Just two days before Marianne Kalinke was supposed to attend the International Saga Conference in Iceland, the professor emerita received a phone call from Guðrún Nordal, director of the Árni Magnússon Institute — the manuscript institute at the University of Iceland.
Nordal was calling to tell Kalinke that President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson of Iceland was going to award Kalinke Iceland’s highest honor — the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon.
Kalinke’s first reaction was shock, then her second reaction was “what am I going to wear?”
Kalinke is Center for Advanced Study Professor Emerita of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois, where she taught Old Icelandic language and literature from 1979, when she joined the university as an associate professor, until her retirement in 2006.
She was honored for her work as an international authority on cultural and literary relations between Scandinavia and Europe in the medieval and early modern period (13th through the 16th century). In her many publications, she has addressed the transmission of French literature to Scandinavia, the nature of translation in the Middle Ages, and the role played by Iceland in preserving medieval German literature that has otherwise been lost.
Kalinke said she was very impressed by the president who spoke at the opening of the International Saga Conference, where she was honored. He is a historian with a master’s and doctoral degree from English universities. She explained that he spoke about three sentences in Icelandic and then translated himself into English in his opening remarks.
Kalinke recalled how she received the Knight’s Cross on the first day of the conference.
“Each one of us was called forward (by the president) and he pinned the Order on us,” Kalinke said. “He had trouble pinning mine on … he mumbled, first in Icelandic and then in English, ‘Patience is a virtue.’”
In the 1980s, Kalinke conducted research on Icelandic manuscripts at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, but she realized that if she ever wanted to be taken seriously as a scholar in Iceland, she needed to spend much more time in that country and also try to learn to speak modern Icelandic.
“The Icelanders tend to be nationalistic — I mean they’re a small country and deservedly proud of their medieval literature and culture. So I started going to Iceland and I decided I was much happier in Iceland than I was in Denmark,” Kalinke said.
Along with Kalinke, Ted Andersson of Stanford, Carolyne Larrington of Oxford, Margaret Clunies Ross of Sydney, Carol Clover and John Lindow of Berkley, Jürg Glauser of Zurich and Stephanie Gropper of Tübingen were also honored at the ceremony, which took place at President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson’s official residence at Bessastaðir, on the Alftanes peninsula just outside of Reykjavík in Iceland. The Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Falcon was conferred on all eight international scholars for their research contributions, scholarly work, and teaching in the area of medieval Icelandic literature.
The Order of the Falcon was established in 1921 by King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland, who was the first Grand Master of the Order. When Iceland became a republic in 1944, the President of Iceland became the Grand Master.
The Order of the Falcon is awarded twice a year to around a dozen individuals. According to the royal decree which established the Order of the Falcon, the award is given to “men and women, Icelandic and foreign, who have made outstanding contributions to the honour and prosperity of the country in some way.”
The order is conferred in five grades, the highest being the Grand Cross Breast Star which is awarded to heads of state. The knight’s cross, which Kalinke was awarded, is the fifth class which is awarded to those who have played an instrumental role in directing attention to Icelandic culture.
The International Saga Conference was founded in 1971 and meets every three years. The 2018 conference was the largest to date with over 400 seasoned scholars and graduate students in attendance.
Kalinke has been attending the conference since 1979. She remarked that the recent conference was the highlight of her year because it gave her a chance to see her colleagues from all over the world and meet the new generation of young scholars.