HDAA03651U The Icelandic fornaldarsögur and early historiography: origin, transmission, reception

Volume 2013/2014

The group of Icelandic sagas known as fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, literally ‘Stories of the northern lands in ancient times’, deal with the kings and heroes of mainland Scandinavia before the settlement of Iceland in the 9th century. Although they date, in their present form, predominantly from the 14th and 15th centuries, and are thus younger than the ‘classical’ Icelandic family sagas, most have at least some basis in significantly older tradition, and many of the characters and events depicted in them are found also in other sources, both in Old Norse and other languages. Saxo Grammaticus used them – or something like them – as a source for his Gesta Danorum, written in the 13th century, and many have echoes in the Scandinavian ballad tradition. The fornaldarsögur were among the most popular of saga genres, and are preserved in hundreds of manuscripts, the majority post-medieval paper manuscripts, some from as late as the early 20th century. Most are also found in metrical versions known as rímur, some from the middle ages, but the bulk from the 18th and 19th centuries. The fornaldarsögur were also among the earliest saga texts to be printed and translated (in the 17th and 18th centuries into Latin and Swedish, in the 19th into Danish, German and English), and they were also a source of inspiration for poets, writers and artists throughout northern Europe, e.g. Tegnér and Wagner.

The course will analyse this material, starting with Saxo and working through the fornaldarasögur themselves, employing methods deriving not only from traditional textual and literary criticism, but also newer areas such as material philology and the history of transmission.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 42
  • Course Preparation
  • 105
  • Exam Preparation
  • 63
  • Total
  • 210
Type of assessment