). For earlier comments on this theory of Irish origins for Icelandic fosterage, see Pappenheim, “Die Pflegekindshaft,” 11–13; for its first appearance see Bugge, “Vesterlandenes Indflydelse,” 35–36. Among the settlers of Iceland, it is noted in Landnámabók that Ǫrlygr Hrappsson was fostered by Bishop Patrick of the Hebrides (Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 53). 204 Cf. Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 29–30. Gunnar Harðarson has also translated fóstri as “tutor” when discussing the relationship between Snorri Sturluson and his foster-father, Jón Loptsson (Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 37). 205 When in Bárðar saga Bárðr teaches Oddr law over the course of a single winter, for example, we might conceptualize his work for that season as primarily teaching, though it is uncertain whether the original audience of the saga would have thought similarly. 206 The frequency of references to legal education and the lack of female students and teachers, for example, probably suggests that education in law was largely confined to male teachers and students. This likely relates to the fact that women were permitted very limited roles in legal disputes; see Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society, 113–14.


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

resolution.207 The fact that Njáll’s foster-son, Þórhallr Ásgrímsson, became such a capable lawyer may suggest that Njáll’s skill in the law was part of the motivation in arranging the fosterage. In this type of arrangement, important teachers in Iceland could be among the most powerful chieftains, taking the time to pass on their skills as they strengthened their social capital with their fosterchildren. At the same time, class and wealth were clearly not always a barrier to fosterage education. While the sagas do not necessarily provide evidence for education among the lowest classes, there are some hints. When in Þorsteins þáttur uxafóts the baby Þorsteinn is discovered by Krum, then fostered and educated by Þorgunna, it is made clear that Krum is a poor man. There are instances in the sagas of slaves within households fulfilling the role of foster-parent, and it is not unlikely that in some of these situations, some sort of teaching was involved, particularly historical and genealogical learning through storytelling. Poetry, likewise, spreading orally and being disseminated by both poets and non-poets with some memorization skills, could easily be learned from lower-class foster-parents who were not necessarily themselves involved in elite games of praise poetry.208 As the teachers discussed in this chapter were not professionals, we should keep in mind that their teaching was probably almost always part-time. This is not surprising if we consider the fact that in what might be thought of as a normal fosterage agreement involving powerful chieftains like Njáll, it could hardly be expected for the foster-parent to work as a full-time teacher. Education is not necessarily the primary function of the student-teacher relationship in these situations. The examples noted earlier of education being completed in a single winter, even if largely literary exaggeration, may suggest that certain forms of learning could also be done intensively for short periods of time, limiting the amount of labor required by student or teacher during the rest of the year. Most Icelanders would have been involved to some extent in pastoral or agricultural duties, so taking care of most teaching and learning responsibilities during the winter could be very practical. Equally, in one of these examples, in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, the saga is explicit that Gunnlaugr divides his time during the year between his father’s house and his foster-father’s.

207 For a brief discussion of fosterage used in reconciliation, see Gunnar Karlsson, “Barnfóstur,” 48–49. 208 See also, however, Dillmann’s argument that fóstra as a term was confined to describing free women, at least in the Íslendingasögur corpus, and that the term ambátt was preferred for slave women, but both could be involved in the upbringing of a child (Dillman, Les magiciens, 323–27).

Fosterage and Educational Contexts


A part-time education could also be supplemented by multiple teachers, perhaps with each taking care of different types of learning. The clearest example of such is St. Þorlákr learning from his mother while being trained as a priest, but it is not unique. As noted above in the discussion on law, in Færeyinga saga, right after the conversion to Christianity a child is represented as learning the Credo and law from his foster-father, while his mother criticizes the accuracy of the Credo he had learned. While not directly involved in teaching, the mother in Færeyinga saga plays a role in the education, checking the quality of a student’s learning. She points to the potential range of indirect contributions parents and others could make in the process of learning. This is also a clear indication of how early and basic forms of Christian learning could easily make use of existing educational contexts.209 Finally, there is some indication that parents, foster-parents, and other authority figures did not always dictate the terms of education. As already noted, Gunnlaugr in Gunnlaugs saga deliberately leaves his father’s house to establish himself with a foster-father, who was also a teacher of law. Even more explicitly, Gunnlaugr Þorbjarnarson of Eyrbyggja saga is said to be eager for knowledge, and seeks out a teacher himself, without any other party being directly involved. All of these cases show a distinct level of flexibility and variability regarding the status, relationships, and motivations of students and teachers. The basis of pre-Christian education in parentage or fosterage also emphasizes that teachers were never strictly responsible only for education. They were caretakers, patrons, social allies, and benefactors. Students, in turn, could aid in peace and social stability, as in Njáls saga, or perhaps even enhance the status and fortunes of a household through their learning, as Bárðr’s gift of legal learning strongly implies. In some cases, as in Gunnlaugs saga and Eyrbyggja saga, a person taking up the role of student could be exercising their own agency in their learning. Even with the limited evidence available, then, it is clear that students and teachers impacted many aspects of Icelandic society, even before Christianization.

209 The learning of basic prayers was among the most important components of lay education in the Middle Ages. See Orme, Medieval Children, 200, 204–5, 247–48, 261–63, 267. In discussing the limited evidence for syllabaries, Orme shows how the Pater Noster could be so central to elementary learning, that Pater itself may often have been the first word children learned to read.


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

The Value and Role of Education in Fosterage The impact education had on teachers, students, and society as a whole means that it must have had value in many contexts. On the one hand, this value can be considered, as it has been so far, in terms of ideas like prestige, social capital, and status. On the other hand, we cannot discount that there must have been an economic component to education: it must have had some material cost, and in turn some material benefit. While there is only a limited indication of these economic issues in the direct references to education in the saga corpus, by considering fosterage as a whole, we can gain some sense of the financial cost and value of teaching and learning. One aspect of the value of education was its role as a motivation for fosterage. It is entirely possible that, in some instances, fosterage in Iceland was primarily intended as a form of education. The most compelling evidence of this is Víglundar saga, where the saga explicitly states that obtaining better skill in hannyrðir was the main reason for choosing Ólof as a foster-mother. This could be a matter of prestige, but there would likely have been a basic economic value to skill in textile work, including not just hannyrðir but more basic textile crafts as well. Legal education in Njáls saga and Bárðar saga both indicate this motivation as well, in their emphasis on the hyperbolic level of skill students obtained during their fosterage. William Ian Miller has argued that obtaining an education was one of the main motivations for the fosterage arrangement of Þórhallr in Njáls saga,210 likely because of the importance and widespread fame of Njál’s legal knowledge within the saga, and the fact that his student Þórhallr’s education comes up again later in the saga. Gunnlaugs saga shows an element of this, governed by the desires of a willful child: When Gunnlaugr decides to leave his father to seek out fosterage with Þorsteinn, it is over an argument about whether Gunnlaugr should go abroad and learn the customs of other men.211 While this does not explicitly relate to the education he receives with Þorsteinn, it does reflect the general value of social and cultural experience that might be gained from leaving the home at a young age. The value of an education in motivating fosterage would not only affect the students. The existence of such chieftain-teachers as Njáll would fit effectively with a form of patronal allegiance fosterage: if the legal skill of someone like Njáll was well known and widely respected, and if the value of having legal knowledge in turn drew prospective students to that teacher, then legal knowledge could itself

210 Miller, “Some Aspects of Householding,” 331. 211 Borgfirðingar sögur, 59.

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become a means of becoming a more powerful patron and chieftain, through the social bonds created through foster-children. Education itself could be a means of reaffirming or expanding social power, or could be a means of raising social or economic status, if the student/teacher was not already in a wealthy and powerful family. The sagas leave the issue of the value sought through education fairly implicit, but that should not rule out the possibility that real social and economic gain could be obtained through education. The very expenses involved in fosterage indicate this value. While they do not pretend to describe the pre-Christian period, the passages describing dependents, including foster-children, in Grágás, must be considered.212 This section of Grágás does not describe every possible form of fosterage, and in instances of abandoned, orphaned, or poor children, presumably payment would not be involved.213 In instances where the foster-parent is a servant or slave within the biological parents’ household, payment for education would be implicit in whatever payment or maintenance the foster-parent received. Grágás does, however, describe a very important form of voluntary, legal fosterage.214 In the text, it

212 Grágás, Vol. 2, 3–28. 213 Kreutzer’s discussion of fosterage as a whole presents a fairly hard distinction between fosterage as a voluntary legal contract – as prescribed in Grágás and the Irish legal sources – and non-voluntary situations, as when a child is poor, orphaned, or mistreated and needs to be fostered, which also appear in medieval Norwegian legal codes. (Kreutzer, Kindheit und Jugend, 221–34). However, this distinction does not change the relevance of legally mandated costs in fosterage for educational history. Among non-voluntary foster-parents, education likely occurred much as it did in any household with biological parents, according to whatever such parents were able to teach. The voluntary, contractual fosterage Kreutzer describes, however narrowly defined, remains a model and tradition that must have affected the development of medieval Icelandic schools, and the expectation of payments whenever education was specifically sought out. 214 Miller has argued that the Grágás section on fosterage indicates that all forms of fosterage had to be paid for (Miller, “Some Aspects of Householding,” 332), though a few years later in Bloodtaking and Peacemaking he does not appear to address the topic of paying for fosterage (Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking, 122–24). Hansen has argued that this discussion of costs refers to a fairly narrow form of legal fosterage (Hansen, “Fosterage and Dependency,” 77), and that the forms of guardianship which other parts of the dependency section legislates often involved poor children being saved from vagrancy by being brought into households, without accompanying resources, and so extensive legislation existed to regulate the relationship between a potentially unwanted child and the family expending resources upon it. (Hansen, “Fosterage and Dependency,” 79–82). Else Mundal has argued that that sagas, in contrast to Grágás, do not give the impression that compensation was normally paid to foster-parents for bringing up a child, but that it had other benefits that made the cost worthwhile, including the patronage of the biological parents, and the support of the foster-child when it was grown up (Mundal, “Children, Parents, and Society,” 179–85).


Chapter 1 Pre-Christian and Secular Education

is assumed that when the fosterage agreement is made, the foster-parents will be given a sufficient payment to maintain the child up until the age of sixteen, and terms are described for when the money should be returned, either because the child leaves the foster-family for some reason, because defects appear in the child, or because the child is poorly treated.215 If these payments were equivalent to the expense of maintaining the child, then a child would not be sent into fosterage simply to save money on raising it. Rather, the other benefits of the fosterage relationship, including the educational ones, must have motivated the practice.216 At the same time, the existence of such payments for legal fosterage in Grágás, if they represent a pre-Christian practice, suggest that a model existed for paying for education in the later Middle Ages, as in the late medieval educational contracts, discussed in the next chapter. In Bárðar saga, however, there is also clearly an exchange that does not directly involve fosterage. When Bárðr stays with Skeggi and teaches his son Eiðr law, it is strongly implied that this is done in exchange for Eiðr letting Bárðr into the household in the first place. Bárðr is given maintenance for a winter, and is allowed to seduce Skeggi’s daughter Þordís. Such a teacher, travelling and offering knowledge in exchange for what he needs or desires, would offer an equally compelling economic model of education to that of fosterage and its costs. Bárðr is a mythic and larger-than-life figure, but if such teachers actually did exist in Iceland, before or after the conversion to Christianity, they could have provided for education apart from that involved in more concrete, long-term, and expensive fosterage relationships, and even an alternative to ecclesiastical schools.

Conclusion There are no surviving sources that give us a clear, unproblematic picture of either pre-Christian education in Iceland, or of secular, non-religious education after the conversion. However, the Íslendingasögur and other literary sources, along with some comparison to wider medieval practices, give us insight into how Icelanders of the thirteenth century and later conceptualized such educational practices. The Íslendingasögur have a fundamentally problematic duality, as evidence from them cannot be entirely tied to either the later Middle Ages 215 Grágás, Vol. 2, 22. 216 Giving a child into fosterage with a greater payment than was needed could also be simply a form of payment or charity, the payment strengthening bonds of loyalty or supporting families with small means.



nor to the pre-Christian period: they are a construction of later medieval Icelanders imagining their past. But they were composed in a society and culture that still had at least some links to the pre-Christian period, and still cultivated some amount of oral, distinctively secular education, even as it was taught in close proximity to or even mixed with Christian learning. Above all, the sources examined in this chapter paint a picture of a variety of subjects, some of them overlapping, being taught in the households of parents and foster-parents, with at least some possibility that a few students and teachers travelled and participated in shorter-term educational activities, perhaps most often in the winter. There were no schools in pre-Christian Iceland, and yet Icelanders had tools for the dissemination of knowledge. The changes brought by Christianization did not destroy the basic social and economic functions of fosterage, even if there must have been changes in exactly how it was practiced. As missionaries came and taught in the eleventh century, perhaps even earlier, and as institutional schools began to develop, these earlier education models of teaching and learning in the household and through fosterage remained. To an extent, the uncertainties addressed in this chapter could be resolved with commonsense guesses, and the Íslendingasögur only confirm our assumptions and provide some context. Law, magic, runes, genealogy and history, textile crafts, and poetry all must have been taught and learned in an oral, pre-Christian context for what we know about medieval Icelandic culture to have developed. More uncertain is to what extent these sagas reflect educational practices of the thirteenth, fourteenth, or even fifteenth centuries. In using them as sources for secular education in the later Middle Ages, then, we must take into account the potential impacts of textual culture and literacy. Certainly some oral education must have endured, perhaps a very significant amount – there is little doubt that poetry continued to be transmitted orally, even after a much of it was written down – but such oral learning could not go uninfluenced by the literate education and culture around it. The rest of this book will explore primarily clerical education, but this mixing of oral and literate learning will be discussed more in chapter 4 in relation to grammatica.

Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People The coming of Christian education to Iceland was a slow process, but with widespread impact. Even before the official conversion at the Alþing in 1000, there were undoubtedly Christians in Iceland, passing their faith on to their children. There must have been some form of Christian education already, in homes and fosterage relationships, as with other types of education in the period. Shortly before the conversion, and for the next half century after it, missionaries and missionary bishops brought religious teachings to Iceland, spreading their doctrine and ideas through the population. A small number of monks were active at this time as well, contributing to the work of early conversion. Finally, when the first Icelandic bishopric was established at Skálholt, in the south, it brought the beginnings of institutional Christian education, schooling based around the power, authority, and learning of a bishop. This was followed by a second bishopric in Hólar, as well as Benedictine and Augustinian monasteries in the twelfth century, contributing their own forms of teaching and learning. Priests, however, continued to teach students outside these institutions, particularly at major aristocractic farms, and some Icelanders even sought more in-depth education abroad. As discussed in chapter 1, educational contexts within Iceland were highly variable, and I will restrict my use of the term “school” to those places where the sources use skóli; that is, monasteries and cathedrals. These are also the places that give us the best evidence for characteristics closest to the modern conception of a school: trained, sometimes even professional teachers, continuous education of multiple students, and a more institutional rather than purely social or personal conception of the location as a center of learning. There has been a strong tradition in scholarship, however, of using the term more broadly, in describing teaching done at major aristocratic farms, particularly Oddi and Haukadalr in the twelfth century. But it is unclear to what extent these farms were participating in something closer to traditional fosterage, and how distinct they were in educational terms from the many other farms that had extensive book collections and the potential resources for teaching multiple students. Moreover, in describing Icelandic monastic and cathedral schools, it is important to keep in mind that these institutions had their own historical development, distinct from that of other regions. The pedagogical ideas and models brought to Iceland had to adapt to the distinct conditions there, including the scattered population and lack of any sort of urban environment. Furthermore,


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

there is no singular, monolithic model of European education which Icelanders would have immediately and wholly taken up.217 Influences from all over Europe could have caused variation in how schooling was adapted for Iceland. The archbishoprics of Hamburg-Bremen, Lund, and Niðaróss all held sway over Iceland for a time and may have influenced its models of education in different ways. English influence came from the English missionary bishops, who often came via Norway, as well as through continued contact with England, while Icelanders travelled across Europe for education.218 Schools and education in Iceland changed over time. Cathedral schools began to develop in the eleventh century, and monastery schools in the twelfth. The staðamál allowed the wealth and power of the Icelandic church to grow, and the new wealth was in part fueled by the payments of students. In turn, this wealth must have supported the capacity of monasteries to function as schools. While the potential relationships between education and the changes in Icelandic society and culture must be acknowledged, there is a danger of overstatement. Several scholars have promoted the idea of a rising and falling quality of education in Iceland, focusing on gaps in sources or their own conception of the best periods of Iceland history, sometimes deemphasizing the institutional qualities of monastic and cathedral schools.219 This sort of analysis 217 The variability of medieval education, including the many disagreements among prescriptive authors, has been recently emphasized by Sarah B. Lynch (Lynch, Medieval Pedagogical Writings, 130). 218 Work has been done establishing connections between French intellectual movements and both Iceland and Norway (Mortensen, “The Anchin Manuscript”). Sverre Bagge has argued for an intellectual revival in the schools of Northern France in the later twelfth century, and a connection between them and Denmark and Norway, which could in turn have impacted Iceland (Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 3). Stephanie Würth has argued that the general European model of a growing aristocracy leading to increasing education, and particularly lay education, is applicable to the development of education in Iceland from the eleventh to the thirteenth century (Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 195). 219 Some scholars tend to portray a narrative of Icelandic education rising where we have known scholars and teachers, and falling where there are no such descriptions, see for example Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 25–28; Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 194. It is worth noting that Benjamín does qualify this tendency in places, allowing that bishops must have maintained schools even when there is no extant saga referring to them (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 154), but he still structures his work around a narrative of rising and falling quality. Jónas Gíslason has presented an account almost entirely based on a similar narrative, notably speculating that there was a rise in Icelandic education right before the Reformation, without offering any clear evidence for this idea (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 127). Gunnar F. Guðmundsson has also argued, though somewhat more moderately than earlier scholars, against Icelandic cathedral schools being continuously active, and suggests that they were not sufficiently independent institutions to maintain schools comparable to elsewhere in Europe. He similarly argues against

Sources for Medieval Icelandic Schools


will be avoided here. Above all it is important to reject the idea that the existence of narrative sources and highly praised elite students and teachers represent high points of education, and gaps in the evidence represent low points. If certain educators and students are discussed and praised, and others are unknown or only briefly mentioned, it does not indicate that those more extensively discussed were in fact more learned or capable individuals. It only shows that there was an interest in presenting them as such. Taking a broad view of education, including all levels of society and all subjects of learning, means being very careful about judging the overall quality of education in Iceland. Overall, Icelandic education can be shown to have been diverse and adaptable, functioning in different contexts for different people and purposes. It reflected both wider European developments as well as the immediate conditions of Iceland, and was never a singular, monolithic tradition. Proceeding from the limited but important evidence for secular and pre-Christian education presented in chapter 1, this chapter will shows the broad range of ways clerical and Christian education could have taken place, affected by many aspects of Icelandic society and culture, including the development of ecclesiastical institutions, the cost of schooling, and the relationships between schoolmasters, teachers, and students. A key aspect of this diversity is financial: while poorer Icelanders and the lower classes of the Icelandic priesthood are not very well represented in the sources, their existence and significance must be acknowledged to gain a complete picture of the many roles education could play in medieval Icelandic life. In light of this diversity, what qualifies as an important context of education must also be questioned, together with what makes a particular person or place important to the broader dynamics of teaching and learning.

Sources for Medieval Icelandic Schools The main sources for this chapter will be the biskupasögur, a number of documents describing educational contracts and disputes, and a few passages from law codes and annals. It is worth providing a summary of some of these sources to contextualize the detailed discussion of the rest of the chapter.

monastic schooling being a particularly strong influence on the educational life of Iceland (Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt Samfélag, 171–73, 221–23). Sverrir Tómasson has argued, in contrast, that there is no reason to believe that teaching was lacking or lesser where it is not mentioned in the sources (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 24–25, note 91).


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

The Biskupasögur and Narrative Sources Nearly all the surviving narrative sources which touch upon medieval Icelandic ecclesiastical history are also relevant for educational history. The earliest historical text from Iceland is Íslendingabók, written by Ari Þorgilsson in the early twelfth century, around 1122–1133. This short text deals with the conversion of Iceland, and the history of Lawspeakers and bishops until Ari’s own time. Most importantly, it is the oldest and most authoritative source for the foundation of the bishopric of Skálholt and early education there, as well as a major source for the missionary bishops. Landnámabók, the Book of Settlements, was probably also written in its earliest form in the early twelfth century, and also contains information about missionary bishops. A later work, Kristni saga, also deals with the conversion and contains some additional details of missionaries and their activity. Most narrative sources for medieval Icelandic ecclesiastical history, however, are sagas focused on bishops, biskupasögur. While most of these are centered on individual bishops, Hungrvaka is a survey of the early bishops of Skálholt, and refers to the education of many of them. One of the earliest biskupasögur, from around the beginning of the thirteenth century, is Jóns saga helga, a hagiographic work that details the life of the first bishop of Hólar, Jón Ǫgmundsson (1052–1121). Jóns saga contains the most detailed description of a school in the extant sources, a highly idealized account of multiple teachers educating very prestigious students at Hólar right after its foundation. The capacity of Jóns saga, written so much later than the events it describes, to reflect the distinctive realities of an early twelfth-century school has been the subject of some debate, and recent scholars have tended to accept that it is presenting an idealized image.220 Caution must thus be taken in using it, or any of these sagas, as sources, particularly regarding their rhetorical hyperbole and praise of characters and institutions. Þorláks saga helga was written around the same time as Jóns saga, and is also a life of a native Icelandic saint, Þorlákr Þórhallsson (1133–1193), bishop of Skálholt, and the first reformist bishop of Iceland. As noted in chapter 1, the saga contains details of Þorlákr’s own education, as well as some other important details of educational practice during his tenure as bishop during the late twelfth

220 Sverrir Tómasson has argued that the historical value of Jóns saga is primarily in its reflection of its author’s educational realities, but that those practices have older roots (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 25). Orri Vésteinsson has argued in more detail that the saga is primarily a reflection of late twelfth-century ideals, and particularly the monastic ideals of Gunnlaugr Leifsson (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 59–63). See also Hjalti Hugason, Frumkristni, 230.

Sources for Medieval Icelandic Schools


century. Páls saga Jónsson deals with the life of Páll Jónsson (1155–1211), son of the famous and powerful chieftain Jón Loptsson, and bishop of Skálholt. It is primarily useful in its mention of Páll’s education at Oddi and then in England, and its praise of his abilities, particularly his musical skills. The life of Guðmundr Arason, bishop of Hólar 1203–1237 and an even more controversial reformer than Þorlákr Þórhallsson, is dealt with in various versions of his life known collectively as Guðmundar sögur. While several of the biskupasögur survive in various divergent versions, the various iterations of Guðmundar sögur are notable in that they survive both as independent sagas dating from the early fourteenth century, and in a partial version known as Prestssaga Guðmundar inserted into the collection of sagas known as Sturlunga saga.221 This collection is primarily concerned with the secular conflicts that characterized Icelandic society during this period, and as part of that includes a distinctive account of Guðmundr’s life. Insofar as its account of events a century earlier can be considered accurate, Guðmundar sögur is important in the details it provides about education at Hólar and elsewhere during a time of conflict, as well as Guðmundr’s own clerical apprenticeship.222 The final two biskupasögur in the corpus address events after Iceland came under Norwegian rule in the mid-thirteenth century. Árna saga is a major source for the staðamál conflict, and deals with the life of Árni Þorláksson (1237–1298), a key player in the conflict. It is the only one of the biskupasögur whose protagonist was educated at an Icelandic monastery, and thus is a vital source about such education. Even more important, however, is Lárentíus saga, which contains more discussion of education than any other text. Lárentíus Kálfsson (1267–1331) became bishop of Hólar, but was a professional teacher for much of his life, and his saga is the only extant narrative source dealing with education in the fourteenth century. Bishop Lárentíus’s own education and teaching career in the early fourteenth century, both before and after he becomes bishop, are described in the saga, and it also contains more comment on Latin and Latinity than any other. Lárentíus saga was written soon after the events it describes, sometime in the mid-fourteenth century, but it is only extant in two sixteenth-century manuscripts.223 Together, these sagas provide some description of and context for education, particularly the education of the clerical elite, from the eleventh through

221 For the complex relationship between all the different versions of the saga, as well as the different parts of the Sturlunga saga collection that contain information about Guðmundr, see Stefán Karlsson, “Guðmundar sögur biskups.” 222 For this study I will be referencing and making use primarily of the A-version of Guðmundar sögur, and I will specify when other versions are being discussed. 223 Biskupa sögur III, lviii.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

the early fourteenth centuries. Fortunately, after this point documentary sources begin to appear, offering a very different, but no less useful, perspective and insight into teaching and learning in medieval Iceland.

Documentary Sources Administrative writing increased massively in the fourteenth century; documentary evidence for education begins to appear from the middle of the century, and continues through the Reformation. References to education appear in a few types of documents, but the most common sort are contracts involving the education of a son for the priesthood as part of a transaction involving land. Of the twenty-six documented cases that have been found during this study,224 five are from the latter half of the fourteenth century, ten are from the fifteenth, and eleven are from the first third of the sixteenth. Six of them do not mention specific locations for schools, six give Hólar, two Skálholt, four the monastery of Helgafell, two the monastery of Skriða, two the convent of Reynistaðr, one the monastery of Viðey, one the monastery of Munkaþverá, one mentions multiple possible locations, naming Skálholt and Helgafell specifically. A single Latin document deals with education abroad, in Hamburg. These documents reflect a new level of formality or bureaucracy distinct from the earlier narrative evidence. A majority of these cases involve either direct exchanges of land and property for the education of a son or kinsman, or an exchange of land from both sides with an education included as part of the

224 Listed chronologically: DI VI, 10–11; DI VI, 13–14; DI III, 354–55; DI III, 382–84; DI III, 484–85; DI III, 751–52; DI IV, 298–300; DI IV, 614–15; DI IV, 642–44; DI V, 390–91; DI V, 458–59; DI V, 772–73; DI VI, 612–14; DI VII, 108–9; DI VII, 235–36; DI VII, 618–20; DI VII, 714–15; DI VIII, 176–77; DI VIII, 205; DI VIII, 516; DI VIII, 688–89; DI VIII, 726–32; DI IX, 244–45, DI IX, 274–75; DI IX, 340–41; DI IX, 611. There are several more documents that deal with the same 1507/8 case as DI VIII, 205 (DI VIII, 227, 276, 368–69, 417, 513, 715), and one other deals with the same case as DI VIII, 688–89 (DI IX, 90–92) so these have not been included in the overall count. Additionally, two educational contracts dated to 1377 (DI III, 314 and DI III, 312–13) are in fact not original agreements, but clearly copies of the two earliest educational documents, from 1358 and 1362 (DI VI, 10–11 and DI VI, 13–14). Magnús Már Lárusson, “Námskostnaður” surveyed most, but not all, of these documents. Likewise, in the testamentisbréf in DI VIII, 726–32, I only count one education reference, regarding property at Sveinhúsavík used as payment for education, while Magnús includes several other passages from this document that are not explicitly stated to be payments for schooling. The one clear reference to education on the list, moreover, actually refers to the payment from the same student, Jón Magnússon, whose contract survives from 1502 (DI VII, 618–20).

Sources for Medieval Icelandic Schools


deal. Many also mention paying for the maintenance of the student, and ordination of some kind. There are eleven explicit references to ordination as a priest as being a part of the agreement, two references to ordination as Mass-deacon, one reference to ordination as sub-deacon, and two references to a non-specific ordination. One other document mentions ordaining one son as a priest, and helping the other become a man;225 another has the boy promised a benefice, and it is thus explicit that he is intended to become a priest; another has two women receiving education as part of becoming nuns. Of the remaining cases, most are quite ambiguous, and only one seems to explicitly indicate a layman being educated with no intention of ordination: in 1392 a certain Bjǫrn Brynjólfsson divides his very extensive property among three children, and is said to devote enough to his son Óláfr to ensure that Óláfr will have food and clothing and education, and always be capable of selfmaintenance. Such a comment on the boy’s future sustenance seems likely to have mentioned an ecclesiastical career if that had been the intention. As Magnús Már Lárusson has noted, all of these documents seem to have something to do with land ownership, and as with much of the Diplomatarium Islandicum that is likely the main reason they survive.226 They thus cannot be taken as entirely representative, in the sense that there must have been a significant amount of education and schooling taking place at the same time that did not involve land, or made use of less formal, oral agreements, or even happened entirely informally. The law code Jónsbók, which the Icelanders adopted around 1281, mandates documenting transactions involving land exchanges worth a certain value, and this likely influenced what type of documentary evidence for education exists.227 At the same time, similar agreements must have been made orally before the rise of administrative writing, so the forms of education the documents describe need not be confined to the period from which they survive. The period of the Reformation also includes several significant documents for medieval educational history. Because Reformation ideologies and reforms had such an impact on education and ideals of learning and literacy, these sources also influence how we characterize the end of medieval education. The ordinances of the Danish king Christian III, from 1537, deal extensively with expanding education in Iceland and making schooling widely available to poor Icelanders.228 A number of letters survive from Christian III and Gizurr Einarsson,

225 226 227 228

hialpa odrum til manz (DI VII, 109). Magnús Már Lárusson, “Námskostnaður,” 128. Jónsbók, 312–13. DI X, 117–328.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

the first Lutheran bishop of Skálholt, regarding the closing of the monasteries and the unsuccessful attempts to establish new schools at them.229

Law Codes There are a few legal and prescriptive texts that pertain to education. The most important and widely discussed for the medieval period are the legal provisions in Grágás. Some form of vernacular Icelandic laws was written in the early twelfth century, but the versions that survive in the Grágás manuscripts come from the thirteenth century. It remains a point of debate exactly when any given passages therein would have been actively in use as law. Keeping that in mind, a passage in the Christian law section of Grágás states that a young man could become ordained, or his legal guardians could send a young boy to be ordained, by making an agreement with a church owner to arrange for his schooling – along with the necessary vestments and liturgical books – and then be bound to that church until he could educate another to take his place. This method of funding their education essentially made such priests indentured servants, and the laws explicitly say that, if they ran away, they could be treated like runaway slaves.230 Several texts from after the Reformation are also relevant here. A brief document, a sort of manor law, from the 1550s known as Pétursorða prescribes that everyone in Iceland should also have a certain amount of reading skills,231 and this idealizing of universal education and literacy suggests an ideological relationship to Christian III’s decrees. Most significant here, a section of the legal text Búalǫg, probably written around the same time as the Pétursorða, stipulates what payment should be made for the teaching of the boardgame kvátra, for teaching chess, and for teaching the alphabet.232 While this is a Reformation text and thus likely influenced by the new emphasis on reading, it is a wholly distinct source in its emphasis on basic, elementary types of education taking

229 DI X, 502–5, DI XI, 175–78, DI XI, 450. For the failure to establish new post-Reformation schools at Icelandic monasteries, see Janus Jónsson, “Um Klaustrin,” 226, 235, 240; Janus Jónsson, “Saga Latínuskóla,” 34–35; Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 290. 230 Grágás, Vol. 1, 17–18. The church owner is the active party, and can contract with a young man at the age of sixteen, or with legal guardians at a younger age. 231 DI XII, 191. For a description of the passage on reading see Árni Daníel Júlíusson, “Signs of Power,” 21. 232 “xij alner koma aa at kenna kuotro. ix alner skaak. aa stafró” (Búalög, 21). See also Árni Daníel Júlíusson, “Signs of Power,” 21, note 12.

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


place in the home, and on the payment of a teacher for their services. It fits well with earlier sources, particularly the tendency of the laws to dictate payments to priests for individual activities, and thus may reflect medieval practice. Any discussion of Icelandic education for any part of the Middle Ages must take into account all the available evidence: not only the biskupasögur and other narrative sources, but also the documentary sources and law codes. The major difficulty in constructing a historical narrative from this evidence is that the types of sources vary between periods: biskupasögur dominate until the fourteenth century, when documentary evidence starts to appear and narratives involving education stop being written. The advantages and disadvantages of these sources are different, and despite the chronological gap between earlier narrative evidence and later documentary evidence, they must be used together to shape the most complete picture possible.

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals Education after the conversion was not immediately consigned to cathedral schools and monastic schools. Missionaries and missionary bishops taught as they preached and converted, no doubt struggling to train enough apprentice priests to spread religion throughout the island. At the same time, the earlier forms of education discussed in chapter 1 did not stop, and Christian teaching was incorporated in existing structures of teaching and learning in fosterage relationships and households. Education in the basics of the Christian faith is the fundamental goal of a missionary, and early eleventh-century Iceland was doubtless no exception. However, we have no surviving evidence until much later of priests like Guðmundur Arason being trained in one-on-one apprentice relationships, probably not much different from how many secular Icelanders learned subjects like law, poetry, and history. Priests training as apprentices was also not unusual on a wider European scale, and personal educational relationships could be just as or more important than institutional ones.233 At the same time, there are definite locations that the sources associate with teaching and learning, and these have often been interpreted as some form of

233 Garipzanov has noted that “prior to the establishment of parish systems across the early Christian north, Christian rites and practices were disseminated via personal, rather than institutional, channels,” and that often in the Middle Ages priestly education was an apprenticemaster relationship (Garipzanov, “Wandering Clerics,” 11). Fifteenth-century manuals also point to the idea that priest-apprentice relationships were common for students elsewhere in Europe (Bellitto, “Revisiting Ancient Practices,” 41–42).


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

private school. The most famous of these are the wealthy farms of Oddi and Haukadalr, which are primarily referenced for the eleventh and twelfth centuries. However, the church at Vellir in Svarfaðardalr also appears in several sources as a site of education in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A few other locations are mentioned once, like Stafaholt in Sturlunga saga. As noted in chapter 1, however, there is good reason to question identifying these as “schools” in any strict sense of the word, and they do not appear to ever be identified with the term skóli in the extant sources. The importance of Oddi and Haukadalr is fundamentally social and political, but their distinctiveness as centers of education is more unclear. Later medieval documentary evidence can point to the sheer number of church-farms that may have had comparable resources – in terms of books and clergy available for teaching – to these farms, and can help us avoid being constrained entirely by the viewpoints of narrative sources in considering potential medieval Icelandic educational centers. It is clear that teaching and learning outside the monasteries and episcopal sees was fundamentally important. Secular Icelanders continued to be educated in the same manner as before the conversion, but at churches throughout the island, priests were also trained. This type of education was doubtless most important early on, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, to remedy the dearth of priests. Yet it continued not only through the later Middle Ages but even into the nineteenth century.234 As with pre-Christian fosterage, these types of Christian education were oriented around social, rather than institutional, relationships, and show a certain continuity in how medieval Icelanders viewed and interacted with teaching and learning.

Missionary Education and Apprentice Relationships The first priests in Iceland that are mentioned in the extant sources were missionary bishops, who in order to convert must have been involved in both teaching and learning: teaching relevant Christian subjects and training Icelandic priests, as well as themselves learning enough of Icelandic society and language to effectively communicate their teachings. The sources mention a number of these missionaries, though there were very likely more of them.235 Before the conversion a

234 See Hjalti Hugason, Frumkristni, 231. Icelanders in the nineteenth century could still obtain private tutoring in order to become priests, but more research is necessary to explore the relationship between this later practice and medieval learning. 235 Orri Vésteinsson, while marginalizing their importance compared to aristocratic Icelanders, does acknowledge that there were likely more missionaries than are mentioned in the sources,

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


priest called Þangbrandr is said to have been sent by Óláfr Tryggvason, and Bishop Friðrekr travelled to Iceland from Saxony to baptize the family of his friend Þorvaldr. When the Icelanders Gizurr hvíti and Hjalti Skeggjason were sent around the year 1000 by Óláfr Tryggvason to convert Iceland, they were accompanied by Óláfr’s court priest, Þormóðr, from England, and six other priests.236 In addition, several bishops, presumably missionaries, are mentioned.237 While these sources say nothing about the teaching practices of the missionaries and other Christians, they were active for some fifty years before an Icelandic bishop was ordained. At least the first two generations of Icelandic priests must have depended on these bishops and other clerics for their education and ordination, and so they must have helped determine how Christian subjects were first adapted to Icelandic contexts.238 These missionaries not only trained the first Icelandic priests, but must have overseen the first mixing of vernacular and Latin pedagogy, as well as teaching the complexities of performing and interpreting the liturgy, and thus laying the foundation for later developments in bilingual intellectual culture. The influence of the foreign missionary bishops has been largely ignored in the extant sources,

and that they must have educated some Icelandic priests (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 75–80). 236 Benjamín Kristjánsson argues that these priests are being referred to in a passage in Eyrbyggja saga, where the saga mentions that the promise of new clergy encouraged church building (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 4). 237 These missionary bishops are: Bjarnharðr bókvísi Vilráðsson, a priest of St. Óláfr from England, who stayed in Iceland c. 1018–1023; Kolr, possibly sent by St. Óláfr and living and teaching at Haukadalr, in Iceland c. 1026–1030; the Anglo-Norman Bishop Hróðólfr, again someone who had come from England with St. Óláfr, was in Iceland c. 1030–1049 and kept a small monastery and school at Bær; Jóhann írski, c. 1050, and Heinrekr, c. 1060, from the Orkneys; Bjarnharðr, c. 1048–1068, sent to Norway by Adalbert, archbishop of Bremen. In addition, Íslendingabók mentions three ermskir, or Armenians, who claimed to have been bishops: Petrus, Abrahám, and Stephánus. For the account of these in Íslendingabók, see Íslendinabók/ Landnámabók, 14–18; for Kristni saga, see Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 3–13. Benjamín Kristjánsson also goes into some detail about the careers of these missionaries in considering Icelandic educational history (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 5–13). More detail is given about these figures, and travels to and from Iceland in the eleventh century and earlier, in Melsteð, “Ferðir,” and Íslendingabók/Kristni saga, 26, note 77. 238 Hreinn Benediktsson seems to ignore the possibility of early education and takes the native-bishop bias of the biskupasögur at face value: “the introduction of Latin writing – the basis of, and prerequisite for, the development of written literature – hardly made noticeable progress until it was in the hand of native clerics.” (The First Grammatical Treatise, 175–76).


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

the interest of the authors being in the activities and achievements of native Icelanders.239 So it might be assumed that they made a greater impact than these texts seem to suggest. The narrative of the missionary Friðrekr in Kristni saga offers a useful anecdote about how these individuals could have been involved with teaching.240 The narrative states that Þorvaldr Koðránsson, the Icelander who had brought Friðrekr to the island, did the preaching for the bishop, since Friðrekr did not know Norse well, as the two travelled together through Iceland.241 Though the two may have been communicating in part through whatever vernacular Friðrekr, who was from Saxony, spoke, Þorvaldr likely would have learned at least some Latin to be able to handle these preaching duties. Religious ideas and words would have come into the vernacular,242 and Þorvaldr would have had to develop his own hermeneutic of vernacular translation, using the skills he had developed while learning Latin. While this is a single narrative from a late source, situations such as this one would have been influential on the gradual development of pedagogical and religious language in Old Norse, and were undoubtedly more common during the eleventh century than our sources suggest. Although Þorvaldr’s education is unusual, in that he is learning how to translate and preach with no apparent intention of becoming a priest, a one-onone relationship was a prevalent educational pattern for the training of priests in Iceland. The most compelling source for this, in terms of indicating how many priests were likely educated in such a manner, is Grágás. In the section of Grágás already discussed, dealing with education, it allows that a priest could free himself from indenture by teaching a replacement who is found suitable by the

239 There is also evidence that they were deliberately ignored in the later sources. Garipazov has noted that there appears to be a changing attitude towards the eastern bishops in the primary sources, from the earlier to the later texts: Íslendingabók mentions the three Armenian priests, Hungrvaka mentions evil priests influencing the populace, and Kristni saga, the latest text, mentions no one (Garipzanov, “Wandering Clerics,” 17). Grágás allows that priests not versed in the Latin language, whether ermskir or girskir, could perform liturgical services, but prohibits them from being paid, conducting ordinations, consecrating churches, or baptizing (Grágás, Vol. 1, 22). 240 There are also versions of this narrative in Vatnsdæla saga and Þorvalds þáttr ens víðfǫrla. The latter goes into more detail about the acts of Friðrekr and Þorvaldr (Duke, “From Bede to Ari,” 350) and may be an independent witness. 241 “Svá er sagt er byskup ok Þorvaldr fóru um Norðlendingafjórðung, ok talaði Þorvaldr trú fyrir mǫnnum því at byskup undirstóð þá eigi norrœnu” (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 6). 242 For the influence of Latin, in addition to Anglo-Saxon, vocabulary and Christian ideas on Icelandic and Scandinavian terminology, see Astås, “Language Contact,” 1046–49.

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


bishop.243 The phrasing is explicit: the indentured priest would do the teaching himself. Indeed, such a priest would not have the resources to pay for a different teacher, and his own learning would likely be the most valuable resource he had. Though this Grágás passage is vastly different from that in Kristni saga discussed above, and addresses the formal education of a priest rather than an informal sort of religious learning, comparing the two indicates the broad range of educational possibilities for clerical and religious education outside any kind of school or educational center. In Guðmundar sögur, we have clear evidence of these master-apprentice relationships intersecting with familial and fosterage education. Guðmundr Arason is said to have had his education taken care of by a sort of apprenticeship, or fosterage, with his uncle Ingimundr. In the saga, Guðmundr finds out about the death of his father at the age of seven – a standard age in the Middle Ages for the beginning of formal education, as noted in chapter 1244– and being unable to inherit, the family decides to setja hann til bækr (set him to books). Guðmundr’s uncle Ingimundr agrees to take the young boy from his grandfather, to kenna and fóstra him. The young Guðmundr is not a particularly disciplined child, and Ingimundr has to beat him to make him study, emphasizing that even in fostering the moral and behavior side of clerical education could still be an important component.245 The two change residences several times during Guðmundr’s education, emphasizing that Ingimundr’s teaching is tied entirely to his person, not to any location or institution.246 The saga thus presents an important model for how itinerant teachers might have functioned in medieval Iceland. Considering this mobility, the means of Guðmundr’s education most likely travelled with them. It is noted that Ingimundr had a private collection of books, which he passed down to Guðmundr upon the latter’s ordination.247 The saga also notes, when it is praising Guðmundr’s newly pious behavior after the death of a close friend, soon after his ordination, that Guðmundr himself studied and 243 Grágás, Vol. 1, 18. 244 The idea that some Icelanders, at least by the late Middle Ages, internalized some of these broader ideas about developmental ages is supported by the comment in the late D-version of Guðmundar sögur, where it is said that Guðmundr is set to his books at his age of understanding, skilingaraldr (Biskupa sögur, Vol. 2, 7). 245 Guðmundr sögur, 34. The saga engages in a bit of dark word-play here, juxtaposing setja til bækr with barðr til bækr, and notes that the beating itself is the first inheritance he receives from his dead father. 246 Guðmundar sögur, 34–40. Ingimundr lives in no less than nine places between 1168 and 1185 (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 205). 247 Guðmundar sögur, 59.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

took extracts from books of the men he visited.248 While the actual collections of historical priests must have contained primarily liturgical books, as these would be the most essential for clerical duties, such books could be used for teaching, and it is likely that pedagogical texts were at least sometimes privately owned. Guðmundr himself, who would come to live a fairly itinerant lifestyle, travelling with a large following, may have had to take similar measures as his uncle to teach students while regularly moving between churches and farms. While a resident priest at the church at Víðimýri, but spending much of the year on the road, Guðmundr made a deal with a certain Þorgils Gunnsteinsson in Reykjanes to take on his son, Lamkárr, til fóstrs og kenna (for fosterage and education). Later, the saga notes that many prestlingar, “priests-in-training,” came to join Guðmundr, and both passages emphasize that Lamkárr was with Guðmundr for a long time after, in many different places.249 It is quite likely, then, that Lamkárr and the other students completed at least part of their education while following Guðmundr on his journeys, without being based at any particular church or farm. A final anecdote from Guðmundar sögur hints at other non-institutional resources available for clerical education, in a dynamic comparable to the legal education discussed in chapter 1. At the age of twenty-one, three years before his ordination as a priest, Guðmundr and Ingimundr are in the Westfjords, attending the consecration of a church by Bishop Þorlákr Þórhallsson. Guðmundr finds it more entertaining to talk with the clerics of the bishop’s party than to pay attention to the ceremony, but Ingimundr chastises him and emphasizes the importance of learning what he can from watching the bishop work.250 Certainly this is a very specific literary situation, emphasizing the carelessness of the young Guðmundr and at the same time his connection to the great bishop-saint of Iceland. However, it still indicates that, like young chieftains gaining understanding of the law, young clerics could learn a significant amount through simply watching their elders at work. The potential for such learning by observation, alongside the existence of personal collections of books and the mobility of Ingimundr and Guðmundr, emphasize the capacity for teachers and students to work together independent of any particular location.

248 Guðmundar sögur, 61. 249 Guðmundar sögur, 108, 112. 250 Guðmundar sögur, 49–51.

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


Education at Major Churches Education could, and most certainly did, happen at churches and church-farms across Iceland.251 In some cases, references to this type of education suggest that it was most frequently not much different from the apprentice-master relationships discussed in the previous section. This is likely the situation described in Sturlunga saga when it notes that Óláfr Þórðarson, the author of the Third Grammatical Treatise, taught a student at Stafaholt in the mid-thirteenth century.252 Sometimes multiple students could have been involved, and there was likely a wide spectrum of educational possibilities, depending on the resources of the churches, students, and clergy involved. Guðmundar sögur states that while throwing himself into his work at Hof, sometime in the mid-1180s, Guðmundr taught students alongside his writing and reading activities, between divine services.253 At larger churches, and church-farms of particular social and political significance, it may have been not uncommon for multiple students to be gathered alongside larger numbers of clergy and more extensive book collections. The sources never describe these locations with the term skóli, and there is no clear evidence that they functioned as schools on the level of the cathedrals and monasteries, but they were still important centers of education. In the twelfth century, the church-farms of Oddi and Haukadalr were involved with fostering and educating some of the most powerful and important members of the Icelandic clergy. Vellir in Svarfaðardalr, in turn, is mentioned several times from the late twelfth through the fourteenth century, and appears to have had a distinct relationship with education at the Hólar cathedral. From the model of these examples, and evidence of clergy and books available from the fourteenth century and later, we can speculate about the number of other comparable centers of education that might have existed, but went unmentioned in the sources. Haukadalr, the home of the Haukadælir family in southern Iceland, is referred to repeatedly as a site of education in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The priest Ari fróði, the author of Íslendingabók, was fostered there. Teitr, the son of Bishop Ísleifr Gizurarson, was Ari’s foster-father and, according to Íslendingabók and Jóns

251 In terms of the physical location of teaching, we have no evidence indicating whether it more likely took place in the church itself or at another building on the farm. The church itself perhaps seems likely, simply because more hands-on types of training – such as learning various liturgical rituals – would need to take place there anyway. 252 “Annan morgin viku kom til þeira Þorgils Þorsteinn prestr tittlingr. Hann hafði verit til kennslu í Stafaholti með Óláfi Þórðarsyni . . . ” (Sturlunga saga, Vol. 2, 184). 253 Guðmundar sögur, 61.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

saga helga, was a teacher at Haukadalr who educated many clerics. Teitr is said in Jóns saga helga to have taught Þórlákr Runólfsson, the third bishop of Skálholt, as well as Bjǫrn Gilsson, the third bishop of Hólar.254 Teitr is also cited as a source in Íslendingabók and is said to have been the wisest man Ari knew,255 which, along with his role as foster-father, makes it fairly certain that Teitr educated Ari. Considering the familial connection between Haukadalr and the bishopric of Skálholt, they may have interacted in their role as providers of learning. These references, however, do not provide evidence for a school: they merely show Teitr Ísleifsson as an extremely important and influential teacher and foster-father. Certainly, other students must have been trained at Haukadalr after Teitr’s time, but not necessarily in a significantly different way from an apprenticeship at any other major church in Iceland. Oddi shows arguably better evidence for a more continuous period of educational activities. The priest and author Sæmundr fróði, of the Oddaverjar family, is thought to have begun teaching there near the end of the eleventh century, after his return from abroad, though there are no explicit references to him in this role. Bishop and saint Þorlákr Þórhallsson studied at Oddi under the priest Eyjólfr, the son of Sæmundr fróði, before going to Paris and Lincoln for further learning. Þorlákr is called a lærisveinn of Eyjólfr, but Eyjólfr is also called Þorlákr’s foster-father.256 According to Páls saga, Páll Jónsson, bishop of Skálholt 1192–1211, was brought up at Oddi, where he became well-learned from a young age, including in rit (writing), before going to school in England. Páll’s father, Jón Loptsson, was the grandson of Sæmundr fróði, and one of the most powerful and important Icelandic chieftains of his day.257 Pál’s mother was Rannveig, sister of Bishop Þorlákr. Jón was also the foster-father of Snorri Sturluson, and as nothing explicit is said in any source about it, scholars have assumed that Snorri’s learning was determined by Jón’s fosterage and the resources at Oddi.258 The connection with Snorri’s education, and thus his poetic and mythographic writings, has associated Oddi with secular learning among scholars. Several scholars have acknowledged the uncertain character of education at both Oddi and Haukadalr, supporting the idea that “schools” is a questionable

254 Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 20; Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 182. Hungrvaka also mentions that Bishop Þorlákr Runólfsson was lærðr (taught) at Haukadalr (Biskupa sögur II, 22). 255 Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 4. 256 Biskupa sögur II, 49–52. 257 Biskupa sögur II, 297–98. 258 Speculation about the nature of Snorri’s education at Oddi has been a key point of the discussion of medieval Icelandic education among scholars. For the most recent and thorough discussion, see Helgi Þorláksson, “Snorri í Odda.”

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


term to apply to either.259 As discussed in chapter 1, education during fosterage was very likely a widespread activity even before Christianization. When figures like Teitr Ísleifsson and Sæmundr fróði were teaching around the end of the eleventh century, any pre-existing models of education likely still had a strong influence on how teaching was done. Moreover, elsewhere in Europe, even into the later Middle Ages, elementary education often took place in one-on-one relationships, in households and parish churches. This was a particularly important model for rural areas without urban environments to support schools,260 such as Iceland. While we cannot know exactly what pre-Christian fosterage education was like in Iceland, it very likely combined with these wider practices of apprenticeship education at places like Oddi and Haukdalr. The use of fosterage terminology to describe clerical education is a complex issue, because it tends to describe education indirectly, if at all. It certainly cannot be automatically taken to indicate an entirely native, pre-Christian institution: different forms of fosterage were widespread across medieval Europe, as noted in chapter 1, and it was often a part of clerical careers, particularly in the earlier Middle Ages.261 Thus, when the priest and author Ari Þorgilsson is said in the sources to have been fostered at Haukadalr in the late eleventh century, where he presumably acquired his clerical skills, the structure of his upbringing, education, and entry into the priesthood may have had many models. Native fosterage, forms of fosterage from other regions, and elements of formal education in different types of schools – whether brought by Icelanders like Ísleifr or by missionaries – all could have had an impact on how Ari began his clerical career. It is also important to emphasize that fosterage is a social practice that can include education, but does not itself describe education, and a foster-father is not necessarily a teacher. This is shown most clearly in Grágás, where the educational law says that in taking on a priest-to-be, the church owner “skal fá honum fóstur og kennslu,” or shall provide him with fosterage and education, according to the law of fosterage, unless they come up with some separate agreement.262 Fosterage itself is equated with maintenance, which the church

259 Orri Vésteinsson has argued that Teitr’s students probably underwent “traditional fosterage rather than formal schooling” (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 145). Helgi Þorláksson has pointed out the lack of clear evidence for a school at Oddi, in the sense of a schoolroom with regular classes, in contrast to what may have been happening at the cathedral schools (Helgi Þorláksson, “Snorri í Odda,” 355). 260 Barrow, The Clergy, 178–80. 261 See Barrow, The Clergy, 158–69. 262 Grágás, Vol. 1, 17–18.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

owner could provide, while education is something separate that he would presumably acquire a separate teacher for. Such a distinction fits well with wider European practices. Medieval German churches that provided education, for example, could have foster-father canons supervise the upbringing of the child, but not actually do the teaching themselves.263 In later medieval Iceland a similar pattern of distinction continues, though different terminology is used in the sources that survive. From the mid-fourteenth century and later, the documentary sources do not mention any students being provided with fosterage. Instead, several of them use terms like kosti (board) and in at least one instance the term uppfæði (upbringing).264 Thus while Oddi and Haukadalr had the resources to bring up fosterchildren, and their associated families could benefit from their positions as hubs of the growing clerical network of Iceland, this does not mark them out as schools. Jón Loptsson, though Snorri’s foster-father, was not necessarily his teacher, and if Snorri did any formal clerical learning as part of his upbringing, it was likely someone other than Jón who took care of it. The importance of the two sites for Icelandic history and culture, notably their relationship to Ari fróði and Snorri Sturluson, and the power of the families that controlled them have encouraged scholars to characterize them as apart from other schools: secular, private, unofficial or semi-official. Vellir and Stafaholt have also been called private, but as they lacked figures like Ari or Snorri they have not been seen in the scholarship as linked to secular learning, nor has the same importance been attributed to them.265 Rather than private Christian schools, it thus might be more accurate

263 Barrow, The Clergy, 133. 264 DI VII, 235–36. In Jóns saga helga, a priest named Þorkell is called Jón’s fóstbróðir in one version, his fóstri in another, but his skólabróðir in yet another (Jóns saga, 25, 93, 128). It is tempting to consider whether skólabróðir might represent a late emendation, perhaps by a scribe who did not consider fosterage-related terms to have a strong enough association with education. 265 Björn M. Ólsen was among the early scholars to bring up the idea of private skoler (private schools), among which he called Oddi and Haukadalr the most important, speculating that they had a halvofficiel “semi-official” character. Vellir and Stafaholt he considered private (Den Tredje og Fjærde, XIX–XX). Halldór Hermannsson speculated that Oddi was a center of secular and vernacular learning, and that it kept native tradition alive, with little more evidence than the fact that Snorri Sturluson was fostered there. He also speculated that Sæmundr inn froði was an expert in native learning, based on his byname, who also first brought the idea of mythological genealogy to Iceland. This argument quickly devolves into circular reasoning, when he argues that there is no other place where Snorri could have learned about mythological matters (Halldór Hermannsson, Sæmund Sigfússon, 30, 33, 39, 44). Würth has more recently commented that “Auf private Initiative ist der Unterricht an den beiden Höfen Oddi und Haukadalr zurückzuführen” (Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 194) (Education at both

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


to consider Oddi and Haukadalr as farms with the resources to handle several foster-children at a time, and the ambition to encourage their promotion – through education and other means – to high ecclesiastical and political positions. From around the end of the twelfth century Vellir appears to have had a role in education, shortly before Oddi and Haukadalr stopped being mentioned as sites of education.266 In Guðmundar sögur, Guðmundr spends several years as a resident priest at Vellir, according to the saga when he was thirty years old, around 1191.267 While the saga does not mention education happening at Vellir, during a trip overland to Hólar, Guðmundr and his party are caught in a storm, and the saga mentions that he has two students, Vermundr and Gestr, who are called his fóstrar and lærisveinar, both of whom die in the storm.268 It must be assumed that the boys were being raised at Vellir, where Guðmundr was living and working, though as foster-sons, there is no doubt that they were more tied to Guðmundr as a teacher than to Vellir as a place. When Guðmundr returns to Hólar after sixteen years as bishop, he is said to set up a school at Hólar with a certain Þórðr as meistari (schoolmaster). However, they are quickly driven out by Guðmundr’s enemies, who threatened to burn the school and everyone inside. Þórðr and the students then move to Vellir, and the saga claims he taught many there that year.269 Vellir thus may already have been some sort of educational center, or at least had

farms, Oddi and Haukadalr, is the result of private initiative). Guðrun Nordal, finally, uses slightly different terminology to much the same effect: “There existed in Iceland in the twelfth century important centres of teaching outside the religious houses. The most important of these were in the south of Iceland, at Haukadalr, which had traditional ties with Skálaholt, and Oddi, the seat of the powerful Oddverjar family . . . Oddi was probably the most important place of learning in the twelfth century”. (Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 29–30). See also Sverrir Tómasson, “The History of Old Nordic Manuscripts,” 794; Gísli Sigurðsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga, 89; Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Høvdingene,” 189, 192; Males, The Poetic Genesis, 271. 266 Þórir Stephensen has argued that their importance as education centers was fading at this time (Þórir Stephensen, “Menntasetur,” 48). However, this could simply be a disappearance from the sources. 267 Guðmundar sögur, 70–71. 268 Guðmundar sögur, 77–78. Guðmundr also has a foster-daughter along for the trip, Jódís, but the text clearly separates her from the two male students, whose status as lærisveinar is almost certainly tied to their clerical careers; Gestr is identified as already a sub-deacon. However, while not training to become a priest, it is not unlikely that the foster-daughter of a priest like Guðmundr, being fostered and travelling alongside two students, was learning some clerical skills, and such situations may even have been an important context for women to gain literacy. 269 Guðmundar sögur, 179.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

resources for Þórðr and his students to make use of, presumably the same resources Guðmundr had earlier used to teach his students, Gestr and Vermundr. Several scholars have described the beginning of the thirteenth century as a period of educational decline, both because of the political conflicts at this time and because of the changing nature of the source material.270 A lack of source material, of course, is not evidence of a decline. But of even more significance here is the successful continuation of educational practices in Vellir, when Hólar became embroiled in conflict, as it suggests that Icelandic education was highly flexible, and not dependent on institutional foundations. Lárentíus saga, moreover, shows that Vellir supported education for at least some time after Guðmundr’s had left. Lárentíus Kálfsson, bishop of Hólar 1324–1331, received the earliest part of his education at Vellir in the late thirteenth century, staying there part of the year with his kinsman, the priest Þórarinn, and part of the year at home with his parents. An episode from Lárentíus’s own time at Vellir is described, where he is said to have been taught by a kinsman, but also among other boys.271 As will be discussed later, Lárentíus himself tied the benefice of Vellir directly to the office of schoolmaster at Hólar. While this suggests a continuing association between Vellir and education at the bishopric, it does not necessarily indicate a continuing school at Vellir. Likewise, despite the other boys at Vellir, there is clearly an element of a fosterage relationship here: Þórarinn was not only a relative, but was also involved with Lárentíus’s birth, singing over his mother during the difficult birth and giving Lárentíus his name, and there thus was a particularly strong social connection between them.272 This relationship supports the idea that Vellir, like Oddi and Haukadalr, is best not thought of as a school, but as a church-farm that had useful resources for education for particular people and groups. The question of what made Vellir a useful location for education invites speculation about what other churches might have existed with the resources to train boys for the priesthood, that go unmentioned in the sources. This line of inquiry has been pursued by Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, who uses the máldagar (church-

270 Benjamín Kristjánsson identified Bishop Páll Jónsson in Páls saga as the last major figure before the evidence for education starts to decline for Skálholt, and along with it education itself (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 24–25). Jónas Gíslason argued that the founding of the monasteries led to the end of the schools of Oddi and Haukadalr, replacing their function, and that this somehow represents a downturn in Icelandic education around 1200 (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 122). Sverrir Tómasson has suggested that education fell off during the episcopate of Guðmundr Arason, though he does not offer any supporting argument (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 24–25, note 91). 271 Biskupa sögur III, 225–27. 272 Biskupa sögur III, 220–21.

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charters) of the fourteenth century and later to argue that churches prescribed to have three or more members of the clergy could function as intellectual centers, and argues for twenty-four such churches across all of Iceland.273 This minimum count fit well with using Vellir as a model, as it had three clerics – two priests and a deacon – in 1318, and clearly had some role as an educational center. Having multiple clerics available would have been useful for teaching, as a single isolated priest – a very common situation in Icelandic churches – would likely have been too busy most of the time with pastoral and liturgical duties to do any significant amount of teaching. Members of the clergy are not the only type of educational resource, and we can look in a general sense at the size of the booklists present in máldagar as another. As chapter 3 will discuss, there is no explicit evidence for distinctly pedagogical books outside of the monasteries and cathedrals. However, the simple presence of patristic homilies and sermons, for example, alongside the usual liturgical service books represents a distinct type of resource that could have helped in training up young members of the clergy. This type of evidence, moreover, supports Vellir’s distinct status in Hólar diocese: even though some other churches had more clerics, in 1318 Vellir owned fifty-seven books, more than any other church in the diocese, apart from Hólar and the monasteries. These books include homilies of Gregory the Great as well as his Dialogi, homilies of Augustine, an unidentified text of Alcuin, and other texts that stand out from the normal collections of Icelandic churches.274 The only other church in the Hólar diocese with comparable types of literature in 1318 is Múli in Reykjadalr, which had two priests and two deacons at the time.275 Grenjaðarstaðir, whose máldagi stipulates a full six to seven clerics – two to three priests, one deacon, one sub-deacon, as well as at least two more clerics that could sing during liturgical performances – has a relatively small library in 1318 that appears to grow over the course of the fourteenth century, to fifty-five books.276 Several of these, moreover, are the same as those at Múli, and it may be that they were copied from the one church to the other.277 Thus, 273 Jón Viðar Siguðsson, “Høvdingene.” Jón Viðar identifies thirty-three of these storkirker in Iceland, twelve in Hólar and twenty-one in Skálholt, but does include within this count nine monasteries, which are regarded in this study as representing a different type of schooling. It is also worth noting that Jón Viðar’s count is only a rough number; at the very least he misses Laufás in the Hólar diocese, which had two priests and a deacon (DI II, 447–48). 274 DI II, 455–56. 275 DI II, 434–35. 276 DI II, 431–34; DI III, 578–82. 277 Specifically, sermons of Augustine, as well as the Dialogues and homilies of Gregory the Great.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

from the máldagar, Grenjaðarstaðir stands out as a church with massive available resources that grew over the course of the fourteenth century to rival or perhaps even surpass Vellir, possibly working in collaboration or competition with the nearby Múli. Guðmundar sögur, moreover, hints at earlier activities: Guðmundr and Ingimundr spent four years at Grenjaðarstaðir, and during that time Guðmundr was raised in ordination from an acolyte to a sub-deacon and then finally to a full deacon at the age of eighteen.278 Such a period of time, and such an advance in ordination, implies that this was an important period of time and location for Guðmundr’s education.279 Indeed, the presence of clergy below the rank of deacon can in itself imply educational activities. Except in instances where someone is content or motivated to stay in a lower rank of clergy,280 ranks lower than deacon can presumably indicate someone still in training. One of Guðmundr’s lærisveinar, after all, was already a subdeacon. Thus, if Grenjaðarstaðir actually did consistently follow its máldagi and maintain at least two klerkar alongside its four to five other clerics of specific levels of ordination, these could have been clerics of lower orders, and thus very likely students. Grenjaðarstaðir is only one example to illustrate a point: every church in Iceland had some resources that could aid priests in training new young clerics, and there were many churches with additional clergy and books that could contribute to educational practices. Combing through the narrative sources could doubtless provide numerous links between specific major churches and important historical figures.281 Oddi and Haukadalr certainly had unique importance in the political, literary, and ecclesiastical history of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but overemphasizing their place in the overall history of Icelandic education risks putting too much trust in the rhetorical goals of the narrative sources

278 Guðmundar sögur, 38. 279 Benjamín Kristjánsson did speculate about teaching at Grenjaðarstaðir, though he cites no direct references (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 159). 280 Often for the purposes of being married, see Barrow, The Clergy, 47, 68. 281 Jón Viðar Sigurðsson notes that two-thirds of the storkirker he lists have some kind of link to the families of Icelandic chieftains (Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Høvdingene,” 187–88). For another example, Breiðabólstaðr in Fljótshlíð, in the Skálholt diocese, was the childhood home of the future saint Jón Ǫgmundsson, before he was sent to Ísleifr at Skálholt, and he might have had some early learning there. While the fourteenth-century máldagar do not give much detail about its library, they do stipulate that it should have three priests and two deacons, and so represented a very sizable clerical community by Icelandic standards (DI II, 687–89; DI IV, 81–83).

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


that describe them.282 Texts like Kristni saga, Hungrvaka, and Íslendingabók are concerned with praising and emphasizing the importance to Icelandic history of the men they describe, and it cannot be taken for granted that the early development of schools and learning revolved entirely around the patronage of a few aristocrats.283 The political elements of education, its links to the power structures and social networks of medieval Iceland, are an important part of studying it, but they do not represent the whole picture.

Christian Education in the Home The final site of Christian education outside the institutional schools, and likely the most consistent and widespread form of teaching and learning, was at home. This was discussed in chapter 1 in terms of pre-Christian and secular practices, but it is important to remember that clerical education and training to become a priest could begin at a young age in the home as well, whether with a parent or foster-parent.284 Likewise, for those in clerical families, the home itself could be a sort of education center: In Páls saga, future bishop Pál Jónsson is raised by his own father Jón Loptsson at Oddi, and the saga states that he was skillful and learned from a young age.285

282 For examples of the hyperbolic praise of Bishop Ísleifr, following the medieval sources, see Jón Sigurðsson, “Um Skóla,” 84–85 and Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 17–18. Orri Vésteinsson has offered a more recent analysis: “There is no special reason to think that the authors or Teitr or Gizurr were deliberately trying to hide relevant facts in order to make the Haukdælir’s part in the making of the Icelandic church look larger. They did not need to . . . the success of the Haukdælir being already established, it was that which was interesting and needed explaining. And in explaining their success it was natural for these men to direct their attentions towards the positive events which best illuminated the development” (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 19–20). It is surely unlikely that a successful family would not be interested in producing propaganda for itself, using rhetorically charged writing to support its claims to power, or that hyperbole and exaggeration would not be a part of such writing. 283 Walter, “Die lateinische Sprache,” 199; Jón Sigurðsson, “Um Skóla,” 84–85. 284 Barrow notes several examples of early education in the lives of clerics: Hincmar of Loan, in the ninth century, was fostered by his archbishop uncle from an early age; Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg was taught letters by his great-aunt Ennilda until the age of twelve (Barrow, The Clergy, 56, 60). 285 “Hann var næmr ok vel lærðr þegar á unga aldri ok hagr at hvívetna, því er hann gerði, bæði at riti ok at ǫðru” (Biskupa sögur II, 297) (He was quick at learning and well taught already at a young age, and skillful at everything he did, both in writing and in other things).


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

While it could lead to a clerical education, early education in the home must have consisted primarily of the most elementary forms of learning. It would likely often have focused on the more moral side of medieval education, emphasizing good Christian behavior, and making use of both vernacular and Latin texts to whatever extent they were useful.286 This would have been particularly important in Iceland, with the lack of urban schools.287 As noted in the previous chapter, Færeyinga saga references both parents and foster-parents being involved in the teaching of basic prayers. Learning the essential Christian prayers, above all the Pater Noster and Credo, was a standard part of any medieval childhood.288 Grágás stipulates that everyone mentally capable should know both these prayers, and that men should also know the words of baptism, while recognizing that women might also be familiar with them.289 Beyond these basics, however, the capabilities of the parents or foster-parents, as well as the interests of the child, would determine how much was learned. Þorláks saga shows how hagiographic writing can glorify such early household learning, but it also reveals its limitations. The saga describes Þorlákr Þórhallsson as an exceptional and disciplined learner from the very beginning, an ideal and obedient student, learning the Psalms at home as a child, before any of his formal education had begun – though at the same time the saga emphasizes that he had little other book-learning at the beginning.290 This is clearly hagiographic praise on the part of the saga, characterizing an obedient child and ideal student, yet it supports the general idea that early childhood could be a context for learning. Learning to read the Psalms and prayers is well known as a type of early, elementary learning in the Middle Ages, undertaken well before the child would have learned to actually understand any Latin.291 But Þorlákr’s parents had to have a Psalter available, and

286 For a general discussion of moral and religious education alongside basic reading, see Lynch, Medieval Pedagogical Writings, 87–104. Lynch notes that the early fifteenth-century commentator Jean Gerson argued for the reading of elementary texts like the Disticha Catonis in French, rather than Latin, emphasizing their moral value over their value in teaching Latin. It is not unlikely that certain ON translations could have been read in such a context. 287 Margrét Eggertsdóttir has noted the significance of the lack of primary schools for basic religious education in the context of early Lutheran Iceland (Margrét Eggertsdóttir, “‘Let the Children Come to Me’,” 101). 288 Orme, Medieval Children, 200–205. 289 Specifically, a woman was permitted to teach the words of baptism to a man so that he could perform the ritual, if necessary (Grágás, Vol. 1, 6–7). 290 Biskupa sögur II, 48. 291 Small children usually spent more time with their mothers than with their fathers, and it is very likely that literate mothers used the opportunity for teaching (Orme, Medieval

Education Outside the Monasteries and Cathedrals


some capability to help him at least sound out the letters, if not necessarily understand the words. As Þorlákr advanced into clerical education and early career under his foster-father – he is a made a deacon already at this point in the saga, at the age of fifteen – his mother continued to teach him, but her contribution was no longer in Christian topics. For education within households, the presence of both parents and priests could have commonly resulted in such complex layers of learning. It could also happen, for particularly wealthy medieval households, that clerical teachers were attached to or brought into the household for the education of children.292 The medieval Icelandic sources are largely quiet on this sort of dynamic, but it must have occurred at least sometimes, particularly when wealthier families either owned or had significant influence over churches near their homes. The passage in Búalǫg stipulating payments for very elementary teaching can be read in light of such situations. While this passage in Búalǫg itself is post-Reformation and thus likely reflects the particular Lutheran concerns regarding elementary Christian education of the time, it also represents a very medieval capacity for clergy to practice teaching independently of institutional structures like schools. In its focus on a single subject of learning, the Búalǫg passage also resembles those examples from the Íslendingasögur referenced in chapter 1, where education involved a single subject like law or magic, and was obtained over a short period of time. To the extent that the Íslendingasögur reflect some aspects of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century educational practice, both they and Búalǫg could be hinting at the type of simple, basic household education that was too commonplace to be referenced in sources like the biskupasögur or the documentary corpus. The above sections have shown that any priest could be a teacher, and could work in a wide variety of contexts. The scattered rural population of Iceland could not develop or support the kind of crowded, competitive urban schools that defined education of the thirteenth century and later in the more densely populated regions of medieval Europe. Yet the few sources available to us show a flexibility and durability of pedagogical practices that could likely weather crises and conflicts very effectively. Important teaching and learning cannot be said to have happened only at major educational centers. Likewise,

Schools, 60–61). Shahar has noted that maternal education for noble families, before the beginning of knightly training, often consisted of the main prayers, a certain number of Latin Psalms, and the basic tenets of the faith, and that this applied to the education of noble girls as well as boys (Shahar, Childhood, 210, 216). See also Grotans, Reading, 71–72; Clanchy, Looking Back, 163–67; Barrow, The Clergy, 43–44. 292 See Barrow, The Clergy, 178.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

fosterage continued to be a very important tradition in defining and shaping how teachers and students interacted, though to what extent it reflected preChristian fosterage cannot be conclusively determined. The great institutional schools of the bishoprics and monasteries must be understood in the context of these broader educational practices.

