The Flatøybok is one of the finest gems in the treasure trove of Icelandic manuscripts. Most of the tales in the Flatøybok are linked to the Norwegian kings Olav Tryggvason and Olav the Holy – but not exclusively, for with the whole of the North as its backdrop, its content of sagas, short tales and lays ranges from the legendary age to historic times. Here we read sagas that took place on the Faroe Islands, Greenland and the Orkney islands, we hear about the discovery of Vinland, and we meet heroes from Iceland and kings in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The Flatøybok is the largest of all Icelandic manuscripts, and it is richly and beautifully illustrated. The ink still gleams on its pages even though the writing is more than 600 years old, and the illustrations still fascinate with their interpretation of the stories, their mythical world and their well-preserved colours.
As early as 1662, the Flatøybok came to Denmark as a gift from the Icelandic bishop Brynjolf Sveinsson to the Danish king and bibliophile Frederik III. For more than 300 years, the Flatøybok graced The Royal Library in Copenhagen, where Norwegian, Icelandic and Danish academics could study the manuscript, until – as one of the first Icelandic manuscripts – it was returned on 21 April 1971 to the newly established institute of manuscripts in Reykjavík. With its content and its history, the Flatøybok can be said to be the symbol of Nordic solidarity and friendship.
Som of the magnificent narratives of the Flatøybok have just been translated into Norwegian, Swedish and Danish in the recently published edition of Icelandic sagas. But with the translation of the entire Flatøybok we get the opportunity to read these tales in their original medieval context, where the lives of the saga heroes are woven into a larger tapestry of royal history. It is a joy to see this flourishing dissemination of the Icelandic saga legacy throughout the North.