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.’”