Cathedral Schools Medieval Iceland had two bishoprics: Skálholt, the larger southern diocese, was founded first in 1056, and governed three-quarters of the country, while Hólar was established in the northern quarter in 1106. In the extant narrative sources, both institutions were associated with education almost as soon as they were founded, and this remained the case throughout the Middle Ages. Even afterwards, the first post-Reformation Latin schools of Iceland were established at Hólar and Skálholt, and both lasted until around the end of the eighteenth century.293 As schools within Iceland, referred to as skólar in the sources, Hólar and Skálholt were distinctive, not only because they were ecclesiastical centers that had more available resources and influence than any other center of education, but because they can be identified with the medieval institution of cathedral schools.294 However, the situation in Iceland suggests that, while it is convenient to refer to Hólar and Skálholt as cathedral schools, and they certainly inherited a part of that institutional tradition, there are important differences between medieval Icelandic and European education offered at cathedrals. Neither Hólar nor Skálholt was in an urban environment, and the lack of population density might explain why there does not appear to have been competition between schools in Iceland; in contrast, there is evidence of tension between small-scale teaching and the monopoly of the cathedral schools in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England,295 while in western Germany and

293 King Christian III commanded Latin schools to be established at the two bishoprics, as their own expense, on March 11, 1552. Skálholt ran until winter 1783/4, and Hólar until winter 1801/2 (Guðlaugur Rúnar Guðmundsson, Skólalíf, 11–13). 294 Stephanie Würth argues that the account of Hólar in Jóns saga matches what is known about cathedral schools in the rest of Europe (Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 194). 295 Orme, Medieval Schools, 62–63.

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the Netherlands clerical and secular authorities came into conflict over the rights to schools from the thirteenth century onwards.296 The relevance of the bishop to education and the office of schoolmaster also serve to connect Hólar and Skálholt to the wider institution of cathedral schools. It is important not to overemphasize the participation of the bishop in teaching, given that the biskupasögur are strongly biased towards the prominence of their protagonists in all areas. Yet the combination of documentary, legal, and narrative evidence confirms that they did have a role. They were above all patrons and administrators, though like many priests they probably did some teaching.297 The documentary evidence shows that, at least for the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though likely also earlier, the bishop was involved in negotiating the agreements with students and their parents or patrons. Grágás states that the church owner responsible for a student’s education had to provide that student with as many books as the bishop deemed necessary for holding services yearround. It also allows that such an indentured priest could unbind himself from his church by educating his replacement, as long as that replacement was satisfactory to the bishop.298 Schoolmasters worked at both Hólar and Skálholt, possibly from as early as the twelfth century, and may have even represented an Icelandic pedagogical response to Lateran Council reforms. Finally, in terms of student numbers, the cathedral schools were almost certainly the largest educational institutions of Iceland. There is only one medieval reference to this, when Lárentíus saga boasts that there were always fifteen or more students at Hólar at any given time.299 Even assuming there is some rhetorical hyperbole, and that this is at best the higher end of student populations

296 Willemsen, Back to the Schoolyard, 29. See also Barrow, The Clergy, 195–96, who likewise notes that towns were suitable locations for schools, as they could provide sufficient lodging for large number of students. 297 The biskupasögur and narrative sources tend to use phrasing which presents the bishops as having others do the teaching for them. Of Bishop Ísleifr, the first bishop at Skálholt, in Íslendingabók it is only said that chieftains sent their sons to him “til læringar og létu vígja til presta” (Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 20) (for learning and to have them ordained as priests), and Hungrvaka uses essentially this same phrasing (Biskupa sögur II, 9). In a later rewrite of this narrative in Kristni saga, however, this is rephrased to explicitly present him as a teacher: “Hann lærði marga ágæta menn ok lét vígja til presta” (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 39) (He taught many noble men and had them ordained as priests). In Lárentíus saga, though Lárentíus had done so much teaching before, a final reference to teaching after he had become bishop states that he látit kenna, or had them taught, rather than teaching them himself (Biskupa sögur III, 438). 298 Grágás, Vol. 1, 18. 299 Biskupa sögur III, 373.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

at Hólar, the amount of resources so many students would demand is unlikely to have been matched by Haukadalr, Oddi, or any of the monasteries. After the Reformation, there were generally around twenty-four students at Skálholt,300 and considering Lárentíus saga’s fifteen students at Hólar, and the Skálholt diocese’s greater size, it is certainly possible that medieval Skálholt regularly served over twenty students at a time. There can be little doubt that in terms of size, influence, and resources, the cathedral schools of Hólar and Skálholt were the most important educational centers of medieval Iceland.301

Skálholt The first bishop of Skálholt was Ísleifr Gizurarson, the son of Gizurr hvíti, who played a central role in the conversion of Iceland. He was a member of the powerful Haukadælir, the family who also oversaw the education that occurred at Haukadalr, and who dominated ecclesiastical politics and institutions until the mid-twelfth century, when other aristocratic families began to become more involved.302 As noted above, Ísleifr’s son Teitr was said to have raised and educated many clerics at Haukadalr. Ísleifr spent his childhood at Skálholt, was taken to Herford in Saxony, and educated there, according to Kristni saga and Hungrvaka.303 His son, Gizurr Ísleifsson, the second bishop of Skálholt, was educated in Saxony as well, according to Hungrvaka and Jóns saga helga.304 The arrival of a native bishop must have been followed by the beginning of teaching, presumably filling the deep need for priests in the eleventh century. Íslendingabók, with Hungrvaka

300 Þórir Stephensen, “Menntasetur,” 47. 301 In some circumstances, a cathedral school might even have been thought of as the peak of a longer period of education. Sverrir Tómasson has argued that Iceland had a sort of system, with places like Vellir and Haukadalr feeding into the larger cathedral schools. He suggests that it was likely that the bishop at Skálholt aided Teitr’s teaching at Haukadalr, and that Haukadalr played a similar role for Skálholt as Vellir in Svarafaðardalr played for Hólar during the time of Bishop Jǫrundr and Lárentíus (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 21, note 78). Such relationships likely existed for certain periods of time, based on the social relationships between specific clergy, but it could not have been a consistent system. There are too many examples of students seeming to only attend a single school, and Sverrir’s system does not account for the prominence of monastic education. 302 Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 144–48. 303 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 38–39; Biskupa sögur II, 6. Hungrvaka specifically notes that Ísleifr was put in the care of an abbess while in Herford. 304 Biskupa sögur II, 14; Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 182.

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and Kristni saga following it, states that chieftains sent their sons to Ísleifr for education and to have them ordained. Ísleifr is praised by these sources as the first great teacher of Iceland, and the evidence presented for this assertion is his most prestigious students: Íslendingabók, Hungrvaka, Kristni saga, and Jóns saga helga all state that at Skálholt he taught Jón Ǫgmundsson, the first bishop of Hólar, and Kolr, a bishop of Vík (modern Oslo), in Norway.305 Considering this is the first see in Iceland, it is almost certain that this schooling was understood as a form of fosterage, with the potential for education and ordination providing a new motivation for an existing social institution. There is no doubt that this is an exceedingly important moment in the history of education. For the first time, an Icelandic bishop was organizing education and the ordination of priests. The link between the see and the Haukadælir meant that there was also an immediate association between education at the see and the social capital that could be gained through fostering a child with a powerful family. Education at Skálholt would have been thus, at first, fairly similar to existing forms of education, at least in terms of the relationship with and impact on social life in Iceland.306 The main initial distinction would probably have been the number of students that Ísleifr attracted for a singular purpose: we cannot discount the possibility that such teachers existed in pre-Christian Iceland, fostering a number of different children to teach them topics like law and poetry, but this does not seem likely. The situation Ísleifr presided over can be compared, perhaps, to that of the early precursors of cathedral schools, the domus ecclesiae of the sixth and seventh centuries, wherein bishops called for children intended for the clergy to be trained in their households.307 Only over time, with the development and growth of the church, would the institutional status of the cathedral schools develop. Yet there is no doubt that Skálholt played a vital role in the education of the clergy, and likely of the elite clergy in particular, if the emphasis of the sources on chieftains’ sons as students is any indication.308

305 Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 20; Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 39, 181; Biskupa sögur II, 9. 306 Fosterage comparable to Ísleifr’s students’ own was also not unknown elsewhere in Europe, and there are examples of clerical students being nutritus in a cathedral (Barrow, The Clergy, 168). 307 Barrow, The Clergy, 121, 177–78. 308 It is thus difficult to support the idea that cathedral schools were of little importance to the education of the social elite, as Jón Viðar Sigurðsson argues (Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “The Education of Sturla Þórðarson,” 24). Here Jón Viðar references the arguments of Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenkt samfélag, 171–73, which do not directly address the relative importance of cathedral schools to the social elite, but aim to show that schooling at the Icelandic cathedrals was irregular, and thus unlike that of an established intitutional school.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

On the other hand, caution must be taken with the kind of sources we have. With hagiographic texts like Jóns saga, the heightened praise of Jón and the motivations for that praise are obvious. However, the characterization of wider Icelandic ecclesiastical history in Íslendingabók, Hungrvaka, and Kristni saga has similar issues. While their narratives as a whole are not centered on any particular individual, all three of these sources praise Ísleifr Gizurarson as a founder of the Icelandic church and Icelandic schooling, and for helping to form a positive relationship between these institutions and the powerful families of Iceland. While he certainly had historical importance, scholars must be cautious about carelessly accepting the judgments of these texts concerning the quality of his learning, teaching, and influence. After Ísleifr, Hungrvaka becomes the main source for references to education at Skálholt during the twelfth century. The text states that Tjǫrvi Bǫðvarsson, a servant of Þorlákr Runólfsson (1086–1133), the third bishop of Skálholt, did some teaching among his regular daily activities. This points to the bishop’s role as a patron of education, rather than a teacher. However, Þorlákr Runólfsson is also said to have fostered Gizurr Hallson of the Haukdælir, who would eventually be Lawspeaker, while he was bishop.309 The fact that this is presented only as fosterage in Hungrvaka, not as schooling, shows the extent of the overlap between even cathedral schools and fosterage at this early date. Klængr Þorsteinsson (1102–1176), the fourth bishop of Skálholt, is also said in Hungrvaka to have spent much of his time teaching.310 Some shift in education at Skálholt might have occurred after Klængr’s tenure, when Þorlákr Þórhallson became bishop of Skálholt in 1178. Not only was Þorlákr the first bishop of Iceland to attempt reform of the church, but he was the first bishop who had spent time as an abbot, at the Augustinian monastery of Þykkvibær. Monasticism was still relatively new in Iceland at this point, and Þykkvibær was the first community of Augustinian canons, but some relationship between Þorlákr’s asceticism and his reformist attitude is not unlikely, and both are undoubtedly related to his education abroad. Likewise, whatever features might have distinguished monastic education in Iceland in the midtwelfth century would certainly come to influence the school at Skálholt during Þorlákr’s time. Þorlákr, moreover, must have continued to be influenced by fosterage practices, and is himself described as the foster-father of the son of Gizurr Hallsson, Magnús, who would later become bishop of Skálholt.311

309 Biskupa sögur II, 25. 310 Biskupa sögur II, 38. 311 Biskupa sögur II, 90.

Cathedral Schools


It also should not be assumed that his interest in reform meant that Þorlákr never compromised in his role as teacher or patron of education. A very important and unique passage in Þorláks saga helga shows both the level of control a bishop could have over education, and the level of compromise that it could involve. The saga discusses Þorlákr’s duties in ordaining prospective new priests during the Ember weeks: honum þótti þat ábyrgðarráð mikit at vígja menn er til þess sóttu langan veg ok hann sá þá mjǫk vanfœra til, bæði sakir lítils lærdóms ok annarra hátta sér óskapfelldra. En hann nennti þó varla at níta, bæði sakir fátœkis þeira sjálfa ok fyrir sakir þeira manna er þeim hǫfðu kennt eða sínar jarteinir hǫfðu til sent.312 (it seemed to him a great and momentous responsibility to ordain men who had come a long way for it when he saw in them a serious incapacity, both on account of having little learning and of other behaviour which was disagreeable to him. However, he could hardly bear to deny them, both on account of their own poverty and for the sake of those men who had taught them or had sent their tokens for them.)313

The bishop here forgives poorer men their lack of education and other qualifications, both out of pity for their poverty, and out of respect for their social connections. The act of charity in supporting poor priests, who certainly had barriers to better education, is a virtue befitting a bishop, as we will see in later sections. However, in the context of the rhetorical praise of his own Vita, a sainted bishop is presented as ordaining undereducated priests because of his relationship with their teachers and patrons, which seems quite ignoble, and thus makes this seem like a particularly reliable passage.314 Such practices would also not be unique to Iceland, as elsewhere in Europe the value of social capital and family connections could stand in contrast to the value of education, and there were variable practices in how education versus the family connections of a particular priest were valued.315 Regardless of the accuracy of the passage, the complex ways in which Þorlákr here seems to be praised for both failing and succeeding as a bishop – helping the poor, but allowing an underqualified priesthood to be

312 Biskupa sögur II, 76. 313 The Saga of Bishop Thorlak, 17. 314 While Orri Vésteinsson connects this passage to an assumed dearth of priests in the twelfth century, and assumes that Þorlákr “had little choice in the matter” (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 180), it is entirely possible that this was a normative way for Icelandic bishops to use their influence and social connections with the wider priesthood. If a lack of priests was one of Þorlákr’s motivations, it seems likely that this would be mentioned in the passage, as it would seem to shed better light on his motivations in ordaining underqualified priests. 315 See Barrow, The Clergy, 227–34.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

established – suggest that there must have been delicate considerations in how a bishop exercised his role in education and ordination. After Þorlákr, there appear to be no explicit references to schooling at Skálholt until the fifteenth century. This is doubtless not an indication of a lack of education there, but merely a shift in sources. The conflicts which led to the rule of the Norwegian king in Iceland may have impacted some activity at the bishoprics, but as the example of Bishop Guðmundr moving the school of Hólar temporarily to Vellir showed, Icelandic schools could be highly flexible. If Skálholt was ever thus compromised in the thirteenth century, its schoolmaster may likewise have temporarily moved location. The struggle for ecclesiastical control of major church-farms during the second half of the thirteenth century (staðamál) was likewise a time of conflict, resulting in increased church power and new ecclesiastical ideology.316 Education at cathedrals could only have been encouraged under such conditions.317 Manuscript production grew in the fourteenth century, and document production in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.318 Educational practices must have expanded to deal with the new demand for literacy. Despite this, some scholars of Icelandic education have argued for a downturn in education after the beginning of Norwegian rule, primarily based on the assumption that foreign bishops would have neglected Icelandic education, and that the practice of Norwegians filling the highest offices in the land would have discouraged Icelanders from aspiring to higher education.319 However, there is no evidence that any of the fourteenth-century Norwegian bishops actually neglected their dioceses,320 nor could the quality of education have entirely depended on filling 316 The staðamál resulted in episcopal control of many large estates that had until that time been in private hands, and which now became benefices. It dealt with similar issues and might be compared in broad strokes to the investiture controversy in mainland Europe during the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. 317 Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 172, makes such an argument, suggesting that bishops Árni Þorláksson and Jǫrundr Þorsteinsson may have pushed for more education at the bishoprics to draw influence over education away from lay authorities. 318 Sigurdson, The Church, 30, 57. 319 Benjamín Kristjánsson argued that foreign bishops would have neglected their duties, education would have suffered thereby, and this dynamic in part explains the lack of sources for the school at Skálholt in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 25). Jónas Gíslason and Sverre Bagge have argued similarly that Norwegian bishops negatively affected education, the former specifically suggesting that with the two highest offices filled by outsiders, Icelanders would have lacked motivation to become highly learned (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 122, 126; Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 6–7). Both scholars likewise argue for a smaller number of Icelanders studying abroad after the Norwegian takeover. 320 Sigurdson, The Church, 92–94.

Cathedral Schools


the highest offices in Iceland: poor priests and the lower branches of the elite would have been equally in need of learning. As this study so far has indicated, while there were educational centers in Iceland, education as a whole was not centrally governed, and while it could certainly benefit from greater episcopal support or interest, it did not depend on it. The continuity of education at Skálholt, despite the lack of sources, is exemplified by the sole fifteenth-century education contract that mentions it. In a 1440 document dealing with the legitimization of several children of the priest Ketill Narfason, it is agreed that Ketill will take care of the education of a certain Hallr Grímsson. Skálholt is named as the first choice of schools where Hallr could train for three years to become a priest, but the document adds that other locations would work – Helgafell or another monastery.321 Certainly, there must have been continuity of education at fifteenth-century Skálholt for it to top this list of potential schools. Speculatively, this document may even suggest that there was a certain hierarchy of Icelandic schools, with the cathedral schools situated at the top. It is likely that there was a schoolmaster there through this period as well, as there are several incidental references to a later skólameistari of Skálholt, a certain Ásbjǫrn Sigurðsson, in 1493, and then again in 1507 and 1508.322 Finally, three documents survive from the sixteenth century that provide evidence for the educational activities of Ǫgmundr Pálsson (1475–1541), the last Catholic bishop of Skálholt. In 1524, Ǫgmundr acquits brother Jón Jónsson of some misdemeanors, before making him responsible for schooling at the

321 DI IV, 614–15. 322 DI VII, 181; DI VIII, 141, 254. There are numerous references to Ásbjǫrn, but these are the places he is identified specifically as a schoolmaster. In the seventeenth-century writings of Jón Gizurarson, the grandson of Bishop Gizurr Einarsson’s brother, in a section on Bishop Stefán from a manuscript of c. 1644/45, it is stated specifically that there was no school at Skálholt in Bishop Stefán Jónsson’s day (Safn til sögu Íslands, Vol. 1, 655–56), namely 1491–1518. This is belied, as the editor of the text notes, by the presence of Ásbjǫrn Sigurðsson as schoolmaster during this time. Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, moreover, notes that a document from 1514 shows Skálholt asking for supplies from the monastery of Helgafell, for the purpose of, among other things, lærdómr (Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 174; DI VIII, 481), though lærdómr does have some range of meaning and this passage does not necessarily refer to formal schooling. Jón Gizurarson’s comment might also be understood in terms of Reformation ideas about schooling: a Latin fragment from c. 1600 concerning Bishop Jón Árason, the last Catholic bishop of Hólar, states while discussing Jón’s upbringing that there were no Latin schools in Iceland. Rather, parents, monks, a cleric of lower orders, or someone else would teach boys to read and write Icelandic (Biskupa sögur, Vol. 2, 424–25). Jón Gizurarson may, then, simply have not considered pre-Reformation Icelandic cathedrals to have ever contained true schools.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

monastery of Skriða.323 In 1525, he agrees to educate and ordain a certain Gunnlaugr Ásgrímsson as part of a land deal.324 The next year, in 1526, the bishop accepts the inheritance rights of a poor man, and agrees to educate one of his sons as part of the repayment.325 Through all three of these contracts, Ǫgmundr shows both the wide range of ways a bishop could be involved in education, and at the same time the extent to which schooling contributed to the wealth and power of the church and the bishopric. On the one hand, this wealth and power can be thought of as specific to the growth of episcopal authority in the post-staðamál period. But, looking back to Ísleifr’s first collection of chieftains’ sons in the mid-eleventh century, the relationship between education and ecclesiastical power and wealth must have existed throughout the Middle Ages.

Hólar Hólar, the bishopric of northern Iceland, was founded in 1106. Jón Ǫgmundsson was appointed the first bishop and his hagiographic saga, Jóns saga helga, is well known among scholars for its description of the school of Hólar during Jón’s time. As at Skálholt, it can be assumed that a need for more resources for clerical education in Iceland was part of what motivated the creation of the new bishopric. Jón’s own education likely influenced how the school at Hólar began. Jóns saga helga describes Jón’s education at Skálholt in the eleventh century under Ísleifr, whom he is said to have called his foster-father. It further describes his journey abroad, on which he is said to have intended to improve his learning, though the saga does not state where or how he might have done so. It does note, however, that he met Sæmundr fróði and brought him back to Iceland.326 Jón was thus closely involved with the other famous teachers and priests of late eleventh-century Iceland, and Jóns saga, like the sources for early Skálholt, also emphasizes the prestige of having famous students, both for Jón and the next few bishops at Hólar. The saga mentions many students by name: Bjǫrn Gilsson,

323 DI IX, 244–45. 324 DI IX, 274–75. 325 DI IX, 340–41. 326 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 181–83, 187–88. Sæmundr’s return, and his ordination as a priest upon his return, is also mentioned in Íslendingabók, where it is said that he was in “Frakkland,” though it is not suggested there that Jón Ǫgmundsson was in any way involved (Íslendingabók/ Landnámabók, 20–21). There was an extended tradition of attributing Sæmundr’s education to different locations in post-medieval writings, see Hjalti Hugason, Frumkristni, 229.

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the third bishop of Hólar, continuing the education he had at Haukadalr; Ísleifr Grímsson, a kinsman of the bishop; two men named Jón svarti and Bjarni Bergþórsson; Vilmundr and Hreinn, the first and third abbots of Þingeyrar, respectively; finally, Klængr Þorsteinsson, the fifth bishop of Skálholt, who is particularly highlighted among the students.327 The prestige value of these students and teachers is linked to the genealogical and aristocratic aspect of Icelandic ecclesiastical historiography, the status of each elite priest being enhanced by his relationship to the others. Outside of Iceland, moreover, such social networks were fundamental to medieval education as whole, connecting the learned elites across Europe, though further research would be necessary to explore Iceland’s place in such a system.328 This description of the first schooling at Hólar is also where we see formal evidence that the position of skólameistari (schoolmaster) goes back at least into the twelfth century in Iceland.329 The skólameistari may in fact be the earliest ecclesiastical office mentioned in Iceland, apart from that of bishop itself, which is notable considering the relative paucity of formal offices in Icelandic cathedrals.330 In Jóns saga helga, Bishop Jón is said to have appointed two teachers: a skólameistari named Gísli Finnason, from Gautland, and a secondary teacher named Rikini, from “Frakkland,” whom the saga appears to present as a sort of choir leader or music teacher.331 At those schools in the Middle Ages

327 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 218–19. Klængr also appears in an earlier episode as a student, where Jón chastises him for reading Ovid, likely the Ars amatoria (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 211–12). 328 Excellent work has been done by Mia Münster-Swendsen on Anglo-Danish connections, however, which certainly must have been an important influence on Icelandic educational networks (Münster-Swendsen, “Educating the Danes”). 329 For a discussion of the development of the schoolmaster, see Barrow, The Clergy, 208–217. 330 Scholars have argued that there were never real cathedral chapters in Iceland, and that there was a general lack of offices filled by highly educated clerics (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 122; Sverre Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 4). Indeed, the terminology used to describe the canons of Niðaróss in Lárentíus saga, kórsbrœðr, who are a clearly, legally defined group in conflict with the archbishop in the narrative, never seems to be applied to the officials at Skálholt or Hólar. Erika Sigurdson, however, has argued that once benefices were established, the community of elite clerics around a bishop functioned much like cathedral canons (Sigurdson, The Church, 123). 331 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 204–6, 217–18. This is the standard normalized edition of the saga, but the description of the school varies among the three main versions, primarily in being expanded in the L-recension. “Frakkland” could refer to France, but scholars have also suggested that Rikini was from a German-speaking region, perhaps Lotharingia (Foote, “Aachen, Lund, Hólar,” 64–65).


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

that supported multiple teachers, the core pairing of a grammatica-focused schoolmaster and a choir teacher was common.332 Alongside these two, the saga suggests that there were others teaching without formal office, like the aforementioned Ingunn, who is said to have taught anyone who wished to learn,333 and perhaps Bishop Jón himself. Even if the use of the term “schoolmaster” here for the early twelfth century may be slightly anachronistic, it must at least have applied to the understanding and ideals of episcopal education at the end of the twelfth century, when the saga was written. Moreover, the meistari Þórðr appears at Hólar in the early thirteenth century, and while the various Guðmundar sögur references are late, Þórðr also appears in a contemporary source in Íslendinga saga, and thus is a reliable indication that the office existed by that point.334 This timing is significant, because elsewhere in Europe, the likelihood of the bishop being directly involved in teaching at cathedral schools diminished as the office of the schoolmaster developed.335 Lateran III, in 1179, had mandated that every cathedral have a magister, beneficed so that he might be able to teach for free. After complaints that this mandate was not being followed, Lateran IV in 1215 expanded upon it, calling for a magister at every cathedral and every church with resources, to teach grammatica, while metropolitan churches were expected to have a theologian to teach Scripture to priests.336 The writing of Jóns saga helga and the appearance of meistari Þórðr may suggest that there was an effort by Icelandic bishops, perhaps beginning with the reformer Þorlákr, to follow the education reforms of Lateran III and IV. The impact of this description of Hólar on scholarship, alongside the twelfth century being seen as a peak of education at Oddi and Haukadalr, cannot be overstated. Some scholars have hyperbolically praised the quality of twelfth-century Icelandic schools, while other scholars have more moderately suggested that education simply expanded during this time, taking into account that textual production and literary writing seem to have begun in Iceland in the early twelfth century.337 While the latter idea is not unlikely, we 332 See discussion in Lynch, Medieval Pedagogical Writings, 111–13. At cathedral schools, this eventually developed into a separation between song and grammar schools (Barrow, The Clergy, 213). However, there is no evidence for such separation for Iceland. 333 “frœddi hvern er nema vildi” (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 220). 334 Guðmundar sögur, 179; Sturlunga saga, Vol. 1, 272. 335 Orme, Medieval Schools, 163–65. 336 Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 220, 240. 337 Ernst Walter speculates that travelling abroad for education increased in the twelfth century, but does not offer any evidence for this argument (Walter, “Die lateinische Sprache,” 200). Jónas Gíslason in particular has gone beyond the sources in arguing for an expansion of

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must be cautious about any judgments about the quality of education, particularly in making comparisons between Iceland and the rest of Europe.338 The glorification and rhetoric of the sagas, particularly hagiographic ones like Jóns saga helga, are highly suspect. While they are essential sources in that they show how education was conceptualized and idealized, their qualitative judgments cannot be taken at face value. With Lárentíus saga and the career of Lárentíus Kálfsson (1267–1331), bishop of Hólar 1324–1331, we get our first focused look at the career of a skólameistari. The saga is also the main narrative source for schooling in Iceland during and after the staðamál. As already discussed, Lárentíus himself began his education at Vellir, where he stayed part of the year with his kinsman Þórarinn, and part of the year at home with his parents. After Þórarinn’s death, Lárentíus’s father abandons his family, and Lárentíus and his mother are hard pressed for money. In what appears to be an act of charity, Lárentíus is invited by Bishop Jǫrundr to study at Hólar – Lárentíus and his mother had been living on land owned by the see – under the schoolmaster Óblauðr Hallvarðsson. The saga presents Lárentíus as a star pupil, left to watch other students while the bishop and schoolmaster were drinking together, and it even states that Lárentíus taught others during his time as a student.339 Lárentíus’s career advances around 1288, when after being ordained deacon and then priest he is himself made the schoolmaster of Hólar.340 After Lárentíus is unsuccessful in running the benefice he is given, he returns to Hólar, and again takes up the duties of schoolmaster. The saga subsequently describes a long, complex education in canon law: first Lárentíus is given access to canon law books at Skálholt by Bishop Árni, and then he spends a long time working with Archbishop Jǫrundr in Niðaróss, learning canon law through practice and under the tutelage of a Flemish cleric named Jón.341 The saga’s

education in twelfth-century Iceland: he has speculated that Icelandic education during the twelfth century could match that of any place in Europe, with the exception of the most prestigious universities (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 121–22). He likewise suggests that so many young learned Icelanders were educated abroad that a cultural revolution occurred around 1100, and Icelandic schooling became of such high quality, that this led to the period of saga writing and a cultural flowering in thirteenth-century Iceland (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 125). 338 Cf. for example the recent judgment of Jón Viðar Sigurðsson: “The Icelandic social elite in the thirteenth century was one of the best-educated classes in Europe” (Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “The Education of Sturla Þórðarson,” 20). 339 Biskupa sögur III, 227–29. 340 Biskupa sögur III, 231. 341 Biskupa sögur III, 231–43.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

emphasis on Lárentíus’s extended legal education will be discussed in the next chapter. After his return to Iceland, he spends an extended period teaching at different monasteries, instructing many students who are praised by the saga for their learning. One of the students he teaches, Egill Eyjólfsson, was a deacon when he came to Lárentíus, but by virtue of his education was ordained a priest in 1318 and immediately made schoolmaster of Hólar by Bishop Auðunn Þorbergsson. After he became bishop himself in 1324, Lárentíus appointed as schoolmaster Óláfr Hjaltason, who is explicitly said to have taught grammatica. Lárentíus also made a certain Valþjófr the rector of the choir, and later it is noted that Valþjófr taught song. These appointments might be compared with the two-part teaching arrangement in Jóns saga.342 As with Ingunn in Jóns saga, moreover, Lárentíus saga has others teaching at the cathedral besides the schoolmaster and choir leader, and states that Lárentíus’s son Árni also did some teaching at Hólar, which likewise mirrors Lárentíus’s own experience teaching as a student.343 These similarities between the sagas may, in part, reflect a continuity of structure in teaching practices,344 or a deliberate attempt by the fourteenth-century clerical elite of Hólar to tie themselves to earlier clergy and the foundation of the diocese.345 This fourteenth-century elite was selfconscious about representing itself and its relationship with earlier Icelandic clerical culture in its writing, and new versions of many biskupasögur were written in the fourteenth century. The writing of the L-version of Jóns saga and composition of Lárentíus saga at this time thus may have encouraged literary parallels.346 At the same time, however, a certain continuity of educational practice is not unlikely.

342 Biskupa sögur III, 373, 381. 343 Biskupa sögur III, 373. 344 Stephanie Würth and Sverrir Tómasson argue that the description of the school at Hólar in the fourteenth century in Lárentíus saga is so similar to that of the twelfth century in Jóns saga, that there must have been little change in Icelandic education between these periods (Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 194; Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 26–27). 345 Sigurdson, The Church, 59–61, 63–64. Specifically, she points out that Lárentíus is said to have been descended from Illugi, the man who is said to have donated the land on which Hólar was established. This may in turn suggest that the fact that these are the two sagas which describe Icelandic education most extensively is not entirely coincidental. 346 It also may not be a coincidence that the C-version of Guðmundar sögur was also written around the same time, possibly by Lárentíus’s student Bergr Sokkason, and expands the discussion of the school at Hólar under Guðmundr. See Stefán Karlsson, “Guðmundar sögur biskups,” 164.

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There must have been some change, however, in the relationship between education and benefices. The Icelandic church had a limited capacity to grant benefices before the late thirteenth century and conclusion of the staðamál. Lárentíus saga refers to Lárentíus leaving his position as skólameistari upon obtaining a benefice, later to decree himself that Vellir should be henceforth the benefice of the skólameistari.347 As noted above, Lateran III in 1179 mandated that cathedral schoolmasters should be beneficed, so that they would not have to charge for their teaching. This financial aspect of the decrees was in fact ignored by most English cathedral schools, where fees continued to be charged,348 and from the extensive discussion of educational costs in Icelandic documents, this seems likely to have been the case at Icelandic schools as well. Lárentíus saga makes a point of showing Lárentíus’s charity in several instances, which will be discussed in later sections, where he teaches poor students and clerics, and his attempts to support the office of schoolmaster using Vellir may have been similarly motivated. After Lárentíus saga, the history of education at Hólar must rely upon documentary sources, as it must for Skálholt. In addition, one skólameistari is mentioned in the annals, a deacon named Bǫðvar at Hólar in 1393.349 After this point, several documents relevant to education survive from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, concerning the last two bishops of Hólar before Jón Arason, the final Catholic bishop of Hólar, who was beheaded in 1550. The first, Óláfr Rǫgnvaldsson, held the office 1458–95, and the second, Gottskálk Nikulásson, from 1496 to 1520. Two educational contracts survive involving Bishop Óláfr, both of which show interesting aspects of cathedral school education in late medieval Iceland. In 1463, Óláfr agreed as part of a land exchange to educate a twelve-year-old boy, the eldest son of Jón Eyjólfsson. If the boy should fail in his education, the contract allows that Jón’s younger son would be able to begin an education, until the twelve years apparently understood by the contract expired.350 These twelve years presumably assume the canonical medieval age of ordination at twenty-five years of age. This contract is evidence that that practice was, at least sometimes, followed in Iceland, but in focusing on obliging the bishop to raise

347 The saga mentions that when Lárentíus is establishing his own schooling at Hólar, Óláfr Hjaltason is made schoolmaster and is to kenna Latínu, and at the same time Óláfr is given the staðr of Vellir in Svarfaðardalr, presumably as a benefice. Lárentíus then decrees that the schoolmaster at Hólar should have that benefice permanently (Biskupa sögur III, 381). 348 Orme, Medieval Schools, 202. 349 Islandske Annaler, 423; also noted in Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 24–25, note 91. 350 DI VI, 390–91.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

the child to a particular age, rather than provide a particular amount of learning, the contract could be comparable to the fosterage law of Grágás, which mandates that the child be fostered until the age of sixteen. Even more compelling, in 1492 Bishop Óláfr entered a contract with a certain Guðmundr Jónsson, who was apparently near death, wherein he agreed to educate one son to be a priest, and the other to manhood.351 Though no explicit terms of fosterage are used, here it seems clear that Bishop Óláfr is fostering the second son with no presumption of eventual ordination. Yet the boy would likely socialize with the clerical students, like his brother, and probably be involved in at least some of their learning. This is strikingly similar to the type of environment one would imagine at Bishop Ísleifr’s school, perhaps even similar to twelfth-century Oddi, where Þorlákr Þórhallsson and Snorri Sturluson both grew up, although the latter was not ordained. Even this one document, then, suggests how much continuity might have endured in the relationship between Icelandic schooling and fosterage. Several more documents are extant for Bishop Gottskálk Nikulásson’s activities organizing education at Hólar in the sixteenth century. In 1502, Gottskálk agreed to educate a nine-year-old boy, Jón Magnússon, and likewise to provide a benefice for Jón when he became a priest.352 A 1520 property list for Hólar made by Bishop Gottskálk in the last year of his office contains an entry for the payment of land for the education of Jón Magnússon, the same boy, now a priest.353 In 1507 Gottskálk again agreed to educate a boy, Jón Sveinsson, and in exchange for a different piece of land gives his father custody over a staðr, a benefice, until the boy can take it over.354 Like the previous, then, this contract promises a benefice along with an education. It is unclear if this practice might have been more widespread, but at least in Hólar under Bishop Góttskálk Nikulásson, educational agreements could also confer benefices. This may only be a formalization of earlier expectations regarding the social capital education or fosterage might provide. However, granting land to an ecclesiastical community as part of an agreement for a son’s education was a widespread medieval practice, and could, particularly from the late eleventh century, relate to the young priest’s need for a benefice after the completion of his education.355

351 DI VII, 108–9. Guðmundr is said to be sick, so it is possible that he is dying and is asking the bishop to raise both sons specifically for that reason. 352 DI VII, 618–20. Interestingly, the bishop also has to get papal permission for Jón Magnússon to become a priest, and it may be that the boy was illegitimate. 353 DI VIII, 726–32. The name given to the land exchanged is Sveinungsvík in 1502 and Sveinhúsvík in 1520, but it must be the same property. 354 DI VIII, 176–77. 355 Barrow, The Clergy, 155–56.

Monastic Schools


Finally, a document from 1519 shows Gottskálk making a charge that he had not received the payment for the education of a boy, Egill Hallsson, now a priest. Egill himself is first charged by the bishop, but acquitted by the priests of Hólar, and the burden is placed on the man, Teitr Þorleifsson, who first arranged the contract on Egill’s behalf.356 This document emphasizes not only the importance of educational payments for the wealth of the bishopric, but also the bishop’s role in making sure that debts were collected. Taking all the evidence for the schools of Skálholt and Hólar together, it is clear that these were the most important centers of education over the longest period of time in medieval Iceland. While episcopal education in Iceland lacked many of the features of cathedral schools elsewhere in Europe – the aforementioned lack of urban settings, large populations of students and teachers, or evidence for competition between schools – they did have distinguishing features which coexisted and interacted with fosterage and other social aspects of education. The power of the bishops over ordination, both before and after the establishment of benefices, determined the minimum standards of education when and where such power could be fully exercised. The unique office of skólameistari fundamentally distinguished the schools at Skálholt and Hólar from the educational activities at church-farms like Oddi, in the resources and institutional support they could offer.

Monastic Schools Monastic education is one of the most enigmatic aspects of the history of education in medieval Iceland, and yet was a vital part of it. The main narrative sources for the medieval Icelandic church, the biskupasǫgur, offer little insight into the daily life, practices, or perspectives of monks and nuns. In general terms, Icelandic monasteries were tiny – in the rare instances where numbers are given in the documentary sources, they suggest usually between four and eight actual monks or nuns at any given monastery or convent, though the total number of inhabitants would have been much higher.357 The monasteries became increasingly wealthy as the Middle Ages progressed, eventually becoming, along with the

356 DI VIII, 688–89. The case is brought up again under Bishop Jón Arason in 1522 (DI IX, 90–92), where Teitr is summoned to go before the archbishop. 357 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir estimates usually around five brothers at a time at Skriða and four to six at Mǫðruvellir. From documentary sources she notes that at the time of the Reformation there were eight sisters at Kirkjubær, and only four brothers at Viðey (Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 295, 344, 411–12, 447). To offer some perspective on how few monks there


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

episcopal sees, the richest institutions in in Iceland.358 By the Reformation, they owned roughly 13 percent of all the land in Iceland.359 They were thus not the insignificant, closed-off institutions that many scholars have characterized them as.360 They interacted with society in many respects, performing work in book production and education, gardening, helping the poor and the sick, with abbots and priors even sometimes assisting in mediation during conflicts.361 The nature and development of monastic schools and their institutional quality in Iceland has been much debated. Elsewhere in Europe, monastic schools founded in the early Middle Ages played a key role in the development of medieval education.362 The relatively late development of monasteries in Iceland, the first appearing over a century after the official conversion, meant that monastic schools must have played a different role there than they did elsewhere.363 From the twelfth century, the development of monastic schools in England, for example, was shaped by the proximity of universities and the competition between educational institutions. Late medieval English monasteries sent monks to universities, eventually founding colleges, and later even improving their local teaching in light of the philosophical and theological learning taking place at the universities.364 Monastic criticism of the growing urban

were in Iceland, in England at the beginning of the fourteenth century there were some 17,000 clergy at the country’s roughly 1,000 religious houses (Orme, Medieval Schools, 255). 358 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 478. 359 Sigurdson, The Church, 71. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir gives the number at more than 10 percent (Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 484). 360 Orri Vésteinsson, notably, has characterized monasteries up to the thirteenth century as retirement homes for aristocrats (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 133). Jón Viðar Sigurðsson argues that monasteries, like cathedral schools, played little role in the education of the social elite (Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “The Education of Sturla Þorðarson,” 24–25). 361 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 482–85. For book production, see Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson, “Voru scriptoria,” who does however argue that this production diminished in the fifteenth century, after the Black Death. For monastic gardens in Iceland, see Steinunnn Kristjánsdóttir et al., “The Icelandic Medieval Monastic Garden.” For an example of involvement in a conflict, and at least attempts at mediation, see the activities of the abbot of Munkaþverá in Þorgils saga skarða (Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 134; Sturlunga saga, Vol. 2, 197–200, 218–22). For the involvement of monasteries with sickness and medicine, see notably the work done on Skriða monastery, Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Sagan af klaustrinu, 195–247. 362 See, for example, Riché, Education and Culture, 100–122, 290–304, 317–36, 427–39, and Orme, Medieval Schools, 7, 17–27, 255. 363 Ernst Walter speculated that early education would have been limited by the lack of monasteries (Walter, “Die lateinische Sprache,” 197–98), but this seems to ignore the potential for other methods of educating priests, such as in fosterage relationships. 364 See Orme, Medieval Schools, 255–87; Courtenay, Schools & Scholars, 56–87.

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schools on the continent in the twelfth century, notably Bernard of Clairvaux’s opposition to Paris, impacted both monastic and university learning.365 With only the two Icelandic bishoprics, and no evidence for tension or competition between the bishoprics and monasteries over schooling, it is very unlikely that such a factor played a role in how the Icelandic monastic schools developed and functioned. Several scholars have even argued that there were no true monastic schools in Iceland, merely education happening at monasteries.366 However, none of these scholars have clarified what is meant by a true monastic school, and since monasticism was a functional institution in Iceland, it therefore must have had an institutional influence on education. Moreover, these arguments are certainly tied to a broader scholarly discourse that has tended to marginalize the role of monasteries in Icelandic society.367 Likewise, for those living at the monasteries – monks, nuns, and corrodians – the nature of these institutions certainly had an effect on their learning. For monks and nuns, reading and learning were mandated simply as a part of being an ascetic.368 Life-long learning as a devotional practice is, of course, not the same thing as a school or the deliberate education of children for ecclesiastical careers.369 However, at least in this broader sense, monasteries would have been centers of learning simply because the practice of learning was a part of religious devotion and meditation,370 and could thus encourage active intellectual discourse. Much of the enigma of monastic education comes from the fact that very few descriptions or direct references to education at monasteries appear earlier than Lárentíus saga. Yet the documentary sources from the mid-fourteenth century and later show the monasteries as the most frequently named locations for schooling, even more than cathedral schools. The similarity between these documents suggests a certain similarity between the general role and status of cathedral schools and monastic schools, but while the narrative sources

365 See Ferruolo, The Origins of the University, 47–92. 366 Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 194–95; Magnús Jónsson, “Áhrif klaustranna,” 291; Jakob Benediktsson, “Skole: Island,” 640; Þórir Stephensen, “Menntasetur,” 48. Sverrir Tómasson notes this speculation, but does not seem to argue for or against the assertion (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 28, note 98). 367 For a survey of scholarship and scholarly trends on Icelandic monasteries, see Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 43–55. 368 The Benedictine Rule, for example, mandated daily reading during Lent (Benedict of Nursia, Benedicti Regula, 48). 369 Hildebrandt, The External School, 24. 370 The relationship between learning, reading, and monastic life is explored in Leclercq, The Love of Learning, 11–22, 71–88.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

characterize the bishoprics as almost immediately becoming centers of teaching and learning, the monasteries likely developed their function as schools more slowly over time. By the time of the Reformation, the letters and commands of King Christian III show the serious blow that the closure of the monastic schools must have inflicted on Icelandic education as a whole. Most of the fourteen known Icelandic monasteries were founded over the course of a century, from 1133 to 1226, with only four falling outside this period. Of these fourteen, nine endured until the Reformation and the end of all monasticism within Iceland: four in the north, one in the east, and another four in the south and west.371 All of these were either Benedictine or Augustinian foundations, and there is no evidence that Dominicans, Franciscans, or any other orders ever became established in Iceland. Alongside these houses, there are several references to anchorites and hermits, who themselves could have been involved in education. Thus, though small, the significant resources and geographical spread of ascetics and their institutions were a fundamental part of educating the rural and scattered population of medieval Iceland.

The First Two Centuries of Monastic Foundations and Education The missionary bishop Hróðólfr is mentioned in the Hauksbók redaction of Landnámabók as having left three monks behind in Bær when he left Iceland.372 Setting aside what activity these monks might have been involved in after this point,373 the monastery of Bær was run by Hróðólfr himself from 1030 until at least 1049.374 We can assume that similar sorts of education took place there as elsewhere in Iceland during the missionary period.

371 The most recent and by far the most comprehensive study of Icelandic monasteries is Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum. All dates for foundations and closures of Icelandic monasteries used herein are based on this work. 372 Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 65. 373 Björn Þorsteinsson speculated that the establishment of Þingeyrar made use of monks from Bær (Björn Þorsteinsson, Íslensk Miðaldasaga, 124). 374 For the most complete and recent study of Bær, see Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 67–78. Early scholars tended to take the statement of Landnámabók at face value, assuming that Hróðólfr kept a monastery with a school at Bær, and that the monks maintained that institution there (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 12; Janus Jónsson, “Um Klaustrin,” 179–80; The Hólar Cato, x). Ernst Walter was more suspicious of the monks having existed at all, considering the late date of the source (Walter, “Die lateinische Sprache,” 198), while others have accepted that a school may have existed, but speculated that it was quickly abandoned (Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 194; Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 121).

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The first monastery established by an Icelander was Þingeyrar, a Benedictine monastery in the north, established by Ketill Þorsteinsson in 1133 within the diocese of Hólar; it endured until 1551.375 The first abbot of Þingeyrar was Vilmundr Þórólfsson, educated at Hólar under Jón Ǫgmundsson’s supervision, so any conception of monastic education Vilmundr applied at Þingeyrar was likely based on the forms of learning at Hólar. Þingeyrar, however, would not have had the resources of Hólar, and certainly nothing like a skólameistari. But it is very likely that some education did occur, if perhaps only the training of new monks. Furthermore, in this early twelfth-century context, there was likely a sufficient dearth of priests for the resources of the new monastery to have been used to some extent to educate secular clergy. Once Þingeyrar was established, the twelfth century saw numerous monastic foundations. Munkaþverá (1155–1551) was the second Benedictine monastery founded in the Hólar diocese, by Bishop Bjǫrn Gilsson (1147–1162). Hítardalr (1166–1237) was of an unknown rule, but probably Benedictine, and was the first monastery established in the Skálholt diocese. Hreinn Styrmisson, among the students of Jón Ǫgmundsson, was not only the third abbot of Þingeyrar, but also the first abbot of Hítardalr, until his death in 1177.376 Þykkvibær (1168–1548), also in the Skálholt diocese, was the first Augustinian foundation of Iceland. St. Þorlákr Þórhallsson was chosen first as its prior, then abbot, until 1175.377 Another Augustinian foundation was established on the island of Flatey in 1172, but only lasted until 1184, when it was moved to Helgafell.378 Bishop Klængur Þorsteinsson of Skálholt, moreover, was involved in the establishment of both Þykkvibær and Flatey. No other bishop in Icelandic history was involved in the foundation of multiple monasteries, which speaks to the intensive monastic

Sverrir Tómasson has noted the extent of the discussion, but does not offer an opinion (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 19–20, note 71). 375 Þingeyrar may have been endowed in the time of Jón Ǫgmundsson at the instigation of Archbishop Ǫzurr (Gottskálk Jensson, “Íslenskar klausturreglur,” 21–22). The initial donation of land, at least, appears to have been made at that time, see Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 227–28. For a full discussion of the foundation of the monasteries, see Cormack, “Monastic Foundations,” 65–69. 376 DI III, 31. 377 DI III, 29. 378 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir has argued that even despite its short existence, barely over a decade, there was very likely education taking place at Flatey, but this can only be speculative (Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 224).


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

activity taking place in the second half of the twelfth century, doubtless related to the creation of the archdiocese of Niðaróss.379 In 1186, the first Icelandic convent was established, a Benedictine institution at Kirkjubær in the Skálholt diocese, which would survive until 1542. Saurbær, in the Hólar diocese, another short-lived institution, only lasted from 1200 to 1224, and seems to have shifted from a Benedictine into an Augustinian foundation.380 Finally, Viðey (1226–1539) was the last monastery to be founded before the staðamál, an Augustinian foundation in the Skálholt diocese. This burst of monastic foundations over the century between 1133 and 1226 was probably not primarily motivated by a need or desire for new schools and educational resources; however, education was likely a factor. The coming of Augustinian canons to Iceland was almost certainly related to the reformist work of Bishop Þorlákr Þórhallsson,381 and such work would be aided through controlling the education of a new generation of priests. New institutions and groups of clerics or monks, like Þorlákr’s own Þykkvibær canons, could aid in the dissemination and enforcement of new ideas. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, moreover, has argued that Augustinians in particular had the education of priests as one of their most important missions, and that the foundation of Helgafell was to a large extent motivated by its potential role as a school.382 On the one hand, the late medieval documentary evidence more strongly represents Augustinians: of the five monasteries mentioned in the extant educational contracts, three are Augustinian, and Helgafell itself accounts for five of the eleven total references to monasteries in the contracts. On the other hand, the foundational document of Helgafell makes no mention of schooling or education,383 and there is no direct evidence in the extant sources to differentiate the educational activities of Benedictine monks and Augustinian canons in Iceland. Likewise, research into monastic education in medieval England has shown little to differentiate the roles Benedictines and Augustinians played.384

379 Gottskálk Jensson has argued that the introduction of Augustinian canons to Iceland during this period was fundamentally related to the deliberate expansion of archepiscopal and, by extension, papal authority over Iceland (Gottskálk Jensson, “Íslenskar klausturreglur,” 29–34). 380 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 314. 381 Gottskálk Jensson, “Íslenskar klausturreglur,” 38–46. 382 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 233–34. See also Sverrir Jakobsson, “Frá Helgafellsklaustri til Stapaumboðs,” 84–89, for the argument that Helgafell was founded as part of the political struggles of the time, specifically to deny certain rivals of the Sturlungar access to the land there. 383 DI I, 282. 384 See Orme, “The Augustinian Canons,” 232.

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Literary activity is also a potential indication that educational activity took place during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, even when there are no documentary or narrative sources for monastic schools. Most famously, Þingeyrar in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century housed several monks who were involved with important literary works: Oddr Snorrason, Gunnlaugr Leifsson, and Abbot Karl Jónsson. All three of these wrote major works about Norwegian kings, among other texts,385 and while it cannot be assumed that they were educated at Þingeyrar, it is not impossible. It is almost certain they themselves did some teaching: Jóns saga helga references a certain Leifr as being a kinsman and student (lærisveinn) of Gunnlaugr, though it does not state whether Leifr became a monk or even a cleric.386 The first direct references to education in a monastery do not appear until the middle of the thirteenth century. Árna saga discusses the upbringing of Árni Þorláksson, bishop of Skálholt 1269–1298. In the 1250s Árni was educated mostly at the monastery of Þykkvibær with Abbot Brandr Jónsson, but he also spent time at other locations – in Skál with family, in Kirkjubær with the priest Grímr Hólmsteinsson, and at Kálfafell with Þorsteinn, the son of Abbot Brandr – and some of his education may have occurred at these places as well.387 Brandr Jónsson is presented, like Ísleifr Gizurarson and Jón Ǫgmundsson, as a prominent teacher, and two prestigious students at Þykkvibær besides Bishop Árni are mentioned as evidence: Jǫrundr Þorsteinsson, later bishop at Hólar, and Runólfr Sigmundarson, who would become abbot at the monastery of Þykkvibær.388 As with Jón Ǫgmundsson and Ísleifur Gizurarson at their cathedral schools, the praise of prestigious teachers and students at Þykkvibær reflects not only the rhetorical goals of the saga, but also the intersection of education and social networking. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir has argued that Árni Þorláksson used his influence to make three of his former fellow-students from Þykkvibær into abbots of Viðey, Helgafell, and Þykkvibær itself. She has suggested, moreover, that the educational work of Þykkvibær, particularly through this group of powerful men, was a key part of incorporating new papal policy into late thirteenth-century Iceland during the course of the staðamál.389 If certain monasteries and their

385 For an in-depth study of several of the works of the Þingeyrar monks, see Haki Antonsson, “Salvation and Early Saga Writing.” For the political context of their writings on the kings Óláfr Tryggvason and Sverrir Sigurðarson, see Gottskálk Jensson, “Íslenskar klausturreglur,” 46–53. 386 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 289. 387 Biskupa sögur III, 6. 388 Biskupa sögur III, 7. 389 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að klaustrunum, 196–97.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

schools were developing as tools of the archbishop of Niðaróss to influence and reform the Icelandic church, it would certainly help to explain their expanding educational role. However, the potential impact of Benedictine education during this period cannot be discounted. The annals, specifically the Lǫgmannsannáll, written by Einarr Hafliðason, note that Einarr’s own father, Hafliði Steinsson, was educated under Abbot Vermundr at Þingeyrar, sometime before Vermundr’s death in 1279. Hafliði had been a priest at the court of King Eiríkr Magnússon of Norway, a ráðsmaðr (steward) at Hólar and Þingeyrar, and finally a priest a Breiðabólstaðr at Vestrhóp.390 His career thus spanned Iceland and Norway, monastery and cathedral, king’s court and church, and illustrates the wide and variable impact educational practices at Icelandic Benedictine monasteries could have, even as early as the mid-thirteenth century. Finally, it would be remiss not to add that ascetics could be involved in education even outside of monasteries and convents. Though not institutional in the sense of a school, one account of an anchorite in Jóns saga helga does give some insight into the potential intersections between asceticism and more independent, informal forms of education. A young woman named Hildr, a kinswoman of the overseer of the bishopric, Hámundr Bjarnarson, is said to have been among the virtuous people who moved to Hólar during Jón’s tenure there. The saga describes how she had long desired to live in her own house (hús) as a nun (nunna), essentially desiring life as an anchorite. Unable to obtain permission, she went into the wilderness to live as a hermit. Having thus proved her determination, she persuaded Jón to build an abode for her attached to the choir of the cathedral. She is said to have outlived Jón, instructing those women who came to her, and once fostered a poor boy named Þórólfr, entrusted to her by Bishop Ketill, and taught him the Psalter.391 Several important aspects of education are evidenced in this narrative. First, the educated women of Jóns saga helga, Hildr and Ingunn, offer very compelling examples of how women could obtain education and live a religious life even before the establishment of convents. Second, there are at least eleven named anchorites and hermits in Iceland, from various sources, from as early as the tenth century, and some of these could also have been involved in some type of teaching, like Hildr.392 Education here is both charity and a pious practice, spreading the faith through good example and the teaching of basic aspects of Christianity –

390 Islandske Annaler, 260, 266–67. 391 The full story only appears in the H-version of the saga (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 244–54). 392 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að klaustrunum, 79–83.

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like the Psalter – to students who might otherwise be marginalized, like women and the poor. Finally, Hildr is presented as a foster-mother teaching the Psalter to a young boy, an anchorite, and housed at Hólar: she represents, in a sense, the degree to which distinct forms and contexts of education could come together, and particularly the relevance of women and fosterage in Christian education. Though there are few references to education before the fourteenth century, the events of this period are very important to how we conceptualize monastic education in Iceland. It appears that, from the outset, there was no separation of Icelandic monastic schools into internal and external schools, i.e. schooling for students who were intended for a monastic career separated from any other students.393 By the twelfth century in England, the practice of oblation – parents giving small children to monasteries to be raised as monks – was already fading.394 With no clear evidence of oblates in Iceland’s monasteries, it is therefore very likely that the practice never occurred in Iceland, and this would have removed a key factor in the separation of monastic schooling: the desire to protect oblates in their learning from too much interaction with outsiders. The rapid appearance of Augustinian canons in Iceland, moreover, with their greater interest in interacting with the outside world, may have influenced the Benedictine monasteries of Iceland to have a more open, inviting attitude towards education, and helped lead to the lack of a clear distinction in the educational practices of the two orders. Thus, while it is possible that Árni Þorláksson in the mid-thirteenth century was among the earliest students at a monastery who did not pursue a monastic career, it seems more likely that the twelfth-century monastic communities, including the Benedictines, contributed to the training of priests, not just monks and nuns. As at cathedral schools, it is even possible that students at monasteries were thought of much like foster-children.

393 For a thorough study of internal and external monastic schools, albeit in an early medieval context, see Hildebrandt, The External School. Barrow also notes the extent to which many Carolingian monasteries ignored attempts to maintain separation of internal and external students, and that Anglo-Saxon monasteries were generally content for clergy and monks to coexist (Barrow, The Clergy, 182–83). It is not impossible that a particularly Anglo-Saxon lack of concern for internal/external school distinctions made an early impact in Iceland. Þórir Stephensen has argued that the separation between internal and external schools did exist at the Benedictine monasteries of Iceland, but not among the Augustinian canons. However, he offers no compelling evidence for this distinction (Þórir Stephensen, “Menntasetur,” 48, 53–55, 145). Similar arguments are made in Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 221–23, citing Leclercq, The Love of Learning, 194–95. 394 Orme, Medieval Schools, 256.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

Monastic Foundations and Education from the Late Thirteenth Century Around the end of the thirteenth century, two new monastic institutions were established in the diocese of Hólar. In the context of staðamál, which brought a great number of proprietary churches under direct episcopal control, and the new laws that came along with Norwegian rule over Iceland, it is difficult to imagine that these institutions were unrelated to the ecclesiastical changes of the previous half century, though it is difficult to speculate what exactly the relationship was.395 Reynistaðr (1295–1551) was the first convent in the Hólar diocese, and like Kirkjubær it followed the Benedictine rule. The next year, Mǫðruvellir (1296–1551) became the first Augustinian monastery in Hólar diocese. With these two foundations, both dioceses now each had a convent, and both Augustinian and Benedictine houses. A half century before the Reformation, another monastery, Skriða (1493–1554), was established in the Skálholt diocese, but in the eastern part of Iceland, a sparsely populated area with no religious houses. Though a very late establishment, both documentary and archaeological evidence show that Skriða made a significant impact during the half century of its existence. Moreover, as the sole monastery in the far eastern part of Iceland, it could provide new educational resources to a geographical region otherwise lacking them. The first two new monastic institutions, Reynistaðr and Mǫðruvellir, also created new opportunities and resources for education in the Hólar diocese through the diversity they added, providing for both nuns and Augustinian canons, though the extent of their impact is impossible to determine.396 Growing involvement in education did doubtless have a reciprocal relationship to the wealth of the monasteries: the fees from more students in turn increased the holdings, estates, and overall resources of monasteries and their schools.397 The most detailed narrative description of monastic education appears in Lárentíus saga. After Lárentíus’s long trip to Norway, where he learned canon 395 For possible motivations behind the foundation of Icelandic monasteries in general, see Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 214–15. 396 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 362, 389–91. Steinunn’s argument that Mǫðruvellir was intentionally founded as a school to train priests is unwarranted: there is no evidence explicitly indicating such an intention, and such a role would make it the only institution functioning primarily as a school in pre-Reformation Iceland; Mǫðruvellir is not even among the five houses named in the surviving monastic educational contracts. Mǫðruvellir, moreover, had many troubles early in its history, burning down in 1316, and then being embroiled in an extended conflict with Bishop Lárentíus Kálfsson. Gunnar F. Guðmundsson has suggested that it never entirely recovered from these problems (Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 216). 397 Some examples are offered in Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 336.

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law and aided the archbishop, Lárentíus returns to Iceland. However, the return is followed by conflict with Jǫrundr Þorsteinsson, the current bishop of Hólar, and around 1309 Lárentíus is banned from performing Mass, but is allowed to continue to teach, since that had been his profession. This may have been in part a financial punishment, removing a key source of income.398 Lárentíus saga then describes what is essentially a second teaching career, as Lárentíus travels between monasteries, teaching for a short period of time at each of them, collecting student-followers, but having to move because of continuing political conflicts. He fails to convince the monks of Þingeyrar to take him in, so he travels south, where he works at Þykkvibær, a short time at Munkaþverá, then goes back to Þingeyrar, where he and his son Árni eventually take vows and become monks. There are numerous fascinating details about this career of a former skólameistari turned itinerant teacher. As with other sagas, we have a list of students and associates, presenting both their social network and their shared prestige. At Þingeyrar Lárentíus is said to teach the Abbot Guðmundr himself, and then his greatest students are listed: Þórðr, the son of the lǫgmaðr Guðmundr, a poor boy named Óláfr Hjaltason who would later be schoolmaster at Hólar, and Einarr the son of Hafliði from Breiðabólstaðr.399 When Lárentíus and his son Árni become monks of Þingeyrar, around 1316/17, the saga notes that with them there was also a certain Bergr Sokkason, who had been taught by Lárentíus at Munkaþverá and continued to be taught at Þingeyrar.400 Here parental education overlaps with monastic, as Árni Lárentíusson learns from his father to the point that he is able to join him as a monk at Þingeyrar. It is a further compelling overlap that Lárentíus is essentially an itinerant priest, associated with a sequence of institutions, until he joins Þingeyrar. In this sense, he is like Ingimundr, or Bishop Guðmundr Arason himself, in that they appeared to travel and teach at different locations during their careers. Lárentíus is thus the prime example of the flexibility and variability of Icelandic education, oriented around teachers rather than institutions. Yet, at the same time, it is no coincidence that all of his teaching during this time occurs at monasteries, and while his arrival as a teacher is obviously presented in the saga as improving educational conditions, the fact that all the places he chose to teach at were monasteries seems compelling evidence that their role as important schools was already apparent in the early fourteenth century. The description in the saga is 398 Biskupa sögur III, 306. 399 Biskupa sögur III, 318–19. This Einarr Hafliðason is thought to be the author of Lárentíus saga. 400 Biskupa sögur III, 332–33.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

that “setti hann þar skóla” (he established a school there), which naturally could suggest that there was no school there before, and such an interpretation has been made regarding similar comments for cathedral schools.401 However, it is important to keep in mind the balance between personal and institutional identity in medieval education: to a large extent, even in places with an institutional identity as a school, the school itself is centered around a particular teacher. In a sense, the status of a school was defined by having one or more people who could teach as their primary duty.402 Thus, cathedrals and monasteries were the only places where skólar appeared in medieval Iceland, and these skólar were likely continuous or at least very frequent, even when they do not appear in the sources, but they were still skólar of the teachers themselves, as with Þórðr’s movement of the Hólar school temporarily to Vellir. As noted earlier, the Icelandic monastic schools give no impression of being closed – that is, only available to aspiring monks and nuns. The saga describes Lárentíus as having a heterogeneous body of students at the three monasteries: he teaches both klerkar and bræðr, clerics and brothers, adults as well as children. Likewise, he teaches at both Benedictine and Augustinian institutions, in both the north and the south, which emphasizes the potential for interconnectedness among Icelandic educational institutions of different types. The schooling of adults was not a means to a career for the students, as with children training to become priests, but had inherently more complex motivations, involving devotion, piety, prestige, and pleasure. Alongside this lack of a simple pragmatic function, the content of such adult education is further complicated by the uncertainty of how educated the monks were to begin with: would a teacher like Lárentíus be needed to fill in gaps in basic education, would he bring new resources for advanced subjects to the monastery, or would there be some combination of the two? In the B-version of the saga it is mentioned that Lárentíus specifically taught Latin to Guðmundr and his brothers. Sverrir Tómasson argues that it is very unlikely that a monastery would lack basic Latinlearning resources, and speculates that this could be a sort of higher learning, an

401 Notably Gunnar F. Guðmundsson’s reading of the various references to a skóli being held or established at Hólar (Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 172). 402 “Schools attached to major churches made some degree of specialisation possible; even where there was only one teacher, as was the case in most schools in western Christendom in the earlier Middle Ages, that person could concentrate on teaching rather than, say, combining teaching with pastoral care” (Barrow, The Clergy, 180–81).

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advanced grammatica.403 However, looking elsewhere in medieval Europe, there are plenty of examples of monasteries that were slack in their learning,404 and it seems safe to assume that Lárentíus was involved with both advanced and elementary teaching, as will be discussed in more detail in chapter 3. Lárentíus’s monastic teaching career is clearly an important example of how overlapping types of learning could occur. Lárentíus’s various students – an abbot, monks, adult clerics, children and young unordained students – who had distinct but complementary motivations for their learning, would have shared a physical space. Like the anchorite Hildr, Lárentíus is also charitable with his teaching. At Þykkvibær he teaches a poor scholar named Runólfr, whose education appears to have been paid for by Abbot Þorlákr, alongside other monks and clerics.405 As noted above, Óláfr Hjaltason was said to be poor before his education. This theme continues with Lárentíus’s role as bishop: the saga mentions that when Lárentíus made Óláfr Hjaltason schoolmaster at Hólar, Lárentíus took both the sons of rich men and poor and had Óláfr teach them both well.406 Lárentíus himself, at the very end of his life, is said to have taken several clerics from the harsh conditions of their poverty and taught them the Psalter, singing, and Latin, so that they became far better priests at Þingeyrar and Munkaþverá, implying that he may have been training them specifically for the monastic life, whether they took vows or remained as secular clergy.407 This latter example is clearly presented as an attempt to assist both these clerics and the general condition of Christianity in Iceland. In addition to all of his efforts as a teacher and patron of education, Lárentíus had also taken vows as a Benedictine monk, further emphasizing that the Benedictines were almost certainly just as involved in education as any other group in Iceland, at least in the fourteenth century. Indeed, Lárentíus saga contains the sole description we have of the idealized lifestyle of an Icelandic Benedictine monk. After taking his vows at Þingeyrar, the saga notes that Lárentíus kept to the Benedictine Rule well, avoiding travel, keeping silent when possible and speaking mostly Latin when not, and devoting all his time to reading, study, and teaching, particularly the teaching of his son Árni.408

403 Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 63–64. 404 See discussion of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century English monastic education, after the Black Death, in Orme, Medieval Schools, 274. 405 Biskupa sögur III, 309. 406 Biskupa sögur III, 373. 407 Biskupa sögur III, 438. 408 Biskupa sögur III, 333–34.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

This emphasis on teaching as a key part of the Benedictine life may in part be specific to Lárentíus’s own situation as a professional teacher, but it may equally reflect the growing role of monasteries in Icelandic education in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. After Lárentíus saga, no other narratives describe monastic education, but five of the nine surviving monasteries are referenced as locations of education in eleven documents between 1358 and 1524: Helgafell, Viðey, Munkaþverá, Skriða, and Reynistaðr. Of course, many more students must have been educated than these documents represent, and education certainly contributed to the growing wealth of Icelandic monasteries across the island.409 With that said, Helgafell alone accounts for five of these eleven references, including the earliest ones, and it is difficult to dispute that it was a particularly large and influential school. Moreover, including Helgafell, eight of the eleven references are to Augustinian houses. While Lárentíus saga and Hafliði Steinsson’s time at Þingeyrar emphasize that Benedictine houses were definitely also involved in the education of both clergy and monks, this predominance in the documentary sources suggests that Augustinian educational practices may have been somehow distinct, though it is not clear in what way. In 1358, Abbot Ásgrímr Jónsson of Helgafell agrees to take on a boy and educate him, but specifically only until he is educated to the point that the bishop would agree to ordain him as a Mass-deacon – probably another term for subdeacon, at least in this case. This, the earliest surviving education contract, is also one of the few explicit references to an education being deliberately constructed around a lesser goal than becoming a full priest.410 The idea that an education would stop at sub-deacon is odd, since, as noted earlier, students could often hold lesser ordinations, and one of Bishop Guðmundr Arason’s students was a sub-deacon. Perhaps the boy’s family had limited funds, or a specific goal in mind, like a continuing education at a bishopric, but we can only speculate.

409 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 252–3. It should be noted that Steinunn dates both documents from Helgafell to 1377, but these are in fact copies of agreements made in 1358 and 1362. 410 DI IV, 10–11. The term “Mass-deacon” is changed to sub-deacon in the 1377 abbreviated copy of the document (DI III, 314), suggesting the terms may be interchangeable. However, the goal of lesser ordination also appears in contracts from 1488 and 1495 (DI VI, 612–4; DI VII, 235–36), and the 1495 one seems to prefer the opposite sense, as the terms deacon and Massdeacon both are used, suggesting that here Mass-deacon refers to a full deacon rather than a sub-deacon. It may be that Mass-deacon had a variable meaning in medieval Iceland, but more study is needed on the orders of clergy in Iceland to come to more concrete conclusions.

