A Brill Calendar: April 21

The Edda Manuscript's Final Journey

Few artefacts match autographs and manuscripts when it comes to eliciting feelings of all kinds: amongst them pride, involvement and authenticity.

Hunting documents generally deemed to have been lost - or stolen - irretrievably & gone forever, yet traced down and re-found makes for riveting stories; the mere signature of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln on paper – any piece of paper – fetches a nice price if sold.

The product of the writing hand is endowed with the supreme gift to transcend evanescence of what is here and now. It enters a mental realm which can’t be said to exist before. Is this symbolic representation of speech mankind’s most memorable hall-mark? One wonders. The wall of a palace of a Babylonian King is not the only carrier of the message that mortals are subject to metaphysical presences and relations. It may be argued that writing implies socio-cultural power.

By the same token, returning a crucial manuscript to its place of origination as to its rightful source and owner is a solemn deed, heavy with meaning and significance.

It is seldom that such a transfer was so characteristic of cultured civilization in Europe than when the Kingdom of Denmark – the subcontinent’s oldest monarchy by far – transferred ownership of a prime possession of its National Library - the Edda Manuscript - on April 21 1971 into the custody of the independent Republic of Iceland. After more than a century of increasing independence from Denmark, Europe’s first parliament, the Icelandic Althing, severed the last formal ties with (Nazi occupied) continental Denmark in 1944.

Awareness of a legendary past and of Homer’s epics cultivated by modern Greece is akin to admiration of Icelanders for their ‘Edda’ and its author, the Icelandic chieftain, bard and historian Snorri Sturluson, flourishing in the 13th century. The Danish gesture of 1971 may be compared with a return of the Elgin Marbles, languishing for some time in the British Museum, to Athens; it reflects respect for both past & future.