Guðrún Nordal: The Making of a Medieval Genre: The Case of the Sagas of Icelanders

Co-sponsored by the Program in Medieval Studies.

A lecture by Guðrún Nordal, Professor of Medieval Icelandic Literature at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies at the University of Iceland.

The corpus of the sagas of Icelanders counts c. forty texts. The sagas differ in length, subject matter and in their use of stylistic devices, but they have three distinct features in common: the time frame of their narrative (settlement period to the establishment of the Icelandic church, c. 870-1050), the main places of action (Iceland, Scandinavia, Greenland, and the British Isles), and the period in which they are written (13th and 14th centuries). Scholars have sought to explain the creation of this unique medieval genre from different viewpoints. In this paper I will analyse the making of the sagas from aesthetic, stylistic or cultural perspectives, and attempt to illuminate the sagas’ genesis through their deference to the skaldic canon and skaldic poetics with an eye on the importance of skaldic verse in royal Scandinavian historiography of the middle ages and skaldic poetics which draws heavily on the medieval grammatical tradition. The transmission of the sagas of Icelanders in the 13th and 14th centuries shows furthermore exciting variation which reveals the interplay between audience and text, and in the paper Njáls saga will be used as prime example.
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