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Jakob Sigurðsson 1765

There are only a few extant sources that depict the way people imagined the world of the Nordic gods. A few manuscripts of Snorra-Edda from the 17th and 18th century are illustrated with entertaining images and drawings. Among them is the so-called Melsteðs-Edda which contains sixteen page-sized images as well as the eddaic poems and Snorra-Edda. Farmer Jakob Sigurðsson (1727-1779) wrote and illustrated the manuscript along with numerous other manuscripts during his day. Jakob‘s illustrations bear witness to his rich imagination and great artistic abilities. They also provide an insight into the minds of the people who lived in the 18th century and specifically how they thought about the ancient gods and other phenomena mentioned in the text. Melsteðs-Edda is a paper manuscript and each page is only 18cm long and 14 cm wide, or a little smaller than an A5 page.

Jakob‘s ideas about Sleipnir, Odin‘s horse, was based on the Icelandic horse with four additional legs since Sleipnir is described as having eight legs in the text. Jakob found the engineering of horse movements using all these legs a little baffling and decided to pair them up, two and two together, as can be seen in the illustration. Things got even more complex when Jakob tried to draw the wolf Fenrir since there are no wolves in Iceland and the result is a rather odd creature. Jakob‘s interpretation of Gylfi in Gylfaginning is also quite unique since instead of the powerful king of the story, Jakob depicts him as a kind of simpleton.

SÁM 66 4to
The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies