In 2009, the Arnamagnæan collection of manuscripts was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register. On that occasion, the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík held a series of public lectures about selected manuscripts, now published as Árni Magnússon’s Treasures. Memories of the World in Icelandic Manuscripts. The book’s cover image imagines the globe as a brain, and each manuscript as a memory stored there. The book's innovative layout is inspired by manuscripts, uniquely communicating to readers their visual and material dimension.
The manuscripts discussed in this volume – fragments of the World’s memories – are filled with text, music and images from past centuries. They were produced at different times in the history of Iceland and give us an array of insights into the life and preoccupations of Icelanders. We encounter stories about the dramatic lives, fates and feats of saga heroes such as Njáls saga’s Gunnar and Grettis saga’s Grettir, powerful accounts of saints, magnificent Chrisitan poetry in dróttkvætt (skaldic) metre, Icelandic ‘twin-songs’, hymns, lawcodes, legal judgements and an illustrated Norse mythology.
The book presents vellum codices from the medieval period but also younger manuscripts that the scholar Árni Magnússon diligently and passionately collected from when he was a young man. Also discussed are manuscripts that were added to the collection after Árni’s time, including an impressive nine-volume dictionary by Jón Ólafsson from Grunnavík, which he worked on for most of his life but was never printed, as well as a miscellany with folk material that ordinary people in the nineteenth century sent to Copenhagen to Jón Sigurðsson, a scholar and prominent politican. Every manuscript in this volume opens up a fascinating glimpse into memories of Iceland’s culture and history.