Monastic Schools


In 1362, Abbot Ásgrímr again agrees to educate and maintain a boy, including the cost of his books, vestments, and chalice, until the boy is ordained as a priest.411 In the 1440 document, discussed earlier, where multiple potential schools are mentioned, Helgafell is the first name given after Skálholt, though perhaps more because of geographical proximity than any other reason.412 In 1488, Abbot Halldór Ormsson agrees to educate a boy up to the rank of subdeacon, or until he is eighteen, if he achieves ordination before eighteen.413 Again, the limited ordination invites speculation as to where the boy’s career was intended to go afterwards. Finally, in 1514, in a document already mentioned concerning Skálholt, Bishop Stefán Jónsson sets aside a benefice for Magnús Eyjólfsson, who is still being educated at Helgafell, to be run by his father Eyjólfr Gíslason, until Magnús is capable of taking over.414 Viðey and Munkaþverá are each mentioned in only one document. In 1380, Abbot Páll kjarni of Viðey agrees to educate Bjǫrn Valgarðsson for a period of six years, with no explicit mention of ordination, though it seems likely that some form of ordination was intended.415 In 1466, at Munkaþverá, Abbot Einarr Benediktsson is contracted to educate Magnús Margrétarson to be a priest, and to maintain him until he is twenty. At the same time his parents are taken on as corrodians, í próventu, to become dependents of the monastery.416 There are numerous similar contracts for corrodians at the monasteries, and this was another important way in which monasteries expanded their wealth over the later Middle Ages. Though this is the only document making reference to Munkaþverá, there is one other source that points to educational activities there in the sixteenth century: among the midseventeenth-century writings of Jón Guðmundsson lærði, there is a statement that Páll Jónsson (c. 1534–1598) – a well-known poet and sýslumaðr – was “útlærður í múkaþverárklaustri forðum” (taught in the Munkaþverá monastery long ago).417 Though a late source, it is not so late that Jón Guðmundsson could not have known people who remembered monastic education from before the Reformation. Two agreements survive from Reynistaðr, showing both boys and girls being taught there. In 1413, Bjǫrgólfr Illugason, former ráðmaðr at Reynistaðr, paid for his daughter Steinunn and his kinswoman Sigríðr Sæmundardóttir to

411 DI IV, 13–14. The 1377 abbreviated copy of this document appears in DI III, 13–14. 412 The document is signed at the church at Kolbeinsstaðir, close to Helgafell on Snæfellsness (DI IV, 614–15). 413 DI VI, 612–14. 414 DI VIII, 516. 415 DI III, 354–55. 416 DI IV, 458–59. 417 Safn til sögu Íslands, Vol. 3, 705.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

join the convent, and it is stipulated that both must be educated.418 This is the only reference to education as a contractual part of joining a monastic institution, and the fact that it had to be demanded in the contract suggests that some monks and nuns did not receive a full, formal education. In 1443, the abbess Barbara agrees to maintain the son of Guðmundr Bjǫrgólfsson and educate him until he can be ordained, though the level of ordination is not specified.419 Gunnar F. Guðmundsson has argued that it is unlikely that the sisters of Reynistaðr would have actually taken the boy into the convent and taught him themselves, but rather would have given him to some priest or another to be educated.420 While this is not impossible, there is no reason to think it would necessarily be the case – we can keep in mind the direct teaching of the anchorite Hildr at Hólar in Jóns saga. Finally, education at Skriða is mentioned in two contracts. In 1504, Narfi Jónsson, the first prior of Skriða, and Bishop Stefán accept a boy for education as a priest. This is the only one of these education contracts that stipulates the curriculum of the education: les (reading), sǫng (singing), skrif (writing), and rím (computation), the Old Norse term for computus, the medieval discipline of calendrical learning.421 This curriculum will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter. In 1524, as already mentioned above, Bishop Ǫgmundr acquitted brother Jón Jónsson of Skriða because of some misconduct, and gave him responsibility for teaching. The document also acquits his two students, Jón and Guðrún, of the crime of laying hands on consecrated items.422 Reynistaðr and Hólar were not the only places, then, where both boys and girls, men and women, could be educated alongside each other. This document from Skriða suggests the possibility that no school in Iceland, whether monastery or convent or cathedral, entirely separated students by gender.423

418 DI III, 751–52. 419 DI IV, 642–44. Earlier in 1443, another document records a gift of the entire book collection of Úlfhildr Ketilsdóttir to Reynistaðr, as part of her contract to join the convent, and the same man, Finnr Teitsson, witnessed both documents (DI IV, 636–37). Anna Sigurðardóttir speculates that Finnr may have been involved in instigating the two agreements, and that his interest in the education of priests at the convent may have motivated acquiring books that could aid in such education (Anna Sigurðardóttir, Allt hafði annan Róm, 132–34). For an excellent study on some of the possible content of Reynistaðr education, see Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, “What Icelandic Nuns Read.” 420 Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 221–22. 421 DI VII, 714–15. 422 DI IX, 244–45. 423 For a recent general discussion of women in medieval education, including the argument that elementary education was largely ungendered, see Lynch, Medieval Pedagogical Writings, 115–28.

Monastic Schools


This substantial corpus of contracts and other documents pertaining to schooling is compelling evidence for the role of monastic education from the fourteenth century to the Reformation. These institutions seem to have been the most numerous and popular type of ecclesiastical school in Iceland. They are also the only places besides Hólar where any sort of school building is ever explicitly referenced: the 1525 Sigurðarregistur describes the buildings at Munkaþverá after the 1429 fire there, and includes a skólabaðstofa, a baðstofa normally referring to the common living area on a farm. The objects listed in the skólabaðstofa are not numerous, but include items necessary for students to eat and sleep.424 It seems likely that it was a location for the housing of students, rather than a place for teaching. At the same time, there must have been enough students studying regularly at Munkaþverá to justify such a building. It cannot be ignored that many students probably received their basic education at home or at a church, apprenticed to a priest or taking advantage of the learning of a family member, and these do not appear in the documentary corpus. This was probably the case for most lay students with no intention of joining the clergy. But there is little doubt that the monasteries developed alongside the cathedral schools to become the most powerful and influential schools in medieval Iceland. The Reformation response to the monastic and cathedral schools of Iceland confirms the idea that they were the central educational institutions of the country during the Middle Ages, alongside Skálholt and Hólar. As noted above, both cathedral schools were converted into látínuskólar (grammar-schools), and continued to be the main institutional schools of Iceland for some time. There was an attempt by the first Lutheran bishop of Skálholt, Gizurr Einarsson, to do the same with the monastery schools.425 Specifically, letters from the 1540s survive showing specific attempts to open schools at Viðey, Helgafell, Þykkvibær, Skriða, and Kirkjubær.426 These are all in the diocese of Skálholt, as Hólar did not accept the Reformation until the execution of Bishop Jón Arason in 1550. The effort continued over a significant period of time, and in a letter from 1550 Christian III specifically calls on the monks of Helgafell to educate poor boys.427 This emphasis on charity appears to be an aspect of how Bishop Gizurr Einarsson intended to use the monasteries. In

424 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 156–57, 164; DI IX, 307–8. 425 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 290; 426 For the 1542 letters concerning Helgafell, Viðey, Þykkvibær, Skriða, and Kirkjubær, see DI XI, 175–78. See also Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 295–96. A letter surviving from 1540 also shows a specific request for the king to establish a school at Viðey, as well as other social services. Oddly, the letter was sent from citizens and merchants of Hamburg who had dealings in Iceland (DI X, 502–5). 427 DI XI, 750.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

1545, Gizurr Einarsson sent a poor boy to be trained as a priest at Þykkvibær.428 The failure of the monasteries to successfully convert to schools is likely because of the actions of Christian III: letters from 1554 show the granting of Helgafell, Þingeyrar, Munkaþverá, Mǫðruvellir, Þykkvibær, Skriða, and Kirkjubær to private owners, with no mention of schools, and already in 1542 he had handed over Viðey to an official of his.429 However, Gizurr’s efforts in themselves indicate the importance that monastic schooling had gained over the course of the Middle Ages, and may have been in part motivated by his own education in Kirkjubær.430 The institutional quality of monastic schools in Iceland was comparable to the institutional quality of the cathedral schools at Skálholt and Hólar, with the important distinction that monasteries lacked a schoolmaster, and we do not actually know whether they might have had similar professional teachers, when a convenient travelling priest like Lárentíus Kálfsson was not available.431 Nonetheless, both types of institutions stand out as the only type of school named directly in educational agreements, from the mid-fourteenth century onward, and the only places in Iceland to which the extant sources apply the term skóli. Both types of schools had to be dealt with during the Reformation, in terms of finding ways to continue to fulfill the role they had had in society and education. This role had grown and developed from the twelfth century to the sixteenth, but it must always have been a source of wealth and prestige for the Icelandic ecclesiastical institutions. Monastic schools, more numerous and geographically spread out than cathedral schools, played a vital role in providing education throughout medieval Iceland.

428 DI XI, 450. 429 DI XII, 679–84; DI XI, 179–80. See also Loftur Guttormsson, Frá siðaskiptum, 77; Páll Eggert Ólason, Saga Íslendinga, 131–32. 430 Specifically, Jón Gizurarson, the grandson of Gizurr Einarsson’s brother, writing in the middle of the seventeenth century, states that Bishop Ǫgmundr had sent Gizurr to obtain his education under Abbess Hálldóra (Safn til sögu Íslands, Vol. 1, 662), who must be Halldóra Sigvaldadóttir, Gizurr’s aunt and the last abbess of Kirkjubær. 431 Gunnar F. Guðmundsson has argued that monasteries did not make a serious impact on the educational life of Iceland, suggesting that they – Benedictine monks more than Augustinian canons – would have been busy with their daily liturgical duties, and that their main purpose was to pray, not to educate (Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Íslendskt samfélag, 223). However, as this chapter has shown, there is copious evidence for the importance of monastic education. Furthermore, priests were as bound by their liturgical duties as monks, and their role was also not primarily to teach students. This is no doubt the reason why professional, full-time teachers were so rare.

Education Abroad


Education Abroad The ability to leave Iceland for schooling was an essential part of the flexibility and adaptability of medieval Icelandic education, and a key method for new pedagogical ideas and influences to be brought and adapted to Icelandic conditions. There are references to Icelanders travelling to many locations, but the proximity and ecclesiastical connections with Norway mean that it was likely the most frequently visited place, though it is very rarely mentioned as a destination for students. Some comparison can also be made between the journeys abroad of laymen and of priests. For both groups it is key to point out that such an expensive, elite practice as travelling abroad is not necessarily tied to the functions of a clerical or administrative career, but must have had complex motivations, including prestige, curiosity, and piety, as well as in some cases education. From the sagas and narrative sources, in addition to Lárentíus and his trip to Norway, there are seven named Icelanders, four of whom were bishops of Skálholt, who went abroad for education before 1400.432 Five of these went abroad in the eleventh century and two in the twelfth. Deeper examination of the sources can suggest others who may have been abroad, or who went abroad and may have been educated there.433 For example, in Hungrvaka, Hallr Teitsson,

432 These are: Ísleifr Gizurarson, bishop of Skálholt 1056–1080, educated in Herford, Saxony; Sæmundr fróði Sigfússon (d. 1133), who as noted earlier travelled to “Frakkland,” according to Íslendingabók, though the text is not explicit about his going to any school there; Gizurr Ísleifsson, bishop of Skálholt 1082–1118, educated in Saxony; Jón Ǫgmundsson, bishop of Hólar 1106–1121, whose saga only notes that education was among his purposes in travelling abroad, and does not name a specific location; St. Þorlákr Þórhallsson, bishop of Skálholt 1178–1193, educated in Paris and Lincoln; Páll Jónsson, bishop of Skálholt 1195–1211, educated in England. In addition, the Norwegian Jón Halldorsson, bishop of Skálholt 1322–1339, was educated in Paris and Bologna. The primary sources are mainly Hungrvaka, Kristni saga, Þorláks saga helga, Páls saga, and the Icelandic annals. Finally, it is seldom mentioned that in Heiðarvígar saga Snorri góði’s son, Guðlaugr, is said to have gone to a monastery in England around 1015, where he presumably would have also obtained an education, though he did not return to Iceland to share his knowledge (Borgfirðinga sögur, 247; Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 6). However, the relevant section of the saga is only extant in a summary made from memory by an eighteenth-century scholar. 433 Besides these seven, Jónas Gíslason has speculated about several more. In addition to figures which he mentions purely speculatively, based on how learned the narrative sources present them, he notes several men who are said to go abroad but not specifically to study: Gizurr Hallsson, who went to Rome in the twelfth century and wrote a travelogue, but may have been only a pilgrim rather than a student; Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson; Bishop Magnús Gizurarson; and Bjǫrn Einarsson Jerusalem-farer (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 123, 126–27).


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

who died around 1150 in Utrecht on the way home from his journey to be consecrated bishop of Skálholt, is said to have been able to skillfully speak the languages of all the lands he visited.434 This suggests, though it can hardly confirm, that he had spent some time abroad earlier in his life, and perhaps obtained a formal education. Finally, legal stipulations applied to students travelling abroad in the late thirteenth century: Jónsbók states that no man should travel abroad from Iceland without a certain quantity of goods, but among the allowed exceptions were those who were going til skóla.435 Scholars have used European sources to track Icelanders and Norwegians who went to universities from the end of the Middle Ages to the early modern period. Jónas Gíslason lists four Icelandic students in the registers of the university in Rostock in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, and speculates that Icelanders attended the university of Copenhagen before the Reformation.436 In contrast to the handful of known Icelanders, Sverre Bagge gives eighty-one Norwegians known to have studied abroad between 1200 and 1350. He argues that it was quite normal for Norwegian canons to study abroad, and that during the period 1305–69 all Norwegian bishops had a university education.437 There are no records of comparable numbers of Icelanders, but Gunnar Guðmundsson has noted that university degrees start to appear in records for Icelandic clergy in the mid-fifteenth century.438 The earliest of the references noted by Gunnar is Pétr Pétrsson, a member of the court of King Christopher – king of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden until 1448 – who held the title of meistari,439 and his two sons. Oddr Pétrsson would become a baccalaureus artium and priest at Stafaholt, and Sveinn Pétrsson 434 Biskupa sögur II, 34. 435 Jónsbók, 366–67. 436 Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 127–28. See also Pál Eggert Ólason, Menn og Menntir, Vol. 4, 6–7. The four students named at Rostock are: Þorbjǫrn Jónsson, Jón Guðmundsson, Tómas Óláfsson, and Jón Erlendsson. 437 Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 8–9. For 1350–1530 Bagge suggests some 219 Norwegians in the universities that had developed east of the Rhine, and no Icelanders (Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 13). However, it might be that Icelanders were simply grouped with Norwegians or Danes during this period in the university records. 438 Gunnar Guðmundsson, Íslenskt samfélag, 173–74. Gunnar likewise speculates that Icelanders would have been among the first students at the University of Copenhagen when it opened in 1479, but no names are known from that period. The first know Icelandic student at the university was Guðbrandr Þorláksson (c. 1541–1627), the second Lutheran bishop of Hólar, see Margrét Eggertsdóttir, “‘Let the children come to me,’” 102–3. 439 Pétr Pétrsson is referred to as mester peder in a document from 1448 (DI IV, 737–38), though he does not seem to have the title in any other documents that mention him, including a letter from King Christopher from only the year before (DI IV, 705–6).

Education Abroad


would become meistari and then eventually bishop of Skálholt, in 1466.440 When Bishop Sveinn ordained Stefán Jónsson, his successor as bishop, as a full priest early in the 1470s, the document notes that Stefán spent ten years abroad attending schools and visiting holy sites.441 A document from 1482 confirms that Stefán was made a baccalareus artium.442 Another document, from 1492, references Ásbjǫrn Sigurðsson, the schoolmaster of Skálholt noted earlier, as being a baccalaureus artium.443 Ǫgmundr Pálsson also appears to have gone abroad for his education, perhaps to England or Belgium. Though references to this only appear to go back as far as the eighteenth-century writings of Bishop Finnur Jónsson and his father, Jón Halldórsson, it is not unlikely that they had access to an earlier source that has now been lost.444 Ǫgmundr Pálsson, in turn, helped patronize the education of his successor Gizurr Einarsson, who wrote a letter to Ǫgmundr while he was studying abroad in Hamburg in 1532.445 The beginning of the Reformation in Iceland was likely fueled, at least in part, by Icelanders studying abroad, such as a certain Þorvarðr Einarsson, who wrote to Gizurr while studying in Denmark in 1543.446 None of these accounts give much more than the names of cities or countries to which the students went.447 The emphasis on bishops in the eleventh

440 Oddr is called a baccalaureus artium in several documents from 1467 through 1476, while he is officialis of Skálholt (DI V, 470, 562–64, 574, 608; DI VI, 72–73). Bishop Sveinn Pétrsson is a meistari in 1462, and then later the same year in a Latin document he is called a scientificus magister, though there appears to be some confusion about the date of the second document, and it may be slightly later (DI V, 368, 374–75). 441 “licenciam dedimus quatenus scolas in partibus transmarinis frequentare et suas peregrinaciones possit peragere vbicunque sibi placuerit ex deuocione sanctorum limina uisitare itaque infra decennium revertatur” (We granted license for how long he might visit among schools overseas, and so let him have leave to complete his travels to wheresoever pleases him, to visit out of devotion the dwellings of the saints, and thus let him return within ten years) (DI V, 660–62). The dating on the document is unclear, likely either 1472 or 1476. 442 DI VI, 453–56. 443 DI VII, 152. Jónas Gíslason also suggests that Ásbjǫrn was educated in France, but I have not been able to determine his source for this assertion (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 127–28). 444 Finnur Jónsson, Historia ecclesiastica, Vol. 2, 522. The writings of Jón Halldórsson on Icelandic bishops have been edited, but the relevant passage on Ǫgmundr is not included in the edition, and is thus currently only available in manuscript form, in Lbs 167 4to, 219r. Both these texts are referenced in Pál Eggert Ólason, Menn og Menntir, Vol. 2, 121. 445 DI IX, 611. 446 DI XI, 269–70. Jón Gizurarson, writing in the middle of the seventeenth century, notes that three of Bishop Ǫgmundr’s followers in Skálholt had learned of the Reformation while abroad: Gizurr Einarsson, Gísli Jónsson, and Oddr Gottskálksson (Safn til sögu Íslands, Vol. 1, 662–63). 447 Páls saga implies that Pál Jónsson’s skill in Latin verse and singing were obtained or at least refined while abroad (Biskupa sögur II, 297–98). Similarly, the fact that Jón Halldórsson


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

century must at least in part be due to the nature of the narrative sources, and their interest in the foundation of the Icelandic church, while the references near the end of the Middle Ages clearly stems from the greater number of documentary sources. The scarcity of sources, and the rather brief and incidental way they tend to mention foreign education, means that it is nearly impossible that these were all the Icelanders who travelled to schools in Europe, and unlikely that they were even the majority of them. At the same time, it is possible that such travel was in fact quite rare, whether because of expense or lack of sufficient motivation, and that more Icelanders went abroad in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, when local educational resources were scarcer.448 The idea of twelfth-century travel is supported by another key piece of evidence, a passage in Páls saga regarding Bishop Páll making a survey of the priests and churches in the diocese of Skálholt: Páll byskup lét telja í þeim þrimr fjórðungum lands, er hann var byskup yfir, kirkjur þær er at skyldu þurfti presta til at fá, ok hann lét presta telja, hve marga þyrfti í hans sýslu, ok váru þá kirkjur tveir tigir ok tvau hundruð tírœð, en presta þurfti þá tíu miðr en tvau hundruð tírœð. En því lét hann telja at hann vildi leyfa útanferð prestum, ef œrnir væri eptir í hans sýslu, en hann vildi ok fyrir sjá um þat at aldregi yrði presta fátt í hans sýslu meðan hann væri byskup.449 (Bishop Páll, in those three quarters of the country which he was bishop over, had those churches counted which were obliged to have priests, and he had the priests counted, how many were needed in his diocese, and there were two hundred and twenty churches, and one hundred and ninety priests were needed. And he had the count carried out because he wished to give leave to priests to go abroad, if there were sufficient numbers left in his diocese, and he also wished to see to it that there would never be a lack of priests in his diocese while he was bishop.)

While this passage might be thought to suggest that a great number of Icelandic priests were going to foreign schools,450 it is not clear that priests going abroad was strictly a matter of education. Pilgrimage or political interests in Norway or elsewhere could have been other major motivations. The passage suggests that there may have been a perceived lack of priests in the diocese. This could have

went to school in Bologna, famous for legal education, strongly implies that that was where he obtained his skill in canon law. 448 Hjalti Hugason has speculated that more Icelanders went abroad for education before 1150, though he admits that it is impossible to know how many (Hjalti Hugason, Frumkristni, 228–29). 449 Biskupa sögur II, 313. 450 Jónas Gíslason argues that so many priests leaving to be educated outside Iceland was the very reason for Páll making the survey (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 122).

Education Abroad


been caused by a number of factors: a lack of interest in the priesthood, insufficient or ineffective educational resources, or simply a high demand because of the scattered population. However, it remains that this is a rare piece of evidence for Icelanders outside the highest clergy potentially going abroad for schooling, and supports the idea that it did happen. It is likely that education abroad was quite expensive – the cost of the journey, living abroad, books, and whatever fees the schools or teachers might have charged – and for most clerics and educated laymen it would not have much practical use. Thus it is unlikely that it ever could have been a particularly widespread practice, at least not for the essential vocational training of a priest, and scholarly speculation about the frequency, or increase at certain periods, of Icelanders going abroad for education is not based on solid evidence.451 Generally, where the sources provide evidence, they suggest that the capacity to travel abroad for education was based on powerful patronage and support. Bishop Ǫgmundr Pálsson was clearly invested in the education of Gizurr Einarsson, and patronized his journey abroad,452 and Páll Jónsson was the son of Jón Loptsson, and thus a member of one of the most powerful and likely one of the richest families in Iceland. The closest thing to an exception is in Þorláks saga, where Þorlákr is said to have obtained a profitable position soon after he became a priest, and after gaining some wealth decided to go abroad.453 While it is hardly surprising that the saga implies he is self-sufficient, it is certainly possible that his foster-family, the Oddaverjar, also assisted with costs.454

451 Sverrir Tómasson and Alf Önnerfors both have suggested that an education abroad would have been the summit of an Icelandic education (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 23; Önnerfors, “Geistige Ausbildung,” 211). However, Sverrir Tómasson has also argued that a lack of offices requiring extensive education accounts for the lack of Icelandic students going abroad for learning (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 34). Peter Foote has argued for an increase in Icelanders going abroad in the late thirteenth century, while Jónas Gíslason and Sverre Bagge suggest a decrease in the same period (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 122, 126; Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 6–7; Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 257–58). Jónas Gíslason argues that Icelanders serving chieftains and kings abroad in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries shows that some were being educated abroad, because they must have had better education than was available in Iceland to be trusted with such positions (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 127). There is, however, not enough evidence for the poverty of Icelandic education during these centuries to make such an assertion, and significantly more study would be needed to determine how much or in what way these late medieval kings might have valued the education of their Icelandic followers, if they valued it at all. 452 Gizurr’s 1532 letter to Ǫgmundr from Hamburg is very clear that Ǫgmundr had supported Gizurr in order to assure the latter’s learning (DI IX, 611). 453 Biskupa sögur II, 51–52. 454 Gottskálk Jensson has speculated that when Þorlákr went abroad, he may have gone with a group of Norwegians sent to Paris by Nicholas Breakspear – who would become Pope


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

The most important question is, however, not how many Icelanders went abroad to learn, or when there might have been increases and decreases in the number, but rather what might have motivated them to make the journey. There were certainly some pragmatic motivations for a small and ambitious number of clergymen: there are certain subjects of higher education for which there were probably very limited resources in Iceland, particularly in the eleventh century, when Christian education was still early in its development. Students returning to Iceland could have reported on the best places to learn certain things: Páll Jónsson was the nephew of Þorlákr Þórhallsson, and his education in England may have in part been motivated by Þorlákr’s time in Lincoln.455 For future bishops like Ísleifr, Páll, and Þorlákr and the patrons who paid for their journeys, going abroad was also an investment, a decision based on wealth and ambition for a higher position. This is not to say that intellectual curiosity or piety could not have played a part in their decisions, but that it is essentially impossible to untangle such motivations from more pragmatic ones for men who would become bishops. During Ísleifr’s day, when multiple missionaries were still active in Iceland, it is possible that an education abroad put Ísleifr in a position to compete with them, and profit economically and socially from his services both as a priest and as a teacher. Some element of competition may even have been a factor in later examples of Icelanders obtaining education abroad. A school run by a man with a prestigious foreign education could potentially attract the sons of rich men as students, who would have had a choice of where to obtain their education. In Lárentíus saga, though Lárentíus only made it as far as Norway, and clearly worked in exchange for his education, the learning of canon law and his social connections to the archbishop were fundamental to his career as bishop, as will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter. Advanced education, and connections made to clergymen abroad, could have served similar functions for other wealthy Icelandic priests. Þorláks saga makes a point of mentioning that Þorlákr had socialized with many learned men and bishops during his journey, and that he had been motivated to go abroad to learn the customs of good men.456 It does not seem coincidental that the biskupasögur so often deal with

Hadrianus IV – as part of his efforts to restructure the Norwegian church (Gottskálk Jensson, “Íslenskar klausturreglur,” 29–31). There is, however, no direct evidence for this, and even if Þorlákr was in the company of other Icelanders and Norwegians, he still may have had to pay his own way. 455 This has been suggested in Gottskálk Jensson, “Íslenskar klausturreglur,” 32, note 42. 456 Biskupa sögur II, 52–53. Jón Ǫgmundarson likewise wishes to sjá góðra manna siðu og nám sitt at auka (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 184) (see the customs of good men and increase his

Education Abroad


men who were educated abroad, and thereupon had successful careers as highly influential bishops. This success could in part, as Lárentíus saga seems to suggest, be attributable to the actual skills offered by this learning, like Lárentíus’s study of canon law. However, the prestige and cultural significance of a foreign education, whether or not it involved a university degree, is also an undeniable aspect of the narrative sources.457 Norway, as the closest place to Iceland, must have held a special status, particularly after the beginning of Norwegian rule in Iceland in the midthirteenth century. The political and ecclesiastical relationship as well as the shared vernacular would have made it significantly easier for Icelanders to obtain an education there than elsewhere.458 Certainly more priests travelled to Norway than are known in the narrative and documentary sources, and Erika Sigurdson has pointed to a 1392 entry in Flateyjarannáll showing ten priests from Skálholt dying of the plague in Norway.459 Lárentíus saga describes Lárentíus’s trip to Niðaróss not only as an education in canon law, but simultaneously as a method of creating a social bond with the archbishop, gaining

own learning). These phrases are reminiscent of educational motivations in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, when Gunnlaugr seeks out his fosterage after telling his father that he wishes to go abroad and learn the customs of other men (Borgfirðingar sögur, 59). Whether we are dealing here with a shared literary language or continuity of motivations for travel cannot be said for sure, but there is very likely an element of both. 457 Orri Vésteinsson, while speculating that Ísleifr Gizurarson’s education abroad represents a distinctive career move beyond just becoming a priest, argues that the missionary bishops present in Iceland should have been able to provide such learning (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 20–23). Bagge argues that university education was linked more to cultural norms than to practical Latin and liturgical learning that could occur at a local level (Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 11–12). Erika Sigurdson goes further, and in the context of discussing travelling to Norway in the fourteenth century, states: “Facility with a foreign country, with travel, and with a different ecclesiastical structure were highlighted as necessary elements of an Icelandic clerical education, as much or more important than facility with local parochial concerns, the maintenance and development of ecclesiastical estates, or episcopal politics” (Sigurdson, The Church, 149). 458 Sverrir Tómasson argues that education in Norway must have increased after the takeover, speculating that Norwegian bishops would have sent promising scholars from Iceland to Niðaróss (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 27). Jónas Gíslason agrees, and also suggests that Óblauðr Hallvarðsson was in service of the archbishop at Niðaróss and may have been educated there (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 127). Jónas Gíslason and Benjamín Kristjánsson both suggest Óblauðr was also schoolmaster at Skálholt for a time before become schoolmaster at Hólar, following Finnur Jónsson (Benjamín Kristjánsson, “Menntun presta,” 26, Finnur Jónsson, Historia Ecclesiastica, Vol. 1, 581). However, no medieval source for this has been found in this study, and Finnur Jónsson may have been speculating. 459 Sigurdson, The Church, 159.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

experience in ecclesiastical administration, and obtaining a broader worldview. The biskupasögur always describe the bishop’s journey abroad to receive consecration from the archbishop, and this episode can be seen as an expansion of that idea, a detailed expression of the type of prestige which travels abroad must have represented to bishops and the clerical elite. The clerical experience of combining education, vocation, and gaining prestige while abroad overlaps with a similar secular experience. There is some evidence for what can be characterized as potential educational experiences among adult Icelandic poets travelling abroad. Although we cannot know how many Icelanders are indicated, Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum and Sven Aggeson’s Brevia historia regvm Dacie, as well as Theodoricus’s Historia de antiquitate regum Norwagiensium, all make reference to their authors learning history from Icelandic poets about ancient kings sometime in the late twelfth century.460 In such situations, the Icelandic poets were the teachers, rather than the students. In a more detailed example, the author of the 3GT, Óláfr Þórðarson, mentions discussing runes and language with the Danish king Valdemar II, during the first half of the thirteenth century, and says specifically that he learned an orðtæki, a wordformula for memorizing the runic fuþark, from the king.461 The continuing education of adults who are invested in a field of learning is not unlike a formal education abroad, and Óláfr’s experience in Denmark might be compared to Lárentíus’s experience at Niðaróss. While there is no known narrative describing how Óláfr’s experience might have aided his career, like Lárentíus’s, it is difficult to imagine that such an interaction with the king had no value to his career, and if nothing else it lent a certain authority to his grammatical treatise. There is no space here to speculate about the specific influences on Iceland’s culture and learning from these journeys abroad.462 Yet it is clear that they must have had some impact: bringing in new intellectual movements, books, and pedagogical trends, functioning as an option when the available Icelandic educational resources were not sufficient for certain purposes, and generally connecting Icelandic and European learning. Taken together, references in the extant sources 460 Theodoricus Monachus, Historia de Antiquitate, 1; Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Vol. 1, 6–7; Sven Aggeson, “Brevis historia,” 96. 461 Óláfr Þórðarson, The Foundation of Grammar, 88–9. 462 Scholars, however, have speculated extensively along these lines. Bagge argues that extant sources from St. Victor indicate that Norwegians, particularly the higher clergy at Niðaróss, regularly went there to study, and that the influence from Northern France was high in the twelfth century (Bagge, “Nordic Students,” 3; see also Mortensen, “The Anchin Manuscript”). Sverrir Tómasson emphasizes that it is not known what St. Þorlákr studied, while noting that Lincoln was known for theology and law, and speculates on that basis that Þorlákr went abroad to study theology (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 23, note 85).

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to Icelanders being educated abroad strengthen the idea that education for medieval Icelanders was variable and adaptable. For students in need of only practical learning to become a priest, as has been shown, there were copious resources available even outside the major monastic and episcopal institutions, and all that was really needed was a priest willing to do the teaching, and the social connections to obtain ordination. Education abroad, in turn, allowed those wealthier Icelanders to obtain whatever education was not available locally.

Finance and Society in Education A full clerical education was not available to everyone in medieval Iceland. Even as the land and property acquired from students’ fees promoted the development of monasteries and bishoprics, the cost of such education could be a serious barrier. The cost of fosterage, likely inherited from pre-Christian practices, must have influenced how these fees developed, and it is almost certain that money was a barrier to learning throughout the history of medieval Iceland. At the same time, as we have seen, there were ways around this. Education within the household could reduce costs, depending on whether there was a paid teacher involved. Learning from a priest at a church like Vellir may have been cheaper than cathedral or monastic schools. Some Icelanders certainly offered charitable teaching, whether for pious enrichment of their community, as with the learned woman Ingunn or the anchorite Hildr, or for improving the skills and fortunes of the priesthood at large, as with Bishop Lárentíus. The actual costs of an education are only indicated in a few documents, and the complex social dynamic that must have surrounded the valuation of teaching and learning can only be briefly touched upon here. On one level, our sources are too limited to truly inspire confidence in any calculation of how much any given education might have cost. On another, teaching and learning touched in some way every part of society, and an attempt to construct a complete social history of Icelandic schools, teachers, and students would fill an entire book. Here, we can only point to some illustrative examples of how the cost and value of learning affected certain Icelanders and their circumstances.

The Price of an Education Fosterage and maintenance of a child in medieval Iceland was not cheap. Resources were relatively limited, and even for wealthy Icelanders, accepting a new dependent into a household was not to be taken lightly. On some level,


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

then, the cost of education described in the extant late medieval documents reflects a continuous development from pre-Christian Iceland, a recurring negotiation of costs and rewards. The value of a formal education would have been different for the poor and rich, clergy and laymen, men and women. The cost, in turn, and the way it was managed must also have varied. Chapter 1 discussed some ways in which the sources can be used to speculate about such costs in the pre-Christian period. Even after the conversion, no sources explicitly mention the cost of an education until the documentary sources from the mid-fourteenth century and later. However, earlier sources do offer indications as to how such costs were handled. The first source to do so, and arguably the most important, is the education section of Grágás. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, Grágás has a provision allowing for students to indenture themselves to church owners, while the church owners in turn would pay for their education and maintenance, and the equipment needed for serving as a priest.463 This clause is clearly describing a system whereby a church owner could obtain a priest; the passage was probably written when they were in short supply. Viewed from the student’s point of view, it was a way for a poor boy to become a priest. Such a system would have been particularly useful in the earlier period of Christian Iceland, when there were fewer priests and fewer schools. However, in part because elite priests and chieftain-priests, such as those at Ísleifr’s school, loom so large in the narrative sources, scholars have often relegated this clause on education to a later period, at least to the latter half of the twelfth century, when there was presumed to be a greater number of churches than priests to fill them.464 These scholarly assumptions also reflect the 1190 ordinance of the archbishop of Niðaróss, banning chieftains from being ordained as priests. However, putting the elite bias of the narrative sources aside, there is no reason to doubt that poor priests and wealthy priests existed throughout medieval Icelandic history.465 Grágás provides a means for poor priests to manage the costs of education, when charity was not available. Similarly, the biskupasögur give hints of means whereby such poor students could obtain charitable teaching. As noted earlier, Lárentíus taught poor students, and the learned Ingunn of Jóns saga was said to teach anyone

463 Grágás, Vol. 1, 17–18. 464 Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 179–82; Helgi Skúli Kjartansson, “Thin on the Ground,” 101–2. For the opposite argument, that eleventh-century Icelandic priests were indentured to their patrons, and only gained independence through the tithe, see Walter, “Die lateinische Sprache,” 200. 465 See Gunnar Karlsson, Goðamenning, 426.

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interested in learning. This latter example fits the broader European context, as students were sometimes expected to help teach each other in the Middle Ages.466 Þorláks saga and its mention of Þorlákr’s ordination of unqualified students is a related form of charity, providing ordination for students who, because of their poverty, may have been more limited in what education they could obtain. Perhaps these students were able to pick up some small amount of knowledge, or pay for a priest to teach them for a year or a season, but not the full period necessary to master their craft. Simply shortening the period of an education could certainly alleviate the costs, and both Lárentíus saga and Árna saga describe what seems to be a sort of part-time education. As noted earlier, Lárentíus spends part of the year at Vellir being taught by the priest Þórarinn, but part at home with his family.467 Árni’s situation is more complex, and seems a more compelling example of deliberately avoiding extensive maintenance costs. He spent part of the year at the monastery school in Þykkvibær with Abbot Brandr, part at Skál with family, and part in Kálfafell with Þorsteinn, the son of Abbot Brandr. He also appears to have obtained resources from his extended family and to have worked as a craftsman of some kind at the farms where he stayed.468 If he provided such services at Þykkvibær, it may have helped fund his education and upkeep. The potential for a child to provide labor could be a valuable resource, and was likely an element of fosterage and early education both before and after the conversion. The significance of financial issues to education, for teachers and schools as well as for students, is illuminated in an addition made to the mid-fourteenth-century C-version of Guðmundar sögur. When Guðmundr comes to Hólar as bishop and appoints Þórðr as schoolmaster, the redactor of the C-version adds details about the costs involved: Skyldu í þann skóla inn ganga til læringar nær hverr sem nema vildi, hvárt sem hann átti meira kosti eðr minna, hvar fyrir innan lítils tíma varð mjök mannmargt á staðnum ok horfði til mikils kostnaðar, því at þótt ríkir menn gæfi mikit góz með sonum sínum vóru þeir fleiri er lítit eða alls ekki höfðu sér til kostar nema þat er byskup veitti þeim af sinni mildi, því at huggæði ok miskunnsemi var in sama með honum nú sem fyrr er lesit. Margir stóðu vel undir með framlögum við staðinn, gefandi Guðmundi byskupi góðar gjafir sem hann kom heim til stólsins, en hann gaf þat allt í nauðsyn þurftugra.469

466 Grotans, Reading, 65–66. 467 Biskupa sögur III, 226. 468 Biskupa sögur III, 6. 469 From chapter 85 of the text as edited by Stefán Karlsson, in the forthcoming edition of the C-version from Hið íslenska fornritafélag. I would like to thank Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson for generously allowing me use of this text.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

(Nearly everyone who wished to learn could enter into that school for teaching, whether he had more or less means, for which reason within a short while there was a great number of people at the place and there looked to be great expense, because although rich men gave much property with their sons, there were more who had little or nothing at all for their support, except that which the bishop gave them out of his own mercy, because his goodheartedness and mercy were the same now, as was read before. Many did well in contributions to the place, giving Bishop Guðmundr good gifts which he brought there to the episcopal see, and he gave all that towards the needs of the poor.)

The redactor here focuses on an inevitable tension between the virtue of charitably providing education for everyone who desires it, and the financial difficulties of taking care of so many students. While we cannot assume that this passage reflects in any way the particular conditions of the cathedral school of Hólar under Bishop Guðmundr, these issues were likely perennial problems in Icelandic education. In the fourteenth century, quantitative evidence begins to appear in the exact stipulations of educational contracts. Magnús Már Lárusson, the only scholar who has dealt seriously with these contracts, estimated that it would have cost around four hundreds per year for four to five years for a priest to be trained, and two hundreds per year for around two years for a sub-deacon or Mass-deacon.470 A hundred is a unit of value, generally considered to be equivalent to a hundred ells of wool, or to one kúgildi (cow-value). The value of the poorest farms in Iceland was around twelve hundreds or less, the value of a midsized farm twenty-five to thirty-six hundreds, and the value of very large farms over sixty hundreds.471 Full ordination could thus cost nearly as much as a midsized farm. However, there are only a few extant educational contracts which explicitly mention the duration of education and the cost per year, and these show that there could be significant variation. The 1380 contract from Viðey monastery has the aspiring priest being educated for six years.472 The 1440 document, noted earlier as involving the legitimization of a priest’s children, involves fifteen

470 Magnús Már Lárusson, “Námskostnaður,” 127. Þórir Stephensen cites Magnús for the idea that twenty hundreds was a standard cost (Þórir Stephensen, “Menntasetur,” 66; Þórir Stephensen, “Skólahald,” 98). Magnús does not attempt to speculate about the costs of learning abroad. However, Jónas Gíslason notes that when Gizurr Einarsson studied in Hamburg for two years, funded by Bishop Ǫgmundr Pálsson, he eventually paid the bishop back with one ton of fish, around 1440 fish (Jónas Gíslason, “Island,” 128). For the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, this quantity of fish would convert to around 268 aurar (Gelsinger, Icelandic Enterprise, 187), which according to standard estimates could have been between 6.7 and 13.4 hundreds (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 289). 471 Orri Vésteinsson, “A Divided Society,” 124–25. 472 DI III, 354–55.

Finance and Society in Education


hundreds being paid to have a boy educated as a priest in, notably, three years or less.473 Yet in 1495, in a contract that only stipulates ordination as a Massdeacon, it is specified that only two hundreds should be paid for each year, and while the total period of education is not specified, this is a lower rate per year than what the 1440 contract implies.474 A 1463 document specifies a full twelve years of education, from age twelve to the proper age for full ordination, and though it does not clarify the value of the land, surely the cost of maintenance alone would have been significant.475 In a 1422 document a certain Þorvarðr Ólafsson appears to have been ruled against for holding onto a valuable cloak that his mother had promised would be used to pay for his maintenance and education.476 It is hard to know what sort of education a cloak could pay for, and presumably this would have only provided a partial payment. Such variation suggests that, even by the end of the medieval period, there was no set standard cost of education. Just as with fosterage, schooling took many forms, and its expenses were dealt with in many ways. This variability can provide a context for the reference in Búalǫg to a fee being paid for a teacher to instruct in the alphabet. Even though this is a post-Reformation source, it would fit in the medieval period as well. Grágás describes payments that could be made to priests for burials and liturgical duties.477 The teaching Búalǫg describes, with teachers sometimes hired to teach particular subjects, would likely have functioned much like payments for singing Mass. Such teaching could have provided particular skills to very young children, to prepare them for more advanced education, or even to laymen interested only in particular parts of a general education. This sort of limited lay education, not oriented around a particular career, may be what is referred to in a 1507 document that calls for the teacher to kenna honum novkut áá bok (teach him something out of a book).478 Overall, the costs involved in fosterage, the regulation about contracting for the training of priests in Grágás, and the documentary evidence all suggest that education in medieval Iceland was usually expected to be paid for. The situation 473 DI IV, 614–15. 474 DI VII, 235–36. 475 DI V, 390–91. 476 DI IV, 298–300. 477 Grágás, Vol. 1, 9, 20–21. Orri Vésteinsson argues that these references specifically pertain to þingaprestar, or district priests, who sold their services on open markets, and made up the majority of priests during the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 195). 478 DI VIII, 176–77. The implication of bók may be Latin learning specifically, but this is uncertain.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

appears to have been different elsewhere in Europe. While many private and religious schools in medieval England did require fees, from the twelfth century onwards the most common type of English schools were public.479 In tenth- and eleventh-century England, and earlier in France, parish priests and churches in the countryside were expected to provide sufficient teaching to meet their own needs, and an 821 Capitula of Theodulf, the archbishop of Orléans, mandates that teachers should decline any payments that were not freely offered by parents.480 Lateran III and IV stipulate that the teachers at cathedral schools should work for free.481 Such mandates certainly were not always followed – Lateran III was clearly responding again the practice of selling licenses to teach – but there is little indication that any education in medieval Iceland was ever free, except for that which took place in the household, or via charitable contributions. Generally speaking, the growth of schools in Europe from the twelfth century onward gave more educational opportunities to children, particularly boys,482 and the lack of this development in Iceland must have had some effect. The importance of educational payments is indicated by two cases in the extant documentary corpus, which provide compelling examples of litigation over education contracts. In 1507, Óláfr Eiríksson promised to teach the son of Loptr Magnússon in exchange for land, but in a case brought up in 1512 Loptr claims that Óláfr never provided the teaching.483 In 1519 Bishop Gottskálk of Hólar attempted to make a case against the priest Egill Hallsson, because his kinsman Teitr Þorleifsson had failed to pay for his upkeep at Hólar.484 The case was brought up again in 1522, and Teitr was condemned over several issues, including his continued failure to pay for Egill, and was to be sent to Archbishop Eiríkr in Trondheim for final judgment.485 Clearly, for these men, including the powerful Bishop Góttskálk, the financial value of teaching students was of primary importance. Wealth and elite standing were no barrier to demanding payment for services, so we can set aside scholarly speculation that the great eleventhcentury aristocratic teachers like Teitr Ísleifsson and Bishop Ísleifr were unconcerned with remuneration.486 These men would have been raised in the tradition

479 Orme, Medieval Schools, 55. 480 Orme, Medieval Schools, 39. 481 Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 220, 240. 482 Barrow, The Clergy, 186. 483 DI VIII, 205, 368–69. 484 DI VIII, 688–89. 485 DI IX, 90–92. 486 See Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 145.

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of paying for formal fosterage, and there is no reason to think they would have treated clerical education any differently.487 These Icelandic educational costs applied to monasteries, cathedrals, formal fosterage and very likely extended to apprenticeships with priests and education at churches like Vellir. There is no indication of a consistent hierarchy in the cost of education, and the 1440 education contract noted above, which offers both Helgafell and Skálholt as potential schools, assumes that costs would be similar at cathedrals and monasteries. Yet Grágás and the biskupasögur show that there were ways to work around these costs, whether by contracting with a church owner, learning part-time, or finding a charitable teacher like Ingunn or Bishop Lárentíus.

The Value of Teaching and Learning Education could have many values and roles in society that related to its cost. Apart from the basic value and cost of maintaining and bringing up a child, where education intersects with fosterage, the most prominent purpose that the extant sources reveal is the eventual ordination as a cleric, most often a priest. The value of that ordination, and its relationship to education itself, could impact society in different ways. Chieftains and their sons could find prestige and power through their ordination, even as poorer Icelanders could establish a livelihood within the clergy, and improve that livelihood through superior education. The multi-faceted value of an education could cause disputes, as with Teitr Þorleifsson’s refusal to pay for Egill Hallsson’s education, but it could also be used to help resolve them. In these senses, clerical education continued to perform some of the same social functions as pre-Christian fosterage. It has been argued that a key value of education to the Icelandic social elite was differentiation from the lower classes,488 and to some extent this must be true, with skills like legal knowledge, runes, and hannyðir, which the previous chapter showed could be particularly prestigious. However, this differentiation

487 Sverrir Tómasson argues that, because the students in these references appear to have been raised where they were educated, payment probably occurred, emphasizing the evidence of the fosterage section of Grágás and the later documents. He further speculates that there may have been a contract as well (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 20–21), though the relative lack of administrative writing in the eleventh and twelfth centuries makes it likely that these would have been oral contracts, if they existed. 488 Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “The Education of Sturla Þórðarson,” 24, 28; Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Høvdingene,” 195–96.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

should not be overemphasized, and we should not simply accept the elite bias of our sources. While accepting that poor priests existed in eleventh-century Iceland, Orri Vésteinsson has argued that they were not very important to society until much later.489 This argument seems fundamentally related to his insistence that too many well-educated poor priests would have undermined the social and political benefits of an education for the elite priests.490 He only allows that chieftains and local leaders could have allowed poorer, subordinate priests to perform services for them after the mid-twelfth century, when significant power consolidation meant that it was no longer necessary for ordained aristocrats to perform services themselves.491 However, Orri himself admits that there is no explicit indication of what exact role chieftain-priests, or other aristocrats who became ordained, played, or how they thought of their identity as priests. It is just as likely that they saw themselves primarily as patrons of the church rather than needing to perform liturgical services themselves.492 Yet if such chieftain-priests did not themselves perform services regularly, they would have needed an underclass of priests.493 They were, moreover, primarily secular leaders and patrons with other responsibilities, and the

489 Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 77, 188–89, 193–94. 490 “The fact that in the early and middle twelfth century many chieftains were ordained as priests or had their sons ordained would fit ill in a scenario where there was also a great number of priests of humbler origin. It is difficult to see why the chieftains should have wanted to become priests if it did not in some way give them a firmer grip on their followers/subordinates and an edge over their rivals. And it is unlikely that the chieftains could have achieved this if they were taking on roles which had already been played by some other class of people and with whom they would be in competition” (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 182). 491 “The success of the union between priesthood and chieftaincy will have prompted rich householders and others who aspired to power or influence to do the same, but when the immediate goal of the householders/chieftains to increase their influence or tighten their grip on their neighbours had been achieved they no longer needed to be seen to perform the services themselves and it began to suffice to be seen to provide these services. It is then that a demand for professional priests will have arisen” (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 182). 492 “We do not of course know whether the likes of Sæmundr fróði or his pupil Oddi Þorgilsson actually had ministered to a flock and had sung masses regularly or if they had some completely different sense of what their pastoral duties involved. In this context it does not matter much; it is clear that in the early and mid-twelfth century aristocrats attached significance to being ordained and we can with confidence assert that this also meant that they found it expedient to be, or to be seen, as patrons of the Church” (Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland, 193). 493 Helgi Skúli Kjartansson has noted that there were a number of small churches and remote congregations in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and that while chieftains may have enhanced their own status by performing liturgy at their own churches, it is likely that other priests dealt with the time-consuming task of travelling around the countryside performing Mass (Helgi Skúli Kjartansson, “Thin on the Ground,” 101).

Finance and Society in Education


skills attributed to the twelfth-century Bishop Klængr Þorsteinsson in Hungrvaka might describe the skill set necessary for such a chieftain-priest: eloquence, wisdom, skill in mediation, and a thorough knowledge of secular law.494 While a bishop like Klængr must have had liturgical and Latin skills as well, other members of the social elite and chieftain-priests would certainly have benefited from a priestly underclass doing most of the daily work of running a church, even in the eleventh century. Many forms of education could be prestigious, and chieftains certainly must have benefited from their role as priests. Yet, apart from the basic barrier of cost, there is simply not enough evidence to infer that clerical education and ordination was limited to the Icelandic elite at any point in the Middle Ages. Moreover, we should keep in mind that social capital and elite status did not necessarily guarantee a high quality education. While many chieftains in Iceland during the earlier part of our period became priests, their social status could have a varying effect on how much they learned. On the one hand, the existence of ordained chieftains could mean that the most powerful men in Iceland were invested in Christian learning and education, and gathered the most educated clerics in the country at their favored churches.495 On the other hand, social capital could take precedence over education, a chieftain could ensure his own or a relative’s ordination despite their lack of education, and great churches could be staffed by friends and family of questionable learning and liturgical ability. Þorláks saga describes Þorlákr ordaining undereducated priests not only because some of them were poor, but also because some of them had good social connections. From a wider medieval perspective, there was often a significant dissonance between obtaining church appointments based on family background, and obtaining them on the basis of a high level of learning.496 Keeping Þorláks saga in mind, we should be more cautious in making assumptions about the level of education of given members of the clergy, simply because of their relationship to chieftains or major churches like Reykholt, Oddi, and Haukadalr. However, the value of education could function in much the same way as the value of social connections in fostering relationships, to help reconcile disputes. In Árna saga, after a dispute between Bishop Árni and the layman Ásgrímr Þorsteinsson, Árni agrees to educate Ásgrímr’s son Þorsteinn, so that he might be ordained as a priest, as part of the resolution.497 Likewise, in

494 Biskupa sögur II, 37. 495 See, for example, the characterization of the relationship between Snorri Sturluson and the clergy of his staðir in Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “The Education of Sturla Þórðarson,” 22–23 and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Høvdingene,” 192. 496 Barrow, The Clergy, 214, 227–34. 497 Biskupa sögur III, 140–41.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

Lárentíus saga, as part of a reconciliation agreement with Bishop Auðunn, Lárentíus’s predecessor as bishop of Hólar, Lárentíus agrees to teach Auðunn’s grandson Eysteinn. Eysteinn’s later prominence is clearly represented by the saga as part of Lárentíus’s prestige: Eysteinn would work at the Church of St. Mary in Þrándheimr, in Norway.498 Erika Sigurdson has discussed these passages and the social value of education in resolving conflicts and strengthening bonds between teachers, parents, and students. She argues convincingly that fostering and educating children had similar social bonding and peace-making roles both before and after the Norwegian takeover of Iceland in the midthirteenth century.499 It is not unreasonable to go further, and suggest that there was some continuity in these social and economic roles of education before and after Christianization, while acknowledging that the growth of an institutional church also created major changes. For the students themselves, the value of education could be more multidimensional than simply providing the opportunity for a clerical career. Lárentíus saga states that Lárentíus himself was ordained more quickly because of the quality of his education.500 One of Lárentíus’s students, Egill Eyjólfsson, came to Lárentíus at Þingeyrar already a deacon, and is said by the saga to have understood well how to make use of his education with Lárentíus.501 The value of Egill’s education, and his awareness of how to profit by it, is borne out when he is later ordained a priest and then made schoolmaster of Hólar.502 Þorláks saga and Lárentíus saga both attest to poor priests functioning with a minimum of education, and the latter suggests that under Lárentíus’s tutelage they were able to significantly improve their position. Such improvement would in part have been due to social factors – the patronage of Bishop Lárentíus – but also in part due to the education itself. The way the saga presents Egill – though himself the son of a goldsmith and thus likely not poor – suggests that education itself, and awareness of how to use it, could be a key component not only in starting a clerical career, but in advancing further within one.

498 Biskupa sögur III, 338. 499 Sigurdson, The Church, 119, 130–36, 146–47, 177–78. 500 “Vígslur hans fóru fram eftir setningu ok skipan. Ok því fljótara sem hann var betr kunnandi en aðrir, ok svá sem hann var vígðr infra sacrum officium var hann skipaðr heim á Hólum, ok var hann djákni” (Biskupa sögur III, 229) (His ordination went forward according to plan and arrangment. And as much more quickly, as he was more learned than others, was he ordained just below the sacred office, and appointed resident at Hólar, and was a deacon). 501 Biskupa sögur III, 318. 502 Biskupa sögur III, 335.

Finance and Society in Education


Charity could have a negative social impact as well, however. Upon his return to Iceland in the service of the archbishop, Lárentíus is criticized for his pretensions to authority, when had accepted the bishop’s charity to obtain his education at Hólar.503 For all the idealization in the biskupasögur of charitably providing education for poor students, then, there still could be class issues with trying to engage with the clerical elite after coming from a poor background, and a social backlash for not showing deference to a former teacher. The social networks of students and teachers could make this aspect of educational value very dependent on context. Likewise, the whole process of education for ordination did not prove worthwhile to all students, and there must have been many Icelanders living with only part of a clerical education. Many of the educational agreements contain stipulations for the return of some money in the case of the death of the student before the completion of their schooling, but some of these also mention the possibility of the student quitting school, or simply choosing not to be ordained. The 1443 contract from the convent at Reynistaðr provides conditions for the eventuality that the boy simply might no longer wish to learn at some point.504 The education passage in Grágás also notes the possibility of a student deciding to give up on his education in a very similar manner. It is difficult to judge how much value such a partial education might have provided, but perhaps, like those saga characters who spent a single winter learning law, or the students who learned the alphabet for a small fee stipulated in the Búalǫg, learning some individual skill may have been useful. Above all, the evidence shows that the cost and value of education could be highly variable, and there must have been a wide spectrum of clerics with different levels of learning. Some priests were forced into semi-servitude to pay for schooling, some paid the price of a farm or more for their education, and others found means to defray costs. Some education was obtained for free, under the right circumstances. These factors must have also affected how laypeople obtained their education. The wealthier could study at a cathedral school like a cleric, if they desired, while the poorer must usually have learned

503 “Höfðu frændmenn herra byskups allt í skuppi við hann ok athlátri, brigslandi honum um sína fyrri daga er Jörundr byskup tók hann fátækan ok lét kenna honum, en nú þykkiz hann hafa vald yfir honum ok mega af setja hann sínu byskupligu valdi með erkibyskups boðskap” (Biskupa sögur III, 276) (The kinsmen of the lord bishop mocked and laughed at him, upbraiding him about his former days when Bishop Jǫrundr took him as a poor man and had him taught, but now he thinks himself to have authority over him and to be able to depose his episcopal authority with the order of the archbishop). 504 DI IV, 642–44.


Chapter 2 Clerical and Christian Education I: Contexts and People

at home, if they obtained any education at all. For the clergy, their roles as teacher and student could affect every aspect of their social life.

Conclusion The development of Christian education and schools in medieval Iceland was deeply affected by the highly rural, decentralized nature of Icelandic society. Teaching at cathedral schools, monastic schools, churches, and elsewhere fueled the development and growth of literate society and textual culture until the coming of the Reformation around 1550. These contexts of education were diverse and variable, affected by numerous cultural, institutional, economic, and social factors. It cannot be understood by simply pointing to major European models, nor by focusing entirely on the unique aspects of Icelandic culture and society. The potential locations for education, both inside and outside formal schools, were numerous. As elsewhere in Europe, children were certainly educated in the home. In addition to this, fosterage represented an established secular institution for sending students from the home to be raised and taught whatever skills were appropriate to their future career. Through fosterage, students could gather at wealthier farms where particular resources and educators were available, but equally fosterage could allow any priest, or perhaps even literate laymen, to provide an education for one or more apprentices. Cathedral schools and monasteries adapted European educational institutions to the particular circumstances of Iceland, shaping themselves around existing social practices like fosterage. Many students must have been educated elsewhere, certainly at the wealthy church-farms of Haukadalr, Oddi, and Vellir, but likely also at many more locations unmentioned in the sources, particularly large churches with resources like Grenjaðarstaðir. The vast majority of evidence gathered here is for clerical learning, but there is little evidence that the contexts of secular learning were distinct, except that they were more likely to have been within the household or a part of fosterage relationships than at the more institutional schools at cathedrals or monasteries. Chronologically, this chapter has shown that there were significant continuities across the period from the conversion to the Reformation. Major changes in the church, particularly pushes for reform from Niðaróss and the growth of benefices in the staðamál, as well as the rise in the number of available monastic schools, certainly affected education. They offered new ideological changes to be disseminated through schools, and over the course of the Middle Ages there was a steady increase in the wealth and resources of ecclesiastical schools. Yet the extant evidence suggests few major shifts in how education was practiced, or



sudden rises or drops in its quality. Even within changing political landscapes the elite clergy and aristocracy were bound together by a continuity of social relationships, deeply affected by education and fosterage. Poor priests worked across the centuries, breaking through the financial barriers of education by some means, whether by serving a church owner, or through the charity of a bishop or patron. Chapter 1 suggested that a chieftain like Njáll could improve his position through his students. His skill as a teacher attracted students, which could aid in strengthening social networks and influence in conflict resolution. This aspect of the social value of an education clearly was very similar for bishops like Lárentíus and Árni, and perhaps even had an economic value for some chieftains and fosterparents comparable to the contribution of students’ fees to the growth of the late medieval Icelandic church. Thus, going to school or getting an education was not a single, uniform process, nor was there a simple dichotomy between religious and lay education. A person’s education depended highly on motivation, wealth, and social connections, and different types of education for different types of students must have taken place in shared spaces. Likewise, the use of Latin and the vernacular alongside each other in schools and other educational contexts had a profound effect on what students learned, and how they learned it.

Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum The previous chapter showed the complexity of the social, institutional, and economic contexts that shaped Icelandic education. This chapter will explore what was taught in those schools, above all the clerical curriculum, which included a number of subjects like song and computus, grammatica, and canon law. The evidence for this type of learning offers hints as to how subjects of education could both diverge and overlap. Much Icelandic clerical education was bilingual and multi-layered, with few certainties but many possibilities concerning how Latin and ON interacted within pedagogical contexts. The first section will address the fundamental question of the significance and presence of Latin in Icelandic society, to set up the larger discussion of linguistic dynamics in education and grammatica. Icelandic use of Latin has often been downplayed or even dismissed, based on the fact that the surviving manuscript corpus is almost entirely vernacular. However, three factors will be addressed here that are useful for contextualizing education: the importance of the Latin liturgy to Icelandic society, the extensive presence of Latin books in Icelandic booklists, and the importance of Latin for intellectual prestige and international communication. The chapter will then examine the evidence for different types of education and their use and social significance. A clear body of elementary subjects were relevant to the core duties of priests, and were likely the most widespread form of education. The liberal arts, the trivium and quadrivium, were important concepts, but apart from grammatica there is surprisingly little evidence for their relevance to actual educational practice, which centered around skills important to clerical careers. Elementary learning contributed to the learning of more advanced Latin through grammatica, and grammatica in turn contributed to the learning of advanced subjects like canon law and theology. Given that most subjects of education were learned using some combination of Latin and ON, the final section of this chapter will examine one possible way in which extant technical terminology can show how ON was used in teaching and learning the Latin language. By examining the ON sources in the wider discussion of the history of medieval educational and reading practices, potential parallels and models can be better understood. This chapter will show the complexity and plurality of Icelandic educational practices and their relationship to grammatica as a discipline. The


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

importance of a deeper investigation of these practices can be understood in light of dismissive attitudes of some scholars, who have tended to view the clerical curriculum as simply the septem artes liberales, with all vernacular subjects learned in separate, informal contexts.505 However, as the previous chapter argued, educational contexts could be fluid and overlapping, and forms of learning were more likely to be divided based on their use and function, rather than their relationship to wider medieval educational practices, which could themselves be quite flexible and informal.

Icelandic Latinity Latin was an essential language in Iceland, as in the rest of Europe. However, so little Latin writing survives in Iceland that a superficial glance at the evidence has led some scholars to believe that ON had largely replaced it.506 There are many factors that likely affected the lack of Latin in the extant corpus. The surviving manuscripts are largely collections made by early modern antiquarians, who often had very specific cultural interests in mind. Conditions were not always ideal for preservation, particularly for Latin liturgical and theological books after the Reformation, and there are historical references to fires destroying major libraries that must have substantially reduced the extant corpus

505 Halldór Hermannsson, Sæmund Sigfússon, 30; Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 197–98; Hanson, “Icelandic Education,” 38–39. Though not commenting on vernacular education, Helgi Þorláksson assumes that Þorlákr Þórhallsson’s curriculum at Oddi was the trivium and quadrivium (Helgi Þorláksson, “Snorri í Odda,” 354). 506 “Latin passed, it would seem, like a meteor across the Icelandic sky; it was never an end in itself but a mere vehicle for acquiring new knowledge and achieving the written mastery of the local language” (Scardigli and Raschellà, “A Latin-Icelandic Glossary,” 310–11); “We know Icelanders wrote some history and hagiography in Latin but they must have found they had little use for it . . . the learned literature was the work of men who obviously read Latin but thought and wrote in Icelandic” (Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 251). Some comments have been more moderate or implicit, but still tended to be dismissive towards Icelandic Latinity: “While the monasteries produced a number of preeminent Latinists, those fluent in the language were never numerous enough to support a Latin culture” (Cormack, The Saints, 9); “In order to educate the clergy themselves, schools were set up and the rudiments of a Christian education were taught. For this to take place in Iceland and in Norway, many Latin texts had to be translated into the vernacular languages” (Clunies Ross, A History, 119). Gunnar Harðarson has recently speculated that there was a general Latinity among the Norwegians of the thirteenth century, but a contrasting vernacularity among the Icelanders (Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 43).

Icelandic Latinity


of texts, both Latin and vernacular.507 Likewise, while ON was certainly a scholarly language that at least sometimes fulfilled the same functions as Latin, the existence of vernacular translations of major Latin texts does not mean that the Latin version was replaced, but only that its subject matter had spread into vernacular discourse, and to a potentially wider audience. Gottskálk Jensson has pointed out that even our limited knowledge of lost Latin works composed in Iceland suggests a respectable corpus,508 and the use and knowledge of Latin texts composed outside Iceland cannot be discounted in assessing the importance of the language. The vernacular translations of Latin texts and the simple necessity of performing a Latin liturgy both offer some evidence for such use and knowledge. The booklists surviving in the church charters, the máldagar, show the sheer quantity of written Latin that was present in Iceland. Very few máldagar survive from the twelfth century, Reykholt being the main example, usually with only brief references to liturgical books, or even just the stated value of the books at a given church. However, from the fourteenth century onwards more detailed lists survive, many of them collected into large cartularies, or máldagabækr, reflecting the growing number of Latin books owned by churches.509 Latin clearly had value, particularly to the clergy, and was a key component of what was taught and learned in medieval Icelandic schools.

507 For example, the annals mention the burning of the church at Haukadalr and all the documents therein in 1362 (Islandske Annaler, 408). Jóns saga helga mentions the first church at Hólar burning at the beginning of Jón’s episcopacy, along with everything inside the church (Jóns saga, 16, 82). Lárentíus saga mentions the burning of Skálholt in 1309 (Biskupa sögur III, 304), which is also noted in the annals, which say specifically that many books were lost in the fire (Islandske Annaler, 391, 487). For a general discussion of the destruction of, and disinterest in, liturgical and Latin manuscripts, including Árni Magnússon’s own admission that he destroyed them for binding materials, see Liturgica Islandica, Vol. 1, 2–8. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, in her recent history of the Icelandic monasteries, has also noted several details and observations made by Árni Magnússon about the decay of the old monastery buildings and other potential causes of the loss of their documents and manuscripts (Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 198–99, 296, 349–50). 508 Gottskálk Jensson, “The Lost Latin Literature”; see also Cormack, The Saints, 31–32. Gottskálk has also argued for viewing Latin writing of fornaldarsögur as a necessary precondition for the development of the genre in the vernacular (Gottskálk Jensson, “Were the Earliest fornaldarsögur Written in Latin”). See most recently Gottskálk Jensson, “Latin Hagiography.” 509 The major booklists and their contents are discussed in Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 29–32. The only full book-length study on the larger corpus of medieval Icelandic booklists is Olmer, Boksamlingar, but Tryggvi Oleson also wrote a series of articles dealing with the booklists and other records of book ownership in Iceland (see bibliography). Oleson found the work of Olmer and other earlier scholars on the lists introductory and inadequate (Oleson, “Book Collections of Mediaeval Icelandic Churches,” 502, note 2). See also Guðbrandur Jónsson, “Íslenzk bókasöfn.”


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

Liturgy, Booklists, and the Missing Latin Corpus The importance of the liturgy to the learning and use of Latin in Icelandic society cannot be overstated. While certain aspects of preaching, particularly sermons, could often be performed in the vernacular, the Mass and the Divine Office were Latin services, and there is no evidence of a lack of normal liturgical Latin in Iceland.510 Medieval Icelanders who regularly attended services would have heard Latin spoken and sung aloud on a regular basis. The fundamental social and cultural impact of the Mass in particular, with the compelling ritual of the Eucharist, would have made the use of both spoken and written Latin a foundation of the education of any type of cleric, rich or poor. Prescriptions regarding the liturgical functions of priests emphasize the social significance of Latin liturgical performance from the earliest available sources. A máldagi, or church charter, for Stafaholt, thought to originally date from around 1140, prescribes that in addition to three priests, there must be a deacon available to perform Matins; another of the earliest máldagar, from Húsafell around 1170, gives a prescription for the full year of services, focusing on the Mass but again noting that Matins should be sung every feast day.511 Similar prescriptions continue from the 1170s through the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, mentioning most often Mass and Matins, but also sometimes Vespers and additional vigilia.512 More specific prescriptions about the context of Latin liturgical performances were made by Bishop Magnús Gizurarson in 1224, Bishop Jón Sigurðarson in 1345, and Bishop Jón Stefánsson in 1464.513 Further liturgical prescriptions are written into Grágás.514 While there are interesting variations among these prescriptions, for the present purposes their mere existence provides evidence for the continuing impact of the Latin liturgy in medieval Iceland and its fundamental importance to education.

510 All of the fragments in Gjerløw’s Liturgica Islandica which would be performed as part of Mass or the Divine Office are, as expected, in Latin. There is no evidence in the prescriptions of bishops or archbishops of a controversy over the use of the vernacular in unorthodox ways in the liturgy. 511 DI I, 178–80, 217–18. 512 See the máldagar of Bishop Þorlákr Þórhallson from c. 1179–1185 (DI I, 249–79), of Bishop Páll Jónsson from 1211 (DI I, 269–72), those of Bishop Magnús Gizurarson from c. 1224 (DI I, 401–23), Bishop Árni Þorláksson in the later thirteenth century (DI II, 64–66, 257–61), the 1318 máldagabók of the Hólar diocese made by Bishop Auðunn Þorbergsson (DI II, 423–89), the 1397 máldagabók of the Skálholt diocese made by Bishop Vilchin (DI IV, 27–240), and the máldagabók of the Hólar diocese made between 1461 and 1510, mostly during the tenure of Bishop Óláfr Rǫgnvaldsson, but the latest during that of Bishop Gottskálk Nikulásson (DI V, 247–361). 513 DI I, 423–37; DI II, 789–94; DI V, 413–15. 514 Grágás, Vol. 1, 21.

Icelandic Latinity


Although this evidence is entirely prescriptive, the sheer quantity of liturgical and Latin books present in Icelandic churches confirms that the prescriptions were at least partly followed. The expense and difficulty in making or importing such books strongly suggests that they must have been read and used, though of course some books could be used primarily for display or symbolic value, particularly in wealthier churches and bishoprics. The earliest máldagar to include books may have been written in the twelfth century, though the vast majority of these survive in much later manuscripts, and the earliest that can be confidently dated are from the early fourteenth century.515 They are extremely short, usually mentioning only a few liturgical texts or Psalters, suggesting that for the eleventh and twelfth centuries either very few books existed in churches outside of cathedrals, monasteries, and private collections, or else the lists are very incomplete. At the very least it seems certain that the collections of books owned by most churches steadily increased over time, but there were also numerous private collections that would have included liturgical and Latin books. The 1096 tithe law notes that priests in particular did not have to pay tithes on books they owned.516 The educational passage of Grágás stipulates that the patron of the student-priest should purchase books and vestments along with the education, suggesting personal ownership of liturgical materials was expected. The discussion of the ranks of clergy in AM 238 XXIII fol. specifies what books different levels of clerics were expected to be given upon their ordination.517 As noted in the previous chapter, Guðmundar sögur mentions the private collection of Ingimundr being passed on to Guðmundr, and there are a few other references to private book exchanges in the saga.518 According to Íslendinga saga, in 1241 there was a division of property left 515 There were certainly máldagar written in the early period of Icelandic textual culture, and the earliest máldagi that survives in its original form, from the church of Reykholt, has layers from the late twelfth century (Reykholtsmáldagi, 32–33). However, very few of these original máldagar that were kept by individual churches survive, and the extant manuscripts are largely based on collections made by bishops, possibly trying to centralize control of the Church, from the early fourteenth century (Sigurdson, “Máldagabækur,” 28–29). These extant manuscripts, however, are mostly seventeenth century copies of these later collections, and significant work remains to be done on the whole transmission history, particularly the dating of layers of the surviving máldagar from Skálholt to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; see Cormack, The Saints in Iceland, 25–26, 237. 516 DI I, 77. 517 Lectores are to be given a lesbók, presumably a lectionary; exorcists are to be given a sœringabók, a book of exorcisms; deacons are to be given a Gospel book (Messuskýringar, 108–9). This text also appears in the manuscript Holm Perg 5 fol. 518 At one point Guðmundr is given the gift of a book while he is travelling (Guðmundar sögur, 112), and at another Guðmundr actually steals books from Mǫðruvellir, though this is notably before the monastery was established there (Guðmundar sögur, 155).


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

by Hallveig, wife of Snorri Sturluson, between her two sons by her first marriage and Snorri, including a division of her private book collection.519 Several passages in Lárentíus saga mention books owned by Lárentíus, including canon law books seized while he was imprisoned in Norway, and his bequeathing of his full collection to Þingeyrar upon his death.520 Most telling, however, is the extensive number of book donations from private individuals to churches, from both clerics and lay people, showing an active exchange of manuscripts and a large quantity of books under private ownership, particularly during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.521 In a particularly compelling example of such exchanges, in 1443 a certain Úlfhildr Ketilsdóttir made a donation of her entire book collection as part of an agreement to join the convent of Reynistaðr.522 The more extensive lists from the 1318 Hólar máldagabók onward suggest the size of book collections in churches increased significantly over the course of the thirteenth century, which was likely related to the growth of church power and property after and possibly during the staðamál.523 A more detailed analysis would be required to examine the more complex manuscript transmission for the máldagar of Skálholt, but it is likely that a similar pattern occured. Booklists which concern the cathedrals and monasteries only appear from the very end of the fourteenth century and later.524 These include a 1397 máldagi

519 Sturlunga saga, Vol. 1, 452. 520 Biskupa sögur III, 305, 439. There is a brief mention in the description of Bishop Guðmundr’s death, only included in some manuscripts, of his having made all the arrangements for his death except for the distribution of his books among his fellow clerics, which suggests that libraries were not always passed on as single collections, but could be broken up (Biskupa sögur, Vol. 1, 584–85). 521 Oleson, “Book Donors in Mediaeval Iceland,” and Oleson, “Book Donors in Mediaeval Iceland II.” 522 DI IV, 636–37. 523 See Oleson, “Book Collections of Icelandic Churches in the Fourteenth Century,” 119–23, and Oleson, “Book Collections of Icelandic Churches in the Fifteenth Century,” 102–3. 524 Hermann Pálsson has pointed out that an 1186 document giving the property of the Helgafell monastery at its foundation records that the monastery had a hundred books at this point (Hermann Pálsson, Helgafell, 133; DI I, 282). There are also máldagar for Helgafell from 1378 (DI III, 329) and one for Viðey in 1367 (DI III, 213) that only mention a small number of liturgical books, but these lists are almost certainly incomplete, and may be recording certain books kept outside the main library of the monasteries. Sverrir Tómasson has argued that both liturgical books and schoolbooks must have existed at Skálholt in the eleventh century for the bishopric to function (Sverrir Tómasson, “The History of Old Nordic Manuscripts I,” 793), but there is no way of knowing who owned such books, or how many there might have been.

