Visualizing Grettir’s Moves: Spectral Imaging and the Visually Thick Presentation of Medieval Palimpsests

Kate Heslop
UC Berkeley

Palimpsest manuscripts from medieval Iceland present a unique challenge to digital visualization: an unidentified, destructive chemical applied by previous investigators in the hope of enhancing the abraded text. They also offer tantalizing prospects for developing new imaging and visualization tools—and hearing silenced voices. This pilot project applies imaging and spectroscopy (multispectral imaging, UV fluorescence and reflectance, and Raman spectroscopy) to a sample palimpsest. Its undertext is the sole witness to a poem last read in its entirety in the sixteenth century: the bawdy satire ‘Grettir’s Moves’, a poetic re-imagining of the hero Grettir as vagrant, lord of misrule and sexual athlete. The reagent applied to the manuscript will be characterized using spectroscopy, enabling targeted use of multispectral imaging and algorithmic analysis. The newly legible undertext will form the basis of the first complete edition and translation of ‘Grettir’s Moves’, to be published on in an innovative palimpsest viewer based on the International Image Interoperability Framework. If successful, these imaging techniques will form the basis for future work with chemically-treated palimpsests in Scandinavian collections, and the viewer will provide a platform for integration of these manuscripts into publicly-accessible digital archives.