Arnamagnæanske Institut, AM 673 a 4º
(Icelandic Physiologus)


Produced: Iceland (Westfjord districts), c. 1200
Location: Arnamagnæanske Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark
Type: Bestiary
Language: Old Icelandic
Folios: 9
Illustrated: Yes
Media: Vellum
Folio 5v


The manuscript is divided into two sections: Fragment A (shelfmark AM 673 a I 4º, folio 1-2) and Fragment B (shelfmark AM 673 a II 4º, folio 1-9). There is a third fragment (shelfmark AM 673 a III 4º, folio 1-2), not dealt with here. This makes folio numbers confusing, since there is a folio 1 and 2 in both fragments. To keep the confusion to a minimum, this site will number the folios as though the two parts were one continuous manuscript, a convention followed by the Hermannsson edition - that is, folio 1 and 2 of Fragment A keep those numbers, while Fragment B folio 1 becomes folio 3, folio 2 becomes folio 5, etc. to folio 7, which becomes folio 9 (in other words, add 2 to the Fragment B folio numbers).

The illustrated Physiologus is on folio 1r-9v, followed by unrelated texts on folio 10r-11v. The manuscript is in poor condition; it has darkened with age, and the pages have many small and large holes. The illustrations are pen drawings, with hints of faded color visible on a few images.

[From Hermannsson, 1938 edition and facsimile p. 8-10]

The two Icelandic fragments, which we will call A (AM 673 a I 4º) and B (AM 673 a II 4º) respectively, seem to be both of about 1200, B possibly somewhat later. ... They can both be traced to the Westfjord districts (the north-western peninsula) of Iceland, yet we possess no evidence that they originated there and it is not possible to localize them. They seem both to be copies, or perhaps abstracts of earlier versions of which, however, we have no information except that judging from the orthography of the fragments the originals seemingly dated from the twelfth century. ...these fragments represent the first illustrated books made in Iceland now extant... Most of the initials in Fragment B were red, only one green. Fragment A, folio 1-2, is written on stiff poor vellum, not properly degreased, while Fragment B, folio 3-9, is on soft vellum which crumbles easily, and has suffered in other ways also. The pictures of both fragments have been colored, but very little of that is now to be seen... In reading the two fragments it is evident that neither of the authors, or writers, had a real translation in mind. The author of Fragment A, so far as we can judge, probably dispensed entirely with any descriptions of the animals and their characteristics, and dwelt only upon the moral symbolism to be drawn from them. For description he apparently substituted pictures. ... Fragment B has similar characteristics to those of Fragment A. Various misunderstandings are to be found there in the descriptions of the animals... On the whole the writer stresses the religious symbolism. ... The manuscript describes 23 beasts; all are illustrated except for the stag (folio 7r). The onocentaur appears in both A and B, but is illustrated only in B. Folios 8v and 9r have been partly erased and new text written in.

For a list of definitions of words in the Icelandic Physiologus, see the Dictionary of Old Norse Prose.

Additional Descriptions

Additional description 1 (Minimal)
Additional description 2 (Minimal)

Editions and Facsimiles

Printed editions

Dahlerup, 1889
Hermannsson, 1938

Printed facsimiles

Del Zotto Tozzoli, 1992
Hermannsson, 1938

Digital facsimiles

Arnamagnæanske Institut (Fragment A)
Arnamagnæanske Institut (Fragment B)