Icelandic Latinity


for Helgafell giving 179 books in total,525 one for Hólar in 1396 totaling fiftythree books,526 a list for Viðey in 1397 showing seventy-five books, and a list for the monastery of Mǫðruvellir totaling 114 books.527 A 1542 list gives books which Bishop Gizurr Einarsson of Skálholt took abroad with him from Iceland, and others which he obtained while abroad: it shows forty-seven books, around ten of which show some indication of being in the vernacular.528 While Gizurr became a Lutheran bishop and this is thus not fully applicable to the period of this study, it does give some indication as to the potential size and composition of particularly wealthy private book collections, even if it must be assumed that earlier collections from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were probably much smaller.529 There are no surviving records of the size of any such earlier collections, but Tryggvi Oleson’s survey of book donations shows three fourteenth-century donations from laypeople of seven to eight books; the earliest reference he found is to a priest of Húsafell c. 1170 donating two books to the church there.530 Taken as a whole, the prescriptive evidence of the liturgical references and the descriptive evidence of the booklists provide a solid basis for the argument that Latin was far more important to medieval Iceland on social, financial, cultural, and intellectual levels than the extant manuscript corpus would indicate. By the later fourteenth century, taking Oleson’s numbers together with the probable numbers of the monasteries and cathedrals, there were over 1,500 books owned by churches in the northern diocese of Hólar alone, the vast majority of which were Latin, and most of those liturgical texts. If we take into consideration the larger diocese of Skálholt, well over twice this number must 525 DI IV, 170–71. 526 DI III, 611. Caution should be taken with all these book counts, both my own and Oleson’s, as it is not always clear when the máldagar are speaking of individual separate codices or when they might be listing texts which are actually contained in a smaller number of codices, or even in loose unbound quires. 527 DI V, 286–90. While all these counts are rough approximations, this list is particularly uncertain in its count, because the Latin texts are listed for the most part as if each text is a separate book, while the list of Norse books is explicit that a significant number of sagas are collected into each volume. While I have tried to follow the suggested distinctions between different collections, it is possible that there were several more than fourteen ON books in the Mǫðruvellir list. 528 DI XI, 190–92. 529 On the other hand, it is worth noting that this collection contains only the books which Gizurr travelled with, and his whole collection may have been much larger. 530 Oleson, “Book Donors in Medieval Iceland II,” 10; Oleson, “Book Donors in Mediaeval Iceland,” 92–93. As with his discussion of books owned by the churches, for book donations Oleson draws references from the Diplomatarium Islandicum.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

have been owned by Icelandic churches as a whole. While there were likely significantly fewer books in the eleventh, twelfth, and early thirteenth centuries, Latin would still have made up a sizeable portion of the literary and textual culture of medieval Iceland. The liturgical use of Latin is particularly significant for the discussion of education and the role of Latin in education, because of its widespread and frequent use, its centrality to the duties of priests, and because of its distinctly oral and performative nature. Nearly everyone in Iceland would have regularly heard Latin in the performance of the Mass, as well as parts of the Divine Office.531 Most clerics would have heard and spoken or sung Latin on a daily basis.532 As performing the liturgy was one of the core duties of the clergy, this means that being able to pronounce and sing Latin was in many ways a more fundamental, elementary skill for clerics than being able to understand or interpret it, and thus that more advanced language skills – such as formal grammatica – would be approached with Latin already established in the student’s mind as an oral/aural language. Liturgical education and performance thus provide a context wherein Latin was important to a very wide spectrum of Icelanders, and also demonstrates that Latin was far from being a strictly written language. One particular reference in Lárentíus saga shows the fundamental importance of the liturgy to priests’ careers, and provides a significant counterperspective to St. Þorlákr’s forgiving attitude towards undereducated priests. Upon his return from Norway, while in the service of the archbishop, Lárentíus checks the abilities of priests in the Southern and Western Quarters, testing them on their liturgical and Latin abilities, and, finding some of them incompetent, bans them from performing Mass.533 As discussed in the first chapter, priests could be paid based on their liturgical performances, and so their livelihood could potentially be based on their Latin ability. Of course, a single anecdote like this does not necessarily indicate that poor Latinity was a widespread

531 There is a rare but interesting example of this in Ljósvetninga saga, where the brothers Guðmundr and Einarr are said to have had a habit of going to Vespers (Ljósvetninga saga, 40–42). 532 Though the passage seems more concerned with communal discipline than Latinity, Jóns saga makes an a point of the aural effect of the Office at Hólar: “Ok þegar er til var hringt tíða, þá komu þeir þar allir ok fluttu fram tíðir sínar með miklum athuga. Var ekki at heyra í kórinn nema fagr sǫngr ok heilagt bœnahald” (And when the bell was rung for the Office, then they all came there and performed their Hours with great care. Nothing was heard in the choir except beautiful song and holy prayer) (Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 217–18). 533 Biskupa sögur III, 273–75.

Icelandic Latinity


issue, merely that it could sometimes be a problem, and was vital to the competent performance of a priest’s job.534 This liturgical Latinity is also not isolated from other types of learning or performance. On the one hand, sermons and homilies could often be in the vernacular and read out alongside the Latin parts of the liturgy. By far the most frequent type of vernacular text in the Icelandic booklists are saints’ lives, which could themselves serve as sermons, particularly on particular saints’ own feast days, and would be a major source of religious knowledge for most Icelanders.535 All church-going Icelanders would regularly be hearing their native tongue alongside Latin, and priests would be using the languages together. On the other hand, liturgical Latin use for the Mass and Divine Office is not the only type evidenced in the book lists. There is a significant amount of Latin theological and legal material, as well as some schoolbooks, and the lists suggest that homilies and sermons were read in Latin as well as in ON.536 Vernacular texts and translations thus did not always replace Latin ones, rather they could be used together, juxtaposed in any context where both the authority of Latinity and the comprehensibility of ON had value.537 The liturgy is thus a key point of interaction between learned Latin culture and the wider community. In an article on the Messuskýringar, the ON expositiones missae, Hareide has called attention to the fact that the Mass provided a key link between the intellectual, Latin culture of the clergy and the popular

534 It is worth considering the rolls of Hugh of Wells, bishop of Lincoln 1209–1235, which record at least 101 cases of deficient education among the clergy of the diocese. However, in context, these represent only around 5 percent of the clergy surveyed, and most of them clerics of lower orders who appear to have secured benefices before their education was complete (Orme, English Schools, 17). 535 Cormack, The Saints, 31–33. 536 The book lists show a significant number of sermons and homilies, for the most part probably in Latin (Oleson, “Book Collections of Icelandic Churches in the Fourteenth Century, 114). For ON homilies and sermons surviving in the manuscript corpus, see discussions in Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, “Prose of Christian Instruction,” 338–41 and Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 50–56. The church of Vellir, notably, by 1318 had homilies of both Gregory and Augustine as well as three books of vernacular sermons (DI II, 455). 537 This is most notable in the book lists when a church owns a copy of a saint’s life in both Norse and Latin versions, see for example DI II, 451; DI III, 532, 580. The Elucidarius, a very popular text of basic Christian instruction widely transmitted and translated into a number of vernaculars, including ON, sometimes appeared in both Latin and vernacular in the same manuscript, though we do not have direct evidence of this happening in Iceland. See Kedwards and Parina, “Elucidarium,”


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

culture of the wider Christian community.538 Even those with no knowledge of Latin, other than a handful of words picked up from attending the Mass, experienced and learned something from the culture of liturgical Latinity.539

Latin in Devotion, Prestige, and International Communication The necessity of performing the liturgy was not the only reason for obtaining a Latin education. Knowledge of the Latin language could provide prestige, be a tool of devotional practice, and was absolutely necessary for communication abroad. Liturgical Latin itself could be a major source of prestige. After the future bishop Páll Jónsson returns from his education in England, his learning is said to be greater than that of all other Icelanders. Specifically, Páls saga notes his ability to compose Latin verse, his book-learning, and that he was a great raddarmaðr (man of great voice) and sǫngmaðr (singer).540 The importance of this combination of Latin learning and musical skill is revealed when Páll is appointed bishop, and is said to perform his first Mass ever shortly after becoming bishop.541 The saga then describes the tradition that it was an honor to hear any priest’s first Mass, and how much greater that honor was when such an event coincided with the first Mass of a bishop.542 Páll’s English education, his Latinity, and his musical skill thus fuel the prestigious event of his first great liturgical performance, which provides Páls saga with a momentous marker to the beginning of his bishopric. Similar praise of liturgical skill is heaped upon other important bishops. Jóns saga proclaims that Jón Ǫgmundsson had a better voice than anyone, and then confirms this by having Jón impress the archbishop of Lund through his magnifi-

538 “Considered from this wider theological angle, the Old Norse expositions of Mass do not contribute to the making of an intellectual culture in Old Norse society merely through vernacular translations. More importantly, the expositions bear witness to the interrelatedness of intellectual and popular culture through the common ritual of the holy Latin Mass – with all its possible interpretations and levels of participations and translation” (Hareide, “Messuskýringar,” 368). 539 Hareide also has emphasized the pedagogics of the liturgy, and has critiqued some earlier scholars for a lack of appreciation of what common people could learn from the Latin liturgy (Hareide, “Messuskýringar,” 367). 540 Biskupa sögur II, 297–98. 541 Páll is still a deacon when chosen to become the next bishop of Skálholt, and is ordained as a priest in Norway during his journey abroad, shortly before being consecrated as bishop in Denmark (Biskupa sögur II, 301–3). 542 Biskupa sögur II, 304.

Icelandic Latinity


cent Vespers performance.543 In Lárentíus saga, Bishop Auðunn is praised as having such an excellent voice that everyone thought it a delight to hear his singing.544 Even the famed chieftain Jón Loptsson, who held the rank of deacon, is praised for his voice in the B-version of Þorláks saga. The passage notes that he was wise in clerical skills generally, but it only specifies that he is a raddmaðr, a variant of the same term used to describe Bishop Páll.545 Lárentíus’s own trip to Norway shows the importance of Latin for communication. Lárentíus’s teacher of canon law at Niðaróss, Jón the Fleming, is presented as among the most learned men in Norway, limited only by his inability to speak Norse.546 Jón’s excellent education and inability to speak Norse suggest the saga author intends his teaching, and Lárentíus’s trip as a whole, to mirror an education abroad in places like France and England, where the famous bishops of older sagas, like St. Jón and St. Þorlákr, had studied. Lárentíus requires the ability to use Latin orally to be able to learn law from Jón, just as those earlier Icelanders would have depended on their Latin to function further afield in the schools of Europe. This journey also emphasizes the prestige of Lárentíus’s Latinity. When Lárentíus arrives in Norway, his patron Lord Pétr wishes to propose to a kinswoman of the king, and the king agrees to put his seal on a letter that Pétr presents to him concerning the proposal. Pétr has Lárentíus compose and write out the letter, and the king marvels at the skill displayed in the letter.547 The king, upon discovering that Lárentíus had written the letter, then asks Lárentíus to stay in his service, but Lárentíus says that he must make a pilgrimage to Saint Óláfr in Niðaróss. The narrative here deliberately shows Lárentíus presenting his Latin skills in the same formalized way as an Icelandic skald would in one of the konungasögur or Íslendingasögur. As Erika Sigurdson has noted, the trope of the talented Icelander abroad is here adapted to an elite cleric showing off his Latin abilities.548 As with that trope, the effect of good Latinity in Lárentíus saga is doubtless hyperbolic: at one point it is stated that Bishop Lárentíus and Jón Halldórsson were the best Latinists Iceland could have had.549 Yet the very hyperbole here is evidence that, for the author and audience of Lárentíus saga, Latinity was among the most prestigious skills. Latin, moreover, is not isolated

543 544 545 546 547 548 549

Jóns saga, 113, 119–20. Biskupa sögur III, 328. Biskupa sögur II, 166. Biskupa sögur III, 238–39. Biskupa sögur III, 236–37. Sigurdson, The Church, 166–67. Biskupa sögur III, 383.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

from other subjects of praise, and Lárentíus’s students are lauded in the saga for many different abilities. Bergr Sokkason becomes abbot at Munkaþverá, and the saga praises his learning, eloquence, and vernacular hagiographic writings; Árni is ordained a priest, becomes a teacher, and is praised for his poetic skill.550 Þórðr Guðmundarson, who is later a deacon, is praised for his Latin and poetic skill.551 The need for oral communication skills in Latin is further exemplified in the 1532 letter from Gizurr Einarsson to Bishop Ǫgmundr of Skálholt, discussing Gizurr’s education in Hamburg, referenced in chapter 1.552 Here Gizurr writes to his patron with praise, thanks, and assurances that his education will justify the investment Ǫgmundr has made in his education. His description of the progress of his learning suggests that it is still somewhat early in the process: he claims that he can understand Latin speech, but that he has not progressed to writing and reading practice. He is writing the letter in Latin, presumably in an attempt to physically show his patron Ǫgmundr his Latin skill and the value of the bishop’s investment, but oral learning clearly formed a vital part of his education. Use of Latin in devotion appears several times in the biskupasögur. Þorláks saga describes Þorlákr’s schedule of Latin prayers in great detail.553 Ingunn in Jóns saga has Latin saints’ lives read to her aloud, and simultaneously corrects them and works at handicrafts. When Guðmundr is dying in Guðmundar sögur, he sings, and has saints’ lives read to him in Latin.554 Lárentíus has the Expositiones of Gregory as well as Augustine read to him while he is dying.555 Such passages are as much literary trope as reflection of real devotional practice, but they show the close connection between Latinity and clerical expressions of piety. Finally, in a Benedictine context, the idealization of silence becomes an idealization of Latinity in Lárentíus saga: the saga notes that when Lárentíus did speak in the monastery, he spoke in Latin, presenting Latin as the more pious spoken language in such a context.556 The religious uses of liturgy and personal devotion are dependent on skillful teaching, and ecclesiastical culture as a whole made use of Latin as a tool of both oral and written communication. Prestige and ideological value are closely

550 Biskupa sögur III, 381–82. 551 Biskupa sögur III, 397. 552 DI IX, 611. 553 Biskupa sögur II, 75–78. 554 Biskupa sögur, Vol. 1, 584. The A-version of Guðmundar sögur cuts off before this point in the saga, and the reference here is to the B-version. 555 Biskupa sögur III, 439. 556 Biskupa sögur III, 334.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


intermingled with practical value in the way these skills are presented in the narrative sources and in the evidence for the liturgy in the máldagar. There is not enough evidence to argue that Iceland ever had an exceptionally high level of Latinity, has some past scholars have done.557 However, there is enough evidence to show that, while much of the literature of Iceland and perhaps much secular education was based entirely in ON, for the priesthood and the clerical curriculum, Latin was at the core of intellectual and cultural life.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum Having established that Latin was an important language in Iceland, it remains to explore what subjects involving the language were actually taught. This exploration primarily pertains to clerical, rather than lay, education, but still reveals an interaction between the use of Latin and the vernacular in education, and a relationship between elementary and more advanced learning. Bilingual clerical education involved complex interactions between many subjects, both practical skills like reading, writing, and singing, and theoretical or disciplinary concepts like grammatica, rhetorica, and the rest of the septem artes liberales. Grammatica in its purest sense was clearly thought of as the learning of Latin.558 All of these relationships must be kept in mind when trying to understand how education took place in medieval Iceland. The evidence for Iceland must be gathered piecemeal from biskupasögur, documentary sources, grammatical treatises, and other pedagogical texts. For the most part this evidence is anecdotal, and can only suggest possible educational practices, not general trends or developments. In order to suggest what was widely practiced, and how different types of learning related to each other,

557 See Walter, “Die lateinische Sprache,” 201–2; Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 35–36; Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 199–200. Despite these scholars’ comments, Åslaug Ommundsen has recently noted that it seems likely that the general Latin ability of both Iceland and Norway has tended to be underestimated by scholars (Ommundsen, “Traces of Latin Education,” 243). The apparent contradiction may be indicative of the fragmentary nature of scholarly discourse around the issues of education in medieval Iceland and Norway. 558 The only direct and explicit glossing of the term grammatica that appears to survive is in the L recension of Jóns saga, where the term grammatica is directly glossed as latínulist (the skill/art of Latin) (Jóns saga, 82). But it is also worth noting that the term latínuskóli was used to describe the new schools, referenced in chapter 1, that Gizurr Einarsson wanted to establish at Viðey and Helgafell at the beginning of the Reformation, which is almost certainly expressing the same concept as the English term “grammar-school.”


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

it is important to compare the Icelandic evidence with better-understood situations elsewhere in Europe. With that said, the Icelandic sources do suggest a clear conception of basic subjects necessary to a clerical career, and more advanced types of learning, likely available primarily at the cathedrals or abroad. While education could have ideological and prestige value, the practical application of an education must be continually kept in mind, particularly considering the cost and difficulty of formal learning, when speculating about which Icelanders would learn which subjects. Overall, the clerical curriculum of Iceland was most certainly based around a standard European model. This was, however, not strictly the septem artes liberales, but rather a series of practical skills, above all reading, writing, song, and computus. Of the liberal arts, grammatica was clearly the most important, the most influential, and the most clearly conceptualized in its full meaning in texts like Jóns saga helga and Lárentíus saga. Even when it was intended for the teaching and learning of Latin, moreover, such grammatica could be bilingual, and must have used ON as a pedagogical tool.

Elementary Education: Alphabets and Music All education has to begin with elementary subjects, essential skills upon which more advanced forms of learning can be based. Determining what was elementary learning in medieval Iceland, and how it took place, is important for several reasons. It can show what forms of learning were most widespread, and what sort of learning might have taken place in the home and potentially without cost, depending on the learning of the parents or other members of the household. These economic and social factors mean that elementary education includes what was learned by poor priests, most educated laypeople, failed students, and other members of society who did not have the need or the resources for the highest forms of learning. The two most basic skills were mastery of the alphabet, leading eventually to basic reading and literacy, and proficiency in sǫngr (song), as the ability to sing was essential for participating in the liturgy. Many children likely made it no further than the alphabet in terms of their education, but, as Sarah B. Lynch has argued, even just knowing enough to sign’s one name could be a useful skill in and of itself.559 As noted in the previous chapter, a reference in Búalǫg suggests that even the most basic learning of the alphabet could involve paying

559 Lynch, Medieval Pedagogical Writings, 6.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


a fee to a particular teacher. In medieval education letters were learned by pronouncing them aloud, which could be accompanied by several different types of tools: letters written on a wall, on a slate, or increasingly from the thirteenth century, a piece of parchment attached to a wooden tablet.560 There is one reference to such tools being used in Lárentíus saga, where Lárentíus’s daily activities are being described, and it is noted that while studying he would make notes on a wax tablet, and then have Deacon Einarr transcribe them for him so that he could return to them.561 During the 1987 archaeological dig at Viðey, the remains of five such wax tablets were found in a late medieval building.562 In late Anglo-Saxon England the teaching of the alphabet in a bilingual learned culture had meant that the alphabet was sometimes, but not always, written with additional characters, the þorn, eth, and wynn. An alphabet, in other words, could be written to prepare a student for reading Latin or for reading Old English.563 It is very unlikely to be coincidental then, that among the earliest missionaries – and thus teachers – in Iceland in the eleventh century were Anglo-Saxons, that the þorn (þ) and eth (ð), were both borrowed into ON use,564 and that the 1GT, originally written in the middle of the twelfth century, presents English as the model for a distinctly Icelandic vernacular alphabet.565 Alphabetical education in Iceland, then, seems almost certainly to have been based at least in part on an eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon model. At the same time, like the Anglo-Saxons, the Icelanders must have also studied a pure Latin alphabet in certain educational contexts. The 1GT is a highly complex and theoretical text, but as it is concerned with the use and learning of the alphabet, it is also relevant to the most basic level of learning. Ideologically it is part of an advanced grammatical discourse, but its subject matter reflects the elementary educational practices which contributed to its creation. The other two orthographic treatises, the 2GT and the MG, are equally mixed in their relevance to advanced and elementary learning. In the hands of a capable teacher, either text could be used for elementary learning – conceivably the alphabet could be taught using any text as an aid – but both include more advanced grammatical thinking. Of the two, the 2GT seems more clearly intended to accompany specifically alphabetical learning, while the MG seems more oriented around

560 Orme, Medieval Schools, 56–58. 561 Biskupa sögur III, 379. 562 Guðlaugur Rúnar Guðmundsson, Skólalíf, 128. 563 Orme, Medieval Schools, 55–56. 564 The MG gives the noun venð for u/v, which may derive from the OE wynn (Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 124–25). 565 First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 12–13.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

developing students’ metalinguistic range, as will be discussed later in this chapter. After a prologue discussing sound on a more philosophical level, contextualizing the treatise in grammatica, the 2GT shows the alphabet by means of two figures. The first figure is a segmented circle showing consonants, vowels, and ligatures, as well as abbreviation marks. This is a much more thorough method of alphabetical learning than simply listing the core characters, and may be related to the tendency of Icelandic manuscripts to use an unusually large number of abbreviations. The figure may also be derived from Ramon Llull’s Ars Demonstrativa, which, as Wills has noted, argues for concepts of a universal grammar, which relates to the use of grammatical ideas to teach vernacular language.566 After describing the letters and how they are used, the second figure is a rectangular grid describing an aspect of word and syllable construction, showing how each vowel can be pronounced before and after each consonant, and it appears to also show which consonants are only used word-initially and word-finally.567 This rectangular figure seems to be an elaboration of the basic idea of a syllabary as a pedagogical tool. Knirk has noted in his discussion of surviving Norwegian runic syllabaries that The use of rows of simple syllables consisting of all possible and impossible combinations of consonants and vowels has been part of learning to read and write with alphabet scripts for as long as one has any information on the subject.568

Like the 1GT and MG, the 2GT is still a fairly in-depth and grammatical discussion of letters, and the 2GT may not in fact have been actually used to teach students their first lessons in reading, but it still must have been influenced by the pedagogical environment of elementary learning.569 This includes the overlap between disciplines: the 2GT draws several analogies with music, including comparing its rectangular figure to a sort of hurdy-gurdy.570 This, combined

566 Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 65–67. 567 See The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise for the full text, translation, and fully emendated illustrations of the two figures. It is also important to note that this discussion relates only to the Codex Upsaliensis version of the 2GT, which Raschellà presumes the original version must have resembled. The Codex Wormianus version does not include these two figures, and includes some additional interpolated text not in the Codex Upsaliensis version. 568 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 192–97. 569 The fact that the two extant versions of the 2GT are fairly divergent, with the Codex Wormianus version lacking the two figures, could support the idea of the text being actively used in pedagogy, and thus being heavily adapted to suit particular teachers’ needs. 570 The term used is simphóníe, which as Raschellà notes, derives from the French term for the organistrum, an instrument which had come to be known as a hurdy-gurdy in England by the eighteenth century (The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise, 72–73, 104–5).

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


with the fact that visual learning aids like the two figures were more common in musical than grammatical manuscripts, suggests that the treatise originally arose in an elementary context that taught both reading and song. Musica in a formal, disciplinary sense was a part of the quadrivium, the most advanced level of learning, but practical learning of song, usually expressed in ON sources as sǫngr, was as elementary as the alphabet, and taught separately.571 Functionally, singing the liturgy was related to forms of personal devotion like the memorization of prayers and Psalms, in that it could provide anyone who performed services regularly with a basic vocabulary of Latin, a memorized internal store, and a basic sense of the phonology of Latin around which a more thorough grammatical education could be based.572 The very universality of listening to liturgical Latin as a part of attending church was a core Christian educational activity that all Icelanders could take part in,573 providing a basis for more formal education in sǫngr. The lowest tier of elementary educational institutions was often referred to as the song school. Training young boys to sing helped teach clear pronunciation, and helped prepare them for their future clerical duties, particularly the performance of the Office.574 By the later Middle Ages, cathedral schools across Europe had separated their grammar schools from their song schools, with the latter run by the cathedral cantor and tending to take in boys of a lower class.575 Elementary training in song could also help fill out a choir at a cathedral or major church that was interested in the quality of its liturgical performances. Such intentions might be hinted at in the máldagi of Grenjaðarstaðir, which demands the highest number of clergymen of any of the máldagar, because in addition to priests and deacons it calls for two additional clerics who lesa mega j tijdum (are able to read the Office).576 As indicated in chapter 1, this passage likely refers to clergy of lower orders than priest or deacon, who could easily have been students learning at Grenjaðarstaðir or nearby. Another máldagi of a church in Hólar, at Hof, alongside its solitary priest calls for lærdr madr sa er synia kunne psalltara oc lesa j tijdum (a learned man who can sing the Psalter

571 See Barrow, The Clergy, 221. 572 Ruff, “Latin as an Acquired Language,” 53. 573 For a full discussion of the liturgy as a major form of education, in the broader sense of the term, in the Middle Ages, see Vitz, “Liturgy as Education.” 574 For a discussion of song schools, see Orme, English Schools, 63–68. 575 Barrow, The Clergy, 213. 576 DI II, 433.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

and read the Office).577 Such stipulations highlight how useful it could be for Icelandic students to learn to sing early in their education. In Jóns saga helga, the teacher Rikini is presented as wholly devoted to teaching song, and the fact that he is a sort of assistant teacher, a kapulanprestr, beneath the skólameistari Gísli, supports the idea of song as a very elementary form of learning. The S-version of the saga says that he teaches savng eða versagiorð578 (song or verse-making). While versagiorð hints at the relationship between music and grammatical learning, here it seems very likely that it is referring more to liturgical poetics than to other types. The term vers is used in the liturgical prescriptions in the Icelandic Homily Book in a comparable way, to refer to liturgy which is sung.579 Nothing is said of Rikini’s students, but as an oral practice, sǫngr could be taught while or before the students were learning the alphabet. Likewise, in Lárentíus saga, the priest Valþjófr is called the rector of the choir, who decides what everyone should sing, and then later said to also teach sǫngnám.580 Such a position, like that of schoolmaster itself, could probably only exist at a cathedral, and perhaps at a monastery, as the only places in Iceland where there was likely to have been a full choir. But the call for extra clerics to help with the Office at Grenjaðarstaðir indicates that some other major churches did have interest in choral performance. At such places, whoever was responsible for organizing the sǫngr may, like Valþjófr and Rikini, have taught boys who could then be added to the choir and contribute to the liturgical life at the church. Finally, while elementary education in sǫngr would have primarily influenced choral singing, whether for the Mass or the Office, a student learning the basics of the liturgy could assist in other ways. Most Icelandic churches, according to the máldagar, were only expected to be equipped with a single priest, with no deacon or sub-deacon necessarily prescribed.581 The normal medieval practice of the Mass, however, called for both a deacon and sub-deacon to be present to assist the priest.582 A 1345 decree of Jón Sigurðarson, bishop of Skálholt, appears to be an attempt to remedy this situation: it commands that

577 DI II, 464. 578 Jóns saga, 21. 579 See also Messuskýringar, 42–43, where the same text and usage of vers is also written in the fifteenth-century AM 625 4to. 580 Biskupa sögur III, 373–74, 381. 581 In the 1318 máldagar of Hólar, roughly two-thirds of the total churches listed stipulate only a single priest, with no deacon. 582 Harper, The Forms and Orders, 121.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


no priest should sing Mass unless there were at least two people present, one of which knew how to anza (answer) in the performance of the Mass.583 The fact that the decree called simply for menn, not even for klerkar, not to mention the normative deacon and sub-deacon, suggests that there may have been no expectation for these assistants to have even a lower ordination. Students at a very elementary level, who had only learned some of the basic physical or verbal components of the Mass, could thus potentially assist in the liturgy. Such a relationship between liturgical duties and elementary education would likewise be much more important in those small churches that only had a single priest. In such a context, the very lack of resources could be a motivation to take on a student, if only to help assist in the duties of a very busy priest.

Elementary Learning: Computus and Calendrical Learning Just as sǫngr was an elementary subject that intersected with the advanced quadrivium subject of musica, computus was a basic form of learning which also paralleled mathematical quadrivium skills. The medieval term computus referred specifically to the dating of Easter, but more generally it could refer to calendrical knowledge in general and the mathematical and astrological skills which related to calendrical learning. In Iceland, the manuscript evidence for computus is among the clearest evidence for bilingual learning, and for the teaching of calendrical lore alongside other subjects. A significant number of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Icelandic manuscripts survive containing computistical, astronomical or astrological, and mathematical texts, usually as part of very broad encyclopedic contents. It has been argued that a large amount of this material comes ultimately from three core treatises, though the dating of these original writings is uncertain.584 Several of these texts contain both Latin and Old Norse passages, sometimes including quite extensive pieces of Latin: AM 194 8vo, for example, dated to c. 1387, contains an entirely Latin section on lunar prognostication which runs to five pages in the modern edition.585 While such divination is not strictly computus, the text does show the link between the field of learning and the use of

583 DI II, 792. 584 See Kålund and Beckman’s comments in in Alfræði Íslenzk II. 585 Alfræði Íslenzk I, 84–89.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

Latin in bilingual contexts. In the fifteenth-century portion of AM 625 4to, the following passage explains the mixing of languages: Enn af þvi ath boktali verdr ath taka rimtalet, enda verdr þar vid ath blanda islenzkre liodęrsku i sumum stodum, til þess ath her meghi skyrt verda olęrdum monnum, þa skal sia skra þadan af nafn taka ok heita Blannda, fyri þvi ath saman er blandat skylldu tale ok oskylldu. Enn til marks hvar þeir þętter ero, er osynt er, ath sva se iafnt sem talit er, þa er giorth yfer uppi i þatta talino merkingh sia ÷, ok heiter hun obelus. Þa merkingh gerdu menn fordum þar yfer, er þeir efudu, hvort satt være sagth edr eigi.586 (And because book-language [Latin] is needed to use the calendar, one still needs to blend in Icelandic idiom in some places, so that [what is] here might be explained for unlearned men, therefore this manuscript shall take a name thence, and be called Blend, because necessary and unnecessary language is blended together. And for a sign of where those sections are, where it is uncertain, whether that which is said is always so, then there is marked above in the listing of sections this mark, ÷, and it is called obelus.587 Men made that sign over [passages] in former days, when they doubted whether or not they were true.)

The passage describes a process of computistical learning which is entirely bilingual: Latin is the language of necessity, from which computus cannot be entirely separated, but those who are not literate in Latin must also learn the calendar, so the vernacular must also be used.588 The immediate discussion of the obelus and its use suggests the author’s linguistic anxiety about the conveyance of truth, and it is possible that there is some uncertainty implied about the inherent ability of the vernacular to communicate truthfully. The decision to name the manuscript after its mixed linguistic make-up also suggests a certain level of uncertainty, though as already noted, this mixing of Latin and ON occurs elsewhere. The unlearned men referred to here may be laypeople, or priests with insufficient Latin skills, or both. It is very likely that at least some members of religious communities did not know a significant amount of Latin. While generally the calculation of Easter was the domain of priests, there are at least two instances where calendrical learning approached the domain of laypeople. In Grágás it is noted that at the close of the assembly at the Alþing, the Lawspeaker is required

586 Alfræði Íslenzk II, 4. 587 Isidore of Seville’s comments in Etymologiae seem likely to have influenced this passage. Isidore states that “The obolus, that is, a horizontal stroke, is placed next to words or sentences repeated unnecessarily, or by places where some passage is marked as false . . . an obolus with a point above it is put next to those places, about which there is some doubt as to whether they ought to be taken out or kept” (Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies, 50). 588 Discomfort with the vernacular juxtaposed with a need to use it in the computus also occurs in Philippe de Thaon’s early twelfth-century Comput (Damian-Grint, “Translation as Enarratio,” 349).

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


to recite the calendar, as well as announce preparations for Ember Days and Lent.589 This suggests that some calendrical knowledge could be important for lay leaders, for general administration.590 Likewise, there is a passage of Íslendingabók that mentions the calculation of the length of the year, as well as the dating of the settlement of Iceland. This passage appears to be an intersection between computus, chronology, and both ecclesiastical and secular historiography.591 There is solid evidence for knowledge of the computus in Iceland in the twelfth century as well. The oldest fragment of an Icelandic manuscript, AM 732 a VII 4to, is a single leaf containing an Easter table, and is thought to date from the first half of the twelfth century. The oldest part of the manuscript GKS 1812 4to, dated to the end of the twelfth century, deals mostly with calendrical and astronomical material, primarily in the vernacular. More in-depth study is needed to determine to what extent any of the surviving computistical manuscripts represent pedagogical texts, or what types of pedagogical methods might have contributed to their formation. However, even from this survey, it is clear that the Icelandic treatment of computus, calendrical lore, and related material is key evidence for bilingual educational practices.

Elementary to Intermediate: Basic Reading, Grammatica, and the Clerical Curriculum Having learned the alphabet, a medieval student would practice pronouncing the letters aloud, connecting them into syllables, and finally forming them into whole Latin words, often using the Pater Noster as an initial focus, before moving on to complete texts, of which the Psalms were among the most important. Psalms were sung rather than simply recited in church,592 and the practice of sǫngr would aid significantly in these early stages of reading and grammatica. At this level, liturgical books could be important for practicing reading, serving the dual function of fortifying a student’s Latin knowledge and preparing him for clerical duties.593 589 Grágás, Vol. 1, 209. It must be noted that the term used in Grágás for calendar is misseristal, not rím or rímtal, the usual ON translation for computus. 590 Gunnar Harðarson has also argued that the Grágás passage suggests that religious and computational learning influenced the training of Lawspeakers (Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 41–42). 591 For a discussion of the mix of secular and ecclesiastical concerns in Íslendingabók, see Íslendingabók/Kristni saga, xiv–xxviii. 592 Orme, Medieval Schools, 27. 593 Up to the thirteenth century in England, Latin church-books were the most commonly used basic reading material after a student graduated from the tablet and the Pater Noster, particularly the Psalter, antiphonal, and hymnal (Orme, Medieval Schools, 58).


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

According to one English commentator writing in about 1200, students would begin Donatus’s Ars minor soon after learning the alphabet.594 Medieval students would then tend to memorize the very short text of the Ars minor in its entirety, well before they actually understood Latin, imprinting the metalinguistic terminology and analytical modes of grammatica on their minds at the most basic levels of learning.595 However, memorizing the Psalms themselves, and thus preparing for performances of the Office, could be even more primary than Donatus, following immediately after learning the alphabet and syllables.596 The significance of memorizing Latin Psalms in this multi-disciplinary field of elementary learning is emphasized in Þorláks saga helga, when the saga claims that Þorlákr studied the Psalter at home.597 As noted in the previous chapter, according to Jóns saga, the anchoress Hildr in twelfth-century Hólar taught the Psalms to a poor boy. The evidence for the importance of the Psalter in the Norse world is supported by the number of manuscript copies surviving from Norway.598 The interaction between grammatica and the various types of elementary learning could be complementary and inclusive, but also hierarchical. As Orme describes, concerning England: Reading and song were often considered to be part of grammar, since they centred on two of its elements: the letter and the syllable. In practice, however, grammar meant the study of Latin words and phrases. In this narrower sense it had more status than reading or song, because it was more difficult and required more sophisticated teaching . . . It was taught by full-time masters, more experienced and therefore more expensive than elementary teachers, and its schools attracted more support from patrons and benefactors.599

It is important to emphasize both the relationship and the distinction between the basic levels of reading – learning the alphabet and how to recognize words on a page – and the longer and more difficult process of actually learning Latin. Vernacular literacy could readily be obtained from elementary education

594 Orme, Medieval Schools, 88. 595 Ruff, “Latin as an Acquired Language,” 53. 596 Barrow, The Clergy, 43–44. 597 Biskupa sögur II, 48. 598 Åslaug Ommundsen has recently emphasized the importance of learning Psalms by heart in a Norwegian and Icelandic context, and particularly the large number of Psalters surviving among Norwegian Latin manuscripts. Of the ten to fifteen medieval Latin manuscripts surviving from Norway, five are Psalters, and fragments from some seventy-five additional Psalters also survive (Ommundsen, “Traces of Latin Education,” 245–46). 599 Orme, Medieval Schools, 66.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


alone, without moving into Latin and grammatica proper.600 In medieval Europe generally, the move from elementary education to formal training in the septem artes liberales sometimes necessitated changing schools.601 While chapter 2 showed that education in Iceland could take place in any number of contexts, the pedagogical difficulties of a true grammatical education could have helped justify the expense of education described in the documents and Grágás. The difficulty of mastering Latin, while simultaneously obtaining enough skills to perform many clerical duties, also explains the undereducated clerics described in both Þorláks saga and Lárentíus saga. The fact that so many clerics managed to obtain education and ordination while still being deficient in some skills supports the idea that while laypeople may have often been educated in the same environment as clerics – such as Þorlákr and Snorri Sturluson at Oddi – it is unlikely that it was normative to go to the trouble of teaching lay-people Latin, given that even clerics often failed to learn it properly. As discussed in the previous section, as both a pragmatic and a prestige skill, Latin was primarily of concern to clerics and their educational curriculum, though in the twelfth century and earlier this could include chieftains with ordinations like Jón Loptsson.602 There is some evidence for the most general outlines of this curriculum, and that there was a set of basic skills that were related to and culminated in grammatica.603 For a broader European perspective, it is worth noting the

600 As Orme describes of an English student at an elementary level of learning: “Such a boy was being taught to read, pronounce, and sing a text correctly at sight. He would not know what it was about until he began to study Latin. Some children who learnt to read may never have progressed to that stage. Once they knew how to recognize words and pronounce them, it would not be difficult for them to read a text in their own language, English or French, because they would more easily understand the structure of the sentences and the meaning of the words. It is very likely . . . a large proportion of pupils took this path . . .” (Orme, Medieval Schools, 60). See also Orme, Medieval Children, 242. 601 Barrow, The Clergy, 217–18. 602 For a brief history of the scholarly debate over whether or not Snorri Sturluson knew Latin, see Helgi Þorláksson, “Snorri í Odda,” 354–56. Helgi Þorláksson himself attempts to argue for a moderate position, suggesting that Snorri may have taken a lower ordination, and probably had some clerical and Latin education, but probably relied on others to do most of his Latin reading, and most of his education was in secular topics like law and historical lore (Helgi Þorláksson, “Snorri í Odda,” 361–62). The difficulty of learning and retaining Latin, however, makes it hard to believe without stronger evidence that Snorri would have bothered to obtain a full reading knowledge of Latin, for no particular purpose, and then only rarely used it. 603 As Thomson and Perraud describe elementary education: “To prepare for the grammar course, they learned the shapes of letters, how to read the psalter and chant it (if they were choristers), and, finally, to write the letters” (Ten Latin Schooltexts, 5).


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

Admonitio generalis issued by Charlemagne in 789, which called for elementary schooling at every monastery and bishopric in the Frankish kingdom. The schooling was to involve the teaching of Psalms, notas, singing, computation, and grammar; notas could be understood here as any type of writing, whether musical notes or alphabetical characters.604 For Iceland there is a very similar set of skills mentioned in the 1504 document from the monastery of Skriða, where the prior promises to teach the son of Ásgautr until he is able to be ordained as a priest, and uniquely among the education agreements mentions subjects: reading (les), song (sǫngr), writing (skrif), and computus (rím).605 Likewise, at the end of Lárentíus saga, Lárentíus is said to educate poor clerics in order to become successful priests, and to teach them the Psalter, sǫngr, and Latin, focusing like Jóns saga helga on the dual goals of grammatical and musical skills.606 The similar listing of skills in a document and in a narrative source like Lárentíus saga emphasizes that the septem artes liberales as a whole were not the governing principle for most Icelandic education, but that Icelanders focused upon a somewhat more narrow and pragmatic set of skills that were needed for clerics to fulfill their duties well. A slightly more advanced set of clerical skills is given in the fifteenthcentury manuscript AM 238 XXIII fol.607 The manuscript describes the duties of all the levels of cleric, from the ostiarius or doorkeeper to the pope himself, primarily focusing on their liturgical duties, but in the section on priests there is an indication of educational and grammatical ideals: Prestur skal kunna tiða skípvn alla ok latínv suo at hann víte hvort hann kveðr kall mann eða konu. Prestur skal kvnna þyðing guðspialla suo at hann kunne þaðann af at kenningar ok omílí ur Gregorij. ok hann skall kunna misseris tal. Prestur skall kvnna at skilia skripta bok. ok barnskirn lik saung ok olíum ok laga savngua. Prestur þyðízt ollðungr at voro male. firir þui hann skal suo vera at víte sínnu ok at skynseme.608 (The priest shall know the arrangement of all divine services, and know Latin so that he knows whether he is saying a man or a woman.609 The priest shall know the meaning of

604 Grotans, Reading, 71. 605 DI VII, 714–15. 606 Gunnar Harðarson argues that Jóns saga helga does not describe a liberal arts curriculum, but rather compares the skills described there to Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian models of learning (Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 40). 607 This passage is also referenced in Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 22. Sverrir does not offer much interpretation of the passage, except to suggest that it fits with the liturgical prescriptions in Grágás. 608 Messuskýringar, 110. 609 I.e., whether he is using the masculine or the feminine.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


the Gospels so that thereby he might understand the teachings and homilies of Gregory, and he shall know the reckoning of seasons. The priest shall be able to understand the penitential and perform the baptism of children, funeral services and anointing and the low-chant. Priest [i.e. Lat. presbyter] translates as elder in our language, because he shall be thus in his intelligence and in his reason.)

While in this text lower levels of clergy are described as having reading duties, only with a full priest is there an explicit expectation of understanding and comprehension, emphasizing the different levels of literacy expected for different levels of cleric.610 The priest must know Latin well enough to distinguish grammatical gender, presumably suggesting knowledge of Latin grammar generally,611 and then use that to understand the Gospels, which provides a knowledge basis for the applied use of the homilies and other writings of Gregory the Great.612 Here the passage exemplifies the path of grammatical learning for the priest, from abstract knowledge to homiletic expression of Scripture. That this grammatical learning is the province of the priest, rather than the deacon or sub-deacon, is emphasized by the explanation of the title prestr in a sort of translated etymology: a grammatical technique gives a linguistic foundation to the connection between priests and a bilingual understanding of grammatica. At the same time the passage emphasizes other types of basic education: calendrical learning,613 the procedural and physical elements of the liturgy, and chant. The focus here on lágsǫngr – probably referring to the canon of the Mass, the part of the liturgy sung during the elevation of the Host – is simultaneously

610 For the most part, levels of clergy lower than sub-deacon or Mass-deacon are very rarely mentioned in ON texts. One cleric named Skæringr in Íslendinga saga, notably, is mentioned in 1208 as being acoluthus at vígslu (an acolyte in ordination) (Sturlunga saga, Vol. 1, 246), and there is every reason to believe these lower orders did exist in Iceland. 611 It should be noted that Helgi Þorláksson takes this passage, and the focus on distinguishing grammatical gender, as evidence for many Icelandic clerics having only a very limited education (Helgi Þorláksson, “Snorri í Odda, 361). Certainly there were undereducated clerics in Iceland, as has already been discussed. However, considering that this is a prescriptive, arguably idealized presentation of a priest’s education, it should be assumed that distinguishing gender is here understood to represent a general knowledge of Latin grammar. 612 The variant of this text in Holm Perg 5 fol simply calls for knowledge of the Gospels and the homilies of Gregory (Messuskýringar, 110), and does not suggest any particular relationship between the two types of knowledge. In a personal communication, Gottskálk Jensson has suggested that the AM 238 passage may be missing a verb, and that the phrase should be suo at hann kunne þaðann af at kenna kenningar ok omílí ur Gregorij (so that he might understand how to preach the teaching and homilies of Gregory). 613 The Holm Perg 5 version of the text is slightly more detailed regarding the computus: “ok compotum sua at hann kunni at telía allt mísserís tal” (Messuskýringar, 110) (and [he shall know] the computus so that he might know how to reckon the seasons).


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

implying the broad spectrum of sǫngr that a priest ought to know, and at the same time focusing on the priest’s unique role in the central ritual of the Eucharist. The links between the elementary clerical skills and grammatica can also be seen in some texts, showing the cohesiveness and hierarchy of this core curriculum. As already mentioned, the discussion of language use and the obelus in AM 625 4to shows two related grammatical processes being applied to the text: a justification of language use and translation with a critical apparatus for judging the certainty and truthfulness of passages. A more tangible connection between computus and the language arts is borne out by a passage in GKS 1812 4to. Sandwiched between computistical lore and a series of glosses is a single passage written entirely in Latin. This explains the word vesper (evening/west), including its declension, and the differentiation between different words based on it.614 It is in essence an expanded gloss, a core practice of grammatica. The application of a grammatical technique on a computistical text offers a tiny glimpse into how grammatical learning could provide commentary and interpretation for many other subjects.615 In the expanded L-version of Jóns saga helga, the fourteenth-century reviser of the saga offers a more thorough description of the assistant teacher Rikini, which emphasizes the links between grammatical learning and song: Enn einn franzeis sæmiligan prestmann er Rikini het Capalin sinn feck hann til at kenna. saunglist ok versgiorð. Rikini var klerkr godr bædi dictaði hann ual ok verssaði. ok sua glauggr uar hann I songlist ok minnigr at hann kunne utanbokar allann song aa tolf maanvðum bæði i dagtidum ok óttu songum meðr oruɢre tóna settninɢ. ok hlioða grein. ok þi reðuzst margra godra manna born undir hond þessum tueim meistarum. sumir at nema latinu enn aðrir song, eða huaartheggia.616 (And an honorable French priest, who was called Rikini, his chaplain, he obtained to teach the art of music and the making of verse. Rikini was a good cleric: he both composed Latin and made verse well, and he was so clever in the art of music and had such a good memory that he knew without a book all the chants of the twelve months, both in day-service and matins, with resolved arrangement of tone and distinction of sounds,

614 Äldsta Delen, 41. 615 The miscellany AM 732 b 4to from c. 1300–1325 is also notable, in that it preserves some of the only surviving examples of Latin and macaronic poetry in Iceland, alongside a significant amount of computistical and astronomical material, and a great number of illustrated figures. It is an excellent example of bilingual learning and the mixing of different material reflecting different pedagogical disciplines, though there is no way to know whether it was actually ever used as an educational text. 616 Jóns saga, 86.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


and thus the children of many good men were put under the hand of these two masters, some to learn Latin and others song, or both.)

Within the characteristic florid style and hyperbole of the L-version, the grammatical category of lectio and one of its key applications is characterized: the correct speaking and pronunciation of Latin and its particular usefulness for the performance of the liturgy. This passage contextualizes the pragmatic aspect of the discussion of sound in grammatical treatises. In a pedagogical context, a student would ideally learn aspects of grammatica through song, and vice versa, and thus would be contributing to the ideal Rikini represents in the saga. Rikini’s teaching could thus supplement that of the schoolmaster Gísli Finnason, who is said to be a very wise and eloquent cleric, and as the schoolmaster it would have been Gísli’s responsibility to teach grammatica. In contrast to Rikini, the saga places particular emphasis on the fact that when reading and preaching, Gísli trusted to books, not to his own memory, which may in part reflect his focus as a teacher on the textual, rather than the oral, elements of Latinity.617 The reference in the above passage to some children learning Latin and others learning song suggests some interesting possibilities: it may indicate students with different careers, perhaps lay students learning Latin and priests learning song, or certain students being trained in a cathedral context specifically to fill out the choir.618 However, it may simply be a rhetorical flourish, characteristic of the L-version text. The liturgical side of education in a cathedral school is exemplified in a passage of Lárentíus saga that discusses Óláfr Hjaltason’s teaching at Hólar: Lét hann jafnan, meðan hann var byskup, skóla halda merkiligan; kenndi ok mörgum bróðir Árni. Gengu til skóla jafnan fimmtán eðr fleiri. Skyldu þeir sem lesa áttu hafa yfir um kveldit áðr fyrir skólameistara ok taka hirting af honum ef þeir læsi eigi rétt eðr syngi.619

617 The saga explains Gísli’s practice slightly differently in the three versions, but generally states that he was trying to ensure that people trusted his readings, despite his young age (Jóns saga, 17, 82, 123). This explanation itself supports the idea that he had a grammarian’s trust and interest in a stable, reliable text. 618 Cathedral choristers were a well-known phenomenon in England, where boys attending the song school would fill out the choir during some service; in the late Middle Ages the development of polyphony meant that these choristers became essential to the new type of performances (Orme, Medieval Children, 226–27). Considering the relatively small number of clergy in Iceland, it is very likely that students would contribute to choral performances, but it is more difficult to speculate whether this might have ever led to a specialized musical curriculum for certain students. 619 Biskupa sögur III, 373.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

(While he was bishop, he always had a distinguished school kept; brother Árni also taught many. There were always fifteen or more attending the school. Those who would have to read were obliged to rehearse during the evening before, in front of the schoolmaster, and take punishment from him if they did not read or sing correctly.)

Here the schoolmaster is checking for correct Latin even as the students prepare to sing and read, and thus grammatica and song are juxtaposed. The fact that the students are involved in a practice session the night before suggests that their intended task is likely joining the choir the next day for an Office or Mass performance. Observing a student’s reading is a standard aspect of medieval education, and we can compare the above passage to a Norwegian document from 1327, an education agreement wherein a student undertakes to read to the canons at Niðaróss when they are at the table, as part of his obligations and education.620 However, Lárentíus saga presents what is most likely preparation for an Office or Mass performance as central to education at Hólar, and as such this is distinct from other types of reading practice, and possibly particular to cathedrals and monasteries, where there was a large enough community of clergy to support a proper choir. The demand for correctness in such liturgical performances, particularly under the supervision of a schoolmaster, exemplifies the relationship between grammatica, more elementary forms of learning, and clerical life as a whole. But the prestige and idealization of grammatica is also shown by the ways it stands out beyond that curriculum. In Jóns saga helga, Hólar itself is presented as a center of learning that impacts its community beyond the work of any one teacher. The saga suggests that just being in contact with this institution could spread knowledge of grammatical learning, as in the passage on Þóroddr Gamlason building the new cathedral: Hann valði þann mann til kirkjugerðarinnar er þá þótti einnhverr hagastr vera. Sá hét Þóroddr Gamlason, ok var bæði at inn helgi Jón sparði eigi at reiða honum kaupit mikit og gott, enda leysti hann ok sína sýslu vel ok góðmannliga. Þat er sagt frá þessum manni at hann var svá næmr, þá er hann var í smíðinni, þá heyrði hann til er prestlingum var kennd íþrótt sú er grammatica heitir, en svá loddi honum það vel í eyrum af miklum næmleik ok athuga at hann gerðisk inn mesti íþróttamaðr í þess konar námi.621 (He chose for the construction of the church that man who was thought at that time to be one of the most skillful. His name was Þóroddr, and it happened both that the holy Jón did not withhold from paying him a large and good fee, and indeed he did his work well and conscientiously. It is said about this man that he was so perceptive that while he was

620 DN II, 137. 621 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 204.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


at work he listened when the priestlings were being taught that art which is called grammatica. And it stuck in his ears so well from great perceptiveness and interest, that he became the most skilled man in this type of study.)

This story clearly has a legendary, hyperbolic quality in its hagiographic context, and should not be taken as indicative of any actual learning practices. However, the nature of this hyperbole is fundamentally important: not only is Þóroddr presented as a man of amazing ability, grammatica itself is presented as something of great value, something that would be worthwhile for even a builder with no interest in a clerical career. It is taken for granted that Þóroddr would bother to listen to the students and teachers at work. Latinity here has an intrinsic value, unrelated to use or context, which suggests its value to the prestige of the bishopric, as well as to the personal devotion of Þóroddr himself. This relationship between personal religious devotion and the free spread of grammatica in Jóns saga helga is further exemplified and linked to earlier educational traditions by Ingunn. Like Þóroddr, Ingunn represents the idealization of the free spread of Latin knowledge. She has no formal role at the cathedral, but is highly learned and is said to be a teacher to everyone who wished to learn, which stands in stark contrast to the high cost of education discussed in chapter 2. She is even said to teach grammatica explicitly, which would normally be the domain of the schoolmaster. The saga goes further with this, and at the bishopric during Jón’s time all the older clerics are said to teach the younger, and the younger to spend their time writing when not otherwise learning.622 This ecclesiastical harmony, Þóroddr’s learning, and Ingunn’s teaching represent an ideal of Christian education emanating from Hólar, of learning that exists without financial or social barriers, one that almost certainly never existed. For Ingunn, moreover, her teaching functions alongside a fascinating oral grammatica, as well as more traditional skills: Hon rétti mjǫk látínubœkr, svá at hon lét lesa fyrir sér, en hon sjálf saumaði, teflði eða [vann] aðrar hannyrðir með heilagra mann sǫgum, kynnandi mǫnnum Guðs dýrð eigi at eins með orðum munnnáms heldr ok með verkum handanna.623 (She corrected Latin books very well, so that she had them read to her, but she herself sewed, wove checkered patterns, or did other needlework with the sagas of holy men, making known to men the glory of God not only with the words of her oral study but also with the works of her hands.)

622 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 217. 623 Biskupa sögur I, Vol. 2, 220.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

Ingunn’s practice here is a dense combination of activities: she corrects books, practicing the grammatical discipline of emendatio, but does so as an oral/ aural practice, so that she can be engaged in hannyrðir at the same time. The passage does not suggest that she is correcting her students, either, but rather the látínubækr directly: her depth of knowledge and perceptiveness is so great that she can aurally catch errors in the written Latin and correct them without seeing the page herself.624 This level of deep, oral Latin skill is comparable to the comment in Lárentíus saga that Lárentíus could compose Latin verse as fast as anyone else could speak it, but it is here tied into the more explicitly religious implications of the cathedral community of Jóns saga. Moreover, the value of this hannyðir for Ingunn is both wholly different and fundamentally linked to that of Ólof in Víglundar saga, prestigious and practical for them both, but for Ingunn simultaneously drawing from and adding to her grammatical and devotional work. The wording of the passage suggests that she may in fact be listening to the lives of saints from these Latin books and then communicating them in the physical medium of hannyrðir, perhaps embroidering images of the saints or important events from their lives. The new medium expresses her interpretation of the texts, and Ingunn’s hannyrðir thus becomes a conduit for the expression of her grammatical skill, and brings knowledge of the glory of the saints and God to a potentially wider audience. Thus, while education in hannyrðir was not related to grammatica in terms of its concern for language – unlike law, poetry, or runes – the two disciplines could interact in fascinating and unexpected ways. The significance of many types of textiles for church furnishings may have given ample opportunity, particularly at convents, for textile work and more intellectual and textual disciplines to interact.625

624 The phrasing here is somewhat ambiguous and the passage frustratingly terse: it seems most likely that Ingunn is correcting orally while she does hannyrðir, as the passage has been understood above, but it is not impossible that the corrected text is being read back to her after she has previously done the corrections manually. Either way, the purpose of the passage is clearly to display the depths of her skill and pious diligence, and it is not implying that she had only an oral knowledge of Latin, and was functionally illiterate, as has recently been suggested (Van Deusen, The Saga of the Sister Saints, 108). 625 Anna Sigurðardóttir has speculated, in reference to the 1413 educational document at Reynistaðr, that education of women at convents may have included hannyrðir. She has also noted a particular compelling example, from the end of the fourteenth century, of Bishop Vilkin of Skálholt having the women of Kirkjubær produce various textiles for the furnishing of Skálholt, and suggested that they may have been ornamented with the same hagiographic material as Ingunn’s work (Anna Sigurðardóttir, Allt hafði annan Róm, 114–15, 53–54).

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


Grammatica in medieval Iceland was a critical concept, both in how it actually functioned in teaching and learning, and how it is presented in the sources. Elementary learning intersected and overlapped with grammatica, but there was clearly an extensive amount of education involved before a student would actually gain the proficiency to understand, use, and interpret Latin with nuance and skill. Grammatica was essential for a priest to perform his vocation fully, but clearly some poor priests, and likely many more deacons and subdeacons, managed to get by with a much more limited education. Partial Latin literacy was probably quite common.626 While grammatica is generally understood as the most basic and elementary of the septem artes liberales, in Jóns saga helga it is also a prestigious skill, worthy of Þóroddr’s attention and Gísli Finnason’s skills. For Ingunn, the practice of Latin is also a form of personal devotion. There is thus no doubt that grammatica had a significant and multifaceted place in the medieval Icelandic clerical worldview.

Grammatica, Booklists, and Advanced Learning Even as the sources used in the previous section show the links between grammatica and more elementary learning, other sources can be used to show the full complexity of grammatical education, as well as the links between it and more advanced subjects. The extant booklists can be used alongside Lárentíus saga and some other sources to give a sense of what characterized grammatica in a broad sense, as well as the uses of grammatica for more advanced types of Latin learning, above all canon law and the interpretation of Scripture. For those Icelanders with the interest and ability to obtain a thorough education in grammatica, skill and fluency in Latin could have several benefits beyond the basic performance of clerical duties. These sources, however, are representative

626 Grotans has speculated that at the end of the first three years of a normal medieval education, students would likely have actually understood very little Latin (Grotans, Reading, 76). Yet Magnús Már Lárusson has argued that Icelandic Mass-deacons and sub-deacons could have been educated in as little as two years (Magnús Már Lárusson, “Námskostnaður,” 127). This seems to fit well with the description in AM 238 XXIII fol., which does not prescribe the same duties for sub-deacons and deacons, and the several lower levels of unordained clerics, as for priests. Each of the lower orders is required to read and sing at certain points in the Mass, where it is certainly not necessary to understand the words. A full deacon, however, is required to kenna kenningar at the request of priests or bishops, which presumably refers generally to preaching, and may suggest some slightly higher expected level of literacy than that of the sub-deacons. It is also noted that the third rank of clerical ordination, lectores, were expected to read in Matins and at Masses for the dead (Messuskýringar, 108–9).


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

only of the fourteenth century and later, and some general trends in medieval pedagogical materials may suggest that earlier periods were different, at least in the types of books they used. The longer booklists available for Hólar and several monasteries for the fourteenth, fifteenth, and early sixteenth centuries are the only direct evidence of explicitly pedagogical books in Iceland. As noted earlier, the liturgical books at any church could be used particularly for basic reading practice, and the Latin sermons and homilies kept at some major churches like Vellir probably had pedagogical value, but none of these churches appear to have kept books whose primary purpose was teaching students. While different books, and probably a smaller number, were used in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, their absence is no basis for arguing that Latin education was not available in previous centuries. As with the discussion of liturgical books earlier in this chapter, it is important to note here that these lists do not represent private collections, which were probably quite substantial, or the library of Skálholt, which may have contained a very extensive collection. Even the surviving lists, however, evidence a more complex form of grammatica and education in Iceland than has hitherto been appreciated.627 The 1396 Hólar list has a section labelled Iure (law) and another section labelled skólabækr (schoolbooks).628 In the schoolbooks, there are two copies of the Doctrinalia, the verse grammar of Alexander of Villa Dei written c. 1199, and one Græcismus, the verse grammar of Eberhard of Béthune, written c. 1212. Not only were these the basis of the 4GT and an influence on the 3GT, but, as noted in the introduction, they were the most important and popular basic grammars of the thirteenth century, and representative of the rise and predominance of verse grammars in the later Middle Ages. They continued to be used and heavily commentated upon for some three hundred years until they were largely rejected by the humanists.629 These books would have formed the backbone of Latin education in thirteenth- and fourteen-century Hólar. The identity of two other books, Proprietarius and Strepitus iudicii, is uncertain, but from their titles they seem very likely to be legal texts. The final three skólabækr represent the more encyclopedic and lexicographic side of grammatical learning: Isidore’s Etymologiae; a Brito in two books, which must be the Expositiones vocabulorum biblie of William Brito, a dictionary of biblical terms written

627 Cf. Guðlaugur Rúnar Guðmundsson, who takes the small collections of pedagogical texts in the booklists at face value, and suggests education in early sixteenth-century Iceland was severely affected by the lack of books (Guðlaugur Rúnar Guðmundsson, Skólalíf, 129). 628 DI III, 612–13. 629 Medieval Grammar, 573–76.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


c. 1248–1267; and finally a Hugvicio, the Derivationes written by Hugutio in the late twelfth century. Hugutio was probably the most famous medieval lexicographer, though he taught in the law school of Bologna and was also known for his juridical work.630 These last three works are fundamental for understanding the wider discipline of grammatica. Learning the Latin language was not simply a matter of gaining the basics of grammar and metalanguage from a text like the Doctrinale, or practicing poetic composition and interpretation. It involved gaining proficiency in a diverse lexicon that could vary between texts. Isidore’s etymological encyclopedia represents one of the most foundational works dealing with that problem, being in large part intended to provide all the relevant information for an intelligent reading of the Bible.631 Hugutio and Brito represent two approaches to the simple problem of vocabulary: the Derivationes was an attempt at a vast, comprehensive reference work, while Brito’s Expositiones, which itself used Hugutio as a source, took a focused approach and dealt with rare and difficult biblical terms. While there is no vernacular adaptation or extant manuscript evidence for these works,632 their importance for late medieval Icelandic learning is unquestionable, since in addition to those at Hólar, several other copies of these works are attested. Among the donations of Halldór Loptsson, an extremely wealthy priest, in 1403, were copies of both Hugutio and Brito, left to Munkaþverá.633 A copy of Brito is listed among the books at Mǫðruvellir monastery in 1461.634 Another Hugutio is mentioned as being in the will of Sigurðr Jónsson, another very wealthy priest of Hítardalr, in 1503, donated to the church at Hítardalr with the proviso that it should be offered first to any of Sigurðr’s close kinsmen for whom it would be useful.635 This last reference in particular suggests that Latin grammatical books could be circulated among private collections, and were not only kept in monastery and episcopal libraries. They are thus a hint of the many schoolbooks and

630 Weijers, “Lexicography,” 142–45. Hugutio was one of three main dictionaries used in late medieval England, all of which were written in Italy (Orme, Medieval Schools, 89). 631 Medieval Grammar, 232. 632 Tryggvi Oleson and Guðbrandur Jónsson argued that these references to Brito match the Latin grammatical text in AM 203 4to (Oleson, “Book Donors in Mediaeval Iceland,” 90; Guðbrandur Jónsson, “Dómkirkjan á Hólum,” 413). Jonna Louis-Jensen, however, pointed out in 1979 that the text in AM 203 4to is another grammatical text, Johannes de Garlandia’s Tractatus de aequivocis, and moreover that there is no evidence that that manuscript was ever actually in Iceland (Louis-Jensen, “Brito på Island,” 105). 633 DI III, 685. 634 DI V, 288. 635 DI VII, 472.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

grammatical books that must have circulated in medieval Iceland without any mention in the sources. The 1461 Mǫðruvellir list does not identify schoolbooks, but among its latínubækr – which are distinguished both from norrænubækr and simple bækr, with the latter referring to liturgical books – are several texts which could have pedagogical and grammatical use.636 In addition to the Brito, it notes the Minus volumen of Priscian, the commonly used title of the last two books of the Institutiones, dealing with syntax, which was less widely used than the rest of the text, the Maius volumen.637 Two texts of Isidore appear, the Synonyma and De summo bono, the former of which can be considered simultaneously a grammatical and a spiritual work.638 The entry titled Vita thobie, while it may refer to the apocryphal Book of Tobit, has generally been thought to refer to the poem Thobias written by Matthew of Vendôme, c. 1174–1206, a standard work for reading practice for students,639 and can be compared to the Tobias Glosatus in the 1397 Viðey list and to an early fourteenth-century Norwegian booklist.640 Taken in isolation, the Mǫðruvellir list is intriguing in that it contains grammatical and pedagogical works without any basic grammar, i.e. no copy of the Doctrinale or a similar text. Many of the sixteenth-century booklists, including the one for Hólar, do not contain any schoolbooks, so it is certainly possible that this list is simply incomplete. However, it is also possible that Mǫðruvellir depended on certain pedagogical books in the private collections of particular teachers, or even that basic Latin grammar was taught primarily through example texts, with a minimum of reference materials. In a completely different way from the Hólar list, Mǫðruvellir in 1461 forces us to consider that there were different ways grammatica could be taught, when there was no standard curriculum or regimented oversight. The 1397 Viðey list is in many ways the most complete one.641 It certainly gives the strongest impression of having an established body of basic reading materials for the students of the monastery. Among its skólabækr the grammatical textbooks are represented by the Doctrinale and the Graecismus, but the rest of the section appears to be basic reading materials: Aurora, an extremely popular collection of elegiac couplets dealing with biblical material, written by Peter Riga with additions from Aegidius of Paris between 1170 and 1200;642

636 DI V, 286–90. 637 Percival, “On Priscian’s Syntactic Theory,” 66. 638 Di Sciacca, Finding the Right Words, 17–20. 639 Ten Latin Schooltexts, 237–45. 640 See Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 264–65. 641 DI IV, 110–11. 642 Ten Latin Schooltexts, 269–72.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


Alexander Magnus, which could either be the twelfth-century Latin epic poem Alexandreis by Walter of Châtillon, or perhaps Quintus Curtius Rufus’s first- or early second-century Historia Alexandri Magni;643 the already mentioned glossed Thobias; and a glossed Cato, referring to the late antique wisdom poem, the Disticha Catonis, by far the most popular and enduring didactic poem of the Middle Ages.644 The Disticha Catonis was, moreover, translated into ON verse in Hugsvinnsmál. Finally, alongside these works, the skólabækr section mentions nine other books of verse, a collection of miracles of Mary, a Vita of St. Margaret, and two breviaries. Isidore’s Etymologiae is also listed at Viðey, but unlike at Hólar it is not in the skólabækur section, which may suggest different uses for the text at the two locations. Several other texts commonly used in pedagogy are also mentioned outside the skólabækr section: Augustine’s foundational text of Christian rhetoric, De Doctrina Christiana, and the late eleventh-century introductory theological treatise Elucidarius. The Viðey list reflects the extent to which not only grammars and reference works, but also many types of Latin poetry were fundamental to the teaching and learning of grammatica. Poetry was likewise an important meeting point for intermediate trivium learning, particularly between grammatica and rhetorica. As noted in the introduction, the discussion of figurative language overlapped between the disciplines, and the extremely influential corpus of thirteenth-century poetic treatises known as the ars poetriae are fundamentally a mix of grammatical and rhetorical discourse.645 While none of the ars poetriae survive for Iceland or are mentioned in the booklists, Peter Foote in 1984 made a very convincing argument for their general influence on ON poetry, and in particular for the direct translation of part of the influential Poetria nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf into the fourteenth-century ON poem Lilja.646 This may indicate that the work was extant in Iceland, perhaps in a private collection, even though it is missing from our lists. It can also be noted that Latin metrics are discussed in at least two frag-

643 While the Alexandreis was a popular poem, and would fit with other twelfth-century pedagogical poems like Tobias and Aurora in the booklists, the Historia Alexandri Magni was included in the English schoolmaster Alexander Neckam’s list of textbooks from the beginning of the thirteenth century (Medieval Grammar, 537). 644 The Disticha Catonis is probably third or fourth century, and unlike most popular medieval textbooks it survived the Renaissance humanists, largely because of its age (Ten Latin Schooltexts, 49–58). 645 For a thorough discussion of the genre and development of the ars poetriae, see Purcell, Ars poetriae. 646 Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 259–68.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

ments: AM 732 b 4to, which discusses in Latin the Greek alphabet and Latin metrics, and AM 792 4to, which has Latin grammatical and metrical notes.647 One general feature among this sample of pedagogical books from these three lists is the lack of classical works. While Ovid is mentioned as having been read in twelfth-century Hólar in Jóns saga, and is mentioned again in the 1525 booklist,648 he does not appear in any of the fourteenth- or fifteenthcentury lists, nor do any of the classical authors, apart from Cato, which were standard in twelfth-century English schools. This can perhaps be linked to the movement against many of these authors in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which brought a rise in more recent poetry dealing with wisdom, morality, and worship, including hymns and sequences. A classic list of six key elementary texts often compiled together was replaced in late medieval schools by a new list of eight, though the Disticha Catonis and Theodolus’s Ecloga appear on both lists.649 Åslaug Ommundsen has recently identified two prefourteenth-century Icelandic fragments that appear to contain the Disticha Catonis and Aesop’s Fables, which were both part of the new list of eight authors, and she points out that this suggests Iceland may have been following the general trend in the thirteenth century.650 Another classical revival characterized English schools at the end of the fifteenth century, and this may in turn be linked to the appearance of both Ovid and Aristotle in the 1525 Hólar list.651 While for many of these works and aspects of learning the booklists are the only evidence, some glossaries and paradigms give evidence for the teaching of Latin grammatica through bilingual texts. The most prominent extant grammatical fragment is AM 921 III 4to, a paradigm of the verb amo with Old Norse glosses, very likely based on Ælfric’s Excerptiones.652 Written and glossed paradigms were an essential part of grammatical education that is not evidenced in the booklists or the vernacular treatises, and AM 921 III 4to almost certainly represents a much larger corpus of lost pedagogical manuscripts. Glossaries are another central component of grammatical learning that has tended not to be treated as such in Icelandic scholarship, and their significance can be better appreciated in the light of the frequent appearance of Brito and

647 Frank, “Classical Scholarship,” 145, note 1. 648 DI IX, 298. 649 Orme, Medieval Schools, 97–105. 650 Ommundsen, “Traces of Latin Education,” 252–54. 651 A suggestive point of interest in Aristotle appears in Alexanders saga, where it is said that Aristotle’s book is called dialectica in Latin, but þræto boc (book of litigation/quarrels) in Norse (Brandr Jónsson, Alexanders saga, 3). 652 Gade, “Ælfric in Iceland.”

