Old Norse Poetry and the Development of Saga Literature
New methods for dating skaldic poetry poems will provide insight into the importance of poetry for the development of the sagas.
AM 132 fol. from Möðruvallabók with stanza entered by a second hand. Photo: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar.
About the project
The art of skaldic poetry was established in Norway ca 850 AD and is a highly original contribution to European cultural heritage. This poetry became an essential component of the Norse saga literature that developed in the 11th–12th century.
Newly developed methods for dating skaldic stanzas on a linguistic and metrical (oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com) basis will be an effective tool for determining whether the stanzas actually date to the period of their supposed composition. These methods involve a grading of tested criteria from strong to weak. The new edition of the skaldic corpus (skaldic.abdn.ac.uk) will also be a crucial tool for the reassessment of the evidence.
The project sets out with two overall hypotheses, which will be tested and assessed.
- Skaldic and to some extent eddic poetry had a profound formative effect on the development of Old Norse saga literature, and one that goes far beyond what previous scholarship has appreciated.
- There was a development where early saga authors quoted poetry as sources and as documentation of historical facts, whereas poetry later became an integrated part of the production of saga narrative. Poetry thus provided decisive preconditions for saga writing. Gradually, the practice of quoting poetry became a stylistic ideal, and saga authors would then increasingly compose poetry themselves and attribute it to the protagonists. Therefore, we expect to find a larger proportion of spurious stanzas in younger sagas than in older ones.
The Research Council of Norway, contract nr. 313688.