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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 2. General Introduction 2. Character and objectives of the present edition 2.1. A brief history of scholarship on skaldic poetry after the Middle Ages

2.1. A brief history of scholarship on skaldic poetry after the Middle Ages

Margaret Clunies Ross 2012, ‘A brief history of scholarship on skaldic poetry after the Middle Ages’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. xxvii-xxviii.

The present edition takes its place as the most recent part of a long tradition of skaldic scholarship. In Iceland interest in skaldic poetry, especially in its diction, continued after the Middle Ages, while outside Iceland it was largely forgotten or was never known. The Skáldskaparmál ‘Language of Poetry’ section of Snorra Edda, which dealt with poetic diction, was copied separately from the rest of the work in Iceland in the late Middle Ages and augmented with additional material then and in the early modern period right up to the eighteenth century (Resen 1977; LaufE 1979). Many of the key manuscripts that preserve skaldic verse were copied by scholars such as Árni Magnússon and his amanuenses, as well as by later Icelandic students in Copenhagen, where the majority of the medieval manuscripts had been taken from the seventeenth century. These Icelandic copyists played an important part in preserving the poetic texts and, often, in construing them.

The first printed editions of Old Icelandic texts were published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in many cases in Denmark or Sweden. Peder Resen’s Icelandic-Danish-Latin edition of Snorra Edda was published in Copenhagen in 1664 (Resen 1977), and made the many skaldic stanzas quoted in this text accessible to European scholarship for the first time. The first printed edition of any Icelandic saga, the fornaldarsaga Gautreks saga, was published in Sweden by Olaus Verelius, also in 1664 (Gautr 1664). Editions of other fornaldarsögur and of historical works followed, such as Johan Peringskiöld’s 1697 edition of Heimskringla, most of them containing poetry, which was usually very poorly understood. The 1782 Hrappsey edition of Egils saga was among the first of the sagas of Icelanders to be published separately. There the saga’s stanzas are set out as prose, as in a medieval manuscript, though the metrical line divisions are indicated, but there is no commentary on the poetry. However, many of the editions of Old Icelandic prose texts published in Iceland in the course of the nineteenth century contained notes on the interpretation of the poetry by learned Icelanders, working in what Clunies Ross (2005b) has called the Icelandic commentary tradition. It was also in the nineteenth century that some separate editions and anthologies of skaldic poetry were published for the first time by Icelandic and foreign scholars. Konráð Gíslason, who held the first lectureship in Old Norse studies at the University of Copenhagen, established in 1848, was a major influence on the study of skaldic verse in this period, as was Sveinbjörn Egilsson, who published the first edition of the Lexicon Poeticum in 1860 (LP (1860)). The work of Konráð and Sveinbjörn and the metrical studies of the German scholar Eduard Sievers were major influences on the young Finnur Jónsson, who published his University of Copenhagen doctoral dissertation, Kritiske studier over en del af de ældste norske og islandske skjaldekvad, in 1884.

The first half of the twentieth century was a period of great importance in skaldic studies. Finnur Jónsson’s 1912-15 edition of the skaldic corpus (Skj) was a direct outcome of his interest in skaldic poetry and his scholarly editing work in the two decades or so since his doctoral studies. It became the standard edition of the corpus, standing with his revised edition of Lexicon Poeticum (LP) as the basis for all later work in the field. The Notationes Norrœnæ (NN) and the skaldic edition (Skald) of the Swedish scholar E. A. Kock offer an antidote to some of Finnur’s more convoluted interpretations of skaldic poetry, although for the most part Kock’s work as a text editor does not present any radical departures from Finnur’s practices. Another important contribution to skaldic studies was made in 1921 with the publication of Rudolf Meissner’s analysis of the kenning system, Die Kenningar der Skalden (Meissner). Although the later work of Fidjestøl (1974, rpt. 1997a), Kuhn (1983) and Marold (1983 and §5 below) offer refinements in this field, Meissner’s work on kennings remains fundamental to the study of skaldic diction.

The second half of the twentieth century saw scholars capitalise on the ground-work of their predecessors with a number of detailed studies of skaldic diction, as mentioned above, and of metre (Kuhn 1983; Gade 1995a), and with new editions of individual skaldic poems, many of them edited as doctoral dissertations, not all of which were published. Perhaps because of the general twentieth-century taste for difficult and cerebral poetry, this period has seen the flowering of interest and appreciation of skaldic poetry for its literary qualities and for its content, whether historical, political, material or mythological. That interest continues unabated into the early twenty-first century and the present edition has taken shape against a background of a renewed appreciation within the field of Old Norse-Icelandic studies as a whole for the art of the Nordic skalds.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. LaufE 1979 = Faulkes, Anthony, ed. 1979. Edda Magnúsar Ólafssonar (Laufás Edda). RSÁM 13. Vol. I of Two Versions of Snorra Edda from the 17th Century. Reykjavík: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, 1977-9.
  5. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  6. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  7. LP (1860) = Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1860. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis. Copenhagen: Societas Regia antiquariorum septentrionalium.
  8. Fidjestøl, Bjarne. 1974. ‘Kenningsystemet: Forsøk på ein lingvistisk analyse’. MM, 5-50. Rpt. as ‘The Kenning System. An Attempt at a Linguistic Analysis’. In Fidjestøl 1997a, 16-67.
  9. Gade, Kari Ellen. 1995a. The Structure of Old Norse dróttkvætt Poetry. Islandica 49. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  10. Kuhn, Hans (1899). 1983. Das Dróttkvætt. Heidelberg: Winter.
  11. Marold, Edith. 1983. Kenningkunst: Ein Beitrag zu einer Poetik der Skaldendichtung. Quellen und Forschungen zur Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte der germanischen Völker, new ser. 80. Berlin: de Gruyter.
  12. Clunies Ross, Margaret. 2005b. ‘Conjectural Emendation in Skaldic Editing Practice, with Reference to Egils saga’. JEGP 104, 12-30.
  13. Gautr 1664 = Verelius, Olaus, ed. 1664. Gothrici & Rolfi Westrogothiæ Regum Historia. Lingua antiqua Gothica conscripta. Uppsala: Curio.
  14. Internal references
  15. Edith Marold 2017, ‘Snorra Edda (Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál)’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  16. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  17. Not published: do not cite (SkmIII)
  18. Not published: do not cite (RunVI)

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