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


Hugutio in the booklists. The oldest section of GKS 1812 4to, from the end of the twelfth century, contains a small glossary of approximately 190 Latin words, mostly nouns, glossed by about 150 Old Norse words covering a broad range of subjects.653 This list was probably originally longer: the fragment AM 249 I fol. is written in the same hand and belonged to the same manuscript, and probably the same glossary, bringing the total to 260 Latin words.654 Scardigli and Raschellà have suggested three possible uses for this glossary: as an exercise in Icelandic orðspeki (wisdom in words), comparable with the þulur often compiled in manuscripts of the Snorra Edda; as an isolated attempt to introduce Latin as a language of daily use in a particular religious community; or as notes, possibly made for teaching purposes, of an Icelander who had travelled abroad in areas where Latin was used in daily life.655 Raschellà has more recently elaborated on the third point, suggesting that the glosses were potentially a “vocabulary exercise” made by a teacher or student.656 Interpreting these texts, however, required awareness of the widespread use elsewhere of glossaries in classrooms as a teaching aid in grammatica and other disciplines, and of the widespread use of Latin in an oral context. Scardigli and Raschellà argue that the glossary’s lack of religious terminology shows its secular nature and “imprint of eminent practicality, almost as though it were a manual of expressions to be used in the most mundane circumstances of daily life.”657 The comparison with the þulur ignores the linguistic difference between them, and the fact that the glossary has no apparent connection to poetry of any kind, much less skaldic poetry. As this chapter has shown, there is no doubt that Latin was used orally in Iceland to at least some extent, and there are no grounds for the idea that daily spoken use of Latin would be something exotic or unsustainable. Moreover, the idea that the seemingly secular and everyday quality of this glossary separates it from the learned, clerical tradition ignores the nature of glossaries, grammatica, and encyclopedic learning. It was quite common for medieval lexical works to deal with everyday things,

653 Scardigli and Raschellà, “A Latin-Icelandic Glossary,” 299. 654 Raschellà, “Vernacular Gloss Writing,” 588–89. Raschellà here also notes several other, much shorter Latin-Old Norse glosses: three pairs of terms written in the margins of AM 671 4to from the fourteenth century, and a blank page of the Codex Wormianus, AM 242 fol, which was filled in the fifteenth century with Icelandic and Latin verses, along with six pairs of terms (Raschellà, “Vernacular Gloss Writing,” 590). 655 Scardigli and Raschellà, “A Latin-Icelandic Glossary,” 311. See also Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 199. 656 Raschellà, “Vernacular Gloss Writing,” 589. 657 Scardigli and Raschellà, “A Latin-Icelandic Glossary,” 309.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

for numerous reasons.658 There is nothing so exceptional about the Icelandic glossary that suggests it was not a standard bilingual glossary, comparable to Latin-Old German and Latin-Old English ones.659 The juxtaposition of everyday and astronomical words is not strange, when the calendrical and astronomical contents of the rest of the GKS 1812 4to are considered, and emphasizes the application of grammatical techniques to other disciplines. Grammatica was not simply a collection of books and abstract ideas: it was the application of language learning in wider social and disciplinary contexts, and this application in Iceland can often show Latin and Old Norse interacting in both intellectual and quotidian discourse. There is clear evidence for the existence of many of the books involved in different aspects of grammatical learning, but there are also gaps, particularly where more advanced forms of learning might be expected, though a few key elementary texts like Donatus’s Ars minor are also conspicuously lacking.660 Taking the English author Alexander Neckam’s list of textbooks from c. 1200 as a useful comparison, the introduction of reading is followed by a series of texts representing disciplines and stages of learning: first classical works, then formal grammatical texts, rhetoric, music and arithmetic, medicine, ecclesiastical law, civil law, finally culminating in the study of the Scripture.661 The lack of classical texts may, as 658 Isidore’s Etymologiae covers a huge number of seemingly everyday topics, and yet was fundamentally concerned with modes of interpretation. For the explanation of the Etymologiae as a vehicle for grammatical learning see Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies, 21–24. See also Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 210 and Medieval Grammar, 232–33. Ælfric’s Latin-Old English glossary, written to accompany his grammar, deals with a wide variety of topics relevant to everyday monastic life, and was both widespread and working within an established tradition (see Hall, “Ælfric as Pedagogue,” 203–4). Several medieval texts gave lexicons of Latin words for everyday objects, functioning at the most basic level of Latin teaching, presenting the words within paragraphs of descriptive prose clustered around semantic themes. Alexander of Neckam’s De nominibus utensilium (c. 1177–1217) was often transmitted with related texts like the De utensibilibus (mid-twelfth century) of Adam of Petit Pont and the Dictionarius (c. 1220) of John of Garland (Medieval Grammar, 531–32). Example sentences known as latina, from Ælfric onward, contain terminology from daily life juxtaposed with other types of terminology, as a grammatical exercise, later also called a vulgar (Orme, Medieval Schools, 109–12). 659 Weijers, “Lexicography,” 140. 660 It may be that the Ars minor was too short and insignificant a text to have been mentioned in the booklists, and that copies which existed were compiled with the Doctrinale and other lengthier and more advanced grammatical treatises. Åslaug Ommundsen has found a fragment of the Ars minor, as well as of the Doctrinale and Graecismus, which may have been in use in medieval Norway, though none appear to have actually been written in Norway (Ommundsen, “Traces of Latin Education,” 247–51). 661 Medieval Grammar, 536–41.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


already suggested, have been a trend by the fourteenth century. The creation of Rómverja saga, an ON translation of Sallust and Lucan, around the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, may also be evidence of the greater importance of classical texts to education before the fourteenth century; Sallust and Lucan, it can be noted, are both mentioned in Neckam’s list. Civil law, naturally, would have been replaced by the study of ON vernacular law. There is some evidence of medical learning in ON translations of medical treatises, but little work has been done on these manuscripts and at least one major one is based on translations made first in Norway and Denmark,662 so their relationship to any Latin or bilingual Latin-ON education in Iceland is uncertain. There is, however, other evidence, including extensive archaeological data, for medical activity in the Icelandic monasteries, particularly Skriða.663 Arithmetic and music as forms of advanced learning, rather than elementary computus and sǫngr, are entirely absent in the booklists, as are any rhetorical treatises.664 There is excellent evidence in the Old Icelandic Homily Book for the more philosophical study of musica, and its overlap with grammatica, in the extended allegory involving musical modes, comparing the eight modes to the eight ages of the world.665 Such an isolated piece of evidence, however, is difficult to contextualize in wider educational and intellectual practices. The fact that such a complex allegory was written in the vernacular suggests something about the vernacular adaptation of grammatica and, in this respect, it can be compared to the rectangular figure used in the 2GT, which is described in terms of a musical metaphor.666 However, unlike the 2GT, the Homily Book text seems to assume some musical knowledge on the part of the audience, and so may suggest some amount of theoretical musical learning. Apart from the booklists, Bjørn Bandlien has argued that the nicknames of several priests evidence the teaching of the quadrivium at twelfth-century Hólar, specifically mathematics

662 The late fifteenth-century medical miscellany contained in MS. Royal Irish Academy 23 D 43 is thought to have gone through separate Norwegian and Danish translations from its ultimate Latin origins (Larsen, “The Vocabulary,” 174). 663 See Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 419–48, and Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Sagan af klaustrinu, 195–247. 664 Excluding De Doctrina Christiana, but see Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 170, for the argument that it was more of a grammatical than a rhetorical text. 665 For the transcribed text of the Icelandic Homily Book, see van Weenen’s 1993 edition. For a translation and discussion of the passage, see Marchand, “The Old Icelandic Allegory.” 666 Specifically, the keys of a hurdy-gurdy. See the discussion of the figure in The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise, 103–7.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

and astronomy.667 Such evidence is highly tentative, however, as these names do not necessarily correlate to the quadrivium disciplines. There was certainly some conception of the septem artes liberales in medieval Iceland, though largely presented as either theoretical or foreign. Gunnar Harðarson has recently pointed out a divisio philosophiae in the youngest, fourteenth-century section of GKS 1812 4to. There the septem artes liberales are presented as divisions of philosophia, and the trivium as the three categories of logica. All the branches of philosophia are defined in Latin, and the classification used fits with the systems prevalent in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries.668 This is an abstract, philosophical context for the artes, however, not an educational one. There is an explicitly educational context for the teaching of the artes given in Pétrs saga Postola, but the saga places these skills and their significance firmly in the Roman past, as an educational paradigm with a distant historical context.669 The artes are also listed in the education of characters outside Iceland in several chivalric sagas.670 However, even in these narratives, grammatica sometimes stands out as the central discipline.671 The forms of advanced learning that the booklists evidence are primarily theological, in the sense of scriptural reading and interpretation, and canon law, which fit remarkably well with the evidence of Lárentíus saga. For canon law the greatest concentration is, unsurprisingly, at the cathedrals: the 1396 Hólar list gives nine books of canon law, separated in their own list de iure, which oddly also includes a copy of the Book of Job and four Psalters. The 1461 Mǫðruvellir list includes at least four books that appear to be canon law books.672 Lawbooks are also mentioned in the booklists for lesser churches, presumably for dealing with legal disputes and other matters: the 1318 booklists mention four churches that own a copy of the Kristinn réttur, the ON vernacular

667 Specifically that Bjarni tǫlvísi was a sort of mathematician and Stjǫrni-Oddi an astronomer (Bandlien, “Situated Knowledge,” 152). 668 Gunnar Harðarson, “A Divisio Philosophiae,” 18. 669 Postola sögur, 57–58. 670 See Jarlmanns saga ok Hermanns (Late Medieval Icelandic Romances III, 4–5), Ectors saga (Late medieval Icelandic Romances I, 83–84), and Kirjalax saga (Kirialax saga, 100). Chapter 1 already noted Dínus saga Drambláta and its description of the education of princess Philotemia in the liberal arts, runes, and prophecy (Dínus saga, 12). 671 In Mírmanns saga, Mírmann learns the Latin alphabet from his mother at the age of eight, then she gives him Latin books from which it is specifically noted that he learns grammatica, among other unnamed skills; he then spends five more years studying Latin books, with no specifically named disciplines, with a master (Mírmanns saga, 3–4). 672 Textvs quinque librorum decretalium, glosa decretalivm magistri godfridi, casus quinque librorum decretalivm, and sumula reymundi (DI V, 288).

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


church law, though it is not clear which version;673 the 1461 list for Ǫxnahóll states that the church owned nǫkkut af lǫgbók (something from a lawbook).674 The significance of such a distribution of lawbooks for education is unclear. It may suggest that such learning primarily occurred at the episcopal sees, but perhaps not always. Lárentíus saga gives some detail about, and context to, the practice, prestige, and learning of canon law in Iceland, and its relationship to grammatica. Canon law, like theology, involved both a deep understanding of Latin and an advanced skill in textual interpretation. Lárentíus reaches this advanced Latinity through two tiers, first in Iceland, then again in Norway. First, upon his ordination, the saga praises Lárentíus as particularly skillful in composing Latin verse, a skill which he appears to have gained through his practice as a teacher.675 In an episode soon after, Árni Þorláksson, bishop of Skálholt, begins to teach Lárentíus canon law. He invites Lárentíus into his study, gives him a book, and calls on him to begin studying canon law, before warning him of the trials that would come later in his life.676 The prestige of canon law and its place in the hierarchy of education is shown here, in Lárentíus being brought into Bishop Árni’s place of study and personally being shown the texts of higher learning. The episode appears like a rite of initiation, a passing on of the skills required to become a bishop, foreshadowing the link between Lárentíus’s education and his career. When Bishop Auðunn Þorbergsson on his deathbed chooses Lárentíus as bishop, he is said to single out Lárentíus’s scholarly ability and skill in canon law as his key qualifications.677 Before his election as bishop, however, further description of Lárentíus’s learning of canon law in Norway reiterates this same transition from grammatica to canon law. At the same time, it adds the prestige of a legal education abroad, from a foreign teacher who had himself been educated at Bologna, the center of canon law education in Europe. As noted in the first section of this

673 Oleson, “Book Collections of Mediaeval Icelandic Churches,” 507. The mádagar themselves appear in DI II, 435, 443, 453, 664. 674 DI V, 293. Oleson suggests that this is another Kristinn réttur (Oleson, “Book Collections of Icelandic Churches in the Fifteenth Century,” 95). 675 “Svá sem Laurentius hafði tvá vetr ok tuttugu var hann vígðr til prests af herra Jörundi byskupi. Helt hann þá skóla. Svá gjörðiz hann þá framr í klerkdómi at dikta ok versa at hann gjörði svá skjótt vers sem maðr talaði skjótast latínu” (Biskupa sögur III, 229) (When Lárentíus was twenty-two he was ordained a priest by lord Bishop Jǫrundr. He then ran the school. He then became so prominent in the knowledge of composing and versifying that he could create verse as quickly as another man speaking Latin as fast as possible). 676 Biskupa sögur III, 235. 677 Biskupa sögur III, 345–46.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

chapter, Lárentíus shows off his Latin skills while working for lord Pétr in Norway. When he finally meets Archbishop Jǫrundr of Niðaróss, the archbishop asks Lárentíus to demonstrate his compositional skills. Lárentíus brings a poem of praise for Abbess Hallbera of Reynistaðr, implicitly understood as a Latin poem, and the archbishop checks the moral quality of the poem, by asking after the character of the abbess, which may suggest that archbishop judged the content of the poem inappropriate.678 Jǫrundr then tells Lárentíus that he should put aside his verse-making, and take up canon law. He then seems to critique verse in general, stating with a pair of Latin aphorisms that it is nothing but falsa figura (false figures) and maxima cura (the greatest trouble), before calling for Jón the Fleming, and telling him to begin Lárentíus’s legal education.679 These aphorisms are key to the significance of this episode. It is possible, and it has generally been assumed to be the case, that the archbishop is speaking both lines. However, this episode is a test of Lárentíus’s Latin skill, his understanding of grammatica, which is required for him to enter into the more advanced study of canon law. It would thus be more fitting for the second line to be spoken by Lárentíus, to show that he can speak in the same code, the same language and high register, as the archbishop, and thus match him on an intellectual level.680 On a surface level, moreover, it appears that the archbishop is denigrating poetry and poetics,681 but this is unlikely, as Latin poetry was one of the most central components of grammatical education. Rather, the aphorisms themselves are a test of linguistic understanding, and a suggestion to move from an intermediate subject like Latin poetics into the advanced level of canon law, a more serious discipline requiring even greater linguistic and intellectual ability. It is possible that there is even a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek irony intended here: the concept of falsa figura was a standard medieval critique of complex, obfuscating forms of

678 Cormack, “Poetry, Paganism” 37–39 and Frank, “Classical Scholarship,” 141, note 2. The extent or seriousness of the archbishop’s criticism is ambiguous, and a panegyric for an important abbess is not necessarily akin to some sort of illicit love poem. Latin praise poetry in general was certainly composed in Iceland, as a Latin panegyric for St. Þorlákr from the midfourteenth century is extant in AM 382 4to (Fahn and Gottskálk Jensson, “The Forgotten Poem”). See also Gottskálk Jensson and Marner, “Seven Pieces of Latin Poetry.” Lárentíus saga seems particularly concerned with linguistic interactions, and in addition to the relationship between Latin and ON, there are several interesting passages involving the linguistic interaction between Low German and ON, see Hall, “Jón the Fleming.” 679 Biskupa sögur III, 239–40. 680 The reading that Lárentíus is speaking the second line in a sort of playful banter with the archbishop is also accepted in Frank, “Classical Scholarship,” 141, note 2. 681 See for example Sigurdson, The Church, 168.

A Bilingual Educational System: Grammatica and the Clerical Curriculum


language, yet the archbishop switches into Latin when making his critique, deliberately obfuscating his speech in a higher register. The complicated attitudes towards figura in medieval learning had made significant impact on vernacular writing in Iceland by the fourteenth century, and this will be discussed in more detail in chapter 4.682 Lárentíus saga further expresses the importance of canon law with a focus on books, including Bishop Árni showing his own legal books to Lárentíus, noted above. When Lárentíus is imprisoned for a time by the cathedral chapter of Niðaróss, his property is seized, and it is noted that they let him keep the one set of items most precious to him, the books of canon law; this also suggests the existence of such books in private collections.683 During the conflict between Bishop Lárentíus and Bishop Jón Halldórsson, canon law books are brought north to Hólar as a part of the legal dispute.684 Finally, a book by the famous legal scholar Tancredus of Bologna (1185–1236) is given to Lárentíus by Archbishop Eilífr of Niðaróss.685 There is thus a strong connection between the office of bishop and canon law books. The end of the saga states that Lárentíus, in his will, left his private collection, which presumably included canon law books, to Þingeyrar;686 as with the 1461 Mǫðruvellir list, this indicates that monasteries kept such books. Lárentíus saga presents canon law as the most important advanced discipline of Icelandic Latin scholars, above any quadrivium discipline. It should be kept in mind, furthermore, that the apex of Neckam’s list of textbooks is also not a quadrivium discipline, but scriptural learning. What exactly qualified as theological and scriptural education in the Middle Ages is too deep and complicated a question to delve into here, but we can consider generally that a lengthy process intervened between a young student beginning to understand and interpret the Latin of his memorized Psalms, and the lessons of a university student focusing on theology as a discipline. However, the prescriptions for a good priest in AM 238 XXIII fol., where the priest is required to know Holy Scripture so as to be able to properly make use of the teachings and homilies of 682 Medieval attitudes towards poetry and poetic significance could be highly ambivalent and Archbishop Jǫrundr’s oddly dismissive behavior, after Lárentíus’ verse had just displayed his Latin skills, is indicative of this. As Copeland and Sluiter succinctly express, “Like the figure, poetry is neither correct nor incorrect, neither truth nor lies” (Medieval Grammar, 36). The value of poetry and secular authors for education was likewise tied to the moral instruction and example the teacher was supposed to provide, and continued to be debated in medieval Europe through the fifteenth century (Lynch, Medieval Pedagogical Writings, 104–5). 683 Biskupa sögur III, 305. 684 Biskupa sögur III, 403. 685 Biskupa sögur III, 423. 686 Biskupa sögur III, 439.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

Gregory, provide an interesting insight into what an intermediate stage of this type of learning might look like. Namely, a young cleric would spend a significant amount of time reading Scripture, either directly or through liturgical practice, or most likely both, and in becoming a priest this text suggests that expectations would rise to a deeper interpretative understanding, in part through a better understanding of grammatica. The writings of Gregory were kept even outside the monasteries and cathedrals of Iceland, at major churches like Vellir, Múli, and Grenjaðarstaðir. Such churches also kept other patristic texts, like the sermons of St. Jerome and homilies of Augustine.687 The sort of intermediate theological learning that these books represent, therefore, was not confined to the formal schools of medieval Iceland.688 Of course, Icelanders travelling abroad and foreign teachers coming to Iceland could add to the types of learning discussed in this section. All these forms of learning could contribute to the social benefits of education and patronage discussed in chapter 2. The main purpose here, however, has been to suggest what and how the Icelanders taught themselves, particularly their clergy, using Latin and bilingual forms of education. The elementary forms of education discussed here – the alphabet, reading before full understanding of Latin, singing and liturgical performance, and calendrical skills – could be learned with a minimum of resources, and this probably was the sort of education that could occur at most churches and within many fosterage relationships. Grammatica, in the full sense of learning to understand Latin and interpret Latin texts, as well as more advanced subjects were likely confined for the most part to cathedral and monastery schools. However, as has been emphasized, many books appear to have circulated through private collections. These include the vast majority of the texts in the surviving manuscript corpus, and the vernacular grammatical treatises. The sort of education which made use of such private collections, possibly taking place outside bishoprics or monasteries, may thus have included grammatica and advanced subjects.

687 In 1318 Vellir has a copy of the homilies of Gregory and Augustine, the Dialogi of Gregory, and Múli of his Expositiones in 1318 (DI II, 435, 455); Grenjaðarstaðir obtains a copy of the homilies by 1394 (DI III, 581). In addition to these churches, already discussed as possible educational centers, an ON translation of twenty of Gregory’s homilies also appears in a 1355 máldagi for the church at Hjarðarholtí in Laxárdalr (DI III, 102). 688 In some cases, this might even be a matter of more thorough instruction in fairly basic subjects: the 1396 books of Hólar contain glosses on the Psalter in a full seven books, as well as some expositiones on the Gospels (DI III, 612). Glossing and commentary, of course, are fundamentally grammatical practices, and the use of such texts would depend on – or perhaps even be a part of – a complete education in grammatica.

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises The extant vernacular grammatical treatises take ON language and poetry as their subject matter, and thus are not direct sources for Latin education. The 1GT and 2GT, as noted above, suggest how the use of a distinctly vernacular alphabet could affect elementary learning in general, establishing a precedent for students to learn to read without learning Latin. Both treatises were doubtless influenced by trends in actual educational practice, even if the pedagogical use of the texts themselves is more uncertain.689 Likewise, the 3GT and 4GT can offer some evidence as to how ON served as a tool in teaching Latin, even though the treatises themselves would not have served that purpose. As translated treatises, the vocabulary and metalanguage used in these two texts reflect a dynamic of linguistic interaction, not only of translation itself, but of the bilingual education of the classroom and the clerical curriculum. The creation of these treatises involved making use of a body of vernacular terminology that had developed in the context of bilingual education, including glossing and commentary as well as oral teaching. This can offer a close, lexical look at how Latin learning developed in medieval Iceland. So far much of this chapter has discussed texts primarily from the fourteenth century and later. As a mid-thirteenth-century text, the 3GT can offer a useful glimpse into the late twelfth- and early thirteenth-century educational practices which produced it. While this line of investigation appears speculative, it can be supported by comparing the situation in Iceland with that in other Germanic-speaking regions of medieval Europe, where more work has been done on bilingual education and the use of the vernacular to teach Latin. It is very likely that English and German missionaries had a profound impact on the early development of culture in Iceland. It therefore seems certain that the models of grammatica which developed in these regions would have affected how Icelanders adapted Latin learning to their own context.

The English and German Models When Iceland began to develop Christian education and promote literacy in the eleventh century, many other cultures had already incorporated their vernaculars

689 For a recent discussion of the possible use of the 3GT directly for Latin education, see Frans, “Sub regulis Donati,” 84–86.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

into their own grammatical discourses. In the Latin West, the close relationship between the Romance languages and Latin meant that these regions had a distinctive dynamic in dealing with Latin learning and classroom teaching.690 For Germanic- and Celtic-speaking regions, the process was much more difficult, as Latin reading and writing had to be taught to students who spoke a mother tongue from an entirely different language family. Germanic and Celtic grammarians and teachers were thus related in their experience of dealing with Latin, and any of these traditions could have been known in Iceland. Germanic traditions will be dealt with here, as the relationship between the languages means they were more likely to have a direct influence, but further research into relationships with Celtic grammatical traditions could be fruitful. Understanding something of these traditions of bilingual education can help to contextualize the Icelandic curriculum, and in particularly the ON grammatical treatises. At the end of the tenth century, right before the conversion of Iceland, the use of the vernacular in classrooms, commentaries, and the septem artes liberales was growing across the Germanic-speaking regions. In England, Ælfric produced his English and Latin grammar and Byrhtferth of Ramsey translated a work on computus into Old English. On the continent, at the monastery of St. Gall, Notker Labeo developed texts for a bilingual classroom, using Old High German (OHG) and Latin.691 Notker produced OHG translations and commentaries on Boethius and Martianus Capella, among others, and wrote treatises on dialectic, rhetoric, mathematics, and music.692 These developments of vernacular learning were preceded by extensive gloss-writing and the creation of a grammatical lexicon in the vernacular for classroom use, reflective of bilingual teaching and learning.693

690 The complex and ideologically charged issue of distinguishing between Latin and the vernacular for Romance languages is one of the most important aspects of analyzing the emergence of vernaculars as textual and literary languages in those regions, which was not an aspect of the Germanic and Celtic reception of Latin. 691 Grotans calls Notker “an exemplary representative of the late tenth-century schoolmaster” in his use of the vernacular and composition of teaching texts (Grotans, Reading, 80). 692 Grotans, Reading, 3–4. 693 Ælfric’s grammatical terminology has been linked to the glossing tradition and an “etymological method of analyzing Latin terms” at Winchester, and a bilingual system of learning that Ælfric inherited from his teacher Æthelwold (Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 431–34). Chapman specifically suggests that “a bilingual education in Æthelwold’s school included learning a somewhat standardized set of correspondences between Latin and English, especially for technical vocabulary” (Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 434). Grotans argues that, while Notker has sometimes been seen as arising out of an Ottonian vernacular decline, he was in fact building upon a tradition of vernacular use, one aimed not at creating literary

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


Notker’s grammatical innovations expanded the vernacular in its use as a classroom language. As Grotans has described, Notker had to shape the vernacular so that it, like Latin, could “follow the basic rules of written culture, which were set down by grammatica. German had to be recorded consistently so that it could be read correctly and be pleasing to both the eyes and to the ears.”694 Notker used the model of Alcuin’s orthographic reforms to create a detailed, fixed orthographic system for OHG, basing this orthography on spoken language, again following Alcuin’s prescriptions for phonetically read Latin.695 Notker was in part responding to an anti-vernacular tradition, as Otfrid von Weissenburg had some hundred years earlier argued that all Franconian deviations from Latin were barbarisms and solecisms, and that the vernacular itself, in failing to follow the rules of Latin, could not be regulated.696 At the same time as he critiqued it, however, Otfrid himself composed a Gospel harmony in the vernacular, as a replacement for secular vernacular poetry. Otfrid’s teacher, Hrabanus Maurus, abbot of Fulda from 822 to 840, dealt extensively with applying grammatica to vernacular languages; he was particularly interested in orthography, the invention of alphabets, and the relationship between sounds and letters.697 Notker represents a development of OHG use in the classroom and of the relationship between grammatica and the vernacular, but he was part of a tradition that was often ambivalent and complex in its linguistic ideologies. In England, Ælfric of Eynsham wrote an elementary grammar right at the end of the tenth century, based on an abbreviation of Priscian’s massive grammar, called the Excerptiones de arte grammatica anglice, written in both English and Latin. Ælfric also wrote a glossary to accompany the Excerptiones, as well as a colloquy, a type of written pedagogical dialogue.698 The fourteen surviving manuscripts of the Excerptiones mark it as one of the most popular extant Anglo-Saxon texts, and certainly the most widely transmitted grammatical text of the eleventh century.699 Ælfric’s Excerptiones has been studied extensively

monuments, but at teaching and learning and making Latin literature more accessible (Grotans, Reading, 118–19). 694 Grotans, Reading, 6. 695 Grotans, Reading, 13. 696 Grotans, Reading, 45–46. 697 Grotans, Reading, 120–21. 698 In every manuscript wherein Ælfric’s glossary survives, it follows immediately after the grammar. The colloquy, on the other hand, was a less popular text with a more independent transmission, though Ælfric Bata, Ælfric of Eynsham’s student, wrote the three texts as a triad (Hill, “Ælfric’s Grammatical Triad,” 288, 292–95). 699 Law, “Anglo-Saxon England,” 62–63; Menzer, “Ælfric’s English ‘Grammar,’” 106.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

for its grammatical terminology, the simultaneous use of Latin and English, and the large corpus of specialized English vocabulary, particularly metalinguistic terms.700 The text contains over two hundred different English grammatical terms, including loan-words, semantic loans, and loan formulations.701 Traditionally, scholars have emphasized that the Excerptiones was a Latin grammar, only using English as a medium of communication for the teaching of Latin, but recent scholarship has shown how this text also created a grammatical paradigm for thinking about the vernacular within a bilingual educational system.702 In learning English grammar alongside Latin grammar as part of classroom instruction, students could apply the rules of grammatica to interpret English-language texts, including the many homilies that Ælfric himself translated into English.703 Likewise, the bilingual education evidenced by Ælfric’s grammatical writing, as well as his comments about his own education, involved a system of correspondence between Latin and English, a lexical and methodological means of both using English as a glossing language, and of teaching grammatica in both languages.704 The use of the vernacular to understand Latin involves a development of the vernacular itself, and a better understanding of its grammatical characteristics. These are the main traditions that would have been present as models or direct influences on the first Icelandic vernacular adaptations of grammatical terms and ideas. However, the extant Icelandic treatises were written from the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries, when the core Latin grammatical tradition and the vernacular traditions along with it had changed. It is important to keep in mind that new developments occurred in Icelandic grammatica over the course of the Middle Ages. While some of these may have happened in relative isolation from broader developments in intellectual culture, others may have felt the impact of the changes affecting vernacular thought elsewhere. English was used less in elementary grammatical instruction after the Norman Conquest, and while some adaptations were made to Ælfric’s grammar during the twelfth century, no Middle English grammars survive from 700 See Williams, “Ælfric’s Grammatical Terminology,” and Chapman, “Uterque lingua.” 701 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 422, 427. Semantic loans are words already current in the borrowing language which shift the meaning of the original word, while loan formulations are newly created words using material from the borrowing language, such as compound-word calques. 702 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 421; Menzer, “Ælfric’s English ‘Grammar’,” 112–13, 123–24; Menzer, “Ælfric’s ‘Grammar’,” 638. Orme, Medieval Schools, 108 argues for this dynamic even outside Ælfric’s work. 703 Menzer, “Ælfric’s English ‘Grammar’,” 123–24. 704 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 433–34.

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


before the end of the fourteenth century. John of Cornwall, who wrote his Speculum gramaticale in 1346, was known for his bilingual grammatical teaching, and John of Trevisa in 1385 attributed the switch from French to English in elementary learning to his influence. John Leylond, teaching in Oxford from sometime before 1401 to his death in 1428, produced a series of short grammatical texts in Middle English, which became part of a widely influential group of texts, including a translation of Donatus’s Ars minor. The period of greatest Middle English grammatical manuscript production in 1460–1480 only came to a close with the advent of printed textbooks.705 The metalanguage developed by these treatises was not related to Ælfric’s, but was derived from French and Latin.706 While the function of these texts was primarily to teach elementary Latin, as in Ælfric’s grammar this often involved analysis of English grammatical characteristics. The sometimes strange parsing of English and awkwardly literal translation of Latin phrases show the hierarchical relationship between the languages.707 This is a brief survey of an extremely complex development of vernacular writing on grammatica, and it is important not to oversimplify or to generalize the developments. Most of the English treatises discussed are elementary or perhaps early intermediate texts, while Notker’s writings concerned rhetoric, dialectic, and other intermediate and advanced subjects.708 There are general trends, however, in the vernacular traditions discussed here. In periods between major vernacular treatises, or the activities of teachers like Notker, Ælfric, and Leylond, the vernacular continued to be used in glossing and elementary teaching in the classroom. The glossing and oral translation involved in classroom practice is often invisible in the textual tradition, but remains an influence on extant texts and the history of education. There is a significant amount of schoolroom Icelandic metalanguage and glossing practice which must have existed for education to function, yet is only hinted at in the extant sources.

705 An Edition of the Middle English Grammatical Texts, xi–xii. For the development of English metalanguage and grammatical writing at the end of the fourteenth century, see also Orme, Medieval Schools, 106–9. 706 An Edition of the Middle English Grammatical Texts, xiv–xvi. 707 An Edition of the Middle English Grammatical Texts, xvii–xxiii. 708 Grotans, Reading, 91–92.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

Old English, German, and the Origins of Icelandic Grammatica There is significant evidence that English, and possibly other vernaculars, had a profound impact on the development of Icelandic intellectual culture and vernacularity. The significant number of OE loanwords, the ON translations of Ælfric’s De Falsis Diis and De auguriis extant in the Hauksbók manuscript, and evidence of some OE influence on other ON translations, all point to the use of OE in the development of the Icelandic church and ON sermon-writing.709 In terms of grammatica and education, the date of the Icelandic conversion was important: before c. 1000 the pedagogical tools for learning Latin as a completely foreign language had already been developed by other Germanic-speaking regions.710 The wave of new grammatical writings in the eighth through eleventh centuries, as the tradition was adapted by Anglo-Saxon and Irish scholars, created pedagogies for new contexts wherein the vernacular was not a Romance language.711 The missionary period in early eleventh-century Iceland was a key period for the impact on Iceland of Ælfric’s Excerptiones and the model of OE bilingual grammatica. Ælfric’s text was at its peak of popularity as an elementary English grammar in the early eleventh century. It retained a respected position into the twelfth century, with at least two surviving manuscripts containing glosses in Norman French, and there is one copy from the first half of the thirteenth century with language updated to Middle English. After this point English appears to have ceased to be used as a scholarly language until the fifteenth century, when, as noted above, the new metalanguage was Latin-based and not derived from Ælfric.712 This suggests that Ælfric’s Excerptiones would have been in use and potentially available to Icelanders through the twelfth century, but is more likely to have arrived there at its peak of popularity. The two Anglo-Norman missionary bishops mentioned in the Icelandic narrative sources, Bjarnharðr and Hróðólfr, appear to have been in Iceland for

709 McDougall, “Foreigners and Foreign Languages,” 189–91. Regarding Middle English, McDougall notes specifically that part of Karlamagnús saga is said in the manuscript to have been translated from English into Norse, rather than from French, and that several late fifteenth-century English texts are extant in Icelandic translations from the sixteenth century. On the translation of Ælfric’s homilies De Falsis Diis and De Auguriis from Old English into Old Norse, see Taylor, “Hausbók and Ælfric’s De Falsis Diis”; Kick, “Old Norse Translation”; and Lombardi, “The Travel of a Text.” 710 Raschellà, “Vernacular Gloss Writing,” 587. 711 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 90. 712 Law, “Anglo-Saxon England,” 63–64. The thirteenth-century example, by the scribe with the Tremulous Hand, however, has been suggested to be more of an antiquarian study of Old English than a practical use of the grammar (Hill, “Ælfric’s Grammatical Triad,” 286).

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


quite some time, during which their role as missionaries would primarily have been teaching. If an educational text making use of a foreign, albeit closely related, vernacular were to be used in Iceland, it would be of the greatest value during these first generations of grammatical teaching, when the discipline of grammatica was being adapted to a new linguistic and cultural context. Such an influence would have had a profound impact on how Icelanders viewed their own language and its relationship to Latin, and could have potentially instigated a much more rapid development of a bilingual intellectual culture than if Latin alone had been used in the conversion process. Moreover, there is evidence for extensive English influence on the development of education and the church in Norway and Denmark in the period before the mid-twelfth century, including the arrival of learned English refugees into Denmark after the Norman Conquest.713 Influence and grammatical learning from England may thus have been adapted for the Nordic tongues in Norway and Denmark, and then passed from there into Iceland. As was noted above, there is some textual evidence for the direct use of Ælfric’s Excerptiones. Kari Ellen Gade has expanded upon some earlier scholarly suggestions about Ælfric’s grammatical influence, pointing to parallels between Ælfric’s Excerptiones and both the 3GT and the Latin-ON verbal paradigms in AM 921 III 4to.714 Gade’s argument for the influence of Ælfric rests primarily upon terminology: she speculates that in several cases the Icelandic texts are actually using Ælfric’s OE terms as a basis for ON terms, as a sort of intermediate language between Latin and ON.715 Even though the 3GT is a thirteenth-century text, and AM 921 III 4to even later, they are still probably reflecting a continuous thread of OE influence on ON intellectual culture going back to the eleventh century. The 1GT offers solid evidence for this influence in the mid-twelfth century. The introduction to the treatise suggests that at least some Icelandic grammarians viewed English as an authoritative language, a vernacular already normalized by grammatica. The 1GT presents itself explicitly as being based on an English model, with a very nuanced perspective on alphabet construction, after introducing the idea of distinct alphabets for every language, on the precedent of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew: Hveriga tungu er maðr skal ríta annarar tungu stǫfum, þá verðr sumra stafa vant, af því [. . .] at eigi finnsk þat hljóð í tungunni, sem stafirnir hafa, þeir er af ganga. En þó ríta

713 Münster-Swendsen, “Educating the Danes,” 154–60. 714 Gade, “Ælfric in Iceland.” 715 Gade also points out passages where the 3GT appears to be closer to Ælfric than to Priscian, at the same time as she notes that the 3GT’s main Latin source appears to be Priscian’s Institutiones, rather than the abbreviated version of the text that Ælfric used (Gade, “Ælfric in Iceland,” 325–31).


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

enskir menn enskuna látínustǫfum, ǫllum þeim er réttræðir verða í enskunni, en þar er þeir vinnask eigi til, þá hafa þeir við aðra stafi, svá marga ok þesskonar sem þarf, en hina taka þeir ór, er eigi eru réttræðir í máli þeira. Nú eptir þeira dœmum, alls vér erum einnar tungu, þó at gǫrzk hafi mjǫk ǫnnur tveggja eða nǫkkut báðar, til þess at hœgra verði at ríta ok lesa, sem nú tíðisk ok á þessu landi, bæði lǫg ok áttvísi eða þýðingar helgar, eða svá þau in spakligu frœði, er Ari Þórgilsson hefir á bœkr sett af skynsamligu viti . . . (Whatever language one has to write with the letters of another, some letters will be lacking, because [there are sounds in the language for which the other language has no letters, and some letters may be taken out, because]716 that sound is not found in the language which the letters have that are taken out. And yet Englishmen write English with Latin letters, as many as can be rightly pronounced in English, but where these no longer suffice, they add other letters, as many and of such a nature as are needed, taking out those that cannot be rightly pronounced in their language. Now according to their example, since we are of the same tongue, although there has been much change in one of them or some in both, I have written an alphabet for us Icelanders also, in order that it might become easier to write and read, as is now customary in this country as well, laws, genealogies, or sacred writings, and also that historical lore which Ari Thorgilsson has recorded in his books with such understanding wit . . . )717

By characterizing the English as having agency in producing their own alphabet, the 1GT reveals here that it is aware of the deliberate process which went into making English grammatically authorized, and is explicit that this influences the author in creating their own treatise. The historical, linguistic relationship that the 1GT proposes between English and Icelandic allows that authority to be applied to both languages – and the 1GT is not the only place this idea appears.718 In this passage, the use of English as a foundational justification for the creation of the 1GT strongly suggests that the author of the 1GT was aware of English vernacular grammatica. Considering the connections made by Gade

716 The text in brackets is an emendation proposed by the editors and translators of the treatise, based on the idea that the scribe appears to have skipped some text, but the exact wording of the missing text is impossible to determine. See discussion of the issue by Hreinn Benediktsson in The First Grammatical Treatise, 207. 717 First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 12–13. 718 In Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu it is stated that, at the time the narrative is set, the language in England was the same as that of Norway and Denmark, but that it changed to French after the conquest of William the bastard (Borgfirðinga sögur, 70). The Prologue of the Snorra Edda describes how the travels of the Æsir across northern Europe left a shared language over all the northern regions, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Saxony, and England. It also notes that in England there are place names which show a different language from that of the Æsir, possibly referring to Celtic place names, although it is unclear (Snorri Sturluson, Prologue and Gylfaginning, 6).

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


to the 3GT and AM 921 III 4to, and the general popularity of the Excerptiones, Ælfric is by far the most likely source of that knowledge.719 But the simple presence of written OE in Iceland would be influential as well. Over the course of the twelfth century the expanded English alphabet referenced by the 1GT, which included the þorn and eth, ceased to appear in school alphabets.720 This suggests that the 1GT’s perspective on the English alphabet was based on earlier, eleventh-century scribal practice. While English seems to be the most important vernacular language in the development of Icelandic grammatica, the transmission of knowledge of vernacular grammatical writing from German-speaking areas is also a real possibility. Ísleifr Gizurarson and his son Gizurr are said in Hungrvaka to have been educated in Saxony, Ísleifr in Herford specifically, in the latter half of the eleventh century. Hamburg-Bremen was likewise the archbishopric of all of the Nordic regions until 1104, when the archbishopric of Lund took over. However, while both Hamburg-Bremen and Saxony were in the north and would have spoken varieties of Low German, the activity of Notker and the school of St. Gall, as well as Hrabanus Maurus at Fulda, were in Old High German areas. Thus, while we cannot discount influence from St. Gall and Fulda on Icelandic grammatica, the dialectal divisions within Germany suggest that it would not have been from Hamburg-Bremen, or through the education of Ísleifr and Gizurr. At the same time, there were German-speaking missionaries in Iceland in the eleventh century, and too little is known about them to exclude the possibility that they brought some influence from authors like Notker or Hrabanus.721 While the development of vernacular education and grammatica in Iceland should be seen in the context of developments across Europe, the only vernacular tradition which seems likely to have made a direct textual impact is the AngloSaxon one. This impact alone, however, could have had a profound effect.

719 Hreinn Benediktsson has argued that the 1GT shows greater clarity of method and principles of analysis than comparable orthographic texts in Germany and England (The First Grammatical Treatise, 37), and is generally disinclined to allow for any foreign influence on the text, except for the basic education in grammatica the author must have had. Clearly, the author’s reference to English orthographic endeavors belies this, and there are clear connections between the 1GT and the tradition of orthographia, which will be addressed in chapter 4. 720 Orme, Medieval Schools, 55–56. 721 For the origins of the missionaries mentioned in Íslendingabók, see Íslendingabók/Kristni Saga, 26–27, note 77. While Bishop Friðrekr is mentioned in Hugrvaka and Íslendingabók, it is only in the later sources, Kristni saga and Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla, that he is said to be from Saxland (Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 4, 60, 93), and he has not been found in any sources outside of Iceland (Íslendingabók/Landnámabók, 60, note 1), so he does not represent a particular reliable path for influence from the German-speaking world.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

Ælfric’s grammar would have provided a precedent and method for a vernacular, ON understanding of grammatica to establish itself almost immediately in Iceland. Ælfric gives warnings about the dangers of translating religious texts without the normalizing safeguards of grammatica, as such translation allows a wider audience to read and potentially misinterpret a text, and he is explicit that his grammar is intended to solve that problem.722 If his grammar was available as a precedent from the beginning of Icelandic textual culture, it could have provided an immediate solution to many potential anxieties about the use of ON as a textual language. Knowledge of the Excerptiones, thus, could have affected not only the writing of grammatical treatises and classroom practice, but also general attitudes towards the relationship between religion and vernacular composition. With this grammatical precedent to help negotiate the interaction between languages in the early Icelandic church, the vernacular would be established in contexts where Latin was still necessary, thus providing a strong foundation for a bilingual clerical culture. This fits well with scholarly speculation on the cause of vernacular authority in Iceland, which has often revolved around the idea that its early use as a language of the church set a broad cultural precedent.723 In some cases, this has been viewed as a largely pragmatic issue of communication: scholars have emphasized the importance of ON homily writing in the vernacular for this reason, i.e. to communicate to an audience unfamiliar with Latin.724 However, there is nothing about this dynamic unique to Iceland, and the communication of Christian ideologies to the masses of people who could not understand Latin was a serious concern in medieval Europe. In 813 regional church councils were held at Arles, Chalon, Mainz, Rheims, and Tours, and the need to make preaching more intelligible to a wider audience was among the topics raised. The forty-fifth canon of the Council of Mainz called for everyone to learn the Credo in their own language, if learning it in Latin was not possible.725 There is reference to such concerns about communication in Guðmundar sögur and Lárentíus saga, which show that these pragmatic concerns encourage a bilingual, rather than a purely vernacular, clerical culture, and thus can reflect back on the development of bilingual grammatica. As noted earlier, in

722 For discussion of the relevant passage, see Menzer, “Ælfric’s English ‘Grammar’,” 123–24. 723 “The vernacular gained a new prestige through conveying the message of the Church as well as information about its organizational structure to the people. The use of the mother tongue in rituals, spiritual guidance, preaching and prayer gave it a new status and new power and changed people’s notions of their own language.” (Astås, “Language Contact,” 1045) 724 Turville-Petre, Origins, 112–13. 725 Grotans, Reading, 115–16.

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


Lárentíus saga, Lárentíus is needed at Niðaróss for his ability to speak and write in Norse as well as Latin, in order to mediate in the conflict between the archbishop and his cathedral chapter, but at the same time he needed very advanced Latin skills in canon law. Two speeches are mentioned in King Hákon’s court as being read in both Latin and Old Norse.726 Later in the saga, in a particularly telling passage, Lárentíus criticizes Bishop Jón of Skálholt during their conflict over Mǫðruvellir for inappropriately using Latin rather than Norse: Byrjaði Jón byskup sitt mál í fyrstu með latínu ok sagði hvat fram hafði áðr farit í Möðruvallamálum, bjóðandi Laurentio byskupi til andsvara. Laurentius byskup svaraði á norrænu ok mælti: “Vita menn þat, herra Jón, at þér talið svá mjúkt latínu sem yðra móðurtungu, en þó skilr þat ekki almúgi ok því tölum svá ljóst at allir megi skilja . . .”727 (Bishop Jón began his speech first, in Latin, and said what had already happened in the Mǫðruvellir-affair, inviting Bishop Lárentíus to reply. Bishop Lárentíus answered in Norse and spoke: “People know, lord Jón, that you speak Latin as easily as your own mother tongue, but the common people do not understand it, and we will speak plainly so that all will be able to understand . . .”)

So despite Lárentíus’s own stated tendency to speak Latin often,728 despite the saga’s argument that Lárentíus, like Jón, was one of the finest Latinists in Icelandic history,729 he is characterized as knowing when the vernacular was better. When the archbishop of Niðaróss sends a writ validating Lárentíus’s side of this conflict, Lárentíus has the writ translated into Norse, in order to be better and more widely understood.730 This can be viewed alongside the linguistic discussion in the introduction to Blanda as a simultaneous acknowledgement of the authority of Latin as the prime written, scholarly language, and the importance of using the vernacular to disseminate critical knowledge. In a passage from Íslendinga saga, in the Sturlunga saga collection, when Bishop Guðmundr excommunicates Kolbeinn Tumason, the saga is explicit that he recites the words from a document, in Norse.731 By specifying the language, the saga implies that the formal excommunication should be in Latin, but that the situation calls for everyone to understand exactly what is happening. In the mid-fourteenth-century D-version of Guðmundar sögur, Bishop Guðmundr sends

726 Biskupa sögur III, 254–55. 727 Biskupa sögur III, 403–4. 728 Biskupa sögur III, 334. 729 Biskupa sögur III, 383. 730 Biskupa sögur III, 424. 731 Sturlunga saga, Vol. 1, 245.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

a messenger with a Latin letter to the pope, receives a reply in Latin, and while the saga attests to the veracity of this account by saying that Bishop Lárentíus saw the Latin letter during his stay at Niðaróss, it also notes that the archbishop had it translated into Norse before reading it aloud to the cathedral kór.732 These dynamics of translation and vernacular rhetoric show how the vernacular could serve functionally without actually replacing Latin. The fact that Lárentíus saga in particular is so late only emphasizes that there was some degree of stability in this bilingual clerical culture. This stability simultaneously fed into and was supported by bilingual education, and in particular by bilingual grammatica, through the cultural role of grammatica in authorizing and normalizing language and interpretation.

Grammatical Terminology in ON and OE A vital aspect of the bilingual interactions within Icelandic grammatica is the development of technical terminology and metalanguage. Such terminology can reveal aspects of ideology and interpretation not explicitly discussed in texts, and it can connect intellectual traditions and social and cultural contexts.733 Analyzing the development of grammatical language, moreover, provides glimpses of aspects of education and grammatica no longer extant in the corpus, and thus is vital for revealing early contexts of bilingual teaching and learning. Learning a language in a classroom context demands terminology to describe language itself – a metalanguage – and the nature and formation of this metalanguage can provide some information about different contexts of learning: oral, vernacular, Latin, and bilingual. On a more ideological and traditional level, the technique of basing the beginning of grammatical education around memorizing Donatus’s Ars minor emphasized learning metalinguistic terms at a fairly early stage of education. Different types of terminology can suggest different levels of learning and different ways in which vernacular and

732 Biskupa sögur, Vol. 2, 121–26. 733 Gade, “Ælfric in Iceland,” 332 offers one of the rare acknowledgements of the importance of grammatical terminology. For discussions of terminology in the 3GT, see also Micillo, “La terminologia tecnica” and Clunies Ross, A History, 197–200; see also the glossaries in Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 100–105, Den Tredje og Fjærde, 301–28; for terminology in the 1GT see The First Grammatical Treatise, 41–67; for the 2GT see The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise, 114–22; for the 4GT see The Fourth Grammatical Treatise, 152–57.

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


Latin culture interacted. Thus, the terminology used in purely vernacular treatises can, in some cases, provide evidence of bilingual education. The analysis of this section is based on the model of Don Chapman’s 2010 article, “Uterque Lingua/Ægðer Gereord: Ælfric’s Grammatical Vocabulary and the Winchester Tradition.” Chapman collects and analyzes the full body of grammatical terminology within Ælfric’s Excerptiones in order to characterize the tradition of bilingual education, uterque lingua or ægðer gereord, at Winchester, and to understand the patterns and motivation in Ælfric’s alternation between Latin and English grammatical terms.734 With the Icelandic treatises there is little use of actual Latin terms, so the same methodology cannot be used. Variance in terminology must be compared across different treatises, but those treatises are still transmitted together in the fourteenth-century manuscripts, and so their terminology still must have been read and understood together in certain contexts. Chapman notes that while not all of the OE metalanguage could have been coined by Ælfric himself, there is very little English grammatical vocabulary elsewhere in the corpus. ON metalanguage is very similar, with most terms only appearing in one or two treatises, sometimes only in a single instance. The ON and OE treatises also share the same characteristic that the most commonly used terms are not specialized grammatical ones, but common words used in a distinct technical sense in a grammatical context.735 Chapman uses a conventional taxonomy for distinguishing categories of loan vocabulary, with his own additions: Loan Words: Words borrowed directly and naturalized from a foreign language. Semantic Loans: Words that are current in the borrowing language, but acquire a new sense in a specific context, as OE tid or ON tíð for Latin tempus, not in the normal sense of time, but in the specific grammatical sense of verbal tense. Loan Formations: Often called calques or simply neologisms, these are new compound words created within the borrowing language, based on foreign words. Multi-Word Loan Formations: A subcategory proposed by Chapman, where multiple words are used to calque or translate a single foreign word. Chapman’s analysis provides a quantitative distinction regarding the use of these terms in the Excerptiones. More than 70 percent of loan formations are

734 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 422. 735 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 425.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

only used once in the treatise, and 88 percent only once or twice, while 64 percent of semantic loans are used three or more times. Chapman argues that this distribution occurs because semantic loans were widely understood, and so could be used independently of Latin terms, while loan formations were so specialized that they depended on the explicit comparison between languages.736 This analysis of the distribution and categorization of Latin and vernacular terminology highlights one of the most interesting aspects of grammatical terminology in ON. Despite the fact that the grammatical loan formations are just as rare in ON as in OE, in the Icelandic treatises they are not supported by their Latin equivalents, and have to function on their own. This suggests that despite the influence of Ælfric on Icelandic grammatica, and the close similarity between OE and ON methods of creating metalanguage and other grammatical vocabulary, the terminology of the Icelandic treatises was used in different contexts from Ælfric’s. As Chapman argues, most grammatical terms do not belong to a general domain; instead they are specialized within the domain of grammar, so there could not have existed a well-established English counterpart outside the specialized domain. Ælfric was able to come up with corresponding words, of course, but these correspondences would not have been readily known. They would have to be learned, just as the original Latin terms would have to be learned. In this regard, Ælfric’s coinages would have been much less viable as stand-alone grammatical terms than those that already have a well-established connection. If a student has to learn a new technical term anyway, the student might as well learn the term that would be more valuable for later studies, namely the Latin term.737

In the context of bilingual clerical education in Iceland, we can speculate that this may have been the case: if the students were planning to learn Latin anyway, as part of their clerical duties, the ON terms would perhaps have functioned more as glosses of Latin terms than as an independent metalanguage. However, within the context of the ON vernacular grammatica represented by the extant treatises, which will be discussed in detail in chapter 4, Latin terminology seems not to have been prioritized, as these treatises did not depend on it. The construction of loan formations in grammatical discourse, Chapman explains, has a practical function, related to classroom pedagogy as well as the medieval interest in etymology. Most grammatical compounds are based on common words; Chapman uses the example of the imperativus, the adjective describing the “imperative” voice, based on the verb impero and an adjectival suffix. By constructing the equivalent OE bebeodendlic, based on the verb

736 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 427–28. 737 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 428.

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


bebeodian, Ælfric could set up a correspondence between the interpretations of each compound term through their more commonly known components, a useful pedagogical tool for bilingual education: Using terms that would likely have been known as counterparts to Latin terms in other contexts would have opened up the sense of the Latin term. If an English term could render a corresponding Latin term transparent long enough for students to see what the Latin stem meant, the entire Latin grammatical term would be easier to remember.738

This etymological parsing, understanding why words meant what they did, was a key pedagogical tool. In some early medieval grammars, etymology was presented as a category of definition. Chapman characterizes Ælfric as extending the etymological means of definition to the sphere of bilingual education.739 He relates this to a wider context of etymological explanation and close English glossing of Latin at the Winchester school, where, he argues, “most of the correspondences between Ælfric’s English and Latin terms were already established in the glossing tradition.”740 Chapman thus presents a model for constructing vocabulary, not only through glossing and translation, but also in a pedagogical context. Modern language classrooms are not entirely dissimilar: one of the ways to understand a new word, particularly one with an unfamiliar range of meanings, is to break it down into its component parts and translate each of them. In a modern context this is often a largely oral practice – a teacher at the blackboard explaining how to interpret or memorize some new vocabulary – but in a medieval context, where dictionaries and comparable reference texts were rare and expensive, and memorization by rote was the primary method, it is not surprising that such words would sometimes be written out and more widely used. Regular classroom use, if widespread, could establish such pedagogical loan formations among a wide portion of the literate population, particularly in a small region like Iceland with a limited number of schools and teachers. The terminology of the Icelandic grammatical treatises, particularly the metalanguage which would have been necessary to elementary and intermediate language learning, would therefore be most widespread and important in its oral classroom context, where it was directly involved with training the entire priestly class, and only secondarily in the narrower context of the extant treatises. This again suggests that it must have

738 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 429. 739 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 429–31. For a full discussion of Ælfric’s use of etymologies and their pedagogical value, see Hill, “Ælfric’s Use of Etymologies.” 740 Chapman, “Uterque lingua,” 431.


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

begun to develop within the earliest education out of pure necessity, and under the influence of Ælfric and the OE precedent. It can be argued thus that the translated treatises, the 3GT and the 4GT, in their use of loanwords and loan formations, represent a development from bilingual education, both oral practice and the glossing of texts, rather than simply an idiosyncrasy of translation. In light of the work which has been done on Ælfric, and the influence of OE on Icelandic grammatica, the highly Latin-influenced terminology of the 3GT cannot be seen as the result of a single mid-thirteenth-century development.741 Rather it is far more likely that the application of a tradition of bilingual Latin learning – which produced a body of loanwords and loan formations – was applied in the mid-thirteenth century to the textualization of vernacular poetics begun by the Snorra Edda. As such, the terminology of the 3GT is evidence for the use of the vernacular in the teaching and learning of Latin in the early thirteenth century, and probably stretches back to the eleventh century. Learning Latin, and therefore developing a language for teaching Latin, was among the first tasks that learned Christian Icelanders had to deal with in order to incorporate the new religion into their society. This was not strictly an issue of grammatica, and technical ON terminology like stafr and fígúra are also important to computus: stafr and fígúra are frequently used to refer to numerals, and fígúra to refer to mathematical figures and concepts, in addition to their grammatical usages. When referring to language, stafr simply means letter or character, but fígúra had several complex senses: frequently throughout the M, 4GT, and several religious texts, it refers to a figure of speech or trope, but in the MG it is also used several times for the shape or form of a letter. This latter usage in the MG seems redundant, as the native terms líkneski and vǫxtr are both used with similar meanings in the 1GT, which makes it almost certain that this use of fígúra comes from an established bilingual educational context. Several scholars have acknowledged the importance of glossing practices and

741 A few notable loan formations are also used in texts older than the 3GT. Fornafn is clearly based on the Latin pronomen, and is used in both Háttatal and the MG to mean pronoun, but it is also used in Skáldskaparmál to refer to a type of kenning. See Clunies Ross, Skáldkaparmál, 64–77. Hǫfuðskepna appears to be a loan formation of elementum, in both the common sense of a natural element and metalinguistic sense of the philosophical definition of a letter, both related to the literal definition of chief or cardinal form. In the metalinguistic sense it only appears once, in the MG, but there are forty-three references to the term in the ONP, including twelfth-century religious texts like the Icelandic Homily Book and the ON translation of the Elucidarius.

Latin, the Vernacular, and the ON Grammatical Treatises


general linguistic adaptation for the reception of Christianity in Iceland.742 However, the idea that the terminology of the translated grammatical treatises could reflect this linguistic adaptation has not been considered in detail. Certain metalinguistic terms would have been essential from the earliest bilingual teaching of Latin. The vernacular names for the grammatical cases are particularly important, in that they are both central to the teaching of basic grammatica, and are all loan formations, and yet they are extremely rare in the extant treatises. Following Chapman’s reasoning, these terms must have developed in direct juxtaposition to Latin terms, in oral or textual contexts. Yet such juxtapositions do not appear in the 3GT and the 4GT, suggesting that there must be some bilingual discourse prior to the production of the texts. The term for the nominative, nefnligr, does not actually appear until the 4GT, yet it cannot be an innovation of the 4GT or its era because the terms for the other cases, gæfiligr (dative) and roegiligr (accusative), only appear in the 3GT. It is far more likely that vernacular case names were developed together in the bilingual teaching of Latin, rather than that individual terms were coined in the process of producing treatises to be used for vernacular poetics. There is also a significant number of terms relating to the inflection of verbs extant only in AM 921 III 4to, which dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century, but as already discussed, almost certainly derives from the reception of Ælfric’s Excerptiones in the eleventh century. There is more definitive evidence of the bilingual pedagogical environment behind the 3GT in the terms for diphthong. The MG uses three terms: the Latin loan diphthongus is most frequent, glossed only once with the loan formation tvíhljóðr. Elsewhere the native term límingarstafr is used, which also appears as the shorter límingr in the 2GT. The 2GT is also unique in using the term lausaklofi.743 The diphthongus/tvíhljóðr interaction in the MG is clearly the same type of glossing described by Chapman in Ælfric, where the loan formation only functions to explain the full etymological meaning of the Latin term. This pairing is a brief textual reference to the type of explanation that would have occurred orally in a classroom. Neither diphthongus nor tvíhljóðr is actually necessary in the context of the treatise, as límingarstafr is used elsewhere in the MG and once in the 4GT. The use of the two terms, and particularly the

742 For the importance of glossing, see Sverrir Tómasson, “The History of Old Nordic Manuscripts I,” 796. For the general importance of linguistic adaptation for the reception of Christianity in Iceland, see Schottmann, “Nordic Language History,” 404–11. 743 Raschellà does argue that the 2GT appears to take its two diphthong terms, límingr and lausaklofi, as graphemic categories referring respectively to vowel ligatures and vowel digraphs (The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise, 118–19).


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

appearance of tvíhljóðr only once while the Latin diphthongus is used elsewhere on its own, is clearly a remnant of the same sort of glossing function of the vernacular as found in Ælfric. The use of the loan formation tvíhljóðr rather than a native term could reflect the pedagogical practice of preferring loan formations over native terms, when the loan formation can help to explain a Latin term and its etymology. Another example in the MG suggests that this text in particular is influenced by the bilingual teaching of Latin. The loanword fígúra appears in many different texts in several senses, as noted above, but the 3GT may be the earliest, and one passage in the MG treats fígúra as a Latin word in need of glossing: Annat tilfelli stafs er fígúra, þat er mynd eða vǫxtr stafanna gerr, sem nú er ritat. (The second characteristic of the letter is shape [figura], that is the form or shaping of letters, made as is now written.)744

This passage seems to reflect what almost certainly was a classroom translation dynamic. Fígúra has many definitions, both as a Latin word and an ON loan, so in the grammatical context of discussing the shape of a letter it is useful to present it as representative of a particular Latin grammatical idea, and then give it a clarifying gloss. In the context of a vernacular treatise this is an unnecessary use of the term, particularly juxtaposed to the M where the Latin term fígúra is used primarily in a totally different sense. But if the MG is here preserving remnants of an earlier glossed or partly translated Latin text, this passage would be an important explanation of complex, technical terminology. It is also possible to speculate a little about Chapman’s idea that rare metalinguistic loan formations could have been supported by a more general knowledge of closely related terms, or even of different uses of the same term, and how this might apply to Iceland. Samjafnanligr (comparative) only appears once in the Dictionary of Old Norse Prose (ONP), in its metalinguistic sense in the M, but the related verb samjafna has eight appearances. Rægiligr (accusative) only appears in the 3GT and 4GT, but the verb upon which it is based, rægja (to accuse) has some seventy-six references in the ONP.745 Perhaps the most compelling example, as both terms are clearly specialized loan formations, but one is much more common and potentially versatile, is the adjective nefniligr (nominative) and the adverb nefniliga (by name/namely). The former term only appears once in the 4GT, while the latter has twelve references in the

744 Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 88–89. 745 It is important to keep in mind that the ONP is not completely comprehensive, and some references are likely missing.



ONP and is clearly a much more versatile term. These are only a few examples, but it is clear that a dynamic very similar to that proposed by Chapman must have occurred in ON, where specialized metalinguistic terms would have been more readily comprehensible through their similarity to other, more commonly used words. There are two core lines of connection between the translated grammatical treatises and bilingual Latin education. First, the treatises can be thought of as compositions making use of a lexicon established both orally and textually in bilingual teaching practices, with authors and translators making at least partly stylistic decisions to apply the language of bilingual discourse to discussions of vernacular poetics. Second, they can be thought of as direct textual adaptations of earlier glossed versions of their Latin source texts, new versions being steadily readapted until they reached the versions which are now extant, the fundamental shift being the replacement of Latin poetic examples with ON ones. These two scenarios are not mutually exclusive. The existence of AM 921 III 4to gives proof of the existence of bilingual educational texts, where ON is primarily a glossing language, closer to the model of Ælfric’s Excerptiones, and it is very unlikely that this fragment was unique. At the same time, the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries did see the development of the so-called “florid” style of ON – discussed in the next chapter – which involved literary texts making significantly greater use of loan formations and loanwords for both pragmatic and stylistic reasons. It is not impossible that the 3GT represents a predecessor of this style. Whatever their style, both the 3GT and 4GT are fundamentally vernacular texts, dealing with the interpretation of vernacular poetry. The lack of an equivalent Latin metalanguage, apart from a few loanwords, in either the 3GT or 4GT suggests that the loan formations appearing in the treatises were more widespread than in OE, and that some audience existed which discussed language in a vernacular context, rather than in a Latin or bilingual one. However, in order for these loan formations to become established as independently functional, the 3GT and 4GT must have been derived from earlier glossing and translations of their Latin sources. Bilingual education directed towards students who were learning Latin must therefore have fed into the development of vernacular intellectual culture.

Conclusion There is significant evidence for the presence of Latin and the importance of Latin education and grammatica in Iceland. The performance of the Latin


Chapter 3 Clerical and Christian Education II: The Latin and Bilingual Curriculum

liturgy was fundamental to medieval Christian culture and society, and there is extensive evidence in documentary and narrative sources that Iceland was not an exception in this. The booklists contained in the máldagar, in particular, show how much written Latin existed and was read in medieval Iceland, while Lárentíus saga and other biskupasögur show the value of the language to both elite clerical culture and the simple job of being a priest. Jóns saga places a strong rhetorical emphasis on grammatical learning in the context of an idealized conception of cathedral education and its place in the wider community, including the idea that grammatica could assist in personal salvation. Lárentíus saga shows the career of an Icelandic schoolteacher in the fourteenth century, but also the path to higher levels of learning from a focus on grammatica to an education in canon law in Norway. In both liturgy and education, Latin interacted with the vernacular. As a result, both elementary and more advanced forms of education functioned as part of a generally bilingual culture of clerical education, a curriculum that cannot be neatly summarized as the septem artes liberales, but was rather based on the skills necessary for clerical duties. Glossaries and glosses, fragments like AM 921 III 4to, and the pedagogical books listed in the máldagar all show how Latin education and grammatical learning went beyond what is seen in the main grammatical treatises. These, among other sources, also show the multidisciplinary nature of elementary education, which included basic introductions to reading and song, often based upon the Psalms, but also computus. The introduction to Blanda shows that the combination of an elementary educational context with the necessity of these topics for aspiring priests helped lead to translation and bilingual learning. The most fundamental aspect of grammatica after this introduction was learning Latin, a difficult and lengthy process, which must have produced many forms of partial literacy.746 Grammatica could intersect with almost any other discipline through its centrality to the learning of Latin, and thus liturgical performance, as well as its teaching of linguistic and literary criticism. At the same time, the existence of levels of education before Latin learning points to a whole class of people who must have been introduced to clerical education, but never gained the skills to use Latin or enter into Latin intellectual discourse. The booklists and the discussion of canon law education in Lárentíus

746 Based on the discussions of this chapter, we must reject Sverrir Tómasson’s view of the passage in Lárentíus saga, where he argues that Lárentíus could not be teaching monks ignorant of Latin (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 27–28). Learning Latin was a long and difficult enough process that many Icelandic monks and clerics may have struggled with it long into their careers.



saga add to this picture of a multi-leveled understanding of Latinity, based on skill level and function, each level of which could interact with the vernacular in a different way. These intersections between languages can be better understood by contextualizing Iceland within the history of vernacular developments elsewhere in Europe. All the vernaculars of Europe were potential models and influences for Iceland, but Ælfric and the Anglo-Saxon tradition almost certainly had the greatest impact, whether directly or indirectly through missionary work in Iceland and Scandinavia and an established model of OE authority. This model surely affected how medieval Icelanders viewed and used grammatica, and supported the use of the vernacular in teaching Latin, even as narrative sources show the fundamental pragmatism of translation and bilingual rhetoric in clerical contexts. Aspects of this type of bilingual learning can be seen in the type of terminology used in the translated grammatical treatises, which can be discussed on the model of OE metalinguistic development. The translated Icelandic grammatical treatises preserve aspects of language use from both classroom practice and the glossing of grammatical and pedagogical texts for use in bilingual education. This discussion of Latinity and its role in education further emphasizes that what might be characterized as standard, medieval European forms of clerical education were in fact very complex and variable, both in context and content. Latin could mean very different things to a poor priest or deacon, who has to focus on earning a living, with potentially little concern for understanding the language, compared to what a deeply academic schoolmaster and monk like Lárentíus would have thought about the language. Female students like Ingunn, while educated in grammatica and focused on religious learning, may have had a different overall curriculum from many male students, since they were not training to become priests.747 For many students, like St. Þorlákr, the learning of Latin and the bilingual clerical curriculum occurred at the same time as education in the secular topics discussed in chapter 1. This juxtaposition contributed to the complex and multi-faceted development of a distinctly ON form of vernacular grammatica.

747 Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir, Leitin að Klaustrunum, 376.

Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica The previous chapter explored the Icelandic clerical curriculum, focusing on grammatica in the classic sense: the study and standardization of the Latin language and the interpretation of Latin literature. Despite the importance of Latin, Icelandic literary culture as can be seen through the extant manuscript corpus was still predominantly vernacular. In support of and in response to this literary culture, a vernacular grammatica developed over the course of the medieval period, under the influence of native vernacular intellectual traditions, Latin grammatica, and bilingual educational techniques. This vernacular grammatica will be described here as a discipline in the broad historical sense, including both the influences on it and the impacts it could have had on Icelandic culture and literature.748 Pre-Christian and oral educational practices, though there is little we can say confidently about them, laid the groundwork for this intellectual development. Oral culture provided the means for education in law, poetry, and genealogical history, and runic writing represented an epigraphic form of literacy. The foundation of vernacular grammatica lies in the textualization and Christianization of these forms of learning, combined with the adaptation of Latin grammatica to the bilingual clerical culture of Iceland and the fundamental importance of religious translation within that culture. The precedent of runic writing was fundamental to a sense of vernacular linguistic identity, while the importance of law and poetry to Icelandic society provided a body of key textual subjects for developing vernacular grammatical ideas. As vernacular grammatica had no need to teach native speakers their own language, the discipline was primarily concerned with interpretation, and to a lesser extent composition. Creating a normative ON, a vernacularity parallel to Latinitas, was a foundation for serious textual interpretation. This concern for the capacity of language to communicate truth drew both from ideological concerns of correct theological interpretation, derived from Latin grammatical

748 Mikael Males suggested the idea of a vernacular grammatica distinct from Latin grammatica in a 2016 article (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 296, 299), and developed the concept further in his recent book, arguing that “we should perhaps think of vernacular grammatica as a transfer of analytic tools and prescriptive attitudes from the Latin classroom to vernacular poetry” (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 103). This chapter will take a wider perspective, taking into account the significance of the bilingual clerical education discussed in the previous section, as well as the vital impact of prose religious texts.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

discourse, and more pragmatic concerns over clear communication.749 Issues concerning correct language led to an extensive discourse about the different virtues of complex and simple language. In this tension among views on ornate and simple language, in particular, the concerns regarding poetic interpretation in the grammatical treatises intersected with those found in prose genres. In this intersection, vernacular grammatica can be seen as a much wider and more influential discipline than has hitherto been suggested. These issues of interpretation and composition are the primary way in which vernacular grammatica can be understood as an educational genre, beyond the elementary learning of basic vernacular reading skills. Latin grammatica taught modes and methods of interpretation, while Latin rhetorica and the combination of the disciplines in the artes poetriae treatises taught effective composition. While there is no basis for assuming that vernacular grammatica had the same level of power or influence over education and literary culture as the parallel Latin discipline did, the fact that it was modelled in part on them, and produced the ON grammatical treatises, must have secured it a place in some educational contexts.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica While literacy in the broad sense and grammatica as a particular discipline fundamentally changed how Icelanders viewed and wrote about language, they certainly did not wait until the year 1000 to think about and conceptualize their own language. Runic and poetic education must have involved some forms of metalanguage. Once literacy and Christianity were introduced, they must have had a profound influence on the formation of vernacular hermeneutics and metalanguage, including writing of law, poetry, history, and vernacular religious works. The importance of truthfulness, precision, and accuracy to these genres

749 Here I will be using “truth” in a fairly broad, general sense, as fully delineating the relationship between grammatica and more specific types of truth – truths related to particular genres and functions of texts – would require a significantly more thorough study. As Copeland and Sluiter note, grammatical thought was oriented around defining what was truth and what was fiction, but also used theological categories of truth and reality in its understanding of figures and tropes (Medieval Grammar, 35–36). Thus the interest of Augustine and others in drawing out the hidden truth behind figures and words in Scripture (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 260) can be related to a wider grammatical concern with truth in its broadest sense.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


would have encouraged a critical attitude towards their production. This, in turn, could have combined with the precedent set by bilingual grammatica to develop fully vernacular grammatical writings, ideologies, and pedagogies. There is no evidence that vernacular grammatica as it is being discussed here was ever treated holistically as a discipline.750 The great compilations of the fourteenth century, the Codex Wormianus and Codex Upsaliensis, comprise a significant portion of vernacular grammatica, but the origins and influences which are being proposed here go beyond poetics and orthography. This ON vernacular grammatica, continually developing from the eleventh through the fifteenth century, was the substance of the vernacular intellectual culture that paralleled Latin grammatica. It is the metalinguistics, commentary, hermeneutics, and general philosophy of language that developed around ON literary and textual culture. By tracing its influences and origins through its development into the grammatical treatises and other later texts, a fundamental component of Icelandic intellectual and educational culture can be perceived. This aspect of intellectual culture is a key part of the relationship between the educational practices and contexts discussed in the preceeding chapter, and the great corpus of ON literature.

