SCANDINAVIAN 220: Graduate Seminar: Introduction to Skaldic Poetry

W 1-4 , Dwinelle 6415. Instructor: Kate Heslop

Units: 4

Arguably the longest-lived of Norse literary genres, skaldic poetry offers a fascinating opportunity to trace the development of a Viking Age artistic practice right up until the late Middle Ages. As an authored and supposedly textually invariant poetic form, it seems to be an authentic voice of the past—and is often mined for information on Viking lifeways. But it is saddled with a reputation for difficulty, and establishing a text involves unusually knotty problems. This seminar is intended to equip students to read and analyze skaldic poems, work knowledgeably with the secondary literature, and read skaldic editions with a critical eye.

As well as acquiring a grounding in the diction, meter and style of poetry in dróttkvætt and kviðuháttr, the two main skaldic verseforms, we will investigate the media that transmit this poetry to us, via close paleographic examination of selected manuscript witnesses. The vernacular theories of poetics contained in the Prose Edda and the Old Norse grammatical literature will also be explored. We will discuss the generic distinction between ‘skaldic’ and ‘eddic’ poetry, the nature of skaldic authorship, and the issue of dating; further special topics can be covered according to the interests of the participants.


Supplied on bcourses. Useful introductions, all available in the library, include:

Margaret Clunies Ross, A history of Old Norse poetry and poetics (Woodbridge: Brewer, 2005). Also online here.

Roberta Frank, Old Norse Court Poetry: the Dróttkvætt Stanza, Islandica 42 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1978).

Klaus von See, Skalden: Isländische Dichter des Mittelalters (Heidelberg: Winter, 2011; first published as Skaldendichtung, Munich: Artemis, 1980).

Gabriel Turville-Petre, Scaldic Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976).

Prerequisites: At least one semester of Old Norse language, or consent of instructor. Reading knowledge of modern Scandinavian languages and German is helpful, but not required.

Workload: weekly translations; presentations of class material (primary and secondary readings).

Final research paper (20-25 pg.), due at end of semester.