AM 732 b 4to

During June and July, I was working on ms. AM 732 b 4to. It's only eighteen pages long, but full of exciting things that explain the world and human behaviour.


AM 736 b 4to is a parchment manuscript. With 22 x 14 centimeters, it is about the size of a large moleskine notebook. Today, there are only eighteen pages left, and we cannot tell the former scope of the complete manuscript. It could have been anything between a small journal and a thick compendium. The manuscript has modern foliation (1-9) in the bottom of the recto sides, and modern pagination (1-18) on all pages. There is also modern lineation on several folios, which was probably added by scholars. The parchment is in an ok state. Many holes had obviously been there before the text and the figures were added. There are also secondary tears, which have been restored. The layout varies a lot between the pages. There are large illustrations stretching almost as wide as the page. The text is set up in one or two columns depending on the content. It also seems that text was added later to existing figures or paragraphs and eventually filled the margins on all three sides.

Unfortunately, there are very few historical facts known about AM 732 b 4to. We know that Árni Magnússon loaned the manuscript from a priest in south-east Iceland and eventually bought it. That was early in the eighteenth century. Apparently, the manuscript was already the small booklet we know today, and Árni had it bound in a leaf from a Latin office book for protection. Today the manuscript is kept at the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen.

AM 732 b 4to has been digitised, so you can flick through all pages and even download them in high resolution on

Contents, Language & Usage

The manuscript is a miscellany. Most of the contents are related to the world: There are astronomical illustrations with accompanying text, maps, explanation of physical phenomena, and sections on the computus. On other pages, however, there are grammatical notes, and proverbs on others. The sections do not seem structured in any way, so it seems that the scribe collected them as he went along. Apparently, it was the same scribe who filled in later additions to the text. This suggests that the manuscript was actually written by its owner/user and not a commissioned work. He might have owned it for some time and collected items that he found interesting in other manuscripts over lengths of time. From some liturgical formulae and verses in the manuscript, it seems that he was a priest. Another thing pointing at a clerical education is the comparatively good command of the Latin language.

AM 736 b 4to is a good example to illustrate manuscript bilingualism in medieval Iceland. It contains Latin and Old Norse text from its outset (one could say the manuscript was composed bilingually). Not only do Latin and Old Norse stand side by side on the page, the respective text parts also explain and complement each other. At the same time, we see later additions in the manuscript in both languages, meaning that not only had the manuscript been written by and for persons competent in both languages, but it had been used later by at least one other person who could read and spell both Old Norse and Latin. This manuscript alone therefore shows that there was a bilingual nucleus somewhere in medieval Iceland in the fourteenth century, which either persisted over time, or which was paralleled at a later stage elsewhere on the island.

Proverbs on f. 5r

During July 2017, I was busy tweeting quotations from f. 5r. They are an eclectic mixture on faith, sex and manners – basically everything you need to know as a priest in the fourteenth century. Flick through all of it here...

Did I miss anything? Your publication, or someone else's? Do you have any other comments on this post? Let me know by twitter DM or e-mail.

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