The Precedent of Runacy This distinctly Icelandic vernacular grammatica was founded among the existing traditions and cultural features that affected the reception of Latin grammatica and the development of linguistic education, interpretation, and ideology. Law, history and genealogy, poetics, and runes all had an impact on its development, and laid an initial foundation for what the conceptions of ON were before Latin grammatica began to make its influence felt. In addition to the discussion of these topics in chapter 1, however, it is worth going into more detail on the precedent of runes. Because it was itself a form of literacy, although a primarily epigraphic one, runacy holds a unique place in the connection of pedagogies and intellectual culture between pre-Christian and Christian Iceland. Moreover, scholars have speculated that runic literacy generally expanded over the course of the Viking Age and into the Middle Ages,751 and the

750 Males suggests likewise that the study of vernacular grammatica was likely not as institutionalized as Latin grammatica (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 299; Males, The Poetic Genesis, 103). 751 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 171; Schulte, “Pragmatic Runic Literacy,” 157–58.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

situation in Iceland can be better understood through evidence from the rest of the Nordic world. James E. Knirk has shown the extent to which runic pedagogy was influenced by grammatical ideas and Latin learning in Scandinavia, particularly in Norway. Such practices must have influenced Iceland. The writing of the fuþark is quite common among the extant inscriptions, and was a method of practicing the characters, much like the writing out of the Latin alphabet.752 The writing of runes was used in several aspects of clerical culture and learning in the Norwegian sources, including representing the phases of the lunar cycle, or even days of the week.753 Surviving runic inscriptions of the Pater Noster and the Credo likely also relates to the standard use of such prayers in elementary education,754 discussed in the previous chapters. There is also evidence for the use of different types of syllabaries in learning to read and write runes in Norway, including at least one example of a list of four-letter syllables that could function as the internal rhymes in a skaldic dróttkvætt stanza, which potentially links the learning of skaldic verse with these runic syllabaries.755 A dróttkvætt love poem carved alongside a Virgil quotation about love is also found in the runic corpus, accompanied by a very badly attempted copy of both the Latin and ON words. Such a copy may have been made by a student, and would evidence the simultaneous learning of runes, skaldic poetry, and Latin poetry.756 Shared poetic and runic learning is also confirmed by another runestick from Tønsberg, which has several carvings by different hands. It includes both a verse and an explicit reference to a student learning from a teacher, and Knirk has argued that the whole runestick is an exchange between a teacher of runes and his students.757 One very late, possibly fourteenth- or fifteenth-century, carving on a table-top in Nord-Trøndelag is particularly explicit on the pedagogical role of syllabaries, stating nam ek þetta því fe fu fa fø (I learn that etc.).758 It is very likely, moreover, that these syllabaries are a borrowing from Latin pedagogy, and so represent a syncretic, post-conversion development in runic learning.759

752 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 173–74. 753 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 176. 754 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 191–92. 755 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 192–97. 756 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 198–99. This passage is also discussed in Males, The Poetic Genesis, 33. 757 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 204–6. 758 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 203–4. 759 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 192; Seim, “Runes and Latin Script,” 510–11.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


This developing tradition of syllabary use in Norwegian runic pedagogy can be connected to the Icelandic orthographic treatises, through terminology and the use of syllabaries. The 1GT uses the term rún three times to refer to letters or an alphabet. Einar Haugen has argued that this use of rún is not distinguished from other terms like stafr, látinustafr, málstafr, and bókstafr, and that terms derived from runic discourse like rýnni (skill in letters), ráða (to read/understand), and stafr (letter) are not associated with runes in the 1GT.760 However, he does not point out that this very lack of differentiation shows a blending and application of native runic metalanguage to grammatical discourse in the decades before the composition of the 1GT, perhaps even earlier. Moreover, the term ráða has been discussed by scholars of Norwegian runes as being the preferred verb for “to read” in runic discourse, rather than lesa. Ráða may refer to silent reading rather than reading aloud, and possibly also the correct interpretation in the reading of cryptic runes.761 Males has also argued against the prevailing scholarly trend, suggesting that in the 1GT the term rún can refer to runes, Greek, Hebrew, and epigraphic writing, but not to Latin characters written on manuscript pages.762 While the term rún is not used in this generic sense in any other grammatical treatises, it does appear to refer broadly to epigraphic writing in some translated sagas, and notably refers at least once outside the 1GT to Greek letters, in Rómverja saga.763 Whatever the case, whether developed in Iceland or borrowed from Norwegian discourse, the 1GT is certainly evidence of an existing runic metalanguage being incorporated into vernacular grammatica. The composition of the 1GT may also be linked to the tradition of syllabaries, and thus potentially to runic syllabaries, if such existed before the mid-twelfth century. In presenting its distinctively precise orthography, the 1GT uses a technique resembling modern minimal pairs to show the significance of each vowel it proposes to include in its alphabet. For the most part, this seems to be a continuation of the Latin grammatical practice of differentiae, used in many orthographic treatises, either to correct common spelling errors or distinguish homonyms. In

760 First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 49–50. There is some argument that rýnni, at least, is part of a specialized runic/grammatical discourse, as according to the ONP it appears only in this one instance in the 1GT. For an argument that málstafir and bókstafir can be distinguished in the context of the treatise, and that ráða maintains a specific significance in the context of an author and audience familiar with runes, see Hagland, “Møte mellom to Skriftspråkulturar.” 761 Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 173; Spurkland, “Viking Age Literacy,” 139. 762 Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 266, note 13. 763 Rómverja saga, 116.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

orthographic treatises, and in some types of pedagogical poetry, pairs or groups of words would be juxtaposed and particular semantic distinctions or minor orthographic distinctions pointed out.764 However, the 1GT’s pairs of vernacular differentiae involve particularly precise distinctions between long, short, nasal, and umlauted vowels that either would not have been marked or would not have been relevant to Latin orthography. If the runic syllabaries were a source, they could have offered a precedent for such vowel distinctions. The 2GT seems even more likely to be indebted to the developing medieval runic pedagogical tradition, both because of its syllabary and its distinctive metalanguage. Fabrizio Raschellà, the editor of the 2GT, argues that the terms hljóðstafr (vowel) and málstafr (consonant) represent aspects of a pre-Christian runic metalanguage, rather than an adaptation to Latin grammatica through loan formations.765 If this is the case, then the treatise as a whole may have a particular connection to runic pedagogy, whether Icelandic or Norwegian. As noted in chapter 3, the rectangular figure drawn in the 2GT is clearly an elaborated version of a syllabary, using rows of vowels and consonants as a pedagogical tool to show how the different characters can be combined to produce different syllables. If this treatise was indeed based on runic metalanguage, this use of a syllabary may represent a direct borrowing of the runic pedagogy seen in the Norwegian sources. The most extensive grammatical discussion of runes is in the MG, where there is a full survey of the characteristics of the fuþark, and a letter-by-letter comparison between the runes and the Latin alphabet, including references to Greek and Hebrew.766 While the Norwegian inscriptions show evidence of Latin pedagogical techniques influencing runic education, the MG is the only instance of a full grammatical analysis of the fuþark, using various Latin interpretative techniques, loanwords, and loan formations. The treatise, however, is clearly still making use of the pre-existing mixing of pedagogical traditions. It splits its discussion into the basic sixteen-character fuþark and the extended medieval runes. The former fits with the normal runic pedagogy of beginning

764 The apparent similarity between the 1GT and Serlo of Wilton’s De differentiis has been pointed out in Law, The History of Linguistics, 180, 201, in En Islandsk Scholasticus, 89–90, and by Mikael Males (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 265; Males, The Poetic Genesis, 175–77). I discuss in more detail the connection between the technique of the 1GT and the larger tradition of Latin orthographic writing in Patzuk-Russell, “Ideologies and Rhetoric.” 765 The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise, 114–22. 766 Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 84–90. Males has argued that the references to the relationship between Greek, Hebrew, and runes aims to align the runic tradition with these languages, in a sense elevating it above Latin (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 183).

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


everything with the fuþark.767 It also appears to make use of distinctions between runic metalanguage and later terms: while límingarstafr (diphthong) is used in the M and 4GT to refer generally to diphthongs, in the MG it refers specifically to runic diphthongs, while elsewhere it uses the terms diphthongus and tvíhljóðr. Thus, if límingarstafr comes from a pre-Christian runic metalanguage,768 even while it could be used generally in other treatises, its distinctive origin appears to have still been understood, likely reflecting the continuing influence of actual runic pedagogy. The MG thus shows both the developing tradition of runic pedagogy and the influence of earlier runic learning and preChristian metalinguistics.769 The Icelandic grammatical treatises also draw a connection between the Norwegian runic pedagogy discussed above, which deals with inscriptions, and manuscript runes, namely those runes which are written with ink and parchment, often in codices. Michael Schulte has linked the development of manuscript runes in both Anglo-Saxon England and later in medieval Scandinavia to the influence of Latinitas on conceptions and practices of runic writing. He suggests that Latinitas – and thus implicitly grammatica – had an impact on the creation of such literary texts as the Norwegian Rune Poem, the Danish Codex Runicus – an entire legal codex written in runes – and possibly even the invention of dotted runes.770 While it only survives in manuscripts from c. 1500, the Icelandic Rune Poem is evidence of the Icelandic incarnation of this tradition. It is not impossible that the OE influence on Icelandic grammatica also brought with it some of this mixing of runacy and Latinitas from the Anglo-Saxon world. While there are clearly important differences between writing about runes in manuscripts, as in the 3GT, and the more pragmatic and ephemeral functions of inscriptions in wood, they were not entirely separate traditions. The influence of runic pedagogy in vernacular grammatica, and the influence of Latin learning on runic inscriptions, suggest that there was continuous interaction between the two branches of runic practice. It is telling that Guðmundar sögur narrates how the priest Ingimundr, Guðmundr’s uncle, leaves his last message after a shipwreck carved in runes on a wax tablet, when physical evidence

767 Seim, “Runes and Latin Script,” 510–11. 768 The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise, 118–19. 769 Males has discussed the efforts apparent in the MG to rationalize aspects of the fuþark, particularly the arrangement of characters and the names of vowels, under the influence of grammatical ideology and in light of the Latin phonographemic system (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 268–70; Males, The Poetic Genesis, 186–87). 770 Schulte, “Pragmatic Runic Literacy,” 179–81; Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 206–7.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

exists for the use of such tablets in runic carving.771 It would make sense that as a priest and educator of his nephew Ingimundr would have known and probably taught a certain amount of grammatica, though likely not at the level of a cathedral schoolmaster. He is thus an example of the numerous ways pedagogies of manuscript runes and runic inscriptions could have interacted. The poetic corpus also contains evidence of the continuing importance of runic learning in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In a well-known stanza from Orkneyinga saga attributed to the twelfth-century earl of Orkney Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, the earl brags of his own skills, including that týnik rúnum trauðla (I forget runes slowly), emphasizing a rather pedagogical concern for memorization, while in the same stanza noting his interest in books.772 The wisdom poem Hugsvinnsmál, a translation of the Latin Disticha Catonis, probably from the thirteenth century,773 gives the advice: kenn þú blíðliga bækr ok rúnir (teach with kindness books and runes).774 Both these poetic references hint at a shared pedagogical context for the learning of the runic fuþark and the Latin alphabet within Iceland itself. Runic and grammatical learning may have merged in certain contexts over the course of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, based on similarities between them. The extant evidence also emphasizes the idea that, rather than replacing the runic fuþark, the Latin alphabet coexisted with the earlier form of writing in Scandinavia, each one fulfilling its own distinct functions, with the runic writing often representing a more ephemeral, pragmatic form of literacy.775 The connection between poetry and runes reinforces how much the extant grammatical treatises, largely concerned with poetry, must have been influenced by runic discourse and pedagogy. This connection can be seen from multiple perspectives: the actual carving of poetry in runes, as noted earlier; the occasional medieval literary association, such as Egill Skallagrímsson in Egils saga being both poet and rune-carver; the historical or chronological link in their concern for memorization, permanence, and incorruptibility;776 their shared concern for interpretation, as both are involved in the cryptic obfuscation of their messages through specialized linguistic composition and exegesis, as well as a concern for 771 Schulte, “Pragmatic Runic Literacy,” 172; Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 207–8. For a discussion of the evidence Ingimundr provides for Icelandic runic literacy, see Hagland, “Ingimundr prestr Þorgeirsson.” 772 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 2, 576–77. 773 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 358. 774 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 367. 775 Schulte, “Pragmatic Runic Literacy,” 163–64; Knirk, “Learning to Write,” 206–7. 776 Jesch, “Skaldic Verse,” 188–92, where Jesch also speculates that the term skáld could potentially have referred to any person preserving memory and history, not just poets. See also Gade, “Poetry and its Changing Importance,” 70–71.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


the clear communication of important messages. Both runic learning and poetics represent contexts for pre-Christian metalanguage to develop, which could then influence later grammatical discourse, and both are disciplines which would have required extensive pedagogy in both pre-Christian and Christian contexts. As the runic and poetic concerns of the 3GT show, these pedagogies continued to influence ecclesiastical learning and the development of vernacular grammatica.

The Development of Textualization and Vernacular Grammatica The development of literacy and the accompanying adaptation of grammatica to vernacular culture was a process that affected different types of texts and language in different ways. There is no space here to thoroughly discuss the full range of ways in which the textualization of Icelandic culture intersected with grammatica. Rather, the goal is to chronologically contextualize the grammatical treatises and a few other important texts in the development of textual culture, in order to suggest how the discipline of vernacular grammatica might have taken shape. Vernacular grammatica grew alongside the ON textual corpus from the twelfth century onwards. As an intellectual discipline accompanying this literary corpus, it did not replace Latin grammatica. Instead, it functioned alongside it, interacting with Latin culture while fulfilling different functions and roles in Icelandic culture. The 1GT is explicit at both the beginning and end of the treatise that its orthographic rules are aimed at specific texts. These must be presumed to be the texts written in ON – or at least those considered the most important by the author – when the treatise was written, sometime in the middle of the twelfth century. These genres are lǫg (laws), áttvísi (genealogies), þýðingar helgar (sacred writings/ interpretations/translations),777 and the historical lore of Ari Þórgilsson.778 This list is partially repeated at the end of the treatise, along with “whatever useful knowledge a man would learn or teach from books.”779 These genres are thus the first corpus upon which a fully vernacular grammatica is applied in Iceland, here in

777 Haugen translates þýðingar as writings, Hreinn Benediktsson as interpretations, the latter arguing that þýðing had not yet come to have the sense of translation in Icelandic in the twelfth century (The First Grammatical Treatise, 182–84). However, the distinction between interpretation and translation in the context of writing in the Middle Ages was never solid, and it is likely that þýðingar had the potential to carry all three senses to readers of the treatise. 778 “þau in spakligu frœði, er Ari Þórgilsson hefir á bœkr sett af skynsamligu viti” (First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 12–13). 779 “svá hverigi er maðr vill skynsamliga nytsemi á bók nema eða kenna” (First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 32–33).


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

the sense of a language and texts normalized and authorized through prescriptive orthographia.780 These are all prose genres, even though most of the extant Icelandic grammatical treatises are concerned with poetry. It is likely that little ON poetry had been written down at that point, and what had been was used primarily in short quotations.781 Yet, by the mid-twelfth century, a grammatical basis for reading ON prose was already developing. Despite the prose corpus of the 1GT, there is evidence well acknowledged by scholars that it was influenced by skaldic poetry, and possibly skaldic pedagogy. The treatise quotes skaldic verse twice, in both instances as examples of particular distinctions of sound, and before the second quotation it states: Skáld eru hǫfundar allarar rýnni eða málsgreinar, sem smiðir [smíðar] eða lǫgmenn laga. (The skalds are authorities on all writing or speaking, just as craftsmen on their craft and lawyers on the law.)782

Poets here are presented as authoritative figures in their understanding of vernacular language, though the author does not identify himself as one, and both verses in the treatise are quoted anonymously. The idea of authority, essential to the significance and use of grammatica, is thus tied to poets in this treatise, which does not even deal with poetics. Skaldic authority here is not literary, based on the form or content of poets’ work, but is presented as a general linguistic authority. The use of the term rýnni here, suggesting skill in writing but linked to runic discourse, has several possible implications. It may suggest that skaldic poetry was already being written down, and skalds themselves were fundamentally linked with written discourse and education, but this seems very unlikely at this early date. Rather, it more likely suggests that skalds here are being connected to runic discourse, and that their authority in the 1GT’s construction of vernacular orthographia derives from both runic and poetic discourse. This would support Judith Jesch’s argument that the term skáld had a wider use than simply referring to a poet.783 This application of traditional poetic learning to the emendation and correction of prose writing may go beyond the vague function of these quoted

780 Males has also emphasized the fundamental importance of the ideology of the 1GT to vernacular learning (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 266). 781 Guðrún Nordal, “Metrical Learning,” 28–29. 782 First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 20–21. The emendation here, smiðir smíðar, though widely accepted, is not strictly necessary, as the original text can be read smiðir málsgreina, i.e. that skalds are craftsmen of distinctions of speech (Guðrún Nordal, “Metrical Learning,” 31). 783 Jesch, “Skaldic Verse,” 191–92.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


passages and the general authority of skalds. It has been speculated that the distinctions made by the 1GT are based on a pre-existing oral skaldic pedagogy. The treatise uses what are essentially minimal pairs to showcase many of its distinctions, and why its prescribed orthographic distinction is necessary for a phonetic distinction that affects the meaning of a word. This pattern, it has been suggested, may have arisen in oral skaldic pedagogy as a method of distinguishing different types of internal rhyme, fundamentally important for skaldic meters.784 As noted in the previous section, it may also be compared to the sort of distinctions presented in the runic syllabaries, though these syllabaries are thought to have arisen from a mixing of Latin and runic pedagogies. While both of these influences may have contributed to the treatise, the semantic component of its minimal pairs makes it seem certain that the Latin practice of differentiae (differentiation/distinction), fundamental to Latin orthographic treatises and learning, was a key component in the composition of the 1GT.785 In essence, while Latin De orthographia treatises lack the very precise graphic distinction of the 1GT, they often set up pairs of terms to show distinctions between homonyms.786 This semantic component would not necessarily be useful in poetic training for detecting or constructing rhyme, or in syllabaries. This suggests a deep influence from Latin grammatica on this earliest example of vernacular grammatica, but not necessarily via the bilingual Latin grammatica discussed in the previous chapter. There is no particular abundance of Latin loanwords or loan formations in the 1GT, so the Latin influence is conceptual and ideological, rather than directly textual or lexical.

784 Guðrún Nordal, “Metrical Learning,” 27–28; Males, The Poetic Genesis, 175–77. 785 The broad methodological idea of a differentia could be applied variously within grammatica, but generally it tended to refer to distinctions or differentiations between individual words of similar form or meaning. Isidore of Seville’s Differentiae established differentia, etymologia, and glossa as the essential methods of explanation in grammatica, with the differentia used to distinguish things that could be confused through meaning, as between a king and a tyrant, or through form, as animus and anima (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 210, 221). 786 For a compilation of many of the major Latin orthographic treatises, see Grammatici Latini, Vol. 7. Bede’s De orthographia seems to have passages bearing the closest resemblance to those of the 1GT, and considering the apparent connection between Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic grammatica, this may be the most likely source. However, differentiation between homonyms communicated through verse developed in later medieval grammatica, as in the twelfth-century Versus de differenciis of Serlo of Wilton, could also possibly have had influence on the 1GT. As noted earlier, several scholars have referenced Serlo and the 1GT together, and Vivian Law has argued that Serlo represents the closest parallel to the passages of the 1GT (Law, The History of Linguistics, 201).


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

This coming together of traditions in the 1GT likely had some practical motivations, but these should not be overemphasized. Scholarship has focused on one significant fact about the treatise, namely its appearance soon after the first Icelandic laws were written down: the first secular laws in 1117–1118, the first ecclesiastical laws in 1122–1133.787 One key passage of the 1GT argues that law texts are the most likely text to be misinterpreted and manipulated, if the language is not precise enough, and this is the reason for the carefully constructed new alphabet.788 Certainly the importance of vernacular law codes to a broad section of society, and the need for precision in writing law, could have contributed to the development of textual and linguistic analysis. However, it is important to note that Icelandic law did not become entirely textualized at the beginning of the twelfth century, and oral practice continued to function alongside written codices at least into the thirteenth century.789 Scholars have tended to view the 1GT’s role in this context as very pragmatic, and its reformed orthography as absolutely essential to the development of the vernacular.790 This attitude ignores the ideological aspects of the text adapted from Latin grammatica, which will be discussed later in this chapter, and furthermore ignores the fact that the orthographic reforms of the 1GT were never enacted, yet the treatise continued to be transmitted into the fourteenth century. Icelanders functioned well enough without the precise orthography discussed in the treatise, and there is no reason to assume it was a necessity, or the only motivation for the treatise. The 1GT is not the only evidence for the development of vernacular grammatica in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Numerous prose religious translations and compositions were made in this period, as part of the first great wave of ON writing: a large body of translated hagiography, a translation of the Physiologus, many homilies as well as the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, the Elucidarius, as well as the compilation of sermons, homilies, and other reli-

787 The First Grammatical Treatise, 178–81, citing in particular Olsen, “Den förste grammatiske avhandling.” Hreinn disagrees with the specificity of Olsen’s claims about the purpose of the writing of the 1GT and its relationship to Íslendingabók, but does not contradict that the 1GT can be generally contextualized in the intellectual milieu of the writing down of the first law codes. 788 First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 14–15. 789 For a full discussion of legal writing and literate culture, see Burrows, “In This Country.” 790 See Den Tredje og Fjærde, XXI-XXII; Finnur Jónsson, Den Oldnorske, Vol. 2, 913; The First Grammatical Treatise, 179; Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 26; Clunies Ross, A History, 153.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


gious texts known as the Icelandic Homily Book.791 The Physiologus presents allegorical interpretations of various creatures, stones, and trees, and as such it is quite relevant to the exegetical function of grammatica.792 The Icelandic Homily Book is also notable, as it contains a particularly compelling sermon known as Kirkjudagsmál. Intended to be read on the dedication day of churches, the sermon explores the symbolic meaning of all the different parts of the church, and the role of each individual Christian within the symbolicallycharged building.793 The allegorical and symbolic content of many of these texts is an inherent link to a vernacularized grammatica, in the interpretative role that grammatica played in Christian culture. The interpretation of allegory, typology, and other types of figurative language are part of the function of the Barbarismus, the basis for the M. When highly allegorical texts like the Physiologus were translated into ON, the aspect of grammatica that dealt with interpretation would have become applied to the vernacular by clerics and students reading or using the texts. In this context Martin Irvine’s observation that grammatica was not simply a pedagogical practice, but was “an intellectual discourse directed towards the understanding of texts of any kind” is vital.794 It is also important to keep in mind the influence of Ælfric discussed in chapter 3, which almost certainly provided Iceland with a grammatical model for interpreting vernacular religious texts like these.795

791 Translations of Gregory’s Homilies and Dialogues as well as other religious texts survive in AM 677 4to, which has been dated roughly to the earlier part of the thirteenth century (AM 677 4to, 7–8). The Icelandic Homily Book is from roughly the same period or slightly earlier, and some of the translations contained within it likely go back to the first half of the twelfth century (The Icelandic Homily Book, 3–4, 19). For the most thorough study of early Icelandic translated hagiography, see Roughton, “AM 645 4to and AM 652/630 4to.” For a summary of prose religious texts and translations, see Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, “Prose of Christian Instruction.” 792 For a recent extended discussion of this text, which survives in two independent early manuscripts, see Corazza, “Crossing Paths.” There is also an brief vernacular commentary on a Psalm text in one of the ON Physiologus manuscripts (Marchand, “Two Notes,” 502–3) which also provides important evidence for the early development of vernacular exegetical activities. 793 See discussion in Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 52–54. 794 Irvine, “Bede the Grammarian,” 17. 795 From the perspective of Ælfric, vernacular religious writing was inherently unstable and uncertain, and required grammatica to authorize it. Ælfric was explicitly concerned in his writings that Christian works were dangerous to translate: there was a risk of their mysteries being unappreciated or misunderstood, that an audience not educated in Latin would not know how to interpret the texts properly, beyond their literal meaning. This concern is particularly notable in his translation from the Old Testament, where he worried more about people interpreting it


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

Long Christian skaldic poems were composed from at least the mid-twelfth century, and a manuscript of Plácitusdrápa shows that some of them were written down by at least c. 1200, and potentially earlier.796 The writing down of a complete ON text in a fully clerical, religious context strongly suggests that interpretative ideas from Latin grammatica were being applied to vernacular poetry by this time. Clerics educated in grammatica would have had a difficult time reading a religious poem without using the lens of their own education. Thus, the fact that Plácitusdrápa and other early poems use a significant number of kennings suggests a mixing of these grammatical ideas with whatever oral pedagogy surrounded kennings and poetic diction at this time. Twelfthcentury Christian poets thus must have experienced a juxtaposition of ideas like metaphora and kenning, even though this interaction was not specified in writing until the 3GT in the middle of the thirteenth century.797 The writing of commentary, a key aspect of grammatica, is also given poetic expression from an early date. The Eddic poem Merlínusspá, the translation of the Prophetia Merlini, is attributed to Gunnlaugr Leifsson, a monk at the monastery of Þingeyrar, who lived from sometime around 1140 to 1218/19.798 The poem includes an explicit discussion of the interpretation of symbolic and typological language that will be discussed in more depth later in the chapter. In a religious context, then, the interpretation of deeper meaning in vernacular prose texts was certainly interacting with poetics by the end of the twelfth century. One particular twelfth-century poem outside the religious sphere also stands out in its relationship to grammatical learning. Háttalykill is a clavis metrica, a poem made up of verses of different meters, thought to have been composed by Earl Rǫgnvaldr of Orkney and the Icelander Hallr Þórarinsson in the 1140s, though it is not known when it was first written down. Males’s recent work on vernacular grammatica has focused on the evidence of the poetry itself, particularly metrical developments, as well as developments in diction.799

like the New Testament than the possibility that he might have mistranslated it. Ælfric states that he wrote his grammar as a key to unlock the knowledge from the eighty sermons he had already translated. By learning parts of speech, semantic categories, and how to break apart and analyze words, his students would learn how to read English texts without misreadings and misinterpretations (Menzer, “Ælfric’s Grammar,” 639–40). 796 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 179. 797 The idea of grammatical influence on twelfth-century poets, through changing attitudes towards meter and diction, is discussed in Males, The Poetic Genesis, 31–37, 75–94. 798 Haki Antonsson, “Salvation and Early Saga Writing,” 95. 799 Males argues that Einarr Skúlason’s twelfth-century Øxarflokkr involves the use of highly contrived circumlocutions which would not have been used earlier, and were influenced by grammatical learning (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 284).

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


Háttalykill represents a key point in this development, taking the deviations in form of earlier poets and presenting them as metrical forms in themselves, using them as the basis for its list of meters. As Males argues, the poem is a fundamentally grammatical exercise through its systematic study of earlier texts and its use of that study to create and develop metrical rules.800 While no treatises besides the 1GT survive from before the early thirteenth century, it is clear that vernacular grammatica was developing along multiple lines by that point. In this context, the composition of the famous and influential Snorra Edda in the early thirteenth century should not be surprising. While not a particularly religious text in any explicit sense, its links to grammatica suggest that part of the impetus for its composition may have come from these clerical vernacular grammatical discourses. The Snorra Edda was probably written, in part, for a Norwegian audience, possibly the young King Hákon Hákonarson, to encourage his understanding and patronage of the skaldic art.801 A passage in Skáldskaparmál represents the treatise as intended to help young poets use, understand, and interpret the wide variety of traditional poetic diction.802 Scholars have also pointed out that scribes of the fourteenth century may have had a hard time understanding poetry,803 and it is possible that the Edda was composed in a context where the textualization of poetry began to create anxiety about such scribal misinterpretations. From a mythological perspective, the Edda also validates mythological narratives and poetry “through asserting their relevance and significance (if not their centrality) to the education of young poets.”804 In terms of sources and composition, the poetics of the Snorra Edda are especially distant from the Latin tradition that predated it, when compared to earlier ON grammatical texts like the 1GT. It is less an expansion of the tradition of the 1GT and ON religious writing – though it is certain that Snorri and his intellectual and educational milieu were influenced by these texts – than an influx of oral material which would become incorporated more with the discourses of these other texts later, with the composition of the 3GT and 4GT. Unlike the 1GT, the Snorra Edda never defines its conception of ON or vernacular poetics in terms of the Latin tradition. There is very little metalanguage in the Snorra

800 Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 281–83; Males, The Poetic Genesis, 31–33. 801 Frog, “Snorri Sturluson qua Fulcrum,” 2; Wanner, Snorri Sturluson. 802 Snorri Sturluson, Skáldskaparmál 1, 5 803 For example, see Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, lxxx-lxxxi and Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, liv. 804 Frog, “Snorri Sturluson qua Fulcrum,” 27.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

Edda that shows Latin influence,805 and yet it transmits a massive body of metalanguage dealing with meter and poetic structure, a significant amount of which appears nowhere else. Most of this must have come from whatever pedagogical discourse, likely still primarily oral, made up Snorri’s own education. Most of the clear Latin influence in the Edda lies in its structure and frame: a few of the poetic features selected for analysis, the framing of poetry in prose commentary in Háttatal, and the question-and-answer introduction of Háttatal all suggest some kind of indirect derivation from grammatical discourse.806 This may have included translated vernacular models that have been lost, or an only partial or half-remembered familiarity with Latin pedagogical texts. Latin influences that had already affected oral poetic discourse were of course incorporated into the treatise.807 There is no evidence, however, that the Snorra Edda was participating directly in the grammatical discourses discussed in chapter 3.808 Rather, peripheral Latin influences seem more likely to have come from the juxtaposition of clerical and lay education at places like Oddi, where secular fosterage and clerical education were both happening, and through

805 As noted in chapter 3, the term fornafn/fornǫfn is used in both Háttatal and Skáldskaparmál, both as an idea related to kennings, as well as in the sense of a pronoun. While in the pronoun sense it is clearly a loan formation based on pronomen, the other sense is possibly a parallel loan formation based on pronominatio (Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, cxii–cxiii). Males has also noted the influence of Horace’s Ars poetica on the term nykrat as a poetic fault (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 121–25). The only other metalinguistic loan formation to appear in the Snorra Edda is samhljóðandi (consonant), and none of the loan-words from the 3GT and 4GT are used. 806 For a full discussion of the sources of the Snorra Edda and a rejection of scholarship arguing for Snorri participating in an ecclesiastical intellectual discourse, see Faulkes, “Sources of Skáldskaparmál.” Faulkes has pointed to some specific structural similarity between the opening question-and-answer of Háttatal and the opening of Fortunatianus’s Ars rhetorica, but as Faulkes himself notes, the style is common enough and the content dissimilar enough that there is no reason to speculate about direct connections (Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, xii–xiii). Clunies Ross has thoroughly refuted Halldór Halldórsson’s arguments that Snorri’s system of poetics was influenced by rhetorica, specifically Quintilian, and rejects the idea that there was any attempt to align his ideas about figurative language with Latin ones (Clunies Ross, Skáldskaparmál, 61–63, 77–79). 807 The metrical forms Háttatal lists and comments upon are built on both structural and semantic features, and are based largely on native principles, but are certainly influenced and even sometimes modelled on Latin and even Irish poetry (Clunies Ross, A History, 168–70; Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, xiii–xiv). 808 Snorri would not have looked at his treatise as part of the corpus of artes grammaticae, as has sometimes been suggested (Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, c).

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


knowledge of the poetry written by clerics with some level of grammatical education in the preceding two centuries.809 Snorri did have some definite native sources and models. Háttalykill, as a clavis metrica showing a diversity of possible meters in a single poem, was certainly an influence on Háttatal.810 There is no evidence, however, that Háttalykill was written down before the Snorra Edda, and it is equally likely that it was an oral source. It has been suggested that poetic aids, lists of terminology and kennings, the so-called þulur, preceded the Edda in written form.811 While this is not impossible, this argument depends on fairly anachronistic conceptions of what was necessary for composition and education: oral poets cannot be assumed to use or need the same tools, references, and mnemonic aids as textual poets. Finally, Males has recently argued convincingly that the short treatise Litla Skálda, only a few pages long in a modern edition, preceded the Edda, though not by a very long period, and he allows that it may even have been written by Snorri.812 Thus, while Snorri likely had some written sources, the lack of clear precedents suggests that the Snorra Edda represents above all an adaptation of oral pedagogies to a textual discourse, even as oral poetics had already been influenced by grammatica.813 Once written, the treatise made a fundamental contribution to vernacular grammatica that would have significant influence through the rest of the Middle Ages, in part simply through textualizing and compiling a huge body of poetry. To what extent the Snorra Edda was intended to deal with textual interpretation, composition, and education, rather than their oral equivalents, is uncertain, and it seems likely that the treatise to some extent engages with both mediums of poetry. Some scholars have viewed the Snorra Edda as a transition

809 For the most recent broad reappraisal of Snorri’s sources, as well as its relationship to grammatica and development of Icelandic poetics up through the twelfth century, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 110–75. 810 This relationship is most thoroughly discussed in Tranter, Clavis Metrica. On the sources of Háttatal generally, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 110–29. 811 Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, xliv. 812 Males, The Poetic Genesis, 129–47. Heimir Pálsson has also speculated that Skáldskaparmál could have been written before Snorri and been used in Snorri’s education (Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, xvii–xviii). 813 Males, even while generally emphasizing the extent of grammatical influence on ON poetry in the twelfth century, argues that poetry in Iceland was still largely oral at the time of the 1GT (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 165).


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

of ON poetic pedagogy into the classroom,814 and there is textual evidence that it stimulated and influenced the later writing down of mythological Eddic poetry.815 Certainly some teachers could have used the text in a classroom-like setting, supplementing a clerical curriculum. However, considering the largely oral nature of medieval education, even in such contexts, the production and dissemination of the poetry produced by students educated with the Snorra Edda may still have been primarily oral. For comparison, the emergence of the style of narrative poetry known as rímur in the fourteenth century points to a genre primarily oral in practice, but informed by the textual tradition.816 There is likewise no reason to assume the Snorra Edda replaced the oral pedagogical practices that informed it, and, considering the widespread importance of poetry in thirteenth-century Iceland, it seems quite certain these oral pedagogies endured.817 Whether applied to oral or textual poetry, the Snorra Edda represents an effort not only to preserve information, but to normalize a tradition by bringing together many different sources and placing its own stamp on them, deciding what aspect of the oral tradition would be textualized.818 In Háttatal, the poem and commentary together are structured around the idea of dróttkvætt as a single authoritative body of rules and forms, and all the other meters as deviations from that. It is emphasized that earlier poetics did not have this structural consistency, this system, and as a text the Snorra Edda presents itself as a normalization of existing systems.819 The mythological material of Gylfaginning and

814 Notably Quinn, “Eddu List,” 69. 815 Frog, “Snorri Sturluson qua Fulcrum,” 5–12. Males argues on more general historical grounds that the Poetic Edda would not have been written down without the new interest in analyzing poetics (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 165). 816 Frog, “Snorri Sturluson qua Fulcrum,” 7. 817 See Grove, “Skaldic Verse-Making,” 87. 818 This is comparable to some extent with the role of the Lawspeaker in writing down the law. Although the Lawspeaker himself loses some personal authority to the written book, and in Grágás it is the bishop’s copy of the written laws that has the most authority (Grágás, Vol. 1, 213), whichever Lawspeaker is consulted or involved with the initial writing down of the law establishes his version of the law as the authoritative written version. 819 Evidence of the awareness of older poetics appears at several points in the treatise, and the idea of a development of poetics in two particular passages: “Nú skal rita þá háttu er fornskáld hafa kveðit ok eru nú settir saman, þótt þeir hafi ort sumt með háttafǫllum, ok eru þessir hættir dróttkvæðir kallaðir í fornum kvæðum” (Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, 24) (Now those meters shall be written which ancient skalds have spoken, and are now put together, although they have sometimes composed with metrical inconsistencies, and these meters are called dróttkvætt in ancient poems); “Víða er þat í fornskálda verka er í einni vísu eru ymsir hættir eða háttafǫll, ok má eigi yrkja eptir því þó at þat þykki eigi spilla í fornkvæðum” (Snorri

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


Skáldskaparmál is a stable, textual encyclopedia of cultural references, a basis for correct interpretation of the types of figurative language inherited from preChristian poets.820 Yet, at the same time, the obfuscation and mystification of skaldic education, discussed in chapter 1, seems to be felt in the Snorra Edda, even as the very composition of the treatise breaks with this tradition. There is no reference to becoming a poet in the treatise, but as noted above the only audience mentioned are contemporary young poets. Moreover, there is a notable tendency in Snorri’s rhetoric to view the development of poetic traditions as a natural process, and his normalizing rules to be commonsensical and rational. He does not correct poetic mistakes, as would be the case later in the 3GT. This attitude is particularly apparent in a passage discussing nýgervingar in Skáldskaparmál.821 The idea of nýgervingar seems to be presented as innovative, but Snorri does not object to it, and rather characterizes it as an organic development of younger skalds basing their poems on those of older skalds. In line with the reticence about describing poetic education discussed in chapter 1, these younger skalds are not represented as students, but as composers independently constructing their poetry on the model of existing works. The development of vernacular grammatica into the thirteenth century cannot be viewed as a single tradition, or a single intellectual discourse. The 1GT presents a normalized orthography, influenced by skaldic learning but intended to be applied to a wide variety of prose texts. The translation of religious

Sturluson, Háttatal, 26) (It occurs widely in the works of ancient skalds that in there are various meters or metrical inconsistencies in a single verse, and this should not be imitated, although it does not seem to spoil ancient poems). For the poem itself, Faulkes has noted that Háttatal’s consistent line length is a departure from earlier poetry (Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, xvi). 820 Cf. Augustine’s understanding of the transferred signification of signs, signa translata, the interpretation of which requires “a knowledge both of languages and of a larger cultural encyclopedia that provides references for things signified” (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 183). 821 “En þessi heiti hafa svá farit sem ǫnnur ok kenningar, at hin yngri skáld hafa ort eptir dœmum hinna gǫmlu skálda, svá sem stóð í þeira kvæðum, en sett síðan út í hálfur þær er þeim þóttu líkar við þat er fyrr var ort, svá sem vatnit er sænum en áin vatninu en lœkr ánni. Því er þat kallat nýgervingar alt er út er sett heiti lengra en fyrr finnsk, ok þykkir þat vel alt er með líkindum ferr ok eðli” (Snorri Sturluson, Skáldskaparmál 1, 41) (But these terms and kennings have developed like others, so that the younger skalds have composed according to the example of old skalds, just as it stood in their poems, and set out into those areas which they thought similar to that which had been composed, as the lake is to the sea and the river to the lake and the brook to the river. Thus it is called wholly nýgervingar when a term is set out further than is found earlier, and that seemed entirely good when developed according to expectation and nature).


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

texts from Latin to ON, as well as the writing down of religious poetry in a clerical context, implies grammatical discourse about linguistic authority and interpretation of figurative language, even where no treatises exist. The Snorra Edda is a textualization and normalization of a great body of oral poetic learning. None of these texts replaced oral pedagogies or Latin discourses, but they were all informed by them, and over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries there grew a greater interaction between these different aspects of vernacular grammatica.

Intersection of Developing Grammatical Traditions The 3GT is the earliest major extant response to the Snorra Edda, written by Snorri’s own nephew, Óláfr hvítaskáld Þórðarson. As noted earlier, it is divided into two sections, the Málfræðinnar Grundvǫllr (MG), which deals primarily with sound, letters, and runes, and the Málskrúðsfræði (M), which lists the various barbarisms, solecisms, and tropes, and applies them to skaldic verse. This mixing of textual traditions continues in the 4GT in the fourteenth century, where a stronger religious dimension is added to the developed model of poetic interpretation in the MG. This religious side of vernacular grammatica, implicit in the translations and poetry of the twelfth century, eventually becomes explicit in some compositional styles of hagiography. This so-called florid style of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries often makes use of commentary incorporated into the text, including specific notes on interpretation, which links it to the larger tradition of vernacular grammatical discourse. Males has recently argued that the 3GT was likely preceded by at least one treatise, the so-called 5GT, surviving in only one short fragment, written either by Óláfr himself or a near contemporary author sometime shortly before the composition of the 3GT.822 The 5GT appears to show greater influence from grammatical learning than the Snorra Edda, but not nearly the amount of the 3GT. The fragment will not be discussed in detail here, but in a general sense, Males’s arguments suggest that the 5GT represents some part of the complicated process that led into the development of the 3GT, though more directly as a response to the Snorra Edda than the bilingual grammatical learning discussed in the previous chapter. The two parts of the 3GT cover a wide range of grammatical topics, and taken together represent a response to the 1GT, the runic tradition, the bilingual

822 See Males, “Character, Provenance, and Use” and Males, The Poetic Genesis, 188–92.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


teaching of Latin, the Snorra Edda, and a continuing adaptation of oral poetic tradition.823 The very end of the MG even contains two verses which include typological interpretation, prefiguring the intersection of religious hermeneutics and vernacular poetics in the 4GT. In this sense the 3GT is the foundational text for vernacular grammatica as a cohesive discipline, a mixing of hermeneutic practices and linguistic ideologies united by a concern for normalizing, interpreting, and understanding ON. The treatise shapes this understanding of ON, in the context of Latin and what it understands as universal characteristics of language: sound, letters, syllables, parts of speech, errors and faults of diverse types, and the tropes and figures of speech taken from its sources. Rather than simply being a failed attempt to merge two divergent poetic systems, as scholars have often characterized the treatise,824 the 3GT is a contextualization of aspects of the Snorra Edda and its textualized poetics in a bilingual grammatical discourse that had been developing for a century or more before the 3GT. It would be naïve to argue, particularly in light of such a piece of learning as the 1GT in the twelfth century, that the thirteenth century was the first time any part of Donatus and Priscian was ever translated into or glossed with ON. As discussed in the previous chapter, the 3GT must have been preceded by a tradition of glossing and translation in the service of Latin learning.825 Its hermeneutics, too, 823 See Micillo, “Classical Tradition,” 78. Tarrin Wills has in particular dealt with Óláfr’s combination of thought from both grammatical and logical traditions (Óláfr Þorðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 144). Noting the coming together of vernacular and bilingual tradition here is important, as it stands in contrast to the argument that “the Third and Fourth Grammatical Treatises are fully within the Latin educational tradition” (Clunies Ross, Skáldskaparmál, 25). 824 Clunies Ross has focused on Óláfr Þórðarson’s attempts to stretch the definitions of terms and make inexact comparisons to fit the systems together, and his being hampered by classical definitions of figures and tropes (Clunies Ross, A History, 197–201). Tranter suggests that Óláfr had to deal with the problem that Latin aesthetics could not fully apply to the vernacular, that Latin and Norse metrics are profoundly different from each other (Tranter, “Medieval Icelandic artes poeticae,” 144–47). It is important to keep in mind that the classical definitions of figures and tropes were not invariable, and constant adaptation of these definitions occurred in the Middle Ages. Bede, for example, not only represents a culminating point in adapting figures and tropes to Christian discourse and scriptural texts, but also invents his own distinction between different forms of allegory, and worked to adapt the classic allegoria to scriptural needs (Medieval Grammar, 257–60). Though largely skeptical of the viability of the 3GT and its terminology for analyzing ON, Kristján Árnason has speculated that the translation of the standard grammatical distinction between acute, grave, and circumflex accents in the 3GT may in fact be evidence for the tonality of ON (Kristján Árnason, “Málfræðihugmyndir Sturlunga”). 825 Unaltered elements of an earlier translation would explain many of the particularly odd features of the text: sentences and phrases which are translated with unusual and often awkwardly literal translations, ideas and terms which are not particularly applicable to ON poetry or language, and the use of so many loan formations and loanwords. See Males, “Pseudo-Remigius,”


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

are a textualization of what must have happened any time a cleric was educated in both Latin grammatica and skaldic poetics: an application of an authoritative system of interpretation to a highly figurative and symbolic type of vernacular literature.826 The 3GT reacts to and expands upon these existing traditions in different ways. The MG, in dealing with letters of both the Latin and runic alphabets, is an expansion upon both the 1GT and Priscian. It does not present a prescriptive, pragmatic purpose like the 1GT, but is similar to it in defining aspects of ON in light of Latin and other languages, using a wider scope: in a particularly pointed example, the MG compares the maximum length of syllables in Latin and ON, before relating the discussion of syllable to rhyme in both ON and Latin poetry.827 The connection between the orthographic and phonological concerns of the 1GT and the metrical interests of the Snorra Edda are thus made explicit for the first time in the MG. Like the Snorra Edda, the 3GT involves the writing down of a large amount of poetry which was almost certainly never written down before the composition of the treatise.828 Unlike the Snorra Edda, this oral poetry is framed in the metalanguage of Latin grammatical discourse, both basic grammatical terminology, such as case names, and the hermeneutic framework of faults, figures, and tropes. Rather than reacting against the hermeneutics of the Snorra Edda, the 3GT expands upon them using the tools of grammatica, adapting them to a clerical context. It uses the metalinguistic tools developed in bilingual Latin learning to expand upon the metalinguistic tools of the Snorra Edda, and by extension,

325–29 for recent comments on some passages and terminological choices in light of the commentary sources behind the 3GT. 826 It is sometimes suggested that the 3GT uses skaldic poetry in order to explain Latin poetic figures, see for example Gísli Sigurðsson, “Óláfr Þórðarson hvítaskáld,” 98–99. However, the treatise makes more sense when understood as using the Latin figures to explain the verse, in essence applying a particular hermeneutic system to vernacular poetic literature. It must be kept in mind where the figures of the Barbarismus are intended to be used: if the goal is to use them in their normal context, interpreting and normalizing Latin text and literature, then Latin examples would be used – the only readers for whom such a treatise would be useful would be students or scholars of Latin. With vernacular examples, it must be assumed that the intended goal of the treatise is the interpretation of vernacular texts, whether skaldic poetry specifically or ON literature more broadly. 827 Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 92–93. 828 See Gísli Sigurðsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition, 93–114. Clunies Ross has emphasized that, despite being authored by the educated elite, the Icelandic grammatical treatises are “the vehicle for the survival of the detritus of an extensive, and often orally transmitted, Icelandic vernacular tradition of poetic composition that is likely to have been enjoyed by many members of society” (Clunies Ross, “Poetic Sources,” 72–73).

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


those functioning in oral skaldic pedagogy. Both treatises attempt to determine what is correct and incorrect in a skaldic stanza,829 but the Latin concepts translated into the 3GT greatly expand the scope and tools available to analyze skaldic poetry. Such analytical tools were probably already developing on some level when early ON religious poetry like Plácitusdrápa was read by clerics with grammatical education. The relationship between hermeneutic systems in the treatise is variable. When Latin and Old Norse terms and ideas are compared, they are sometimes equated,830 the Norse term is sometimes said to belong the same category or type as the Latin figure, and very often the Norse terms are meters which are said to incorporate or make use of the Latin figures.831 The clearest result of these comparisons is an understanding of ON poetics in more general, abstract terms than are presented with in the Edda. The Norse terms in the treatise are more often concrete, often the names of meters, while the Latin terms are part of a generally more abstract system of thought.832 In

829 Guðrún Nordal, “Metrical Learning,” 36. 830 In places the characterizing feature of a Norse meter fits perfectly with the definition of a Latin term, as with anadiplosis and drǫgur, gátu and enigma, and bragarmál and syncope. In the 3GT, anadiplosis is said to refer to a word appearing at the beginning and end of a vers eða vísa, presumably here as elsewhere referring to verses in both Latin and Norse poetics (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 94). This is notably the same definition as that of Donatus, where “Anadiplosis est congeminatio dictionis ex ultimo loco praecendentis versus et principio sequens” (Grammatici Latini, Vol. 4, 398). It is not clear from the 3GT that drǫgur refers to the name of a meter rather than a poetic device, but Háttatal lists it as the ninth type of dróttkvætt, where “Þat málsorð er fyrst er í þessi vísu er síðarst í hinni fyrri, ok er hin síðari svá dregin af hinni fyrri. Því heita þat drǫgur” (Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, 11) (That word which is first in this stanza is last in the former, and thus the latter is drawn from the former. Thus it is called drawings). The exact nature of the relationship between anadiplosis and drǫgur cannot be certain, but the background of the terms in Donatus and Háttatal suggests that anadiplosis refers to the abstract idea, the poetic device itself, while drǫgur refers to the meter defined by that device. Similarly, gáta (riddle) is said to be the same figúra as enigma, and though it does not appear in Háttatal, it is possible that like so many other terms it was thought of as a category of meter, semantically defined in this case. Bragarmál is said to be the name for syncope in poetics, and the definition of the two terms is exactly the same: the removal of a letter to make one word from two (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 87). 831 The selection of Norse poetic terminology in the M is comparatively short, particularly the list of meters. Háttatal presents over sixty different meters with distinct names, usually the feature that defines their variation from normal dróttkvætt, and presents variations of many of those meters. The M gives less than ten named meters. 832 A Norse meter and a Latin figura that describes the characteristic that defines that meter appears to be the most common context for a named Norse meter in the M. Both riðhendr and nýi háttr are said to use homoeoteleuton, which essentially refers to end rhyme, or to any group of words being held together by the same ending (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 98). Háttatal


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

making use of these abstract ideas, the 3GT juxtaposes the poetics of the Snorra Edda and oral skaldic pedagogy with the wider vernacular grammatical discourse. Rather than present the ON system of metrics and diction as comprehensively as possible, as the Edda does, the 3GT presents a broader system of stylistics which can be used to describe and interpret ON poetry, but is not constrained by it.833 The treatise refers widely to Norse and Latin terms as fígúrur (figures), and thereby presents them as categorically linked in the context of vernacular grammatical discourse. The 3GT contains the earliest instance of this use of the term fígúra, but as a loanword it was likely adapted much earlier as part of bilingual Latin grammatica.834

describes riðhendr and nýi háttr as two fairly distinct types of rhyming verse, though the shared idea seems to be rhyming words appearing immediately next to each other (Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, 17, 31). Stælt and álagsháttr are said to be the two meters that always make use of the figure parenthesis, where a sentence is set within another, divided sentence (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 112–13). This fits neatly with the definitions of the meters in Háttatal: álagsháttr includes an intercalated phrase in the second and fourth lines, while stælt is not so precisely defined but seems to have a very similar structure, with two intercalated sentences (Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, 10, 16). 833 Though he takes a different approach in describing the relationship between the 3GT and skaldic poetry, Males’s recent appraisal of the treatise comes to not entirely dissimilar conclusions, and he argues that “what proved most useful to Icelandic poets was the structured and normative perspective of grammatical studies” (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 93–94). Normalization in vernacular grammatica will be addressed in more detail later in this chapter. Males also notes here, like many scholars before him, that the differences between Latin and ON poetics meant that the 3GT could not be entirely successful in bridging the two disciplines, and understanding skaldic poetry entirely through Latin concepts. But this does not diminish the importance of the attempt, or the areas where the treatise is successful. 834 Sverrir Tómasson discusses what it means at tala í fígúru (Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 251–52), but his discussion narrows the term down into a fairly specific sense, while the overall evidence indicates that the meaning of fígúra was broad and intersected with many aspects of linguistic ideology and reading practice. Even beyond the mathematical and geometrical uses, fígúra had a highly complex and extended range of uses. In the sense of a figure of speech, it could refer to poetic devices like metaplasms, schema, tropes, other linguistic faults and virtues, even overlapping with háttr and capable of referring to meters. In the context of theology and hagiography, fígúra often referred to a symbol or a typological or allegorical sign, potentially both to the abstract symbol itself as well as the obfuscating language used to communicate it. In this way the theological and hagiographic usage is connected to some of the grammatical and rhetorical usages, in that both can refer to obscure or somehow veiled significations. While in the original text of the Barbarismus the Latin term figura is not used in these ways, by the time of the writing of the 3GT it had taken on a much broader and more encompassing meaning, more in line with the usage of the ON loanword (Clunies Ross, Skáldskaparmál, 37). On the range of meaning of háttr when used in the grammatical treatises, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 20.

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


Through this contextualization of Norse poetic ideas into a more general and abstract hermeneutics, the M becomes less of a purely poetic treatise than the Snorra Edda, presenting a system which affects all language use. The M expands the metrical subject matter of Háttatal by arguing that meters are created and maintained through the Latin fígúrur and the abstract concepts they represent. Mention of meters is particularly prevalent in the section on barbarism. Changes to the lengths of vowels and other slight alterations of words are said to be used in maintaining the rhythm, kveðandi, or rhyme, hendingar, of a verse,835 and sometimes specific meters are mentioned.836 Barbarism in the 3GT offers a method to broadly describe all the ways Norse poets manipulate words to maintain poetic structure, without tying the term or its use to a particular meter. This abstract quality is quite explicit in the section on paronomasia, or punning.837 Paronomasia is an abstract concept of placing together similar-sounding things, and the example given uses aðalhending (full rhyme), which it calls a type of paronomasia used in skáldskapr (poetics).838 The reference to Snorri Sturluson that

835 Barbarism used to maintain kveðandi is mentioned four times (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 64, 65, 68, 69), to maintain hendingar three times (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 65, 66), while simply for fegrð (beauty) twice (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 63, 66). Solecisms, which involve changes on the level of phrase or sentence, are never said to be used for these purposes. 836 Barbarism adds a syllable to maintain a three-syllable line in kviðuháttr (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 63), changes a letter to maintain the rhyme in dróttkvætt (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 65), and adds an h to maintain the rhyme in bálkarlag (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 68). The same dynamic appears in the various types of metaplasm: prosthesis, or the addition of a syllable at the beginning of a word, is used in one example to maintain the stuðlar, or the alliterating letters of an even line, in dróttkvætt. (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 86). The distinction between metaplasm and barbarism as vice and virtue is not clearly maintained in the 3GT; while the treatise makes it clear that barbarism used in poetry is called metaplasm, like Donatus it obscures this distinction by using examples from poetry in the section on barbarism. It is unclear, then, how exactly Óláfr or later redactors understood or interpreted this distinction, but it might speculatively be suggested that barbarism/metaplasm was thought of as an all-encompassing idea for the manipulation of a word, while the specific terms given in metaplasm simply represent optional ways of referring more specifically to the different uses of barbarism/metaplasm. 837 “Paronomasia sætr saman likar raddir, þær ær viafnt merkia . . . þetta kǫllvm ver aðalhændingar iskállskap, ok taka af þessi figvrv vpphaf þeir hættir, ær með hændingvm ærv saman sættir, ok breytiz þat amarga vega, sæm finnaz man ihatta tali þvi, ær snorri hæfir ort” (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 95–96) (Paronomasia puts together similar sounds, those which signify differently . . . we call that full rhyme in poetics, and those meters which are composed with rhyme take their foundation from this figure, and that varies itself in many ways, as one finds in that Háttatal [Reckoning of Meters], which Snorri has composed). 838 The equation between paronomasia and aðalhending does not entirely fit with the full meaning of its Latin definition, as Donatus states simply that “Paronomasia est veluti quaedam denominatio” (Grammatici Latini, Vol. 4, 398) where denominatio can refer to any substitution of


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

appears in this passage emphasizes how the 3GT is working intertextually with the Snorra Edda, expanding its subject matter into grammatical discourse while allowing that it is not dealing with actual metrics. In the discussion of metaphorical, figurative, and circumlocutory language a similar relationship appears, although the treatises do not fully agree.839 Some disagreement, however, is unsurprising. Even within the Edda itself it is clear that Snorri and later redactors were working with a metalanguage in flux, an intellectual and grammatical culture that was in a long process of defining itself and adapting ON as a scholarly language.840 It can be said, however, that as with meters and related ideas of prosody and phonetics, the relationship between kennings and Latin grammatical terminology is one of a concrete poetic device and an abstract idea. After almost all the varieties of metaphora have been given the M notes: Með þessi figvrv ærv saman settar allar kenningar i norrænvm skalldskap, ok hon ær miǫk sva vpphaf til skalldskaparmals.841 (With this figure all kennings in Norse poetry are encompassed, and it is thus very much a foundation for poetic diction.)

Metaphora is presented as a broader concept that lies behind the construction and use of all kennings. Earlier in the M the subcategory of sannkenningar is also placed within the conceptual field of metaphora.842 This relationship of

words, but essentially refers to a pun. Thus aðalhending does not actually share the same definition, but is not in fact contrary to it: a pun involves full rhyme, even if its purpose is different and more semantic than metrical rhyme. The 3GT’s manipulation of terms here should be seen in the context of its general tendency to see the Latin terms as broader and the Norse terms as more specific, applied ideas. It is moreover worth noting that aðalhending is defined earlier in the MG: “Þessar samstǫfur gera mesta fegrð í skáldskap, ef einn raddarstafr er í tveim samstǫfum ok hinir sǫmu stafir eptirsettir, sem hér: snarpr, garpr, ok kǫllum vér þat aðalhending” (Syllables create the most beautiful effect in poetry if the same vowel is in two syllables and the same letters follow it, as here: “snarpr” (sharp), “garpr” (warrior); and we call that full rhyme) (Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 92–93). 839 For discussion of disagreement regarding aspects of kennings, see Clunies Ross, Skáldskaparmál, 75–76; Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, cx–cxi. 840 Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, cxv. 841 Den Tredje og Fjærde, 104. 842 “Með þeim hætti erv þær kenningar, ær ver kǫllvm sannkenningar i skalldskap, at kalla manninn asa heitvm ok kenna sva til vapna eða skipa eða nokkvrn asa annars nafni ok kenna þa við eign sina nokkvra” (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 103) (With this mode are those kennings, which we call sannkenningar in poetics, which call the man by the name of gods, or name him thus according to weapons or ships, or a certain god by the name of another, and name them according to some possession of theirs).

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


general Latin term and specific Norse term occurs not only with metaphora, but also with the fault of cacemphaton843 and in several other instances in the M.844 In some instances the relationship appears to be inverted, where a Norse poetic device makes use of a Latin idea, but the Latin idea is still a more abstract and widely applicable concept.845

843 The term nýgerving, a “novelty” whereby a metaphorical idea is maintained throughout a stanza or half-stanza, is only mentioned in the M in the context of the so-called nykrat or finngálknað, where the extended metaphor or allegory of the nýgerving is broken. The M offers the example where an axe is called both the “troll woman of the shield” and the “affliction of the helm” in the same stanza, and it says that this is a type of cacemphaton. Cacemphaton is somewhat ambiguously said to refer to ófagr framflutning “unattractive expression” (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 80). Though nykrat/finngálknað is certainly not what Donatus had in mind with cacemphaton, it fits the literal definition of the Latin term, which is precisely translated. Thus nykrat/finngálknað is a poetic error that fits within a certain category of cacemphaton. This understanding of cacemphaton as a broad field of error is further evidenced by the fact that þreskǫld, wherein the last letter of a word is the same as the first letter of the following word, is also said to be similar to, or a type of, cacemphaton (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 79–80). The only extant instance of þreskǫld being used in this technical, grammatical sense appears to be here in the 3GT. The wide difference in meaning between þreskǫld and nykrat/ finngálknað suggests that Óláfr was taking cacemphaton as any kind of discordance, whether phonetic (i.e., odd clusters of letters), or semantic (i.e., odd arrangements of kennings). 844 Ofkenndr refers to two kennings used in the same phrase, and is said to be related to tautologia (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 82), which in Donatus is the repetition of nouns. Klauf is said to be where two sannkenningar are joined without any conjunction, and svipa where more than two are used, and both are said explicitly to be “hin sama figvra” as dialyton, which joins multiple nouns without conjunction (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 99–100). Vindandi is presented as a specialized term for a poetic archaism, a u retained before r in certain words, which the M states is still used by Germans and Danes. It is presented as a very specific instance of prosthesis and aphaeresis, the addition or removal of the initial letter of a word, respectively (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 87). In solecism involving a change of person, viðmælt is said to be when the verse switches into the second person, and hliðmælt in the third person (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 78). 845 As in the case of ofljóst. Based on its use in the Snorra Edda, Anthony Faulkes has defined it as a sort of pun or word-play, often using a kenning or heiti of a homonym of the intended word (Snorri Sturluson, Skáldskaparmál 1, lxxii). Its use is described in Háttatal (Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, 12), and explanations of specific examples of it appear in both Skáldskaparmál and Háttatal. It is first mentioned in the M in the context of barbarism which reduces time, i.e. shortens vowels (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 66). While this vowel-shortening barbarism does not fit with Faulkes’s definition of ofljóst, the phrasing of the M does not suggest that the two ideas are being equated. The M is noting how creating ofljóst often requires vowel shortening, i.e. in the manipulation of words to create homonyms. This fits with the second mention of ofljóst in the context of eptasis, the lengthening of a short syllable: “Þæssi figvra hæfir margar kynkvislir i versvm, ænn i skalldskap ær hon sialldan, næma ofliost sæ ort” (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 89) (This figure has many branches in [Latin] verse, but in [Norse] poetics it is rare, unless ofljóst might be used). Eptasis is a general grammatical and linguistic tool that


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

There is little doubt that kennings could be understood in different ways by different poets and grammarians in medieval Iceland, but by placing them in the field of metaphora, the M allows them to be discussed and understood in a wider context, not only across different languages, but also in both poetry and prose. The 3GT as a whole collects and analyzes earlier pedagogical and hermeneutic traditions and combines them, not only enabling ON poetics to be discussed alongside Latin poetry in a clerical context, but also producing a more comprehensive vernacular grammatica than had hitherto been made explicit. The idea of the fígúra as a broad term for symbolic, figurative language was a fundamental tool in an ON hermeneutics that could go beyond the description of poetic meter and diction. A prose text within this tradition, making use of this idea of vernacular fígúrur, appears by 1280, just a few decades after the composition of the 3GT, in the Jóns saga baptista of Grímr Hólmsteinsson. This text was written at the church of Oddi in the south of Iceland at the request of Runólfr Sigmundarson, abbot of the monastery of Þykkvibær.846 A letter from Grímr to Runólfr regarding the composition of the text and a passage from the end of the saga preserve a significant amount of exegetical analysis. In terms of vernacular grammatica, there are two clear links between this saga and the discipline. First, a significant amount of translated hagiography existed in the twelfth century, and the commentary and exegetical passages in Jóns saga baptista may reflect discourse that was primarily oral, or expressed in Latin texts from earlier periods that are now lost. Second, the term fígúra is used several times to refer to obscure or symbolic language in Jóns saga baptista and the letter of Grímr to Abbot Runólfr. This terminology metalinguistically links the discourse of this saga with that of the 3GT.847 While the 3GT applies the vernacularized hermeneutic idea of fígúrur only to poetry, Jóns saga baptista shows that it was applied more widely to prose texts, at least by the late thirteenth century. In addition, the last line of the M notes that the fígúrur are often used both in poetry and in the prophetic sayings composed by ancient men.848 This could refer to the language of

can serve to create ofljóst. Faulkes’s definition of ofljóst as manipulation of homonyms is suggested elsewhere in the 3GT, where amphibologia includes a mention that nouns with multiple meanings are used widely in skáldskapr to obscure a sentence (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 83–85). 846 For a general study of this saga and its context, see Marner, “Glosur lesnar.” 847 DI II, 166–67 and Postola sögur, 928–29. Other uses of fígúra appear in the incorporated commentary of the saga in Postola sögur, 876–77, 881, 887, 898, 906, 916. 848 “Þesar figvrvr ero miǫk settar iskalldskap ok ispakmęli, þav er vitrir men hafa fordvm saman sett” (Den Tredje og Fjærde, 119).

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


prophetic poems like Merlínusspá, but also to the prose symbols and typologies of Jóns saga baptista. Moreover, the end of the 3GT includes two Christian verses with typological interpretation in the prose commentary,849 confirming that the interpretation of both skaldic poetics and Christian symbolic language through a vernacularized grammatica was already established by the midthirteenth century. What has been referred to as the florid style of prose, of which Jóns saga baptista is an example, appears primarily in the fourteenth century and includes similar incorporated commentary, showing vernacular grammatical discourse being expressed within and influencing hagiographic prose. This has generally been associated with monastic culture in the north of Iceland among the students and followers of Bishop Lárentíus, the so-called Northern Icelandic Benedictine School.850 However, in relation to the development of vernacular grammatica, it is important to note that the florid style was not confined to this context: not only was Jóns saga baptista written in the south, versions of Maríu saga and parts of Stjórn, texts also associated with this style, were written in the late thirteenth century.851 Stjórn, as a vernacular translation and commentary of Old Testament texts, could have had particular connections with the components of grammatical discourse that dealt with scriptural interpretation.852 We should thus be cautious about defining the ideologies behind this style in overly strict chronological or geographical terms. Moreover, while Jóns saga baptista was commissioned by an abbot, and Merlínusspá was translated by a monk, the 3GT does not appear to have been written in a monastic context, and this vernacular grammatical discourse was almost certainly not an entirely monastic one. The term fígúra appears in these later hagiographic texts, though not as frequently as in Jóns saga baptista. It is used in Pétrs saga Postola, where things are said to be spoken under the veil of figurative language, undir fígúru.853 In Tveggia postola saga Jóns og Jacobs the Apocalypse is discussed as being deliberately locked behind þungar fígúrur (heavy figures).854 Marthe saga ok Marie Magdalene notes the death of Lazarus being first described with a figure, before

849 Den Tredje og Fjærde, 117–19. 850 For a general survey of rhetoric and stylistics in ON prose, see Þórir Óskarsson, “Rhetoric and Style,” and for the Northern Icelandic Benedictine School in particular, see also Sverrir Tómasson, “The Middle Ages,” 168–71. 851 Sverrir Tómasson, “The Middle Ages,” 161. 852 On biblical interpretation in Stjórn, see Astås, An Old Norse Biblical Compilation, 117–48. 853 Postola sögur, 20, 109. 854 Postola sögur, 612–13.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

being explained.855 Thomas saga Erkibyskups makes a typological use of the term in its epilogue, where an Old Testament story is called a fígúra of Archbishop Thomas himself.856 The term thus seems to refer to both the abstract idea of a symbol itself, and the obfuscating symbolic language used to conceal an idea. The composition of the 4GT in the fourteenth century can be better understood in light of this trend in vernacular hagiographic commentary. Written as a continuation of the M and with the same structure, it uses fígúrur from the Doctrinale and Græcismus to expand the range of the hermeneutic system given in the Snorra Edda and 3GT. Like the 3GT, it sometimes compares Latin and ON texts to clarify a position or idea, defining ON poetic discourse in a broader bilingual context. The 4GT, however, is distinguished by its focus on Christian poetry, which makes it a meeting point between the poetic discourse of the previous treatises and the prose discourse of the florid style of hagiography. Several passages show typological or allegorical interpretation being applied to verse.857 The examples are significant because they are explicitly presented as verse translations of biblical material, and the prose commentary of the 4GT is thus simultaneously interpreting Scripture and ON verse. The 4GT thereby exemplifies the potential complexity of the exegetical side of vernacular grammatica, reflecting the poetic discourse of the 3GT, the prophetic discourse of Merlínusspá, and the religious discourse of Jóns saga baptista. The fourteenth century also brought poetic responses to and reactions against the Snorra Edda, showing that vernacular grammatical discourse in Iceland could encompass different perspectives, even within a fairly narrow context. Multiple conflicting ideologies influenced conceptions and ideals of poetic composition. This is shown in brief commentaries incorporated into three poems: most famously the poem Lilja from the mid-fourteenth century;858 the Guðmundardrápa of Árni Jónsson, the fourteenth-century abbot of Munkaþverá; and the Guðmundarkvæði of Arngrímr Brandsson, the fourteenth-century abbot of Þingeyrar.859 These poems all comment on poetic style, differentiating themselves from the stylistic standards 855 Heilagra manna sögur, Vol. 1, 522. 856 Thomas saga, 501–2. 857 The Fourth Grammatical Treatise, 10–13, 20–21, 38–41. 858 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 672–73. 859 Den Norsk-Islandske Skaldedigtning B, 372, 460–61. Árni Jónsson was ordained abbot of Munkaþverá in 1370, and Arngrímr Brandsson was ordained at Þingeyrar in 1351 (Islandske Annaler, 276, 280). Guðmundr Arason is the only Icelandic bishop about whom poets wrote in his own lifetime, a fact which has been attributed to his family connections to known poets in northern Iceland, but significant amounts of poetry were written about him in the fourteenth century as well (Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 101).

