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A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics

A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics

Margaret Clunies Ross
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics
    Book Description:

    This is the first book in English to deal with the twin subjects of Old Norse poetry and the various vernacular treatises on native poetry that were a conspicuous feature of medieval intellectual life in Iceland and the Orkneys from the mid-twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Its aim is to give a clear description of the rich poetic tradition of early Scandinavia, particularly in Iceland, where it reached its zenith, and to demonstrate the social contexts that favoured poetic composition, from the oral societies of the early Viking Age in Norway and its colonies to the devout compositions of literate Christian clerics in fourteenth-century Iceland. The author analyses the two dominant poetic modes, eddic and skaldic, giving fresh examples of their various styles and subjects; looks at the prose contexts in which most Old Norse poetry has been preserved; and discusses problems of interpretation that arise because of the poetry's mode of transmission. She is concerned throughout to link indigenous theory with practice, beginning with the pre-Christian ideology of poets as favoured by the god ódinn and concluding with the Christian notion that a plain style best conveys the poet's message. Margaret Clunies Ross is McCaughey Professor of English Language and Early English Literature and Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Sydney.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-401-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-ix)
    (pp. x-x)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: The Old Norse Poetic Corpus
    (pp. 1-28)

    The subject of this book, Old Norse poetry and poetics, was one of particular importance to the Viking Age and medieval societies of Scandinavia, and nowhere was it more significant than in Iceland, from where the major part of our extant textual evidence derives. An incident, doubtless mythical, recorded in theEdda(‘Poetics’) of c .1225 by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson¹ reveals something of the complex of ideas that underpinned traditional Norse views of poetry and poets. It concerns an exchange of verses between a troll-woman and a poet, Bragi Boddason the Old, an archetypal figure of semi-divine status and...

  7. CHAPTER TWO An Indigenous Typology of Old Norse Poetry 1: Technical Terms
    (pp. 29-39)

    Having reviewed the modern division of Old Norse poetry into eddic-and skaldic-type verse, and discovered a number of complicating factors that make a simple division of the corpus difficult, I will now examine ways in which Viking Age and medieval Scandinavians classified Old Norse poetry and what that can tell us of the uses to which they put the poetic arts and the values they ascribed to them. This poetry and medieval Norse attitudes towards it developed first in an oral society and many signs are displayed of a close relationship between poetic genres and social interactions. Much of the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE An Indigenous Typology of Old Norse Poetry 2: Genres and Subgenres of Skaldic Verse
    (pp. 40-68)

    As with eddic poetry, agonistic speech acts are never far from the surface of the classificatory vocabulary of the genres of skaldic verse. Thus it will come as no surprise that there are many Old Norse literary terms for poems of praise and blame, which point to one of poetry’s main social purposes, to serve as a public endorsement of the dominant values of early Norse, especially Norwegian, court society and of the figure of its ruler, in particular, as a leader in war, a tough fighter himself, and a generous rewarder of his personal entourage. Encomium or praise poetry,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Circumstances of Recording and Transmission: Poetry as Quotation
    (pp. 69-82)

    An interesting paradox underlies all our research on Old Norse-Icelandic poetry from the Viking and early Middle Ages: our knowledge of it depends absolutely upon its existence in written form, yet probably very little of it had a primarily written existence before the latter part of the twelfth century. That is to say that, except for the compositions of a number of thirteenth-and fourteenth-century Icelanders, which may well never have existed in oral form (a subject to be considered in later chapters), all medieval Norse poetry is likely to have been first composed and recited orally. This applies to skaldic...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Old Norse Poetic Aesthetics
    (pp. 83-113)

    The definition of a skald conveyed in Bragi Boddason’s verseSkáld kalla mik, quoted at the beginning of Chapter 1, indicates that there were two fundamental ways in which medieval Scandinavians conceptualised poetry: on the one hand as a divine gift in the form of an intoxicating drink, and, on the other, as a craft or skill, aníprótt, that is, an accomplishment of human intelligence. These two ways of understanding the genesis and nature of poetry were unlikely to have been viewed as contrastive or contradictory in their eyes, although they may seem so to us. In fact, a...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Impact of Christianity on Old Norse Poetry
    (pp. 114-140)

    In order to understand traditional Old Norse poetry, those who heard it had to have an understanding of what we might call the conceptual world that lay behind it, that is, all the assumed knowledge of how the world in which humans lived came about and was organised. In the previous chapter the reasons why it was necessary to come to Old Norse poetry with a good deal of cultural knowledge became clear. This was a poetics that was not transparent and did not yield up its meaning easily. Whereverkenningarandheitiand other rhetorical figures were used, the...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Poetics and Grammatica 1: The Twelfth Century
    (pp. 141-156)

    The changes in religious ideology discussed in the previous chapter affected medieval Norse poetics in five main ways: they affected the practice of poetry, that is, its actual composition, as we have seen, and they affected the theories that underlay that practice. They also heralded changes in the media through which poetry and ideas about poetry were expressed and brought about some shifts in the kinds of people who became poets and the ways in which those poets were educated in their art. We have seen that for the pre-Christian period poetic theory is largely inferential, that is, we can...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Old Norse Poetics and Grammatica 2: The Edda of Snorri Sturluson
    (pp. 157-184)

    Snorri Sturluson’sEdda(orThe Prose EddaorThe Younger Edda) is without doubt the most important Old Norse contribution to medieval Scandinavian poetics and arguably one of the most interesting and original theoretical works of the Western Middle Ages considered as a whole.¹ It differs from the other extant Icelandic grammatical works in that it deals not only with Old Norse poetic diction and metrics, but also with the conceptual background to traditional eddic and skaldic poetry. In order to achieve the latter goal, it includes a coherent exposition of Norse mythology and a statement about the place pre-Christian...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Poetics and Grammatica 3: The Third and Fourth Grammatical Treatises
    (pp. 185-205)

    Snorri’sEddawas a landmark work in the history of Icelandic poetry. Not only did it look back to the poetry of the classical period, the Viking Age and the twelfth century, and present both a compendium of the best poetry from the past, as Snorri saw it, together with a definitive handbook on how to interpret it, but it offered instruction in verse composition to young poets of Snorri’s own age, the first decades of the thirteenth century. Snorri himself put theory into practice with his own compositions, and so initiated the last period of the skaldic art in...

  15. CHAPTER TEN The Icelandic Poetic Landscape in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries
    (pp. 206-231)

    The art of skaldic poetry remained vigorous in Iceland during the thirteenth and at least the first part of the fourteenth century. There is also good evidence for the continuing knowledge of, and interest in, poetry in eddic measures, not least the production of the compilation of divine and heroic poems in the Codex Regius of the Elder Edda from about 1270–80. By the middle of the fourteenth century, however,rímur, long narrative poems derived from prose sources, usually sagas, and influenced by European metrical romances, had begun to take the place of skaldic poetry, though skaldic compositions of...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN Conclusion
    (pp. 232-235)

    This interesting statement opens the Old Icelandic law codeGrágás’sdiscussion of poetry. While most of this section concerns defamation and the various penalties exacted for its practice, a modern reader may wonder why it begins by stating that a man has no right to compose either defamation or praise. Why mention praise here, which is laudatory of its subject? Why should a man not have an inherent right to compose it? The answer lies in one of the main themes of this book, that in Old Norse, and particularly Icelandic, society, poetry was never value-neutral and so was never...

  17. APPENDIX: Snorri Sturluson’s View of Figurative Language
    (pp. 236-245)
    (pp. 246-272)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 273-283)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 284-284)