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FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte

Old Norse Poetry and the Development of Saga Literature

Alternative title: Norrøn poesi og utviklingen av norrøn sagalitteratur

Awarded: NOK 13.5 mill.

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Project Period:

2021 - 2025

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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. The main goal of this project is to investigate the importance of Skaldic poetry in the development of the sagas. Newly developed methods for dating skaldic stranzas on a linguistic basis will be an effective tool for determining whether the stanzas actually date to the period of their supposed composition. The new edition of the skaldic corpus will be a crucial tool for a reassessment of the evidence (Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, red: Margaret Clunies Ross & al.). The project started in August 2021, and have newly hired a PhD and a Postdoctoral Fellow.

The most radical Nordic literary innovation in the pre-modern era was the development of skaldic poetry. Besides runic inscriptions and eddic poetry, skaldic poetry from the 9th to the 14th centuries provides the oldest extant textual sources in Norway, Iceland and other Norwegian settlements. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, this poetry became the foundation on which Old Norse literature was built. This process has not been coherently described since a time when scholars assumed that oral tradition simply made its way into writing, thus creating a clear window on the past. No serious scholars would argue that today, but this question has still not been appropriately addressed: If Old Norse literature is not oral tradition in written form, how was it created? This project argues, firstly, that poetry had a profound formative effect on the development of Old Norse saga literature. Secondly, we suggest that saga literature went through two major stages of development: At first, saga authors sought to substantiate their accounts by quoting older poetry, and that poetry had a great influence on both style and content. Later, other authors wanted to write in the same style, even when the sagas became more fictionalised. At this point, authors started to compose poetry in the name of the early poets, so that the demands of prose came to affect poetic composition. These shifting tendencies only become visible when linguistic and metrical changes are studied in a more rigorous manner than has so far been the norm. Accordingly, this project has a strong emphasis on methodology, drawing on recent research by a number of Old Norse scholars, including the project participants themselves.

Funding scheme:

FRIPRO-Fri prosjektstøtte

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