The Origins and Influences of Icelandic Vernacular Grammatica


of the Edda, and Lilja goes into the most detail, emphasizing that the Edda represents complex, obfuscating language, while Lilja aims for a simpler, clearer style. These comments attest to the popularity of the Snorra Edda in the fourteenth century and its authority over a certain style of poetic diction, even as they show that certain poets were reacting against this diction. Numerous explanations have been offered for the perspective of these poems in critiquing the diction of the Edda. Many of these explanations, however, ignore the complexity and potential for multiple discourses within vernacular grammatica. It has been suggested that Lilja and the other poems were written for a foreign audience, presumably a Norwegian one, or that the ethos that they represent comes from the tastes of the Norwegian clergy, which arguably came to influence Iceland more in the fourteenth century.860 However, the fact that all three poems reference the Edda suggests that they were intended to function in a context where the treatise was authoritative. The three poems likewise do not have exactly the same perspective: while Lilja and Guðmundardrápa are openly critical of what they describe as the rules of the Edda, Guðmundarkvæði uses it more as the basis for a modesty topos. Unlike the others, Guðmundarkvæði does not express an ideal of claritas (clarity) as a contrast to the poetics of the Edda. Even in the 4GT, which is written in the same mode and tradition as Háttatal and the 3GT and uses their complex diction, the discussion of the term Antimetabola contains a critique of the use of obscure language, saying that employing words with obscure signification is considered very detrimental.861 The complexity of vernacular grammatica in the fourteenth century is most thoroughly exemplified by this text, as the 4GT both engages in the obscure discourse of the Edda, and at the same time agrees with the perspective of Lilja.862

860 “It may be that one motivating factor for these men was their desire to communicate with like-minded clerics outside Iceland, particularly in Norway, where skaldic poetry was no longer appreciated nor, probably, well-understood” (Clunies Ross, A History, 231). “This ethos appears to have stemmed not from the Icelandic milieu of learned antiquarianism but from that of “det norske atlantimperium” to quote Stefán Karlsson’s phrase, from the circle of powerful clerics who held sway in Norway and Iceland in the first half of the fourteenth century and whose Icelandic members may have emulated the tastes of Norway rather than Iceland” (Quinn, “Eddu List,” 90). See also Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 267. 861 The Fourth Grammatical Treatise, 33. 862 Males discusses the reaction of both the redactor of the Codex Wormianus – thought to be the author of the 4GT – and these poets to the Snorra Edda in Males, The Poetic Genesis, 279–96.


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The ultimately oral traditions of ON poetics did not first encounter clerical culture and ideals in the fourteenth century,863 and the critiques given in Lilja and Guðmundardrápa are very old, standard aspects of Christian rhetoric. ON poetics and its complex diction had been interacting with clerical ideals on a textual level since at least the 3GT and Merlínusspá. Several religious poems from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries show a precise and careful transformation of Latin liturgical images and phrases into kennings or kenning-like constructions.864 The ideology of these fourteenth-century poems, therefore, did not exist to the exclusion of other vernacular grammatical ideologies, nor should it be confined entirely to mid- and late fourteenth-century discourse. This description of vernacular grammatica has taken a very general approach, pointing to possible influences and evolutionary paths as literate, Christian culture in Iceland developed. Literate discourse and education, moreover, cannot ever be said for certain to have entirely replaced oral learning. The textualized poetics of the Snorra Edda and the clerical influence suggested by the use of grammatical source material and terminology in the 3GT both point to distinct, literate contexts of learning, but do not show that they entirely replaced what went before. ON religious translation and poetry, linked to the tradition of the Snorra Edda through the 4GT, must nevertheless have had some vernacular grammatical ideology supporting it before the fourteenth century. Through the influence of Ælfric, discussed in chapter 3, some element of this ideology may have been present in Iceland already in the eleventh century. This vernacular grammatica is distinguished by the use of ON language and texts as its subject matter, yet it continued to interact with the Latin tradition in different ways throughout its development. Vernacular grammatica was not separated from Latin grammatica, and could function in the same fairly small monastic contexts, with continuing influence from Latin texts and ideas. Influence could occur in the other direction as well, as examples of Latin verse written in skaldic meters show.865 Yet the functional division remains, and vernacular grammatica could not fulfill the primary function of teaching necessary

863 Cf. Quinn, “Eddu List,” 90: “The traditional art of poetic circumlocution, however, was so deeply rooted in the culture of pre-Christian myth and so dependent on a taste for word-play that its reception in learned circles was more problematic, particularly considering the influence the Christian church had on schooling and textual production during this period.” While Quinn does note that the continued transmission of the Edda suggests that some scholars in Iceland still appreciated such word-play, the implication of this argument that medieval learned clerical culture did not care for word-play is entirely unfounded. 864 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, xlvii–xlviii. 865 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 471–75.

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


Latin skills to clerics. The specifics of its intellectual characteristics and functions will be discussed in the remainder of this chapter.

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica Having surveyed the chronological developments of vernacular grammatica, it remains to investigate more deeply what defined it as an offshoot of Latin grammatica. As the language-teaching aspect of grammatica is not relevant to native speakers, linguistic and literary interpretation must have been the most applicable aspect of the discipline. As a full discussion of ON hermeneutics could fill several volumes, my goal here is only to make a few general points about interpretation and reading practice for which there is evidence in the grammatical treatises and related texts. Ideological issues, rather than pragmatic ones, will be my focus, as discussing practical matters of interpretation and grammatical discourse would involve much wider research into linguistic, codicological, and paleographic evidence. First, the ideology of normalized language will be addressed, and the ways that different types of normalization affect interpretation. Normalized language is authoritative language, and is understood as being more capable of communicating truthfully, a concern of many different types of writing. Second, different types of symbolic, figurative, and obfuscating language relate to each other across boundaries of religion and genre, and the authoritative discourse around typological interpretation affects other genres. Finally, the contrary ideology of simple language, claritas, affects multiple genres and intersects with the particular utility of the vernacular itself in easily understood communication. In all of these hermeneutic issues, Icelandic vernacular grammatica is defined by its use of ON as a metalanguage and as the language of the subject texts.

Vernacular Normalization, Truth, and Interpretation Authoritative language in the Middle Ages was not supported by any single consistent ideology. Multiple ideals conflicted, both in terms of different intellectual traditions behind the medieval trivium and huge stylistic differences between types of authoritative texts. The pagan auctores and the Bible, the Church Fathers and the poets of Christian epics, even basic categories of poetry and prose presented contradictory ideas of what constituted authoritative ideals of language use. Philosophically derived ideals of pure language that could perfectly reflect truth conflicted with poetic and prophetic ideals of


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

ornamented and obfuscating language. Grammatical tools of interpretation both blended and conflicted with rhetorical tools of composition.866 At the same time, medieval Christian intellectuals sought to understand language as non-arbitrary, without accident, and reflective of God’s construction of the world. For the Bible to actually reflect divine will, language must have the capacity to reflect pure truth, but there could still be different means or ideals of how this truth should be communicated, depending on the nature of the message and the audience.867 There were thus both centrifugal and centripetal forces at work in the construction of a coherent medieval understanding of linguistic authority. Within this dynamic, the ideals and models of grammatica did not always reflect the reality of how authority related to normativity. Regarding Alexander of Neckam’s well-known summary of a grammatical education, described in chapter 2, Suzanne Reynolds has noted: [T]he relationship of authoritative text and grammatical inquiry is not as straightforward as Nequam, for one, would like us to think. On the one hand, grammar’s concern with correctness is inevitably compromised by the auctores’ usage, and on the other, the boundary between grammar and her sister discipline rhetoric seems very unclear, for both have a claim to the figurative language which characterizes the auctores’ texts.868

Appreciating the complexity of this situation is essential when examining the central grammatical processes of normalization. The key grammatical concept of emendatio, and the related subordinate idea of orthographia, were concerned with establishing and maintaining a normative Latinitas.869 They were the principles that kept the texts of the canon correct, uncorrupted, and consistent, a vital concern in a manuscript culture. Emendatio and orthographia thus created authority through normativity. Normativity and authority constantly interacted: the authoritative texts created the normative standard, while grammatica maintained the linguistic justification of their authority. Yet, as Reynolds notes, the

866 This is particularly apparent in the overlap in the rhetorical and grammatical study of the figures and tropes (Medieval Grammar, 28–38) but also in wider poetic discourse (Purcell, Ars poetriae). 867 Law makes the point that the study of language required language to be characterized as non-arbitrary, in specific reference to philosophical values in Varro and Plato, but also that this idea was prevalent through the Middle Ages because of an analogous Christian value of the spiritual over the bodily, deriving to a great extent from Augustine’s work on language and theology (Law, The History of Linguistics, 44, 107–9). 868 Reynolds, Medieval Reading, 19–20. 869 Orthographia and emendatio were sometimes used synonymously to refer to the correction of error in a very broad sense, not only in terms of orthography itself but also stylistics and other aspects of grammar (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 75–77).

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


inevitable realities of implementing ideals and authorial usage complicate the situation. There were also serious theological implications for normativity. Major early medieval grammarians like Bede, Alcuin, and Cassiodorus saw both emendatio and Latinitas as essential for continuing the written tradition, and for many the highest use of orthographia was correcting the texts of the Scriptures.870 Several authors, including Alcuin and Boniface, argued that heresy could derive from textual defects and error.871 While the shift in language and culture meant grammatical traditions changed within ON vernacular culture, those traditions still had an effect on all literate perspectives on language and linguistic authority. Vernacular grammatica was the means for Latin conceptions of authority to be applied to ON, for textualizing and communicating native ideas about language, and for using linguistic comparison to negotiate normativity. Orthographic normalization is the earliest function apparent in vernacular grammatica. This normalization had both ideological and practical motivations, though modern scholars have discussed the practicalities far more. Yet the fact that the 1GT never had its orthographical rules adopted and yet was still transmitted in a fourteenth-century manuscript suggests that its ideological function was more important. Its ideology of normalization and authority is most clearly communicated in one passage, where a rhetorical opponent argues that they could read perfectly well without an overly precise alphabet and all the new characters that the 1GT proposes. But, the author argues: Eigi er þat rúnanna kostr, þó at þú lesir vel eða ráðir vel at líkindum, þar sem rúnar vísa óskyrt. Heldr er þat þínn kostr; enda er þá eigi ørvænt, at þeygi lesa ek vel eða mínn maki, ef sá finnsk, eða ráða ek vel at líkindum til hvers ins rétta fœra skal, ef fleiri vega má fœra til rétts en einn veg, þat sem á einn veg er þó ritit, ok eigi skýrt á kveðit, ok skal geta til, sem þú lézk þat vel kunna. En þó at allir mætti nǫkkut rétt ór gøra, þá er þó vís ván, at þeygi vili allir til eins fœra, ef máli skiptir allra helzt í lǫgum. (It is not the virtue of the letters that enables you to read and to make out the pronunciation where the letters are unclear.872 That is rather your virtue, and it is not to be expected

870 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 74, 328–31. 871 Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 289, 303, 307. 872 Males argues that the term rún should never be translated as “letter,” and that in this passage the imprecision of the runes is being referenced (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 266, note 13). While such an interpretation raises some more complex issues – such as why the rhetorical opponent would be implicitly arguing for the use of manuscript runes in law codes – and changes the specific meaning of the passage, it does not alter the general ideological perspective or grammatical inheritance of the treatise.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

that I also, or anyone like me, if such there be, shall be able to read well and to make out which path to take where more than one course is possible because it is written one way, but not clearly determined, and one then has to guess, as you claim you can do so well. But even though everyone could make something out of it, it is practically certain that everyone will not arrive at the same result when the meaning is thereby changed, particularly in the laws.)873

Here the 1GT is offering a philosophy of reading and of composition, both distinctive and influenced by Latin ideas of normality and authority. The issue is not that readers will not be able to understand a text – the issue is not textual corruption to the point of complete incomprehensibility – but rather that ambiguities of meaning could arise from orthographic ambiguities. This is the same type of concern that Bede, Alcuin, and other grammarians had about misinterpretation arising from textual ambiguity. The reference to law codes here suggests two things about reading law: they were difficult texts open to multiple interpretations, and their interpretation was important to Icelandic society and culture.874 Ideologically, the 1GT expresses the foundation of the discipline of vernacular grammatica by proposing an ON vernacularity modelled on Latinitas. It argues that there is an absolute, perfect version of ON which could communicate truth with precision when governed, regulated, and normalized by grammatica. The later orthographic treatises, the MG and the 2GT, work within the intellectual tradition established by the 1GT, but do not appear to significantly alter its conceptions of authority. Like the 1GT, the MG makes use of comparisons between ON, Greek, and Hebrew to emphasize the distinctive character of the runic alphabet and the ON language, but it is more descriptive and less prescriptive than the 1GT.875 The 2GT does offer some prescriptions about when to use certain characters, but frames its argument with a less explicit sense of

873 First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 14–15. 874 Legal knowledge and manipulation of the law could be a vital tool in the political game of chieftains and other wealthy Icelanders (Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Chieftains and Power, 90). See the discussion of legal education in chapter 1. 875 In the 1GT the distinction is made between Greek, Latin, and Hebrew alphabets to show that all languages need their own alphabet, a distinction between long and short vowels is said to be made in both Greek and ON, a Greek letter is identified and its use in Greek is compared to its Norse use, the Greek original of y is identified, and z is said to be a combination of a Hebrew and a Latin letter (First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 12–13, 16–17, 26–29). In the MG, Greek and Norse alphabets are noted as having the same number of characters, the letter s is identified as Latin and the letter z as Greek, both represented by the same rune; the Hebrew letters aleph and ioth are mentioned because they can represent two vowels, just as the íss rune, and another rune is said to originate from Hebrew letters (Óláfr Þórðarson, The Foundation of Grammar, 84–85, 88–89).

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


emendatio. However, in the 2GT a singular ON alphabet is presented, which is implicitly normalizing, particularly in light of the syllabary figure included with the treatise. Considering the potential orthographic variety of medieval Icelandic manuscripts, any presentation of strict rules about which characters to use and where to use them suggests a sense of normalizing orthographia. Normalization is a core aspect of poetics and poetic interpretation as well, as mentioned earlier in the discussion of the Snorra Edda. When dealing with poetic auctores the ideals of a normalized language are significantly more complex, as Reynolds emphasized, but are still in part based on the concept of a language with invariable meaning which can communicate truthfully. This core grammatical ideal is enforced by the interest of the Snorra Edda in creating a cohesive system of metrics and diction, whereby the structure and language of verse itself could be normalized. Poetic normalization in the Snorra Edda, M, and 4GT is layered and hierarchical, in varying degrees attempting to create metric, prosodic, phonetic, morphological, semantic, and rhetorical authority. As mentioned earlier, the Snorra Edda has some apparent inconsistencies in its definitions of terms, which suggest that it arose out of an active discourse. Later poets, however, as shown in Lilja, understood a particular system of poetics as being represented by the Edda, and whether critiquing or praising that system they saw it as authoritative. Háttatal is highly prescriptive as to what constitutes correct meter, while acknowledging that older poets did not follow these prescriptions.876 In these passages, the Edda makes explicit that it is normalizing an existing tradition, and engaging with the tension between grammatical normalization and existing auctores. The M builds upon the foundation of normalization in the Snorra Edda, expanding the framework within which correct poetics are understood. Much of the M is devoted to identifying linguistic faults: barbarisms (faults within words) and solecisms (faults within phrases), as well as a number of miscellaneous ones. Metaplasms and schemata lexeos, even, are presented in the treatise as faults when used outside of poetic discourse. The tropes, while clearly virtues rather than faults of speech, are individually identified as non-normative language – in that they are fígúrur, and must be treated differently – and so as in the 1GT they suggest that there is a perfect, true version of Old Norse. Identifying barbarisms and solecisms simultaneously serves the same normalizing and interpretative function as Háttatal shows in the passages above: it identifies the faults in the auctores that young poets should not imitate, and it develops hermeneutic strategies that characterize good and bad language, as well as normative and non-normative.

876 Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal, 24, 26.


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The 4GT does not deal with faults directly, but it shows the same perspective on language as Háttatal and M, as in the explanation of antitosis, the change of number, tense, or case for a particular purpose: Um tímaskifti standa nóg dæmi í Soluecismo, en ekki er nýjum skáldum fallið að líkja eftir slíkum hlutum, er til þess eru að eins sett að skilja fornskálda verka. (Concerning the change of tenses, sufficient examples are found in Soloecismus, but it is not appropriate for new poets to imitate such things, which have only been explained so that one can understand the works of the ancient poets.)877

Here again there is a distinction between the criteria for interpreting established auctores and for composing new poetry. This is apparent in the Snorra Edda as well as the 4GT, but is also a core tension within Latin grammatica. This entire discourse seems to have been borrowed from Latin into vernacular writing, or if something similar already existed, it became heavily influenced by Latin ideology. Normativity here is understood as that aspect of language which makes it unambiguous, truthful, reflective of a vernacularity parallel to the idea of Latinitas.878 In the orthographic treatises, above all in the 1GT, that normativity is created through the maintenance of orthographic rules that show all possible semantic distinctions. In the poetic treatises that normativity is created through emphasizing metrical and grammatical rules, which are openly acknowledged as not being followed by ancient authors. All of these forms of normalization are concerned with how language is interpreted, and they thus intersect with other factors of interpretation and other ways of using language that can impede or aid the communication of meaning.

Complex Language and Interpretation By “complex” this section is denoting a range of linguistic factors that at least partly contrast with ideals of a clear, simple language that communicates easily to any audience. Language that is non-normative, obfuscating, typological, or figurative is highly problematic in the context of medieval grammatical discourse because of its lack of clarity, its apparent role as a barrier to the truths that a text is supposed to communicate. Justifications for the use of such language, however, are numerous, and are a key issue of vernacular grammatica. The inherent

877 The Fourth Grammatical Treatise, 24–25. 878 Males emphasizes that the redactor of the Codex Wormianus “was passionately interested in the connection between language and truth, above all divine truth” (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 281).

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


complexity of skaldic poetry, and the centrality of such poetry to vernacular grammatical discourse, means that these justifications have a particularly wide significance. The issues and tensions involved in interpreting complex forms of language are also a point of intersection between religious interest in allegory, prophecy, and symbolism, and secular interest in skaldic meter and diction. As discussed in chapter 1, the conditions of skaldic pedagogy mirror the obfuscating nature of the poetry itself. Icelanders did not write about learning poetry, and it is likely that this reflects a certain secrecy, or at least privacy, about the pedagogical process itself. It has been speculated that the highly riddle-like nature of skaldic poetry was closely related to the exclusivity of the courtly settings in which it was performed, and when these settings disappeared after the year 1000, there followed a general simplification of poetic forms.879 The importance of interpreting poetic obfuscation, however, was not confined to this context and continued into the later Middle Ages, and the fact that the law demanded that poetry only be interpreted in a literal sense suggests that conflicts existed over figurative readings. Generally, thus, it may be assumed that complex language was prized before the introduction of grammatica to Iceland. Chronologically, Merlínusspá is the earliest Icelandic commentary explicitly defending complex language, and is the clearest instance outside the 3GT and 4GT showing how secular and religious conceptions of complex language could interact. The poem as a whole takes a Latin prose text supposedly based on the words of a Welsh prophet and fills it with references to Norse mythological figures and skaldic battle poetry. The end of the first part of the poem, verses 94 to 101, contain a unique commentary, which is worth quoting in full: 94. Þau eru ǫnnur ljóð upp frá þessum; alvisk eigi auðs berdraugar – biðk þjóðir þess – við þenna brag, þó at ek mynt hafa mál at hætti, þeims spár fyrir spjǫllum rakði malmsþings hvǫtuðr, i mǫrgum stað.

879 See Lindow, “Riddles.” The connection between the use of poetry in courtly culture and increasing obfuscation may be a wider medieval social phenomenon that applies both to Norse and some Latin poetry (Jaeger and Mundal, “Obscurities”). As Roberta Frank has noted: “all court poetry has a certain impulse to difficulty, a desire to outdo all competitors in wit and craftsmanship” (Frank, Old Norse Court Poetry, 28). However, Christian poetry written outside a courtly context had other motivations for obscurity and complexity, and while what religious skaldic poetry is extant shows a general trend towards later poems being simpler, there are important exceptions, including new types of kenning and rhetorical complexity (Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, liii–lxi).


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(There are other songs following on from these; may bearing logs of weather [MEN] not . . . with this poem – this I ask of people –, although I have formed my sayings in many a place after the style in which the whetter of the metal-meeting [BATTLE > WARRIOR = MERLIN] recited prophecies in speeches.) 95. Viti bragnar þat, þeirs ból lesa, hvé at spjǫllum sé spámanns farit, ok kynni þat kjaldýrs viðum, hver fyrða sér framsýnna hǫ́ttr mǫ́l at rekja, þaus menn vitut. (May men, who read the book, know that, how the prophet’s sayings have been rendered, and teach that to trees of the keel-beast [SHIP > SEAFARERS], what the style of prophetic persons is in narrating matters that men do not know.) 96. Lesi sálma, spjǫll lesi spámanna, lesi bjartar þeir bœkr ok roðla, ok finni þat, at inn fróðr halr hefr horskliga hagat spásǫgu, sem fyr hǫ́num fyrðar helgir. (Let them read the psalms, read the sayings of the prophets, let them read bright books and rolls, and discover that the wise man has devised his prophecy sagaciously, like holy men before him.) 97. Virði engi þat vitlausu, þótt han hoddskǫtum heiti gæfi viðar eða vatna eða veðrs mikils eða alls konar orma eð dýra. Táknar eðli talðrar skepnu spjǫrráðanda spjǫll eða kosti. (Let nobody think it nonsense if he gives treasure-chieftains [RULERS] the name of a wood or lakes or a great storm or all kinds of serpents or beasts. The nature of the creature described signifies the flaws or strengths of the wielders of the spear [WARRIORS].) 98. Segir Dáníel drauma sína margháttaða merkjum studda. Kvezk drjúglig sjá dýr á jǫrðu, þaus tǫ́knuðu tyggja ríki, þaus á hauðri hófusk síðan. (Daniel tells his diverse dreams, supported by miracles.880 He says that he sees mighty animals on earth that signified the realms of kings that later came into being on earth.)

880 I am using the Skaldic Poetry Project’s translation of merki as “miracles” here, but this may be an overly specific reading. Merki is likely more generally indicating “signs,” including

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


99. Rekr inn dýri Dávíð konungr margfalda spǫ́, ok mælir svá: “Fjǫll munu fagna ok inn fríði skógr, en skœðar ár skella lófum, ok dalir ymna dróttni syngja.” (The noble King David utters manifold prophecy and speaks thus: “The mountains and the fair forest will rejoice, and dangerous rivers clap their hands and the valley sing hymns to the lord.”) 100. Hirtisk hǫlðar at hæða bœkr; nemi skynsemi ok skili gǫrla, hvat táknat mun í tǫlu þessi; esat enn liðin ǫll spásaga; þó eru mǫrgum myrk mǫ́l própheta. (Let men be chary of scorning books; let them learn wisdom and understand fully what is signified in this narration; the entire prophecy has not yet come to pass; yet the words of the prophets are obscure to many.) 101. Frétti fyrðar, þeirs á fold búa enn at óra ævi liðna, hvat of her gerisk ok huga leiði. Beri in nýju spjǫll við spásǫgu; sé síðan þat, hvé saman falli. (Let men who remain on earth after our lifetime has passed find out what becomes of men and pay heed. Let them compare the new tidings with the prophecy; then let them see how the two coincide.)881

In these verses, the poets defends the poem against critics of its highly oblique, symbolic style of language, demonstrating the tension between plain and complex language in an ON vernacular poetic context as early as the late twelfth century. There is a depth of interpretative complexity in Merlínusspá, mixing issues of interpreting prophecy, the Old Testament, and vernacular poetry, demonstrating how much exegetical ideology existed in ON poetic discourse when this poem was composed. The anxiety about interpreting symbolic, prophetic language in Merlínusspá is a response to a long-standing discourse in Christian grammatica, going back at least to Augustine. In De Doctrina Christiana, at least one copy of which was known

portents, which are also miraculous events, but also specifically symbolize or signify what is to come, and thus interpreting signs and portents overlaps in a certain sense with the interpretation of figurative language. 881 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 8, 127–32.


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to have existed in fourteenth-century Iceland,882 Augustine discusses the pleasure of interpretation,883 and allows for the obscurity of figurative language in prophecy,884 but is cautious about commentators mimicking the complexity of their sources.885 Augustine, who elsewhere is a strong proponent of claritas, allows some loopholes for composition in complex and figurative language and particularly the use of imagery. Such language can be pleasurable to read, preventing readers from becoming bored and neglecting what they are supposed to learn from the text, and it can make them appreciate the secrets of a concealed text. Biblical prophets were major auctores of this sort of language, and like the 4GT and the Snorra Edda Augustine cautions young poets against copying certain older texts which do not fit with the normative ideal.886

882 At Viðey in 1397 (DI IV 110–11). 883 “Nunc tamen nemo ambigit et per similitudines libentius quaeque cognosci et cum aliqua difficultate quaesita multo gratius inveniri. Qui enim prorsus non inveniunt quod quaerunt, fame laborant; qui autem non quaerunt, quia in promptu habent, fastidio saepe marcescunt. In utroque autem languor cavendus est. Magnifice igitur et salubriter spiritus sanctus ita scripturas sanctas modificavit, ut locis apertioribus fami occurreret, obscurioribus autem fastidia detergeret” (But no-one disputes that it is much more pleasant to learn lessons presented through imagery, and much more rewarding to discover meanings that are won only with difficulty. Those who fail to discover what they are looking for suffer from hunger, whereas those who do not look, because they have it in front of them, often die of boredom. In both situations the danger is lethargy. It is a wonderful and beneficial thing that the Holy Spirit organized the holy scripture so as to satisfy hunger by means of its plainer passages and remove boredom by means of its obscurer ones) (Augustine, De Doctrina, 62–63). 884 “Dicendum ergo mihi aliquid esse video et de eloquentia prophetarum, ubi per tropologiam multa obteguntur. Quae quanto magis translatis verbis videntur operiri tanto magis cum fuerint aperta dulcescunt” (So I realize that I must say something also about the eloquence of the prophets, in which much is obscure because of their figurative language. Indeed, the more opaque they seem, because of their use of metaphor, the greater the reader’s pleasure when the meaning becomes clear) (Augustine, De Doctrina, 214–17). 885 “Non ergo expositores eorum ita loqui debent tamquam se ipsi exponendos simili auctoritate proponent, sed in omnibus sermonibus suis primitus ac maxime ut intellegantur elaborent, ea quantum possunt perspicuitate dicendi, ut aut multum tardus sit qui non intellegit, aut in rerum quas explicare atque ostendere volumus difficultate ac subtilitate, non in nostra locutione sit causa qua minus tardiusve quod dicimus possit intellegi” (Their expositors should not speak in such a way that they set themselves up as similar authorities, themselves in need of exposition, but should endeavour first and foremost in all their sermons to make themselves understood and to ensure, by means of the greatest possible clarity, that only the very slow fail to understand, and that the reason why anything that we say is not easily or quickly understood lies in the difficulty and complexity of the matters that we wish to explain and clarify, and not in our mode of expression) (Augustine, De Doctrina, 222–23). 886 For a useful survey on the Latin tradition of reactions towards obscurity, see Ziolkowski, “Theories of Obscurity.”

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Merlínusspá seems to completely ignore this recommendation. In part this is likely a result of generally more liberal attitudes toward prophecy in the later Middle Ages. Merlin himself gained a position alongside the Sibyls and the Bible as an acceptable prophet, at least in some circles, and the twelfth century produced contemporary prophets like Hildegard of Bingen.887 The level of seriousness with which some intellectuals took this prophecy can be seen in a comment by Roger Bacon in an introduction to his thirteenth-century Opus Maius, calling on the church to examine all prophecies, including Merlin’s, in order to prepare for the coming of the Antichrist.888 The rising authority of Merlin suggests that, despite the warnings of Augustine and other rhetoricians, the use of Old Testament prophets to authorize highly symbolic and complex language was not particularly problematic. Even the pagan, and sometimes demonic, nature of Merlin and other Welsh prophets was often defended and equated with the nature of Old Testament prophets,889 so that there was probably less difficulty in adapting the pagan elements of the Prophetia Merlini to a Norse context than has been suggested.890 In terms of language use itself, De Doctrina Christiana is particularly concerned with commentaries and interpretations written about the prophets, their proximity causing them to mimic the language of the prophetic text itself, and this concern indeed seems to be a major factor with Merlin: the Prophetia Merlini 887 Ziolkowski, “The Nature of Prophecy,” 151. There has been a revival of arguments suggesting that the ON poem Vǫluspá was influenced by the Sibylline oracles (Steinsland, “Vǫluspá and the Sibylline Oracles” and Johansson, “Vǫluspá”), and it is possible that a larger study on ON prophecy could link the Sibylline oracles to Merlínusspá as well. 888 See discussion in Blacker, “Anglo-Norman Verse Prophecies,” 16. 889 See Ziolkowski, “The Nature of Prophecy,” 155–62. Particularly notable is a passage of Gerald of Wales, writing some ten years after Geoffrey of Monmouth, which Ziolkowski translates and quotes, defending Merlin: “He may well have been a true believer, but, you will say, there is no mention of his sanctity or devoutness. To this I answer that the spirit of prophecy was given not only to the holy but sometimes to unbelievers and Gentiles, to Baal [Balaam] and the Sibyl, for example, and even to the wicked, such as Caiaphas and Baal again” (Ziolkowski, “The Nature of Prophecy,” 159–60). 890 Philip Lavender has argued that Merlin’s infernal birth – his father was said to have been an incubus – was not mentioned in Merlínusspá in order to emphasize his religious authority (Lavender, “Merlin and the Vǫlva,” 123). However, the birth is mentioned in Breta sögur, the translation of the rest of the Historia regum Britanniae, and if Merlin was established as an authoritative enough prophet to be relevant to Icelandic readers, it seems doubtful that further care would be needed in dealing with his problematic background. On the other hand, Lavender’s suggestion, following Jochens, that the translation of Merlínusspá “sought to make use of the biblically influenced prophetic material therein to create a translation which would ‘domesticate [further the] pagan magic’ of the already syncretic Vǫluspá” (Lavender, “Merlin and the Vǫlva,” 121) does provide a useful argument for the intellectual discourse going on behind these poems, translations, treatises, and commentaries.


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itself can be seen as a deliberately obfuscating commentary on recent history, which makes use of the language of prophecy.891 Merlínusspá does not defend its own language, but rather defends the decision of the translator to continue to use the murky, symbolic language of its source. Augustine himself may have contributed to this creative, poetic attitude towards prophecy, as Westra argues: Ironically, here Augustine’s solution was to make an aesthetic virtue out of an apparent hermeneutic vice by calling obscurity figurative discourse and by elevating it to a principle of beauty. The obscurity of the biblical text becomes the source of its fecundity, its richness of meanings, and its beauty . . . In the hands of Augustine and his predecessors this type of interpretation becomes a creative activity that reconstitutes the biblical text cognitively, leaving the exegete quite rapturous in the process. As Marrou observes, the allegorical interpretation of the Bible is a form of poetry, i.e. an imaginative and creative activity. At the same time, this form of poetic exegesis of an authoritative but obscure text, yielding cognitive pleasure, is similar to the allegorical interpretation of Homer and Vergil: both are expressions of the same mentality. In actual practice, the separation of beautiful form from meaningful context was as impossible in poetry as in exegesis.892

This idea of poetic exegesis can be seen even more clearly in the verses of the 4GT translated from biblical sources. In imitating the symbols of their sources, while rendering them into a more complex poetic format, they seem to contradict Augustine’s mandates. Yet their contextualization in a grammatical treatise, juxtaposed to other types of Christian verse, as well as secular stanzas, suggests that the author and audience of these verses took pleasure from, and saw beauty in, obscurity. Likewise, as they propose a hermeneutic which can be applied to a diversity of texts, they see a shared type of joy in obscure language in both religious and secular material. Returning to native traditions of deliberately obfuscating language, a passage in the Snorra Edda hints at the traditions of secretive, riddling language that were also known to the audience of Merlínusspá and the 4GT. In Skáldskaparmál, after the story of Þjassi’s death and the settlement with Skaði, Bragi tells of how Þjassi’s father Ǫlvaldi gave each of his three sons their inheritance, by letting them take mouthfuls of gold in turn: “En þat hǫfum vér orðtak nú með oss at kalla gullit munntal þessa jǫtna, en vér felum í rúnum eða í skáldskap svá at vér kǫllum þat mál eða orðtak, tal þessa jǫtna.” Þá mælir Ægir: “Þat þykki mér vera vel fólgit í rúnum.”893

891 Ziolkowski, “The Nature of Prophecy,” 158–59. 892 Westra, “Augustine and Poetic Exegesis,” 21. 893 Snorri Sturluson, Skáldskaparmál 1, 3.

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(“And we now have this expression among us, to call gold the mouth-tale of these giants, and we conceal it in secret language or in poetry by calling it speech or words or talk of these giants.” Then spoke Ægir: “This seems to me a very good way to conceal it in secret language.”)894

Here the use of runes and the use of poetry are related in their function to conceal meaning through obscurity. Kennings themselves are explicitly said to be useful as a method of linguistic obfuscation. This is closely related to the latter’s role in prophecy. As Augustine argues, concealing meaning through obscurity creates a pleasurable reading experience, and inspires the reader to a more thorough understanding, while on a more implicit level it allows prophecy to function by giving it a range of potential interpretations, some of which are only accessible to the learned, the ideal audience of the text. The main ideological distinction, as Augustine argues, is that biblical and hagiographic prophecy is authorized by divinity, but as the example of Merlínusspá justifying its language through a comparison with the dreams of Daniel shows, that distinction could often be ignored. Another thirteenth-century wisdom poem, Sólarljóð, contains a reference which shows the secretive language of runes being linked with typological symbolism, and both to poetic interpretation. Near the end of the poem there is a dedication to the poet’s son, which suggests that the poem had been read – using the verb ráða, already noted as being related to runic interpretation – from a hart’s horn, a symbolic weapon of Christ. The next stanza describes runes, said to be carved by the daughters of Njǫrðr, which likely refer to runes carved on the horn that is presented in the narrative as the source of the poem.895 In Sólarljóð, then, there is a close link between cryptic or holy knowledge being contained in runes and the use of poetry – the extant poem itself – to interpret and express that knowledge. The highly Christian nature of the poem suggests the possibility that pre-Christian conceptions of runic knowledge and poetics are being mixed with grammatical ideas of allegorical interpretation, and the presentation of verse as a method of interpretation hints at a potential shared context with the prophetic verse translations in the 4GT. Both Christian and native secular traditions appear to have had ideologies related to the use of obfuscating language as a pragmatic device and a more

894 Snorri Sturluson, Edda, 61. It is important to keep in mind that Faulkes’s translation of the Edda, while authoritative and widely used, takes many liberties in interpreting particular words and phrases. Here he twice translates rúnar as “secret language,” and while this is not inaccurate, the more general translation of “runes” better communicates the wider significance of the passage. 895 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 353–54.


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ornamental one. Complex poetic language could help maintain a certain social or cultural elite, as well as conceal the meaning of insulting poetry, and the passage from Skáldskaparmál quoted above suggests a potentially wider interest in secretive language. At the same time, kennings are clearly highly ornamental in both skaldic and Eddic forms of ON verse. In the Christian tradition, Augustine points to the pleasure found in difficult interpretation, but also the pragmatic mnemonic and pedagogical advantages of difficult language. These ideas are also expressed in late medieval hagiography. In Grímr’s letter regarding Jóns saga baptista, discussed earlier, Grímr defends his use of language in fulfilling the task of composing a life of John the Baptist with glosur (glosses) from the great patristic authors like Gregory and Augustine: Hefr ek nu get . . . þo at ek vissa a minu uerki mvndu finnazt morg ok stor gǫrðar lyti. Truir ek at nockurum monnum syniz i mǫrgum stǫðum mǫrg orð yfer sett. þar sem fa standa fur. Gorða ek þvi svo. at þat var yðuart atkuæði at ek birta orð hans með glosum. i aɴan stað truða ek ef obóckfroðir menn heyrðu hans hin fǫgru blom ok hinar myrku figurur. at þeim mvndu þær a þa leið onytsamar. sem gimsteinar ero suínum. ok at betra væri. at lysa hans spasogur. ok skynsemder morgum manní til trubotar. helldr enn at siɴa heimskra manna þocka. þeirra sem allt þicker þat langt. er fra cristz kǫppum er sagt ok skemtaz framaʀ með skrǫksǫgur. J þriðia stað syndiz mer sa orskurðr her til heyra at miklum soma miklir luter. af þvi lét ek frammi allt þat er mer þotti af þessa dyra manz lofi her til heyriligt. ok þat sem ek truða vitrum monnum mvndu sogu bót i.896 (This I have now done . . . although I knew that many and large defects would be found in my work. I believe that to many men it might seem that in many places there are numerous words set over, where few are situated.897 I made this thus, because it was your command that I illuminate his words with glosses. In the second place, I believed if unlettered men heard his fair flowers and these murky figures, that they would [be] useless to them thus, in the same way as jewels are to swine, and that it would be better to illuminate his prophecies and reasonings to many men, for improvement of their faith, rather than to heed the taste of foolish men, those who think everything which is spoken about the champions of Christ tedious and prefer to amuse themselves with fables. In the third place, that judgment seems to me fitting here, that great things befit great [people]; because of this, I have set forth here all that which seemed to me proper praise concerning this noble man, and that which I believed would seem to wise men to improve the saga.)

This is on the surface primarily a defense of the length of the text, against critics whom Grímr sees as more interested in enjoying short fables. But that length comes from the careful glossing of fígúrur, presenting the text itself as almost a pedagogical work, an illumination of the complex symbols and language, the

896 DI II, 167 897 The sense seems to be that it might seem like too much glossing for too little actual text.

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


jewels before swine, that make up a properly written Life of John the Baptist. There is a comparable commentary regarding the Apocalypse from the fourteenth-century Tveggia Postola saga Jóns og Jacobs, which addresses a distinct but related aspect of this discourse: Þann hátt ok setning valdi guð verki fyrir munn Johannis, at Apocalipsis hefir i stauðum þungar figurur luktar ok læstar aan nǫckurri skyring, en sumstaþar standa þær sva sem glosaðar ok skilianliga skyrþar, hvat er eigi þarnaz haleita forseo sialfrar spekinnar. Til þess ero nǫckurar upploknar, at þær gefi lesanda manni val skilia, at allar luktar figurur krefia hann rannsaks ok rettrar skyringar. En fyrir þa sauk villdi drottinn sin stormerki undir myrkum figurum leynaz láta sva sem ilmanda kiarna, at goðr kristinn maðr helldi þau þij framarr i minni, sem hann fengi þeira skilning með heitari iðn ok meira erfiði, ok af annarri halfu leyndiz þau þvi sterkligarr fyrir illum manni, sem þau færi lægra ok væri lengra brott borin fra alþyðligu orðtaki.898 (God chose that manner and composition [for] the work, through the mouth of John, so that the Apocalypse has in places weighty signs, closed and locked without any explanation, but in some places they stand as if glossed and intelligibly explained, not requiring the sublime foresight of wisdom itself. For this purpose some are unlocked, so that they might allow a man reading to understand well that all locked figures demand of him investigation and correct elucidation. The Lord wished his great wonders to be concealed under obscure figures, like sweet-smelling kernels, for the reason that a good Christian man might hold them in memory all the more, because he grasped their meaning with more ardent diligence and greater labor, and on the other hand they are concealed the more strongly against an evil man, as they go lower and are brought further away from common speech.)899

As in the passage of the Snorra Edda, here highly symbolic language is a means of deliberate concealment, though a concealment mandated by God. At the same time, obscure figures act as a mnemonic device in Tveggia Postola saga, and the work required to understand them aids the reader’s understanding, even as it conceals important knowledge from evil men. The saga also hints at the tension between figurative language and the glossing language used to explain it, which links it to Jóns saga baptista. On the one hand, there is the divinely inspired complex language put in the mouth of John himself, also seen as beautiful, in part because it was variable in meaning and brought something new with each reading, even though the very variability which makes it aesthetically appealing

898 Postola sögur, 612–13. 899 The metaphor here is essentially that, under the veil of figurative language, the “great wonders” are “keeping a low profile” and staying away from normal language, and thus are protected from the evil men.


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makes it problematic.900 On the other hand there is the complex, elite language of the commentary and grammatical interpretation incorporated into the text, intended to allow common and unlettered readers to understand the figurative and prophetic parts of the text. In the 3GT it is made explicit at points that its metalanguage is a high register of language, apart from the common speech,901 yet here the complexities of vernacular grammatica are no longer an element of narrow intellectual discourse, but the very means by which elite discourses and language are made accessible to wider audiences. Each of these texts reflects a fairly particular context for this discourse about complex language and its interpretation. The composition of the Snorra Edda by Snorri Sturluson and the 3GT by his nephew Óláfr Þorðarson certainly may indicate a close relationship between their family and poetic pedagogies. Likewise, for the monastery of Þingeyrar at the end of the twelfth century, Haki Antonsson has suggested a connection between syncretic modes of interpretation and identity.902 However, by discussing all these sources together, it has been shown that these particular contexts were part of a shared intellectual culture. Taken together, the comments referenced here on complex and symbolic language show a highly active discourse functioning throughout the Middle Ages in Iceland. Much of this exegetical discourse developed around prophetic and biblical interpretation, native poetics, and Latin traditions of grammatica

900 This contrasts to the 1GT, where variable meaning in law texts is exactly what its orthographic model is intended to avoid; here the variability is valorized, pleasant, yet made accessible and useful through commentary. It is also significant that this is an observation about fundamental meaning, rather than ornamentation. The distinction can also be seen in Lilja and in the 3GT. Complex language in Lilja is distinguished from normative language in rhetorical terms, a differentiation between poetic ornament and clear communication. In the trope section of the 3GT, however, the distinction is philosophical and semantic, a differentiation between normative and non-normative meaning, not between ornamented and unornamented content. 901 As in the MG: “Sǫgn er hinn minsti hlutr samsetts máls ok hon er kǫllut einn hlutr af því máli, er fullkomið sen hefir. En sú sǫgn eða sá hlutr er af alþýðu kallaðr orð” (The word is the smallest part of connected speech, and it is called the only part of that speech which has complete meaning. But that word or that thing is called orð by the common people) (Óláfr Þórðarson, “The Foundation of Grammar,” 98–99). While I present Wills’s translation of hlutr here in its most generic sense as “thing,” it seems much more likely that in this passage hlutr is being used in the sense of “part,” as in a part of speech. 902 “Clearly then, for the Þingeyrar monks and their associates the application of Christian learning, especially biblical typology and symbolic thought, was not an intellectual game. Rather, it was an essential tool in the engagement of this small community of men with the native tradition, as well as a means of defining their own identity in Icelandic society around the turn of the twelfth century” (Haki Antonsson, “Salvation and Early Saga Writing,” 130).

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and rhetorica. Yet in wider use it certainly influenced and was influenced by reading practices in other genres, and in wider discourses.903 Likewise, this chapter has shown that conflicting ideologies could coexist in the same discourse, at the same time, and thereby that care should be taken in making assumptions about large, prevailing shifts in linguistic attitudes over the course of the Middle Ages in Iceland.904 Figurative language is a core issue of medieval hermeneutics, and the textual analysis of the 3GT, 4GT, the Snorra Edda, and other texts is only a formal approach to understanding the much wider practice of composing and interpreting language that is complex, problematic, and multi-layered. Looking at commentaries incorporated into literary compositions like Merlínusspá and Jóns saga Baptista shows how medieval grammarians and intellectuals associated many aspects of reading through complex, symbolic language, whether the complexity pertains to mythological reference, metaphor, typological interpretation, prophecy, or simply mistakes or mild alterations of morphology or syntax. The various meanings and contexts of a term like fígúra in themselves indicate the wide contextualization and influence of different ideologies of linguistic complexity. The idea of vernacular grammatica represents a broad and connected discourse about interpretation, one fundamentally linked to pedagogy and formal education. 903 Þórir Óskarsson has hinted at this relationship between the florid style and the complexities of ON poetics: “Extended poetic images and similes are also common; some are reminiscent of the complex kennings of dróttkvætt verse. These are often intended to illustrate abstract phenomena, for instance virtues and vices, though people are also frequently described in terms of imagery” (Þórir Óskarsson, “Rhetoric and Style,” 369–70). Moreover, while religious allegory, prophecy, and kennings may seem like very distinct topics, Irvine has discussed how in medieval semiotics allegorical interpretation could provide a method and framework for all other forms of interpretation (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 249–50). 904 For example, the argument about the shift in poetic and linguistic ideology represented by Lilja has often been overemphasized. As Guðrun Nordal, for example, has argued: “The most powerful dissenting voice was that of Eysteinn Ásgrímsson . . . who dissociated his poem Lilja from the regulation of Edda . . . and thereby brought to an end a 500-year-long tradition of skaldic verse-making” (Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 211). This seems at least something of an exaggeration, both because of the complex discourse Lilja was a part of, and because the Edda was not written until the thirteenth century and there is no way to know how significant, universal, or cohesive its prescriptions were before that. Males also sees a fundamental shift in attitudes towards vernacular linguistic authority in the fourteenth and fifteenth century (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 301) and characterizes the ideal of claritas and the reaction of Lilja against the Edda as an innovation of the fourteenth century (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 295, note 109). However, he has also more recently emphasized that the ideals of Lilja did not totally win out over the Edda in Icelandic poetic discourse, and moreover that such critiques were more concerned with religious poetry and devotion than with poetics more generally (Males, The Poetic Genesis, 296).


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

Simple Language and Interpretation Where the pleasures and difficulties of interpreting different types of complex language link the various textual practices involved in vernacular grammatica, the ideologies relating to simple language and its interpretation provide a contrasting body of connections. The unifying idea here is that of claritas (clarity), which could represent several different aspects of textual and verbal communication. As discussed above, there was an established philosophical and theological opposition to obfuscating language in the Middle Ages. This often overlapped with rhetorical ideals of simple language which could be widely understood, and thus bring important messages to a wider audience. In this way claritas intersected with the use of the vernacular, rather than Latin, as a medium of communication. At the same time, simple language could be understood as a more normative register, language that could be interpreted literally without the need for an education in more difficult forms of interpretation. This idea of a common register of speech for normal, unlearned people could, like fígúra, link many discourses of simple language. The concept of common people or common language could have different significance in different contexts, but often relates to the ideal of claritas. In the most general use of this ideology, we can point to the role of the vernacular itself in bringing claritas to rhetorical and liturgical situations. In chapter 3, a passage was quoted from Lárentíus saga wherein Lárentíus chastises Jón, bishop of Skálholt, for giving a speech in Latin which could not be understood by the common people. Within the saga, this relates to Lárentíus’s own career in Norway, where his ability to speak Norse allowed him to help the archbishop in an ecclesiastical conflict. There is a related sentiment at the beginning of the Icelandic Homily Book, where the clarity of the vernacular is tied into the usual clerical modesty topos: Nú þó að vér séim mjög vanbúnir til hvorrar, sem vér fremjum, guðsþjónustu, þeirra er nú hefi eg til tíndar, þá verður þó að hvoru yður það allra auðsýnst, hve mjög vér erum vanbúnir við því, er vér skulum Guði þjóna á þá tungu og á þá mállýsku, er ér kunnuð jamt skilja og um að mæla sem vér. Þurfum vér fyr því of þann hlut einkum mest yðvarrar vorkunnar og þess, að ér færið þau orð áleiðis, er vér vildum mæla til þurftar öllum oss, þó að ér finnið á því sanna málstaði, að eigi sé öllu málinu orðfimlega farið eða skörulega.905 (Now although we are quite unprepared for either of the divine services which we practice, which now have been recounted, it will nonetheless become as clear as possible to each of

905 Íslendsk hómilíubók, 3.

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


you how very unprepared we are for that time when we shall pay homage to God in that tongue and idiom which you can understand and speak as well as we do. Thus we need most of all that share of your pity in regard to this, and that you help steer those words in the direction that we wished to speak, for the benefit of us all, although you may think it a true example of the fact that not all speech is spoken eloquently or notably.)

This juxtaposition of the necessity for clear communication with the disparagement of rhetorical ability closely resembles the ideology in the fourteenthcentury poetry discussed above, particularly Guðmundarkvæði, where there is more self-deprecation than criticism of florid language. But it relates to Lilja as well, in that the simpler language – here the vernacular – is associated with necessity, with pragmatism, and with wide understanding. These fourteenth-century poems are, moreover, the clearest and most rhetorically charged evidence for the ideal of claritas, and particularly its expression in poetry. They combine a modesty topos and a critique of complex language identified with the Snorra Edda to authorize their own writings, in particular idealizing the clear communication of their ideas. They argue that it is the substance, rather than the form, of the poem that the language should serve. As Lilja verse 97 and 98 argues: 97. Veri kátar nú, virða sveitir; vætti þess, í kvæðis hætti, várkunni, að verka þenna vanda eg minnr, en þætti standa. Varðar mest, að allra orða undirstaðan sie riettlig fundin, eigi glögg þó að eddu regla undan hljóti að víkja stundum. (Hosts of men, be glad now; I expect this, that they will excuse, that I execute this poem less well in poetic form than it would seem to merit. It is of great importance that the right meaning of all words be found, even though the obscuring rule of the Edda must at times give way.) 98. Sá, er óðinn skal vandan velja, velr svá mörg í kvæði að selja hulin fornyrðin; trautt má telja; tel eg þenna svá skilning dvelja. Vel því að hier má skýr orð skilja, skili þjóðir minn ljósan vilja; tal óbreytiligt veitt að vilja; vil eg, að kvæðið heiti Lilja.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

(He who must execute the elaborate poem chooses to put into the verse so many obscure archaisms one can hardly count them; I say that he thus impedes understanding. Because one here can understand clear words well, let people understand my transparent intent, this ordinary speech given freely; I desire that the poem be called “Lilja.”)906

The idealization of perfect textual communication hearkens back to the ideology of the 1GT, a different perspective on the same issue. In Guðmundardrápa, on the other hand, the emphasis is wholly aesthetic, and it is only implicit that plain language improves understanding: 77. Líttu mildr á ljóða háttu ljósa, þá er ek hefi glósat, drottins vin, þó at dul sé þetta djarflig mín, af heiðri þínum; mildur vartu fyrr á foldu, furðu mætr í lítillæti, vel þiggjandi sæmd at seggjum, svá mun enn um verka þenna.907 (Look mildly on the plain manner of verse, friend of the Lord, which I have explained, on account of your honour, though my self-conceit might be bold; you were mild before on earth, wonderfully excellent in humility, accepting honor fully from men, thus let it also be with this work.) 78. Yfirmeisturum mun Eddu listar allstirður sjá hróður virðaz þeim er vilja svá grafa ok geyma grein klókasta fræðibóka; lofi heilagra líz mér hæfa ljós ritninga sætra vitni, en kenningar auka mǫnnum engan styrk en fagnað myrkva.908 (This encomium will seem very stiff to the headmasters of the art of the Edda, to those who wish to seek out and heed the understanding of the most clever books of knowledge; clear praise of holy writings seems to me more suitable, sweeter witness, and kennings add no help for men, but darken joy.)

In discussing the Edda, Guðmundardrápa acknowledges that many readers and listeners find obscurity itself pleasant. Guðmundarkvæði, as already noted, does

906 Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages Vol. 7, 672–73. 907 Den Norsk-Islandske Skaldedigtning B, 460. 908 Den Norsk-Islandske Skaldedigtning B, 461.

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


not critique the Edda, but rather simply uses the idea of its reglar (rules) to emphasize its own modesty topos even more than Guðmundardrápa and Lilja: 2. Rædda ek lítt við reglur Eddu ráðin mín, ok kvað ek sem bráðast vísur þær, er vil ek ei hrósa, verkin erat sjá mjúkr í kverkum; stirða hefir ek ár til orða, ekki má af slíku þekkjaz, arnar leir hefig yðr at færa, emka ek fróðr hjá skáldum góðum.909 (I spoke my wisdom little with the rules of the Edda, and I spoke these verses as soon as possible, which I do not wish to praise, the work is not so supple in the throat; I have a stiff oar for words [tongue], [one] may not be pleased by such, eagle’s mud [bad poetry] I have brought to you, I am not learned compared to good skalds.)

All three of these poems use the Edda in this same way, speaking of the authority and esteem in which the Edda is held and emphasizing the complexity of the discourse about language use. They seem to be speaking to an audience who would find their simpler language authoritative, while emphasizing that in another context, with another audience, the rule of the Edda would be the greater authority. The ambiguities of Guðmundarkvæði and Guðmundardrápa suggest that these audiences often overlapped, and that the relative authority of simple and complex language must often have depended on the subject matter and intended functions of each individual poem. Lilja itself is a well-studied poem, and Peter Foote’s seminal 1984 article on it made several key arguments and observations that point to the complexity of discourse behind simple language. Foote shows that a number of stanzas of Lilja are clearly translations based on passages of Geoffrey of Vinsauf’s Poetria nova, making those stanzas part of the very small corpus of known ON poetic translations.910 Foote links the ideology of the commentary at the end of Lilja to fairly common reactions of Christian scholars against obscure language, citing Augustine, Geoffrey of Vinsauf, and William of Conches, and providing a possible direct link between Geoffrey and Lilja’s direct comment on obscure language.911 Finally, by comparing late religious poetry with the popular poetic

909 Den Norsk-Islandske Skaldedigtning B, 372. 910 Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 259–64. 911 Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 266–68.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

genre of rímur, and continuing his discussion into seventeenth-century poetics, Foote hints at the complexity of the dynamic between linguistic ideals.912 The relevance of Augustine to this ideology of claritas and at the same time to the issues of typological and prophetic interpretation in Merlínusspá is strong evidence that the ideologies of Lilja were relevant to vernacular ON textual culture well before the fourteenth century. From c. 1200, both the Icelandic Homily Book and Merlínusspá provide evidence for this earlier conflict between clarity and obscurity. In more general terms, it has been argued that a tripartite division of high, middle, and low styles in Latin rhetorica may have been influential in Iceland, and some scholars have argued that these styles were directly translated into the vernacular, with lágr málsháttr being the translation of sermo humilis, the plain style. Old Norse religious authors, in turn, would have been aware of these divisions.913 In characterizing this sermo humilis, Þórir Óskarsson has said: “In general, this style is ordinary and uses little ornament; the message was regarded as so beautiful and sublime that it needed no linguistic ornamentation.”914 This mirrors the sentiment of Guðmundardrápa verse 78 that not only the functional clarity of plain language, but also the aesthetic of it was appealing. Clunies Ross has argued along these lines that the sermo humilis must have had a strong influence on the commentary in Lilja and the other poems, but at the same time she acknowledges that Geisli and other twelfth-century poems also seem to avoid obscure and riddling styles of poetics.915 In the context of discussing and defining vernacular grammatica, however, the ON discourse around simple language must be appreciated as being more complex than a simple translation of sermo humilis. Every piece of vernacular literature, every vernacular homily and speech would make itself felt in the development of ideologies and pragmatic considerations around simple language. There is an intellectual discourse behind these poems, among poets, clerics, and in pedagogical settings, and the extant texts do not represent the entire discourse.916

912 Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 268–70. 913 Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar, 174. 914 Þórir Óskarsson, “Rhetoric and Style,” 358. 915 Clunies Ross, A History, 231. 916 Foote focuses on the idea that Lilja, as a superior poem, was more influential as an exponent of linguistic ideology than Guðmundarkvæði and Guðmundardrápa (Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 265, note 42). While it may have made more impact as a poem, this focus on the literary side ignores the fact that these linguistic ideologies reflect a wider discourse, which includes circumstances of education and oral culture.

Development of Interpretation in Vernacular Grammatica


The audience and contexts of claritas affect how appeals to it should be understood. In the Icelandic Homily Book passage above, the use of the vernacular as a simpler form of language is offered for wider understanding. In Tveggia Postola saga Jóns og Jacobs, common speech appears to be deprecated as the domain of evil men, who must be brought away from it in their learning of virtue. In Jóns saga baptista, in contrast, the lengthy incorporated commentary is presented in the author Grímr’s letter both as a form of complex language and a necessity for teaching common, unlearned people. Lilja seems the most rhetorical and potentially deceptive in its appeal to claritas. For all its lack of kennings, Lilja is still written in dróttkvætt and is not a simple poem. The very fact that it contains one of the few instances of exegetical commentary in verse suggests a highly learned, elite audience, the sort of audience that would have known and used complex fígúrur. Here claritas is, at least in part, a rhetorical affectation used to gain authority from an established ideological tradition. All of the examples discussed so far might appear to be a step away from the vernacular grammatica represented by the grammatical treatises, but there is no doubt that they are part of a shared discourse. As the previous section noted, the 4GT contains its own warning against the use of obscure language for its own sake. Likewise, claritas is not unrelated to the poetic treatises, in their interest in tropes and fígúrur. John of Salisbury’s very qualified introduction to the figures of speech in his 1159 Metalogicon is a useful example of the relevance of claritas to the fígúrur.917 Here perspicuitas et facilitas intelligendi

917 “Disponit et tropos id est modos locutionum, ut cum a propria significatione ex causa probabili sermo ad non propriam trahitur significationem . . . Sed et hi ad modum scematum priuilegiati sunt, et solis eruditissimis patet usus eorum. Vnde et lex eorum artior est, qua non permittuntur longius euagari. Regulariter enim proditum est, quia figuras extendere non licet. Siquis etiam in translationibus et figuris auctorum studiosus imitator est, caueat ne sit dura translatio, ne figura inculta. Virtus enim sermonis optima est perspicuitas et facilitas intelligendi, et scematum causa est, necessitas aut ornatus. Nam sermo institutus est ut explicet intellectum, et figurae admissae ut quod in eis ab arte dissidet, aliqua commoditate compensent” (John of Salisbury, Metalogicon., 44–45) (Grammar also regulates the use of tropes, special forms of speech whereby, for sufficient cause, speech is used in a transferred sense that differs from its own proper meaning . . . The employment of tropes, just as the use of schemata, is the exclusive privilege of the very learned. The rules governing tropes are also very strict, so that latitude in which they may be used is definitely limited. For the rules teach that we may not extend figures. One who is studiously imitating the authors by using metaphors and figures must take care to avoid crude figures that are hard to interpret. What is primarily desirable in language is lucid clarity and easy comprehensibility. Therefore schemata should be used only out of necessity or for ornamentation. Speech was invented as a means of communicating mental concepts; and figures [of speech] are admitted by their utility for whatever they lack in conformity to the [rules of the grammatical] art) (Medieval Grammar, 499). As


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

(transparency and ease of understanding) are at the center of the balance required to produce good, authoritative language. Communicating ideas that can be readily understood is seen as the most important part of writing. Allowance is made for ornamentation, and the use of tropes and metaphors in very elite discourse, but it is clear that the use of fígúrur is the ideological opposite to claritas, and that they function together in grammatica only with significant tension. It is unsurprising, then, that this tension would be translated into vernacular discourse. John’s comments also show how this tension is closely linked to the interplay between inherited ideology and practical function. As with the 1GT, no aspect of linguistic authority can be said to be purely functional or purely ideological, and both elements of authority are highly dependent on context. In sermons and homilies both the long tradition of claritas and the needs of an uneducated audience could call for simple language; for the same reason, as John hints, texts written for students and those early in their education could also necessitate simpler language.918 The Metalogicon text also points to a more theoretical link between the ideology of claritas and the complex language discussed in the grammatical treatises and elsewhere. Mirroring the first line of the Metalogicon passage, the M describes how all of the tropes, including such basic ideas as metaphor and metonymy, are in themselves óeiginligr (improper), even though often used in skaldic poetry.919 The language is not incorrect, or lacking in authority, but it is a deviation from its literal meaning, and thus a deviation from claritas. As Augustine’s comments in De Doctrina show, the tension between the joy of interpreting complex language and the ideal of claritas was not new to vernacular grammatica or the fourteenth century, but was inherent in the Latin tradition itself, and only further complicated by its incorporation into ON discourse. Taken in a broad sense, vernacular grammatica consists of the discourses and ideologies around the creation of a normative, authoritative ON language, and the interpretation of texts in ON. Normative, simple, and complex language are different ideals within it, but are not always entirely contrasting. Learning

Copeland and Sluiter note, the line mentioning “clarity” is reflective of a line in Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, emphasizing that many ideas in grammatica and rhetorica are so ubiquitous that specific sources are often not important. 918 See the elementary teaching texts translated in Ten Latin Schooltexts. It is likely no coincidence that the Disticha Catonis are translated into very straightforward language in Hugsvinnsmál. 919 The contrast of eiginligr (proper) and óeiginligr (improper) form is based on a single line in the introduction to the tropes in the Barbarismus (Grammatici Latini, Vol. 4, 399). For more work on the proper/improper distinction in ON, see Clunies Ross, Skáldskaparmál, 29–38.

Teaching vernacular Grammatica


how to interpret complex language is key to understanding, and effective glossing, as in Jóns saga baptista, can create claritas even within a highly figurative, symbolic text. Thus, even as Lilja critiques the Snorra Edda as the representation of rules of poetics that encourage archaic diction and complex kennings, the Snorra Edda is itself a normalization, standardization, and regulation of the wider oral discourse, and thus can be said to have brought some claritas to ON poetics. Linguistic authority based on the relative simplicity or complexity of language was also highly dependent on context, and medieval Iceland inherited an active and fluid dynamic of linguistic ideals. Education and grammatica were means of authorizing texts, as well as categories of language use, and the nature of the authority they granted was thus also dependent on context. The bilingual intellectual life of Iceland further complicates the situation, where both new and established modes of vernacular authority interacted with Latin modes. Monastic reading might have had one set of norms and ideals, while Lárentíus reciting a speech to an audience of mixed education might have had another. Commentary on a highly symbolic or typological religious translation must engage with complexity in a certain way, similar yet distinct from more secular prophetic verse like Merlínusspá, and even more distinct from the mixture of praise poetry and salvation history in Lilja. All of these contexts, however, in some way derive from educational practices.

Teaching vernacular Grammatica This chapter has shown how ON vernacular grammatica developed, and some key aspects of how it functioned to interpret and normalize ON literature and textual culture. It remains to be seen, however, how vernacular grammatica might have fit into the educational contexts discussed in the first two chapters. The role of vernacular grammatica in Icelandic pedagogies must have changed over the course of the Middle Ages, as the discipline itself and the culture around it developed. Elementary aspects of it may have been more widely influential, while certain components were likely to have been more useful in clerical rather than lay learning. The wide significance of poetry to medieval Icelandic society might suggest that that aspect of the discipline was widely learned, yet at the same time oral pedagogies may have still dominated the wider learning of poetry. Finally, some features of the relationship between vernacular and Latin grammatica can be suggested, based on the extant evidence and the necessities of clerical culture.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

The Pedagogical Functions of Vernacular Grammatica and of Latin Grammatica It has been a basic premise of this study that, while they interacted both directly and through bilingual learning, vernacular grammatica was functionally distinct from Latin grammatica. The learning of Latin was a highly complex and difficult process, and involved teaching correct poetics, often through classical texts, difficult metalanguage through the artes grammaticae, and scriptural language and interpretation. The types of texts involved in teaching Latin had variable functions, as Reynolds describes: Whereas the study of the Scriptures is an end in itself and requires no further justification, the study of the auctores is fundamentally ancillary; it has what might be termed instrumental status. It is done with a certain end in view – achieving literacy – and is important in so far as it helps to achieve that end.920

This describes both a useful similarity between the vernacular and Latin versions of the discipline, as well as an important difference. In a very particular context, including the one in which 4GT was probably composed, skaldic poetry might have been understood as a useful ancillary to the study of vernacular religious texts. The dynamic would not be quite the same as with Latin grammatica, as ON poetry likely did not have quite the same status as classical poetry in preserving an older, arguably more authoritative, version of a language. But it could have had a similar role in providing more entertaining, memorable texts to help students learn difficult interpretative and linguistic concepts. The pedagogical use of Ars amatoria, a text that has risqué material but that thus could be depended upon to convince students to learn their Latin, might be comparable. However, the Snorra Edda and 3GT present themselves as written primarily for the study of skaldic poetry, whose texts are thus the main subject texts, and not ancillary. One particular passage in Skáldskaparmál appears to most clearly present its pedagogical role, centered around the problems of obscure language and pagan references: En þetta er nú at segja ungum skáldum þeim er girnask at nema mál skáldskapar ok heyja sér orðfjǫlða með fornum heitum eða girnask þeir at kunna skilja þat er hulit er kveðit: þá skili hann þessa bók til fróðleiks ok skemtunar. En ekki er at gleyma eða ósanna svá þessar sǫgur at taka ór skáldskapinum fornar kenningar þær er hǫfuðskáld hafa sér líka látit.921

920 Reynolds, Medieval Reading, 12. 921 Snorri Sturluson, Skáldskaparmál 1, 5.

Teaching vernacular Grammatica


(But these things have now to be told to young poets who desire to learn the language of poetry and to furnish themselves with a wide vocabulary using traditional terms; or else they desire to be able to understand what is expressed obscurely. Then let such a one take this book as scholarly inquiry and entertainment. But these stories are not to be consigned to oblivion or demonstrated to be false, so as to deprive poetry of ancient kennings which major poets have been happy to use.)922

Here the treatise is entirely oriented towards young poets, though what young poets would be interested in learning textually rather than orally is unclear. This can be contrasted with the prologue of the fourteenth-century Codex Wormianus, where all four grammatical treatises appear, which directs its learning to new skalds and learned men, but above all to clerics.923 Even there, however, there is no indication of the use of poetry for other types of learning: poetic interpretation and composition are the prime goals. Calling attention to these distinctions is important, as the main scholarship that has addressed the role of the ON grammatical treatises in education overlooks the important differences between the disciplines. Guðrún Nordal in Tools of Literacy in 2001 argued more than any previous scholar for the importance of skaldic verse in Icelandic education. She maintains that the use of classical Latin pagan poets in grammatica provided a model for Icelandic authors to adapt skaldic verse into their own vernacular treatises. On this model, by the twelfth century Icelanders were teaching poetry both inside as well as outside schools.924 She further speculates that one of the purposes of the 1GT was to meet a need for “exact rules of orthography and phonology to secure a faithful presentation of the verse in the Latin alphabet.”925 Through the association shown between skaldic poetry and grammatica in the Icelandic treatises, she argues, those who received a clerical education were taught skaldic poetry as a part of grammatica from the middle of the twelfth century onwards. The layout and other codicological features of the Snorra Edda, she suggests, point to its use as a school text, and the changes made to the extant versions of the text point to its continued use through the fourteenth century.926 While some of these observations are useful and important, the overall picture Nordal paints is unlikely. Skaldic poetry could not play the same role in

922 923 924 925 926

Snorri Sturluson, Edda, 64. Den Tredje og Fjærde, 152–55. Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 22–23. Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 26. Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 36–37, 68–69.


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Latin grammatica as Latin poetry,927 and even within vernacular grammatica its role was likely very often different. In Iceland, as elsewhere, a clerical education was still oriented around the difficult process of learning Latin, as well as other pragmatic clerical skills like song and computus, none of which skaldic poetry could assist in.928 That is not to say that clerics would not have learned skaldic poetry, but simply that it would not have served the same needs as Latin poetry, and so was unlikely to have been a priority in teaching young students. Adults continued to learn, however, particularly in monastic contexts, and there are no reasons why the grammatical treatises and compilations like the Codex Wormianus would not have been involved in private or more informal study. The other issue with existing scholarship on ON vernacular grammatica is the tendency to orient all vernacular grammatical learning around the study of skaldic poetry. This chapter has shown how the discipline is better understood in much broader terms. Nordal has argued that the discussions of phonetics and orthography in the 1GT and 2GT make the most sense in the context of poetic composition and exegesis, and that the entirety of Old Norse vernacular grammatica arose from and revolved around the study and creation of poetry.929 If we view these treatises only in terms of their compilation with the Snorra Edda and the 3GT, then they might appear to be primarily concerned with poetry. However, the wider intent of the 1GT is quite explicit: Nú um þann mann, er ríta vill eða nema at váru máli ritit, annat tveggja helgar þýðingar eða lǫg eða áttvísi eða svá hverigi er maðr vill skynsamliga nytsemi á bók nema eða kenna, enda sé hann svá lítillátr í fróðleiksástinni, at hann vili nema lítla skynsemi heldr en engva, þá er á meðal verðr innar meiri, þá lesi hann þetta kápítúlum vandliga, ok bœti, sem í mǫrgum stǫðum mun þurfa, ok meti viðleitni mína en várkynni ókœnsku, hafi stafróf þetta, er hér er áðr ritit, unz hann fær þat, er honum líkar betr.

927 This is not only a problem with Nordal’s work, cf. Santini’s suggestion that the 3GT “seems to have played an equivalent role in Icelandic culture to that of Bede’s De schematibus et tropis in Anglo-Saxon culture” (Santini, “Kenningar Donati,” 38), ignoring the importance of the linguistic difference, or implicitly suggesting that Old Norse played the same role in Iceland as Latin did in Anglo-Saxon England. 928 Males has noted this distinction between the Latin grammatica described in the narrative sources and the vernacular focus of the grammatical treatises, and argues against the use of the vernacular grammatical treatises in the classroom, contextualizing them rather in leisure reading or the mandated private reading of Benedictine monasteries (Males, “Applied Grammatica,” 296). 929 Guðrún Nordal, Tools of Literacy, 13, 26, 40 for key remarks. See also Guðrún Nordal, “Metrical Learning.”

Teaching vernacular Grammatica


(Now any man who wishes to write or to learn that which is written in our language, whether it be sacred writings or laws or genealogies or whatever useful knowledge a man would learn or teach from books if he is humble enough in his love of learning so that he will rather gain a little insight than none until there is a chance for more – then let him read this treatise with care, and improve it, as it no doubt needs in many places, let him value my efforts and excuse my ignorance, and let him use the alphabet which has already been written here, until he gets one that he likes better.)930

Latin grammatica, while it made use of poetry as a tool, was not entirely oriented around poetry as its subject matter, and there is no reason to suggest that vernacular grammatica was limited in such a way. For clerics and clerical students who would be learning Latin grammatica, what role could vernacular grammatica then play? In terms of poetics, it could provide a model for the application of their Latin learning to vernacular texts, which could be important for various reasons. As already mentioned, Ælfric provides a model in his arguments about why his own grammatical work was important for safely interpreting vernacular homilies in England. His concern, however, was for those not fully trained in Latin grammatica, who were not capable of properly interpreting the many levels of Scripture and theological writing. His pedagogy allowed that there were Anglo-Saxon clerics insufficiently trained in Latin grammatica who would yet be reading, and presumably delivering, homiletic texts. This is a useful model for Iceland. It is certain that there were many levels of partial Latin literacy, and many clerics who functioned at various levels of incomplete education. Vernacular grammatica, and above all the tools for the interpretation of complex and figurative language, could have filled a pedagogical niche. Both for students needing to complete their education more quickly, owing to lack of funds or some other reason, or priests needing to fill gaps in their education, vernacular grammatica could be very expedient. If some poetic knowledge was widespread, and such a priest or student had already had some amount of oral poetic education, a text like the 3GT or the 4GT might have been useful for their purposes. At the same time, the language of the commentary of Tveggia Postola saga Jóns og Jacobs may suggest a pedagogical role for such a text, emphasizing the rewards of putting more work into reading and investigating a text. Such rhetoric seems ideally targeted to a student or undereducated priest. Learning vernacular grammatica through and alongside religious writings like the sagas of apostles, or more pedagogically oriented religious texts like the ON translation of the Elucidarius, could even have fulfilled a function in the 930 First Grammatical Treatise: The Earliest Germanic Phonology, 32–33.


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formal education of young clerical students, to give them an opportunity to learn and interpret important theological ideas and hagiographic narratives before they had sufficiently mastered their Latin. In such a role, then, vernacular grammatica and the ON grammatical treatises might even have had a place in the curriculum of the cathedral schools and monasteries. It should also be kept in mind that, just as the poetic treatises suggest that they could assist in the composition as well as the interpretation of poetry, it is possible that vernacular grammatica was a tool in clerical composition and translation. Certainly religious poetry, but also religious homiletic writing could have been supported by more easily comprehensible instruction on figures and faults of speech. In this sense, skaldic poetry would fulfill a role within vernacular grammatica similar to that of classical poetry in Latin grammatica, where the very complexity and figurative nature of the language makes it a suitable pedagogical text. If such a pedagogical function was a precedent, it might explain in part the practice in the 4GT of commentary on skaldic translations of biblical passages, rather than directly on the biblical passages themselves. Translation was an essential part of clerical education in Iceland,931 as it was elsewhere in northwestern Europe where Celtic and Germanic languages were spoken, and this almost certainly affected the pedagogical role of vernacular grammatica. Grotans has even argued that in these regions translatio should be considered one of the core elements of grammatical learning.932 In much the same way translatio seems at the same time to have been a core component of vernacular grammatica, which taught about the Old Norse language and certain parts of its literary corpus.

Teaching Vernacular Grammatica to the Laity Icelandic lay education did not, as in many places in Europe, develop by means of secular, urban schools, supporting the rise of bureaucracy and a large administrative textual culture. The population was small and scattered, and comparable educational institutions did not develop until after the Reformation. Rather, while it gradually became more textualized, lay education probably did

931 Clunies Ross, A History, 119. 932 “In order to understand a text, to read it correctly, interpret it, correct it, and exercise criticism on it, one first had to understand what the words said. One way to achieve this was to resort to the vernacular. Depending upon how it was applied, translatio could function as a part of each of the four traditional categories, as an individual branch, or even as the object of grammatica.” (Grotans, Reading, 26).

Teaching vernacular Grammatica


not look all that different in fifteenth-century Iceland than it had in the twelfth century. Wealthy families could make use of their own household resources, or the tutelage of clergy that they had access to, whether a cleric within the family or the priest of the local church. This could likely still happen even in the later period, through some sort of fosterage arrangement, or through more shortterm lessons, perhaps a quick crash course in ABCs and vernacular literacy over the course of a winter. There were doubtless also those who began a clerical education, but did not complete it or obtain an ordination. To a large extent, this lay education may not have been that different from clerical education, particularly at the elementary level, before more serious Latin education began. Chapter 1 discussed the limited evidence available for how education might have looked in Iceland before Christianization, and how distinctly secular forms of education might have continued to be practiced. However, without evidence for secular schools, it is impossible to say exactly when or how consistently earlier forms of oral education were replaced or extensively supplemented by textual education targeted specifically towards laypeople. However, the composition of the Snorra Edda by a layperson, presumably at least in part for a lay audience, suggests that the thirteenth century saw at least some lay written education in poetics. The scope and significance of this new pedagogical context has evoked widely different reactions from scholars. Some have characterized the thirteenth century as bringing poetic learning entirely into a classroom context.933 Others, in contrast, have argued that teaching and learning about the Icelandic language and other vernacular topics were informal, possibly optional, and have associated them with the farms of Oddi and Haukadalr in particular.934 This identification of Oddi and Haukadalr with the teaching of native tradition is based on the texts produced by the priests educated there – Ari’s Íslendingabók at Haukadalr and Sæmundr’s lost Latin history of Norwegian kings at Oddi – and the fact that Snorri Sturluson, who produced poetry, compiled the Snorra Edda, and composed a highly debated corpus of sagas, was fostered at Oddi. Snorri’s career as a Lawspeaker, his historiographic writing, and his poetic learning all suggest that during his fosterage he learned from a number of the forms of oral learning discussed in chapter 1. The fact that clerics like Bishop Þorlákr were also educated at Oddi makes it tempting to suggest that secular and clerical forms of learning interacted there and created more textualized forms of secular learning. Some

933 See Quinn, “Eddu List.” 934 Würth, Der ‘Antikenroman’, 197–98, following Halldór Hermannsson, Sæmund Sigfússon, 30.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

interaction and influence doubtless occurred; however, it is quite possible that secular education at Oddi remained entirely or mostly oral.935 The main evidence that exists for Snorri having a textual, rather than a largely oral, education is that the Snorra Edda suggests not only the ability to read and write, but some grammatical learning as well.936 It is not clear, however, to what extent this is entirely attributable to Snorri, and what might have come from scribes or clerical assistants in the composition and transmission of the text. The existence of chieftain-priests might have had some influence on this unusual situation. On the one hand, there is almost no evidence for chieftains who were ordained as priests performing basic clerical duties, and they would thus not necessarily have to have obtained a Latin education. However, the fact that they gained a degree of prestige from their ordination does suggest that some education was involved,937 and if so, emphasizing vernacular education would likely be easier than attempting to ensure they mastered Latin.938 In fact, it is quite difficult to speculate about the content of literate lay education in Iceland beyond the most elementary level.939 In the broadest sense,

935 As Heimir Pálsson has suggested, Snorri might have received a fair amount of his education from old women chanting poems and telling histories, as St. Þorlákr himself did (Snorri Sturluson, The Uppsala Edda, xii–xiii). 936 Foote argued that the composition of Háttatal required a firm foundation in Priscian, Donatus, and potentially Quintilian (Foote, “Latin Rhetoric,” 257), but there is no basis for this argument. If Snorri had such a firm Latin education, it seems unlikely that there would be no reference to Latin, or use of Latin loans, in the treatise. Likewise, Þórir Óskarsson’s argument that the authors of all the grammatical treatises were “deeply learned by European standards” (Þórir Óskarsson, “Rhetoric and Style,” 356), while not impossible, ignores the fact that the source material of the treatises would require no more than a fairly basic grammatical education to read and understand it. 937 However, as noted earlier, the evidence does not exist to suggest that education among the elite was primarily motivated by the need for social differentiation, nor that the prestige of ordination or patronage of a church would ensure that they cultivated a particularly high level of education, as claimed by Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “The Education of Sturla Þórðarson,” 24, 28; Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Høvdingene,” 195–96. 938 Gunnar Harðarson has argued that chieftain-priests had a complex syncretic education, learning Latin but also secular subjects (Gunnar Harðarson, “Old Norse Intellectual Culture,” 39). While the chieftain-priests were certainly an important point of intersection for secular and Latin learning, I believe Gunnar’s remarks are indicative of a tendency for many scholars to overstate their role in the development of Icelandic intellectual culture, and attribute too much of Iceland’s cultural distinctiveness to this one particular social dynamic. For references to scholarly arguments regarding the prestige that knowledge held for chieftain-priests, see Bandlien, “Situated Knowledge,” 137, note 3. 939 An interesting Anglo-Saxon example of how such an elementary lay education, based in the vernacular, might function is apparent in King Alfred’s Letter to the Bishops, where he

Teaching vernacular Grammatica


vernacular grammatica would have been learned by literate laypeople through simply picking up reading techniques from their peers and from the texts they read that included some sort of commentary – even just a particularly detailed prologue, like Jóns saga baptista. However, in the narrower sense, as represented by the grammatical treatises, the audience would have been much narrower. Literate lay poets certainly could have made use of the poetic treatises. Orthographic works like the 1GT and 2GT could have been used in elementary education focused on vernacular reading, but they certainly would not have been required. Moreover, while the Snorra Edda may have originally been intended for a lay audience, its transmission with the 3GT and 4GT, and the reception of it in poems like Lilja, suggest it was quickly adapted for a clerical audience.940 That said, some laypeople must have been educated, and with little need for Latin learning, vernacular grammatica may have been a central part of such education, whenever it went beyond the most elementary level of reading. Lay education among aristocratic groups in the Middle Ages could be oriented around a sort of literacy focused on recreational reading.941 Given both the difficulty of understanding skaldic poetry and the prevalence of the prosimetrical form in ON literature, such recreational literacy could have necessitated some component of vernacular grammatica. Both lay and clerical students could benefit from linguistic and exegetic learning in their own language. Vernacular grammatica could be incorporated into a clerical education alongside Latin grammatica, or it could form the basis of a lay student’s curriculum. Collections of treatises, as of the extant grammatical manuscripts, could be supplemental texts in a clerical curriculum, or could have been involved in adult education and private autodidacticism. It is important to emphasize this range of possibilities in order to avoid conceptualizing vernacular grammatica as an overly narrow or localized phenomenon. Because of the lack of secular schools in medieval Iceland, and the lack of an easily definable secular or vernacular curriculum, such texts as the Edda and such disciplines as vernacular grammatica cannot be confined to particular educational centers. Such learning may have happened at wealthy farms associated with secular literary production like Oddi and Reykholt, but there is no reason to

argues for a primary education in English literacy for free born men (Irvine, The Making of Textual Culture, 418–19). 940 Current scholarly consensus associates the Codex Wormianus with the monastery of Þingeyrar, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 277 and The Fourth Grammatical Treatise, xii. 941 See Grotans, Reading, 17–18 for the relationship between recreational literacy and other forms of literacy.


Chapter 4 Vernacular Grammatica

think it was confined to such places.942 Rather, the diverse and widespread evidence for vernacular grammatica suggests quite the opposite, that it enjoyed the benefits of decentralized educational practices in Iceland. In the same way that Latin grammatica formed the basis for a Latin education in many complex ways, the evidence for vernacular grammatica suggests that a significant number of factors fed into vernacular pedagogy in medieval Iceland. However, in the end it must remain uncertain whether vernacular grammatica’s pedagogical role was ever truly comparable to its counterpart.

Conclusion Vernacular grammatica is a useful concept because it encompasses the intellectual links between composing and interpreting different types of texts – law, poetry, history, and religious writing – and points both to the indebtedness of that discourse to Latin tradition, and, at the same time, its distinctiveness as its own field, marked by both language and function. Pre-existing traditions of oral education in law, poetry, and runacy all influenced how Latin grammatica was received in Iceland and how vernacular grammatica developed. It is not known when or how consistently these oral pedagogies were textualized, but over the course of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries the discipline of vernacular grammatica grew and developed in multiple ways, coalescing into complex, multi-layered treatises like the 4GT. The extant treatises show the teaching and learning of abstract ideologies about sound, language, and interpretation, mixing native traditions with Christian, Latin, and grammatical learning. The 3GT and 4GT make use of existing paradigms of bilingual Latin teaching to contextualize ON poetics in a clerical milieu. Looking beyond the treatises, vernacular grammatica developed elsewhere in both poetry and prose. Poems like Merlínusspá and Lilja show poets applying various exegetical methods in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The hagiographic innovations of the so-called florid style likewise involved the insertion of grammatical commentary into prose. The related theological concerns of the 4GT, expressed in poetic commentary, and the composition of Jóns saga baptista in the late thirteenth century, show the breadth of impact that vernacular reinterpretations of grammatica had in Iceland, and 942 I would thus disagree with analyses of Icelandic education that view secular or semisecular education centers as prevailing before the staðamál, and a major shift in education thus coming with the growth of church power, see Males, The Poetic Genesis, 271 and Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, “Høvdingene,” 196.



the continuing influence of both Latin discourse and earlier forms of vernacular grammatica. These manuscripts, poems, and treatises are made up of multiple traditions of language use, pedagogy, and intellectual practice being actively brought together for new purposes: the interpretation, authorization, and normalization of vernacular literature and language. Their heterogeneous qualities, especially in the translated 3GT and 4GT, show the diversity of grammatical and educational practices in medieval Iceland. Particularly in the Codex Wormianus, where all four treatises and the Edda are compiled and summarized in the prologue, it can be seen that fourteenth-century intellectuals had a range of pedagogical and exegetical traditions to work with to elucidate and analyze their own vernacular linguistic and poetic tradition. Even within this heterogeneity a few key components and functions of vernacular grammatica can be perceived: the production and maintenance of normative language, the interpretation of complex language, and the maintenance of clear communication and claritas. Each of these could conflict with the others, yet just as in Latin grammatica, they function together in their role of authorizing and maintaining textual culture. At the same time, the actual pedagogical practices behind vernacular grammatica are far more uncertain than for Latin learning. In a general sense it can be said that vernacular orthographic learning, the basic learning of alphabets and syllabaries, could have had a place in very widespread elementary education, but beyond that we can only speculate. It seems likely that vernacular grammatica was neither at the center of medieval Icelandic education, nor was it entirely peripheral.

Conclusion This study has aimed to explore the full scope of education in medieval Iceland, its importance to society and culture, and the diverse number of ways it could have occurred. It contextualized the unique evolution of the ON grammatical treatises in a complete survey of medieval Icelandic educational history and accounted for and considered the many diverse sources that describe it. Throughout this survey of the social, institutional, economic, textual, and intellectual aspects of educational history, the driving goal has been to show that no single model or paradigm can describe how teaching and learning occurred in medieval Iceland. At least some pre-Christian components of education did not die out in the eleventh century. Clerics were not confined to the septem artes liberales, nor to monastery and cathedral schools. Grammatica was at its core a pedagogical tool for learning Latin, and an ideology of Latin authority, yet at the same time it shaped the development of ON textual culture. Education in Iceland did not develop in the same way in as any other place in the medieval West, but it shared fundamental characteristics of all Christian Latin education of the period. Though the sources are limited, it is clear that Icelandic society involved a significant amount of oral learning of various secular subjects, usually in the home or in fosterage relationships, as there is little evidence for formal schools in Iceland outside of the monasteries and bishoprics. Most of these subjects could bring prestige to both students and teachers, whether law or hannyrðir, runes or chess. This prestige could come from the aristocratic associations of certain skills, or from the particular social and cultural circumstances of teachers and students. The obfuscation of details about poetic education in the sources reflects the perceived value of inherent poetic skill, even as poetry, runes, and law helped shape the development of vernacular textual culture and grammatica. To some extent, these secular subjects and characteristics of learning must go back to pre-Christian times, but the Íslendingasögur and other sources for secular learning are too late to provide any certainty about what pre-Christian practices they might have preserved. However, considering the Íslendingasögur equally as sources for the later Middle Ages is fundamental to understanding this flexibility and variability in education. They balance out the perspective of more clerical sources, and show that Icelanders were still capable of conceiving of, and thus likely still practiced, secular and oral forms of education. Christian and clerical education developed in Iceland from the eleventh century onwards, a time when the number of schools, particularly urban schools, in Europe was rapidly increasing. Yet in Iceland, the lack of population



centers meant that there was little room for classrooms and large groups of children to gather together for learning. Therefore, forms of education outside of schools must have been particularly important. This could be a simple matter of a parent teaching a child their basic prayers, or a clerical foster-parent training a boy to join the priesthood. At the cathedrals of Skálholt and Hólar, the fosterage practices of wealthy families merged with models of episcopal education to produce the first formal schools of Iceland, in the sense that they maintained professional teachers and had an institutional identity as places of schooling. Though the evidence is less clear, by the late Middle Ages some comparable types of schools had developed in Icelandic monasteries. In a broad range of contexts clergy and ascetics of various classes and degrees of wealth, including women, contributed to the dissemination and idealization of Christian learning. Despite the idealization of the charitable sharing of knowledge, a full education could be quite expensive, and the very cost of being a student at a monastery or cathedral contributed to the growing wealth of the Icelandic church in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Yet, other forms of education remained available, and many Icelanders found ways to mitigate or avoid the costs of becoming priests, even if it sometimes meant indentured servitude. For a cleric, the most important skill was Latin. It enabled the performance of the core liturgical duties of the priesthood, and in certain contexts it could bring a significant amount of prestige. Yet it was only part of the curriculum, and priests also needed musical and computistical abilities, together with a significant amount of elementary learning they would have acquired previously. In the decentralized educational culture of Iceland, there was substantial variability in the curriculum. Idealized constructions like the septem artes liberales could be maintained as the structure of the curriculum in universities and other large educational centers, but where there was no institutional pressure to maintain them, there were far more pragmatic ways to go about obtaining an education. In an apprenticeship or fostering relationship, these pragmatic goals would undoubtedly come to the fore: teaching a child what he actually needs to know to become a working cleric. Learning the liturgy was the main priority, and many clerics likely learned much of their trade directly by reading liturgical books and observing liturgical performances. All the same, for those able to obtain an intermediate level of Latin, grammatica tied together the clerical curriculum, from learning the alphabet to advanced learning in theology and canon law. Grammatica itself was more than the simple learning of Latin. It represented the medieval inheritance of textual criticism, linguistic ideology and mythmaking, and the relationship between secular and sacred texts. This centralizing importance of grammatica interacted with native traditions and impacted ON literacy and literature. It connected



Latinity and vernacularity, modelled understandings of correct ON language and style, and influenced the understanding of native forms of symbol and sign to alter ways of creating meaning. This ON vernacular grammatica developed over time, with growing self-awareness, and it certainly did not develop independently of the general growth of education and schools in the later Middle Ages. Vernacular grammatica grew both out of classroom practice – including glossing and commentary – and through the development of ON literature. The development of vernacular grammatica shows how the ideas and ideology of Latin education could impact vernacular literature and textual culture in a broad way, without any need for direct textual influence. Education in Iceland, however, meant more than the production of the great literary corpus that modern readers enjoy. It was a livelihood for young men aspiring to be priests, and a tool for bishops to spread reformist ideology. It was a method for poets to hone their craft, and an expression of piety for anchorites, monks, and saints. A sound education defined the role of the Lawspeaker, and the prestige of a woman skilled in hannyrðir. Obtaining an education, whether at an episcopal school or from a foster-parent, was a rite of passage that formed fundamental social bonds. The history of education permeates the society and culture of medieval Iceland.

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Editions and Translations


En islandsk scholasticus fra det 12. århundre. Edited by Anne Holtsmark. Oslo: Det Norske Videnskaps-Akademi i Oslo, 1936. Islands runeinskrifter. Edited by Anders Bæksted. Bibliotheca Arnamagnæana Vol. 2. Copenhagen: Den Arnamagnæanske Kommission, 1942. Íslendingabók/Kristni saga: The Books of the Icelanders/The Story of the Conversion. Translated by Siân Grønlie. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2006. Íslendingabók/Landnámabók. Edited by Jakob Benediktsson. Íslenzk Fornrit 1. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenzka Fornritafélag, 1986. Íslensk hómilíubók: Fornar stólræður. Edited by Sigurbjörn Einarsson, Guðrún Kvaran, and Gunnlaugur Ingólfsson. Reykjavík: Hið íslenska bókmenntafélag, 1993. John of Salisbury. Ioannis Saresberiensis: Metalogicon. Edited by J. B. Hall. Corpvs Christianorvm: Continuatio Mediaevalis 98. Turnholt: Brepols, 1991. Jónsbók: The Laws of Later Iceland. Edited and translated by Jana Schulman. Saarbrücken: AQ-verlag, 2010. Jóns saga Hólabyskups ens helga. Edited by Peter Foote. Editiones Arnamagnæanæ Series A, Vol. 14. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 2003. Kirialax saga. Edited by Kristian Kålund. Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk Litteratur 43. Copenhagen: S.L. Møllers bogtrykkeri, 1917. Kjalnesinga saga, Jökuls þáttr Búasonar, Víglundar saga, Króka-Refs saga, Þórðar saga hreðu, Finnboga saga, Gunnars saga keldugnúpsfífls. Edited by Jóhannes Halldórsson. Íslenzk Fornrit 14. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenzka Fornritafélag, 1959. Late Medieval Icelandic Romances I. Edited by Agnete Loth. Editiones Arnamagnæanæ Series B, Vol. 20. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1962. Late Medieval Icelandic Romances III. Edited by Agnete Loth. Editiones Arnamagnæanæ Series B, Vol. 22. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1963. Late Medieval Icelandic Romances V. Edited by Agnete Loth. Editiones Arnamagnæanæ Series B, Vol. 24. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzels Forlag, 1965. Liturgica Islandica. Edited by Lilli Gjerløw. Vols. 1-2. Copenhagen: Reitzels Boghandel, 1980. Ljósvetninga saga með þáttum Reydœla saga og Víga-skútu, Hreiðars þáttr. Edited by Björn Sigfússon. Íslenzk Fornrit 10. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenzka Fornritafélag, 1940. “Lønskrift og lejligedsoptegnelser fra et par islandske håndskrifter.” Edited by Finnur Jónsson. Småstykker 1–16 (1884–91): 185–94. Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric: Language Arts and Literary Theory AD 300–1475. Edited by Rita Copeland and Ineke Sluiter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Messuskýringar: liturgisk symbolik frå den norsk-islanske kyrkja i millomalderen. Edited by Oluf Kolsrud. Oslo: Norsk Historisk Kjeldeskrift-Institutt, 1952. Mírmanns saga. Edited by Desmond Slay. Editiones Arnamagnæanæ Series A, Vol. 17. Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1997. Den norsk-islandske skaldedigtning B: Rettet tekst. Edited by Finnur Jónsson. Vols. 1-2. Leutershausen: Strauss & Cramer, 1912–15. Oddr Snorrason. Saga Óláfs Tryggvasonar af Oddr Snorrason munk. Edited by Finnur Jónsson. Copenhagen: G.E.C. Gads Forlag, 1932. Óláfr Þórðarson. “The Foundation of Grammar: An Edition of the First Section of Óláfr Þórðarson’s Grammatical Treatise.” Edited and translated by Tarrin Wills. PhD diss., University of Sydney, 2001. Postola sögur. Edited by Carl R. Unger. Oslo: B.M. Bentzen, 1874.



Die prosaische Edda im Auszuge nebst Völsunga saga und Nornagests-þáttr. Edited by Ernst Wilken. Vol. 1. 2nd revised edition. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1912. Reykholtsmáldagi. Edited and translated by Guðvarður Gunnlaugsson, Bergur Þorgeirsson, and Margaret Cormack. Reykholt: Snorrastrofa, 2000. Rómverja saga. Edited by Þorbjörg Helgadóttir. Reykjavík: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum, 2010. Safn til sögu Íslands og íslenzkra bókmenta að fornu og nýju. Vols. 1–6. Copenhagen: Hið Íslenzka Bókmentafélag, 1856–1939. The Saga of Bishop Thorlak: Þorláks saga byskups. Translated by Ármann Jakobsson and David Clark. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2013. Saxo Grammaticus. Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes. Edited and translated by Karsten Friis-Jensen and Peter Fisher. Vols. 1–2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages: Vol. 2 Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Edited by Kari Ellen Gade. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages: Vol. 7 Poetry on Christian Subjects. Edited by Margaret Clunies Ross. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages: Vol 8 Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Edited by Margaret Clunies Ross. Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Translated by Anthony Faulkes. London: J.M. Dent, 1995. Snorri Sturluson. Edda: Háttatal. Edited by Anthony Faulkes. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2007. Snorri Sturluson. Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning. Edited by Anthony Faulkes. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2005. Snorri Sturluson. Edda: Skáldskaparmál 1. Edited by Anthony Faulkes. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2007. Snorri Sturluson. The Uppsala Edda. Edited and translated by Heimir Pálsson and Anthony Faulkes. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 2012. The So-Called Second Grammatical Treatise. Edited and translated by Fabrizio D. Raschellà. Florence: Felice le Monnier, 1982. Sturlunga saga. Edited by Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn. Vols. 1-2. Reykjavík: Sturlunguútgáfan, 1946. Sven Aggeson. “Brevis historia regvm Dacie.” In Scriptores minores historiæ Danice medii ævii, Vol. 1, edited by M. Cl. Gertz, 94–143. Copenhagen: Selskabet for ugivelse af kilder til dansk historie, 1970. Ten Latin Schooltexts of the Later Middles Ages: Translated Selections. Translated by Ian Thomson and Louis Parraud. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. Theodoricus Monachus. Historia de Antiquitate Regum Norwagiensium: An Account of the Ancient History of the Norwegian Kings. Edited and translated by David McDougall and Ian McDougall. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1998. Thomas saga Erkibyskups. Edited by Carl R. Unger. Oslo: B.M. Bentzen, 1869. Den Tredje og Fjærde Grammatiske Afhandling. Edited by Björn M. Ólsen. Copenhagen: Fr. G. Knudtzons Bogtrykkeri, 1884. Vestfirðinga sögur. Edited by Björn K. Þórólfsson and Guðni Jónsson. Íslenzk Fornrit 6. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenzka Fornritafélag, 1943. Þjalar-Jóns saga/Dámusta saga. Edited by Louisa Fredrika Tan-Haverhorst. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1939.

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Index of Names Abrahám (Missionary bishop) 77 Adam of Petit Pont (De utensibilibus) 184 Ælfric (English author and grammarian) 21, 24, 182–84, 192–209, 225, 244, 273 Alcuin 87, 193, 247–48 Alexander de Villa-Dei (Doctrinale) 18–19, 179–80, 242 Alexander Neckam 181, 184 Ari fróði Þorgilsson (Author of Íslendingabók) 37, 47, 70, 81–84, 198, 221 199, 224, 275 Aristotle 57, 182 Arngrímr Brandsson (Abbot of Þingeyrar, Guðmundarkvæði) 242 Árni Jónsson (Abbot of Munkaþverá, Guðmundardrápa) 242 Árni Lárentíusson (Son/student of Bishop Lárentíus) 104, 117, 119, 158, 173–74 Árni Magnússon (Manuscript collector) 149 Árni Þorláksson (Bishop of Skálholt, New Church Law) 6, 71, 98, 103, 113, 115, 131, 135, 141, 145, 150, 187, 189 Ásbjǫrn Sigurðsson (Schoolmaster at Skálholt) 99, 127 Ásgrímr Jónsson (Abbot of Helgafell) 120–21 Ásgrímr Þorsteinsson (Father of the student Þorsteinn) 141 Auðunn Þorbergsson (Bishop of Hólar) 104, 142, 150 (n. 512), 157, 187 Augustine (Saint and author) 10, 87, 155, 158, 181, 190, 214, 231, 246, 253–58, 265–66, 268 Bær (Monastery) 77, 110 Barbara (Abbess of Reynistaðr) 122 Bede (De arte metrica/De orthographia/De schematibus at tropis) 12, 17, 19, 223, 233, 247–48, 272

Bergr Sokkason (Author and student of Lárentíus) 31, 104, 117, 158 Bjarnharðr (Missionary bishop) 77, 196 Bjarni Bergþórsson (Student of St. Jón) 101 Bjarni tǫlvísi 186 Bjǫrgólfr Illugason (Ráðmaðr of Reynistaðr) 121 Bjǫrn Brynjólfsson (Father of the student Óláfr) 73 Bjǫrn Einarsson jórsalafari 125 Bjǫrn Gilsson (Bishop of Hólar) 82, 100–101, 111 Bjǫrn Valgarðsson (Student) 121 Bǫðvar (Schoolmaster of Hólar) 105 Bologna 125, 128, 179, 187 Brandr Jónsson (Abbot of Þykkvibær) 113 Breiðabólstaðr (Fljótshlíð) 88 Breiðabólstaðr (Vestrhóp) 114, 117 Brito, William (Expositiones vocabulorum biblie) 178–80, 182 Byrhtferth of Ramsey 192 Charlemagne 57 Christian III (King of Denmark) 73–74, 92, 110, 123–24 Christopher of Bavaria (King of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) 126 Denmark 6–7, 41, 68, 127, 132, 156, 185, 197–98 Donatus (Ars minor/Ars maior/ Barbarismus) 11–12, 18–19, 168, 184, 195, 202, 233, 235, 237, 239, 276 Eberhard of Béthune (Græcismus) 18–19, 178, 180, 184, 242 Egill Eyjólfsson (Schoolmaster of Hólar, student of Lárentíus) 104, 142

Most references to a work are included under the name of that work in the general index, and references to an author in the names index. With minor references that only appear a few times in the book, particularly where the name of the work only appears on the same pages as the author, only a names index entry is included.


Index of Names

Egill Hallsson (Student) 107, 138–39 Eilífr (Archbishop of Niðaróss) 189 Einarr Hafliðason (Student of Lárentius, likely author of Lárentíus saga) 41, 114, 117, 161 Einarr Benediktsson (Abbot of Munkaþverá) 121 Einarr Skúlason (Geisli/Øxarflokkr) 226 Einhard (Vita Karoli Magni) 57 England 9, 29, 56–57, 68, 71, 77, 82, 92, 108, 112, 125, 127, 130, 138, 156, 161, 167–68, 173, 179, 197–99, 219, 272–73 – Lincoln 82, 125, 130, 132 Eyjólfr Gíslason (Father of the student Magnús) 121 Eiríkr Magnússon (King of Norway) 114 Eyjólfr Sæmundsson (Priest/teacher at Oddi) 82 Eysteinn Ásgrímsson (Lilja) 261 Eysteinn (Grandson of Bishop Auðunn, student of Lárentíus) 142 Finnr Teitsson (Witness at Reynistaðr) 122 Finnur Jónsson (Bishop, Historia ecclesiastica Islandiæ) 127, 131 Flatey (Augustinian monastery) – See Helgafell France 68, 101, 127, 132, 138, 157 – Paris 82, 109, 125, 129 Friðrekr (Missionary bishop) 77–78, 199 Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia regum Britanniae) 255 – Prophetia Merlini 22, 226, 255–56 Geoffrey of Vinsauf (Poetria nova) 181, 265 Germany 92, 199 – Lotharingia 101 Gestr (Student of Bishop Guðmundr) 85–86 Gísli Finnason (Schoolmaster at Hólar) 101 Gísli Jónsson (Lutheran bishop of Skálholt) 30, 127, 164, 173, 177 Gizurr Einarsson (Lutheran bishop of Skálholt) 73, 99, 123–24, 127, 129, 136, 153, 158–59 Gizurr Hallsson (Lawspeaker) 89, 96, 125 Gizurr hvíti Teitsson (Icelandic chieftain) 77, 94

Gizurr Ísleifsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 4, 94, 125, 199 Gottskálk Nikulásson (Bishop of Hólar) 105–107, 138, 150 Gregory the Great 87, 155, 158, 171, 189–190, 224–25, 258 Grenjaðarstaðir (Aðaldalr) 87–88, 144, 163–64, 190 Grímr Hólmsteinsson (Jóns saga baptista) 113, 240, 258, 267 Guðbrandr Þorláksson (Lutheran bishop of Hólar) 126 Guðmundr (Abbot of Þingeyrar) 117–18 Guðmundr Arason (Bishop of Hólar) 30, 71, 79–81, 85–86, 88, 98, 104, 106, 117, 120, 135–36, 151–52, 154, 158, 201, 242 Guðmundr Jónsson (Father of two students) 106 Guðrún (Student at Skriða) 122 Guðrún Daðadóttir (Mother of Ingunn) 46 Gunnlaugr Ásgrímsson (Student at Skriða) 100 Gunnlaugr Leifsson (Monk of Þingeyrar) 22, 70, 113, 226 Hafliði Steinsson (Friend of Lárentius, father of Einarr) 114, 120 Hákon (Jarl of Norway) 17, 51 Hákon Hákonarson (King of Norway) 227 Hákon Magnússon (King of Norway) 201 Halla (Mother of St. Þorlákr) 47 Hallbera (Abbess of Reynistaðr) 188 Halldóra Sigvaldadóttir (Abbess of Kirkjubær) 124 Halldór Loptsson (Donor to Munkaþverá) 179 Halldór Ormsson (Abbot of Helgafell) 121 Hallr Grímsson (Student) 99 Hallr Teitsson (Almost bishop of Skálholt, died in Utrecht) 125–26 Hallr Þórarinsson (Poet) 226 Hallveig (Wife of Snorri Sturluson) 152 Hamburg 72, 123, 127, 129, 136, 158 – Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen 68, 199 Haukadalr (Biskupstungr) 30, 67, 76–77, 81–86, 88, 94, 101–102, 141, 144, 149, 275 – Haukadælir (Family) 5, 81, 94–95

Index of Names

Helgafell (Monastery) 30–31, 72, 99, 111–13, 120–21, 123–24, 139, 152–53, 159 Herford (Convent in Saxony) 94, 125, 199 Hildr (Anchorite at Hólar) 114–15, 119, 122, 133, 168 Hítardalr (Monastery, likely Benedictine) 111 – Church at Hítardalr (Mýrum) 179 Hjalti Skeggjason (Icelandic chieftain) 77 Hof (Höfðaströnd) 81 Hólar (Episcopal see) 5, 15, 30–31, 46, 67, 70–72, 81, 85–87, 92–94, 98, 100–107, 111–12, 114–16, 117–19, 122–24, 135–36, 138, 142–43, 149–50, 152–54, 164, 168, 173–75, 178–82, 185–86, 189–90, 282 – See also entries for bishops of Hólar Hólar (Hof) 163 Hrabanus Maurus (Abbot of Fulda) 193, 199 Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson (Icelandic physician) 125 Hreinn Styrmisson (Abbot of Hítardalr and Þingeyrar) 101 Hróðólfr (Missionary bishop) 77, 110, 196 Hugutio (Derivationes) 179, 183 Húsafell (Borgarfjǫrðr) 150, 153 Ingimundr Þorgeirsson (Uncle of Guðmundr Arason) 79–80, 88, 117, 151, 219–20 Ingunn (Teacher at Hólar) 46–47, 56, 102, 104, 114, 133–34, 139, 158, 175–77, 211 Isidore of Seville (Etymologiae/Differentiae/ Synonyma/De summo bono) 166, 178–81, 184, 223 Ísleifr Gizurarson (First bishop of Iceland) 4, 27, 81, 83, 88–89, 93–96, 100, 106, 113, 125, 130–31, 134, 138, 199 Ísleifr Grímsson (Student of St. Jón) 101 Jerome (Saint and author) 190 John Leylond (English grammarian) 195 John of Cornwall (Speculum gramaticale) 195 John of Garland (Dictionarius) 184 John of Salisbury (Metalogicon) 11, 267–68 John of Trevisa (English grammarian) 195 John the Baptist 258–59 Jón (Student at Skriða) 122


Jón Árason (Bishop of Hólar) 7, 99, 105, 107, 123 Jón Eyjólfsson (Father of a student) 105 Jón the Fleming (Teacher of Lárentíus) 103, 157, 188 Jón Gizurarson (Author, grandnephew of Bishop Gizurr Einarsson) 99, 124, 127 Jón Guðmundsson lærði (Author) 121 Jón Halldórsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 125, 127–28, 157, 189, 201, 262 Jón Halldórsson (Father of Bishop Finnur Jónsson) 127 Jón Jónsson (Monk at Skriða) 99, 122 Jón Loptsson (Icelandic chieftain) 59, 71, 82, 84, 89, 129, 157, 169 Jón Magnússon (Student) 72, 106 Jón Ólafsson of Grunnavík (Scholar) 30, 42 Jón Ǫgmundarson (Saint and bishop of Hólar) 30, 49, 70, 84, 88, 95–96, 100–102, 111, 113–14, 125, 130, 149, 156–57, 174–75 Jón Sigurðarson (Bishop of Skálholt) 150, 164 Jón Stefánsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 6, 150 Jón svarti (Student of St. Jón) 101 Jón Sveinsson (Student) 106 Jǫrundr (Archbishop of Níðaróss) 103, 188–89 Jǫrundr Þorsteinsson (Bishop of Hólar) 94, 98, 103, 113, 117, 114 Kálfafell (Hornafjǫrðr) 113, 135 Karl Jónsson (Abbot of Þingeyrar) 113 Ketill Þorsteinsson (Biship of Hólar) 111 Kirkjubær (Benedictine convent) 107, 112–13, 116, 123–24, 176 Klængr Þorsteinsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 96, 101, 141 Kolbeinn Tumason (Icelandic chieftain) 201 Kolr (Bishop of Vík) 95 Kolr (Missionary bishop) 77 Lamkárr (Student of Guðmundr Árason) 80 Lárentíus Kálfsson (Bishop of Hólar) 31, 41, 71, 86, 93–94, 103–105, 116–20, 124–25, 130–35, 139, 142–43, 145, 152,


Index of Names

154, 157–58, 161, 170, 176, 187–89, 201–202, 210–11, 241, 262, 269 Leifr (Student of Gunnlaugr Leifsson) 113 Loptr Magnússon (Father of a student) 138 Lucan 185 Lund (Archepiscopal see) 68, 156, 199 Magnús Eyjólfsson (Student) 121 Magnús Gizurarson (Bishop of Skálholt) 96, 125, 150 Magnús Margrétarson (Student) 121 Markús Skeggjason (Lawspeaker) 35, 55 Martianus Capella 192 Matthew of Vendôme (Thobias) 180 Mǫðruvellir (Augustinian monastery) 107, 116, 124, 151, 153, 179–180, 186, 189, 201 Múli (Reykjadalr) 87–88, 190 Munkaþverá (Benedictine monastery) 72, 108, 111, 117, 119–21, 123–24, 158, 179, 242 Narfi Ívarsson (Abbot of Helgafell) 31 Narfi Jónsson (First prior of Skriða) 122 Niðaróss (Archepiscopal see) 5–6, 22, 68, 101, 103, 112, 114, 131–32, 134, 144, 157, 174, 188–89, 201–202 Norway 1, 4, 6, 24, 34, 38, 41–42, 44, 48–49, 58, 68, 77, 95, 114, 116, 125–26, 128, 130–31, 142, 148, 152, 154, 156–57, 159, 168, 184–85, 187–88, 197–98, 210, 216, 243, 262 Notker Labeo (Monk and author) 192–93, 195, 199 Óblauðr Hallvarðsson (Schoolmaster of Hólar) 103, 131 Oddi (Rangárvellir) 30, 67, 71, 76, 81–86, 88–89, 94, 102, 106–107, 141, 144, 148, 169, 228, 240, 275–77 – Oddaverjar 5, 82, 129 Oddr Gottskálksson (Reformist and translator) 127 Oddr Pétrsson (Priest, brother of Bishop Svein Pétrson) 126–27

Oddr Snorrason (Monk and author) 46–47, 113 Óðinn 42–43, 51, 55 Ǫgmundr Pálsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 99–100, 122, 124, 127, 129, 136, 158 Óláfr Bjarnarson (Student) 73 Óláfr Eiríksson (Teacher) 138 Óláfr Haraldsson (Saint, king of Norway) 22, 77, 157 Óláfr Hjaltason (Schoolmaster of Hólar) 104–105, 117, 119, 173 Óláfr Rǫgnvaldsson (Bishop of Hólar) 105–106, 150 Óláfr Þórðarson (Author of the 3GT) 18, 81, 132, 232–33, 237, 239, 260 Óláfr Tryggvason (King of Norway) 4, 77, 113 Otfrid von Weissenburg (Ninth-century monk) 193 Ovid 101, 182 Ǫxnahóll (Hǫrgardalr) 187 Páll Jónsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 71, 82, 86, 125, 128–30, 150, 156–57 Páll Jónsson (Poet and sýslumaðr) 121 Páll kjarni (Abbot of Viðey) 121 Peter Riga (Aurora) 180 Pétr af Eiði (Companion of Lárentíus) 157, 188 Pétr Petrsson (Father of Bishop Sveinn) 126 Petrus (Missionary bishop) 77 Petrus Hispanus (Summulae Logicales) 18 Priscian (Institutiones grammaticae/Minus et maius volumen) 18–20, 180, 193, 197, 233–34, 276 Quintus Curtius Rufus (Historia Alexandri Magni) 181 Ramon Llull (Ars demonstrativa) 162 Rannveig (Sister of St. Þorlákr) 82 Reykholt (Borgarfjǫrðr) 141, 149, 151, 277 Reynistaðr (Benedictine convent) 72, 116, 120–22, 143, 152, 176, 188 Rikini (Teacher at Hólar) 101, 164, 172–73 Roger Bacon (Opus Maius) 255

Index of Names

Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson (Earl of Orkney) 52, 220, 226 Rome 12, 125 Rostock (Destination of Icelandic students) 126 Runólfr (Student of Lárentíus) 119 Runólfr Sigmundarson (Abbot of Þykkvibær) 113, 240 Sæmundr fróði Sigfússon (Icelandic chieftain-priest) 82–84, 100, 125, 140, 275 Sallust 185 Saxo Grammaticus (Gesta Danorum) 132 Saxony 77–78, 94, 125, 198–99 Sigríðr Sæmundardóttir (Nun at Reynistaðr) 121 Sigurðr Jónsson (Icelandic priest) 179 Skál (Síða) 113, 135 Skálholt (Episcopal see) 3–4, 6, 15, 27, 30, 67, 70–72, 74, 82, 86–88, 92–96, 98–101, 103, 105, 107, 111–12, 116, 121, 123–28, 131, 139, 149–53, 176, 178, 282 – See also entries for bishops of Skálholt Skapti Þóroddsson (Lawspeaker) 55 Skriða (Augustinian monastery) 30–31, 72, 100, 107–108, 116, 120, 122–24, 170, 185 Skúli (Duke of Norway) 17 Snorri Sturluson (Chieftain and author, Snorra Edda) 17–18, 20, 35, 51–52, 55, 59, 82, 84, 106, 141, 152, 169, 227–29, 231–32, 237–38, 260, 275–76 St. Gall (Monastery) 192, 199 Stafaholt (Borgarfjǫrðr) 76, 81, 84, 126, 150 Stefán Jónsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 99, 121–22, 127 Steinunn Bjǫrgólfsdóttir (Nun at Reynistaðr) 121 Stephánus (Missionary bishop) 77 Sveinn Pétrsson (Bishop of Skálholt) Sven Aggeson (Brevia historia regvm Dacie) 132 Sweden 198 Tancredus of Bologna (Canon law scholar) 189


Teitr Ísleifsson (Son of Bishop Ísleifr) 81–83, 89, 94, 138 Teitr Þorleifsson (Icelandic chieftain, patron of the student Egill Hallsson) 107, 138–39 Theodolus (Ecloga) 182 Theodoricus Monachus (Historia de antiquitate regum Norwagensium) 132 Theodulf of Orléans (821 Capitula) 138 Tjǫrvi Bǫðvarsson (Servant of Bishop Þorlákr Runólfsson) 96 Þingeyrar (Benedictine monastery) 5, 22, 30–31, 101, 110–11, 113–14, 117, 119–20, 124, 142, 152, 189, 226, 242, 260, 277 Þórarinn (Lárentius’ kinsman/teacher at Vellir) 86, 103, 135 Þórðr (Schoolmaster at Hólar) 30, 85–86, 102, 118, 135 Þórðr Guðmundarson (Student of Lárentius) 117, 158 Þorgils Gunnsteinsson (Father of Lamkárr) 80 Þórlákr Loptsson (Abbot of Þykkvibær) 119 Þórlákr Runólfsson (Bishop of Skálholt) 82, 96 Þorlákr Þórhallsson (Saint, bishop of Skálholt) 47–48, 54, 56, 61, 70–71, 80, 82, 90–91, 96–98, 102, 106, 111–12, 125, 129–30, 132, 135, 141, 148, 150, 154, 157–58, 168–69, 188, 211, 275–76 Þormórðr (Óláfr Tryggvasonn’s court priest) 77 Þóroddr Gamlason (Cathedral-builder at Hólar) 174–75, 177 Þorsteinn Ásgrímsson (Student of Árni Þorláksson) 141 Þorsteinn Brandsson (Son of Abbot Brandr) 113, 135 Þorsteinn tittlingr (Student of Óláfr Þórðarson) 81 Þorvaldr Koðránsson (Missionary with Bishop Friðrekr) 49, 77–78 Þuríðr Snorradóttir (Source in Íslendingabók) 47 Þykkvibær (Augustinian monastery) 30, 96, 111–13, 117, 119, 123–24, 135, 240


Index of Names

Utrecht 126 Valdemar II (King of Denmark) 18, 132 Valþjófr (Rector of Hólar choir) 104, 164 Vellir (Svarfaðardalr) 76, 81, 84–88, 94, 98, 103, 105, 118, 133, 135, 139, 144, 155, 178, 190 Vermundr (Student of Bishop Guðmundr) 85–86 Vermundr (Abbot of Þingeyrar) 114

Viðey (Augustinian monastery) 72, 107, 112–13, 120–21, 123–24, 136, 152–53, 159, 161, 180–81, 254 Vilmundr Þórólfsson (Abbot of Þingeyrar) 101, 111 Virgil 12, 19, 216, 256 Walter of Châtillon (Alexandreis) 181 William of Conches (Scholastic philosopher) 265

General Index 813 regional church councils (Arles/Chalon/ Mainz/Rheims/Tours) 200 Admonitio generalis of Charlemagne 170 Aesop’s Fables 182 Alphabets 16, 18, 160–64, 167–68, 186, 190–91, 193, 216, 249, 279, 282 – Notas (alphabetical/musical characters) 170 – See Runes, First Grammatical Treatise, Bualǫg, Greek, Hebrew, Second Grammatical Treatise Alþing 4, 31, 34, 36–37, 67, 166–67 AM 194 8vo 165 AM 238 XXIII fol. 151, 170–71, 177, 189 AM 249 I fol. 21, 183 AM 625 4to 164, 165–66, 172 AM 732 a VII 4to 167 AM 732 b 4to 21, 172, 182 AM 792 4to 182 AM 921 III 4to 21, 182, 197, 199, 207, 209–10 Annals 30, 105, 114, 125, 131, 149 Árna saga 71, 113, 135, 141 Astronomy/astronomia 9, 165, 167, 172, 184, 186 Barbarismus – Barbarismus text (Donatus) 20, 225, 234, 236, 268 – Barbarism/solecimus as terms/ concepts 18, 193, 232, 237, 239, 249 – See Figurative language Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss 34, 38–39, 44, 47, 50, 59, 62, 64 Benefices 6, 73, 86, 98, 101–103, 105–107, 121, 144, 155 Búalǫg 74, 91, 137, 143 Booklists – See Máldagar Calendar – See Computus, Liturgy Carolingian education 8–9, 115, 170

Children/childhood 29, 36, 43, 47, 50, 55, 67, 90–91, 99, 137–38, 144, 160, 169, 172–73, 282 – Baptism of children 170–71 – Child labor 135 – Children inheriting 73, 135–36 – Disciplining children 79 – See Fosterage, Students, Law Cities/Urban environments – Lack of cities in Iceland 67, 83, 90–92, 107, 274, 281 – Urban schools in Europe 8, 107–108 Claritas (Linguistic ideal of clarity) 243, 245, 250, 254, 261–63, 266–69, 279 Classical literature and culture 12, 19, 182, 184–85, 233, 270–71, 274 Codex Upsaliensis 16, 20, 162, 215 Codex Wormianus 16, 20, 22, 162, 183, 215, 243, 250, 271–72, 277, 279 Computus (Calendrical learning) 33, 122, 147, 160, 165–67, 170–72, 185, 192, 206, 210, 272, 282 – Computistical texts 7, 15 – Misseristal 33, 167, 170–71 – Rím 122, 167, 170 Corrodians 109, 121 Credo (Prayer) 36, 61, 90, 200, 216 Dámusta saga 31, 45 Dictionaries 178–79, 184, 205 Dínus saga drambláta 31, 43, 55, 186 Disticha Catonis 90, 181–82, 220, 268 Droplaugarsonar saga 35–36, 40, 44 Education contracts 2–3, 13, 64, 69, 72, 99–100, 105–107, 112, 116, 120–23, 136–39, 143 Egils saga 42, 49, 220 Eiríks saga rauða 39–40, 50 Elucidarius (Honorius Augustodunensis) 155, 181, 206, 224, 273 Encyclopedic Writing 7, 12, 15, 165, 178–79, 183, 230–31


General Index

English/Anglo-Saxon – Anglo-Saxon manuscript runes 219 – English alphabets 161, 197–99 – English grammatica 24, 184, 192–200, 203–205, 211, 223, 225–26, 272–73 – English people in Iceland and Scandinavia 6, 68, 77–78, 101, 191, 196–97, 211 – English into Old Norse translation 21, 196 – Education/schools in England 9, 29–30, 105, 108, 115, 119, 138, 155, 159, 163, 168–70, 181–82, 184, 276–77 – Relationship between English and Old Norse/Icelandic languages 198 – See Grammatica Etymology in education and grammatica 171 Eyrbyggja saga 31, 39, 41, 61, 77 Færeyinga saga 36, 61, 90 Fifth Grammatical Treatise (5GT ) 20, 232 Figurative Language 10–11, 19–20, 54, 181, 225, 228, 231–34, 238, 245–46, 250–51, 253–54, 256, 259–61, 269, 273 – Fígúra (Lat. figura) 18–20, 188–89, 206, 208, 214, 233–42, 246, 249, 258–59, 261–62, 267–68, 274 – Kennings 17, 20, 22, 50, 54–55, 206, 226, 228–29, 231, 238–40, 244, 251, 257–58, 261, 264, 267, 269–71 – Metaphor 54, 185, 226, 238–40, 254, 261, 267–68 – Tropes 19, 206, 214, 232–34, 236, 246, 249, 260, 267–68 – See Barbarismus, Grammatica Finances/economics of education 1–2, 4, 13, 15, 24, 62–65, 69, 130, 135–36, 142, 144–45, 153, 160, 281 – Charity and poor students 1, 9, 63–64, 79, 73, 97–100, 103, 105, 114–15, 117, 119, 123–24, 134–35, 139–43, 145, 150, 160, 168, 170, 177, 211 – Costs of books/vestments 121 – Costs/fees of education/fosterage 8, 24, 62–64, 69, 105, 116, 129, 133–39, 141, 143, 145, 160–61, 175, 282 – Costs of journeying abroad 129

First Grammatical Treatise (1GT ) 16, 18, 20, 41, 46–47, 161–62, 191, 197–99, 202, 206, 217–18, 221–24, 227, 229, 231–34, 247–50, 260, 264, 268, 271–72, 277 Fóstbræðra saga 40, 50 Fosterage 24, 30–32, 44, 56–65, 67, 75–76, 81, 83–85, 92, 95, 106–108, 115, 131, 141, 144–45, 190, 228, 275, 281–82 – Age for fosterage 105–106 – Cost of fosterage 63–64, 129, 133, 135, 137, 139 – Fosterage in peacemaking 42, 60 142 – Foster-parents as teachers 1, 31, 34–36, 38, 41, 43, 50, 59–61, 79–86, 89–91, 96, 100, 283 – Giant foster-parents 38 – Nutritor 56–57 – Woman in fosterage 39, 44–45, 50, 58, 85, 114–15 – See Children, Pagan/Pre-Christian education, Students, Teachers Fourth Grammatical Treatise (4GT ) 17–20, 25, 178, 191 202, 206–209, 219, 227–28, 232–33, 242–44, 249–51, 254, 256–57, 261, 267, 270, 273–74, 277–79 French – French clergy 172 – French intellectual culture 68 – French language 90, 162, 169, 195–96, 198 Games 44 – Chess 43, 48, 74, 281 – Kvátra 74 Geisli (Einarr Skúlason) 22, 51, 266 GKS 1812 4to 21, 167, 172, 183–84, 186 Glosses/glossing 172, 191–92, 194–96, 204–209, 211, 223, 233, 283 – Glossaries 21, 182–84, 193, 210 – Glossing in hagiography 23, 258–59, 269 – Other glossed texts 181, 190 Goðar/goðorð 4–5 Grágás 15, 33–34, 36–38, 41, 48, 52, 54, 57, 59, 63–64, 74, 78–79, 83, 90, 93, 106, 134, 137, 139, 143, 150–51, 166–67, 169–70, 230 – See Law

General Index

Grammatica – Artes poetriae 17, 214 – Concept/definition of grammatica 9–13 – Latin/bilingual grammatica 13, 20–21, 23–24, 32–33, 46, 102, 104, 118–19, 147, 154, 159–64, 167–88, 190–200, 202–211, 213–14 – Latínulist 159 – Linguistic/grammatical authority and auctores 7–8, 12–13, 17, 20, 132, 155, 197–98, 200–202, 211, 222–23, 230–32, 234, 243, 245–50, 254–56, 261, 265, 267–70, 281 – Old Norse vernacular grammatica (concept) 13, 23–25, 53, 65, 185, 211, 213–15, 217, 219, 221, 223–24, 226–27, 229, 231–33, 240–45, 247–48, 250, 260–62, 266–70, 272–74, 276–79, 282–83 – Old Norse vernacular grammatical treatises 2, 7, 15–21, 53, 159, 190–92, 200, 203–211, 214–15, 219–22, 234, 245, 267–68, 271–72, 274, 276–77, 281 – See Codex Upsaliensis, Codex Wormianus, English, Figurative Language, First grammatical treatise, Fourth grammatical treatise, Hagiography, Poetry, Second grammatical Treatise, Snorra Edda Greek language 21, 182, 197, 217–18, 248 Grettis saga 40 Guðmundardrápa (Árni Jónsson) 242–44, 264–66 Guðmundarkvæði (Arngrímr Brandsson) 242–43, 263–66 Guðmundar sögur 30–31, 71, 79–81, 85, 88, 102, 104, 151, 200, 219 – A-version 71, 158 – B-version 158 – C-version 104, 135 – D-version 79, 201 – Prestssaga Guðmundar 71 Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu 35, 49–50, 60–62, 131, 198


Hagiography/saints’ lives 14, 21, 70, 96, 100, 103, 148, 236, 257–58, 274 – Commentary within hagiography 23, 25, 232, 240–41, 258–60, 267, 269, 273, 277–78 – Florid style of hagiography 232, 241–42, 278 – Hagiographic books 155 – Hagiographic idealization of education 90, 174–75 – Medieval reading of hagiography 41, 46, 148, 176 – Medieval writing of hagiography 158, 176 – Translated hagiography 13, 23, 224–25, 240 Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar 45 Hannyrðir (Handicrafts/textile skills) 32, 44–46, 54, 62, 175–76, 281, 283 – See Víglundar saga Háttalykill 22–23, 52–53, 226–27, 229 Hauksbók 22, 110, 196 Hebrew language 197, 217–18, 248 Heiðarvíga saga 52, 152 Heimskringla (Snorri Sturluson) 22, 38 – Ynglinga saga 43, 55 Heiti 17, 20, 239 Hirðstjóri 6 Historia Norwegiae 38 Historical/genealogical education 1, 23, 32–33, 35, 46–48, 54–55, 60, 65, 75, 132, 169, 213 – Ættvísi 47–48 – Mannfræði 35, 47–48 Homilies 7, 87, 155, 170–71, 178, 189–90, 200, 224–25, 266, 268, 274 – See Liturgy Hreiðars þáttr heimska 50–51 Hugsvinnsmál 181, 220, 268 Hungrvaka 47, 70, 78, 82, 89, 93–96, 125, 141, 199 Icelandic Homily Book 164, 185, 206, 224–25, 262–63, 266–67 Íslendingabók (Ari Þorgilsson) 14–15, 35, 37, 47, 55, 70, 77–78, 81–82, 89, 93–96, 100, 125, 167, 199, 224, 275


General Index

Járnsíða 15 Jóns saga baptista 23, 240–42, 258–59, 261, 267, 269, 277–78 Jóns saga helga 30, 44, 46–47, 49, 70, 82, 84, 92, 94–96, 100–104, 113–14, 122, 134, 154, 156–60, 164, 168, 170, 172, 174–77, 182, 210 – H-version 46, 114 – L-version 46, 104, 172–73 – S-version 164 Jónsbók 15, 73, 126 Kristni saga 49, 70, 77–79, 89, 93–96, 125 Króka-Refs saga 53 Landnámabók 59, 70, 110 Lárentíus saga (Einarr Hafliðason) 30–31, 40–41, 71, 86, 93–94, 101, 103–105, 109, 116–17, 119–20, 130–31, 135, 142, 149, 152, 154, 157–158, 160–61, 164, 169–70, 173–74, 176–77, 186–89, 200–202, 210, 262 – B-version 118 Lateran Councils 93, 102, 105, 138 Law – Canon law/canon law education 6, 282, 103–104, 116–17, 127–28, 130–31, 147, 152, 157, 177, 186–89, 201, 210, 282 – Lawspeaker 4, 6, 33–36, 54–55, 70, 96, 166–67, 230, 275, 283 – Lǫgmaðr 6, 34, 117, 222 – Secular legal education 33–37, 40–41, 45, 52, 54, 59, 61–63, 80, 103–104, 139, 187–88, 248 – See Grágás, Jónsbók, Járnsíða Laxdæla saga 58 Lilja 22–23, 181, 242–44, 249, 260–61, 263–67, 269, 277–78 Literacy 24, 37, 41, 65, 98, 160, 168–69, 171, 177, 191, 210, 214, 221, 270, 273, 275, 282 – Literacy among women 85 – Quality of literacy in Iceland 2–3 – Recreational literacy 277 – Reformation ideals of literacy 73–74 – See Runes Litla Skálda 20, 229

Liturgy 77–78, 87, 124, 137, 147, 149–150, 153, 156, 159–60, 170–71, 190, 210, 244, 262 – Chieftains and the liturgy 140–41 – Choir 101–102, 104, 114, 154, 163–64, 173–74 – Lágsǫngr 170–71 – Liturgical books 74, 80, 87, 148–49, 151–53, 155, 167, 178, 180 – Liturgy and education 1, 3, 8, 24–25, 81, 131, 150, 154, 156, 158, 163–65, 171, 173–74, 190, 282 – Liturgy and the vernacular 150, 155 – See Music, Máldagar Máldagar (Icelandic church charters) 15, 86–88, 150–51, 159, 163–64 – Booklists 15, 23, 87, 149, 151–53, 190, 210 – Máldagarbækur (Cartularies) 149–50, 152 Maríu saga 241 Marthe saga ok Marie Magdalene 241 Mathematics/arithmetic 165, 185–86, 192, 206, 236 Memory 34, 36, 40–41, 43, 52–53, 55, 60, 132, 163, 168, 172–73, 189, 202, 205, 220, 259 Merlínusspá 22, 226, 241–42, 242, 251–53, 255–57, 261, 266, 269, 278 Messuskýringar/Expositiones missae 155–56, 164 Metalanguage 24, 161–62, 168, 179, 191, 194–96, 202–209, 211, 214–15, 217–19, 221, 227–28, 234, 238, 240, 245, 260, 270 – See Barbarismus, Figurative language Missionaries 49, 64, 67–68, 70, 75–78, 83, 110, 130–31, 161, 191, 196–97, 199, 211 Monasteries/monasticism 1, 5–9, 14, 24, 29–31, 58, 67–72, 74–77, 81, 86–87, 92, 94, 96, 99–100, 104, 107–125, 133, 135–36, 139, 144, 148, 158, 164, 170, 174, 184–85, 192, 226, 240–41, 244, 260, 269, 272, 274, 277, 281–82 – Abbots/priors 31, 96, 101, 108, 111, 113–14, 117, 119–22, 135, 158, 170, 193, 240–42

General Index

– Anchorites/hermits 110, 114–15, 119, 122, 133, 183 – Augustinian canons 5, 9, 67, 96, 110–12, 115–16, 118, 120, 124 – Benedictine Rule 9, 40, 109, 111 116, 119 – Books/booklists at monasteries 149, 151–53, 178–80, 189–90 – Internal/External schools 9, 115, 118 – Nuns 73, 107, 109, 114–16, 118, 122 – Reformation closure of monasteries 5, 7, 110, 121, 123–24, 159 – See Schools, Students, Teachers Music – Magical songs 39–40, 54 – Musica 9, 163, 165, 184–85, 192 – Musical instruments/figures 162–63, 165, 185 – Musical modes 185 – Musical notes 170 – Musical skill of bishops 71, 156 – Music teacher 101, 104, 164, 172 – Sǫngr (liturgical music/musical education) 33, 102, 122, 147, 154, 160, 163–65, 167–68, 170–74, 185, 210, 272, 282 Nítíða saga 43 Njáls saga 34, 59–62, 145 Northern Icelandic Benedictine School 241 Obelus 166, 172 Oral education 23, 28, 34–37, 40, 43, 46–47, 50, 52–55, 65, 154, 157–58, 164, 175–76, 183, 191, 195, 202, 205–207, 209, 213, 223, 226, 228–30, 232, 234–36, 244, 270–71, 273, 275–76, 278, 281 Pagan/Pre-Christian Education 1, 23–25, 27–28, 31–32, 37–39, 42–43, 46, 48–51, 53–54, 56, 64–65, 69, 89, 213, 215, 218–219, 221, 231, 281 – Pre-Christian fosterage 58, 61, 64, 76, 83, 91–92, 95, 133–34, 139 Pater Noster 36, 61, 90, 167, 216 Pétrs saga Postula 186, 241 Pétrusorða 74


Philosophical education 108 Physical/martial education 29, 32, 38, 43–44, 48 Physiologus 224–25 Pilgrimage 125, 128, 157 Placitusdrápa 226, 235 Plague 6–7, 131 Poetic Edda 230 Poetry 7, 20–22, 28, 42, 49, 183, 193, 220, 222, 227, 229, 243–45, 249–51, 256–57, 263, 275, 279 – Vernacular Christian poetry 7, 13, 19, 22, 25, 49, 51, 226, 232, 235, 241–44, 251, 257, 261, 263–67, 274, 277–78 – Clavis metrica 17, 22, 52, 226, 229 – Macaronic poetry 172 – Magic and poetry 40–41, 50, 54 – Mansǫngskvæði 48–49 – Defamatory poetry 52, 54, 258 – Latin poetic education 2, 49, 158, 164, 179, 180–82, 188–89, 216, 218, 270–73 – Rímur 230, 265–66 – Translated poetry 22, 181, 226, 251–53, 255, 265, 278 – Vernacular poetic education 1–2, 24–25, 27, 32–33, 43, 46, 48–55, 60, 65, 75, 82, 95, 176, 213–16, 221–23, 226, 230–32, 251, 260, 269–78, 281 – See Figurative language, Fourth Grammatical Treatise, Grammatica, Runes Snorra Edda, Third Grammatical Treatise Papacy 6, 106, 112–13 – Popes 129–30, 170, 201–202 Prophecy 22, 186, 240–42, 245–46, 251–57, 260–61, 266, 269 – See Figurative language, Theology/ scripture Reformation 2, 5, 7, 30, 40, 68, 72–74, 91–92, 94, 99, 107–108, 110, 116, 121, 123–24, 126–27, 137, 144, 148, 159, 274 – See Monasticism Rhetorica/rhetorical education 7, 9–11, 19–20, 159, 181, 184–85, 192, 195, 214, 228, 236, 246, 255, 261–62, 266, 268 – Málsnilldarlist 10


General Index

Rómverja saga 185, 217 Runes – Fuþark 43, 132, 216, 220 – Manuscript runes 219–20 – Runes and poetry 42, 46, 216, 220–22, 257 – Runes as secretive language 42, 51 257 – Runesticks 41–43, 216 – Runes in the 3GT and grammatica 18, 132, 176, 213–21, 232, 234, 247–48 – Runic education 23, 25, 27, 31–33, 41–43, 45, 48, 51, 55, 65, 139, 186, 216, 220, 281 – Runic literacy in Iceland 42–43 – Runic metalanguage 217–19, 221–22 – Runic syllabaries 162, 216–18, 223 Schools 1–3, 6, 9–10, 14, 24, 27, 56, 63–65, 68, 79, 82–83, 89–91, 125, 127–30, 133–35, 138, 143–45, 147–49, 157, 159, 168–69, 179, 182, 190, 205, 271, 274–75, 277, 281–83 – Almonry schools 9 – Cathedral schools 1, 3, 8–9, 24, 27, 56, 67–68, 70, 72, 75, 85, 92–110, 113, 115, 123–24, 133–36, 138–39, 143–44, 163, 170, 173–74, 187, 190, 274, 281–83 – Collegiate church schools 8 – Definition of a medieval school 23, 28–32, 75–76, 81–84, 86, 117–18 – Monastic schools 1, 8–9, 24, 58, 67–69, 72, 74–75, 77, 92, 107–24, 133, 135, 139, 144, 170, 190, 199, 274, 281–82 – School buildings 29 – Size of cathedral schools 93–94 – Song schools 163, 173 Second Grammatical Treatise (2GT ) 16, 18, 20, 161–62, 185, 191, 202, 207, 218–19, 248–49, 272, 279 Sermons – See Homilies Seven Liberal Arts (Septem artes liberales) 8–9, 24, 43, 55, 147–48, 159–60, 169–70, 177 186, 192, 210, 281–82 – Divisio philosophiae 186 Sigrdrífumál 42

Snorra Edda (Snorri Sturluson) 15, 17, 20, 22, 50–53, 183, 198, 206, 227–39, 242–44, 249–50, 254, 256–57, 259–61, 263–65, 269–72, 275–77, 279 – Gylfaginning 17, 230–31 – Háttatal 17–18, 22, 52, 206, 228–31, 235–37, 239, 243, 249–50, 276 – Prologue 17, 198 – Skáldskaparmál 17, 20, 206, 227–229, 231, 239, 256, 258, 270–71 Sólarljóð 257 Staðamál 6, 68, 71, 98, 100, 103, 105, 112–13, 116, 144, 152, 278 Stjórn 241 Stjúðmæðrasǫgur (Step-mother sagas) 46 Students 1–2, 13, 19, 24, 28–31, 133, 161–62, 167–69, 183, 191–94, 211, 216, 230–31, 234, 268, 270, 282 – Clerical students 8, 10, 30–31, 67–69, 72–73, 75, 80–86, 90, 92–95, 104–107, 111, 113, 115–20, 123–24, 130, 134–36, 138–39, 142–45, 151, 154, 158, 160, 164–65, 167, 173–78, 180, 189, 204–205, 209, 225–26, 241, 272–74, 277 – Failed students 105, 160 – Female students 31, 41, 44–46, 50, 59, 75, 85, 91, 114–15, 121–22, 134, 176 – Icelandic students abroad 125–27, 129–30, 132–33 – Prestige of students 70, 95, 100–101, 113, 117, 281 – Secular/lay students 39–41, 56, 59–63, 65, 123, 144–45, 160, 173, 277 – Students in lower ordinations 88, 120, 163 – Students teaching other students 103–104 – See Fosterage, Schools Sturlungar 5, 20, 112 – Sturlunga Age 14 Sturlunga saga/samtíðarsögur 14, 33, 54, 71, 76, 81 – Íslenginga saga 14, 51–52, 54, 102, 151–52, 171, 201 – Þorgils saga skarða 108 Svarfdæla saga 43 Syllabaries 61, 162, 216–18, 223, 249, 279 Sýslumaðr 6, 121

General Index

Teachers 1–2, 13, 24, 28–29, 31, 40–41, 59–62, 64–65, 67–71, 75, 79–82, 85, 91–92, 107, 117–20, 129, 132–33, 135, 137–39, 142–45, 157–58, 161–62, 164, 168, 172–75, 180, 183, 187, 189–90, 192–93, 195, 205, 210, 216, 230, 281–82 – Bishops as teachers 93, 95–97, 100–101, 130 – Female teachers 31–32, 36, 39, 41, 44–48, 50, 59–62, 90–91, 114–115, 122, 175, 186, 276, 282 – Lærifaðir 31 – Óðinn as teacher 55 – Biological parents as teachers 1, 32, 36, 40–41, 47–50, 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 89–91, 99, 117, 160, 186, 282 – Schoolmasters 30, 31, 69, 85–86, 93, 98–99, 101–105, 117, 119, 124, 127, 135, 142, 164, 173–75, 181, 192, 211, 220 – See Fosterage Theology/scripture – Biblical/scriptural translation 242, 256, 274 – Theological books/texts 7, 15, 148, 155, 181, 186, 190 – Theological education 9, 102, 108, 132, 147, 184, 187, 189–90, 282 – Theological/scriptural interpretation/ ideology 11–12, 19, 171, 177–80, 213–14, 233 236, 241–42, 245–47, 254–57, 260, 262, 270, 273–74, 278 – Vulgate Bible 19 – See Prophecy, Figurative language Third Grammatical Treatise (3GT ) 7, 17–20, 41, 81, 132, 178, 191, 197–99, 202, 206–209, 219, 221, 226–28, 231–44, 251, 260–61, 270, 272–73, 277–79


– Málskrúðsfræði (M) 10, 18–19, 206, 208, 219, 225, 232, 235, 237–40, 242, 249–50, 268 – Málfræðinnar Grundvǫllr (MG) 18, 161–62, 206–208, 218–19, 232–34, 238, 248, 260 Thomas saga Erkibyskups 242 Þorláks saga helga 47, 70, 90, 97, 125, 129–30, 135, 141–42, 158, 168–69 – B-version 157 Þorleifs þáttur jarlsskálds 40–41 Þorsteins þáttur uxafóts 39, 42–43, 60 Þulur (Metrical lists) 20, 183, 229 Tithes 4–5, 55, 134, 151 Translation – Medieval view on the risks of translation 200, 225–26 – Relationship between ON translated text and Latin original 149, 155, 201–202 – Translation in education 78, 191, 195, 205–206, 208, 233–34, 274 – Þýðingar 221 – See Third Grammatical Treatise, Fourth Grammatical Treatise, Hagiography, Poetry, Theology/scripture Tveggia postola saga Jóns og Jacobs 241, 259–60, 273 Vestments 74, 121, 151 Víglundar saga 42, 44–46, 58–59, 62, 176 Vǫlsunga saga 43 Wax tablets 161, 219 Ynglinga saga 43, 55