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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 3. Questions of textual reconstruction 3.2. Dating of poetry and principles of normalisation

3.2. Dating of poetry and principles of normalisation

Kari Ellen Gade 2012, ‘Dating of poetry and principles of normalisation’ 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. xliv-xlvi.

The poetry in the SkP editions covers the period from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries, and we attempt to reproduce orthographically the presumed state of the language at the time of poetic composition. The dating of skaldic poetry is notoriously difficult, however, and in very many instances the dates ascribed to poems and stanzas remain uncertain. While it is possible to date poetry based on linguistic and metrical criteria (see Gade 2001b), more often than not a stanza will not display relevant diagnostic features, and the exact time of composition remains moot. That holds true particularly for the poetry in the sagas of Icelanders (SkP V) and in the poetic and grammatical treatises (SkP III), with the exception of Snorri’s Háttatal, but is less of a problem in the kings’ sagas (SkP I-II), where poems and stanzas are usually tied to historical persons and events (see Fidjestøl 1982, 85).

In Skj, Finnur Jónsson attempted to distinguish between stanzas that he considered to be genuine and stanzas that he regarded as spurious (see Kuhn 1983, 258-9). As a result, most of the stanzas from Egils saga, for example, are dated to the tenth century by Finnur, and they are edited in Skj AI, 34-59, while others are edited in Skj AI, 603-4 in the section Uægte vers i sagaer ‘Spurious stanzas in sagas’. Because it is impossible to establish sufficient objective criteria to arrive at secure dates for much of the poetry, the SkP editions do not try to distinguish between genuine and spurious stanzas. In SkP V and VIII, the extended poems are arranged by presumed author and date, judged from the manuscript attributions, while lausavísur are grouped according to their prose sources, and sets of stanzas from individual prose sources are kept together. Hence all the stanzas from Egils saga (and those of other sagas of Icelanders) are edited in one place and normalised to the same standard (in this case the tenth century), though some of this poetry could have been composed at a later point in the transmission of the saga in question. The reasons for assigning an approximate date (or time period) to a particular poem are outlined in the Introductions to the individual editions. When a stanza contains linguistic or metrical features that allow us to assign to it a more or less secure date, this is explained in the Notes. Conversely, if a stanza displays later linguistic or metrical forms that cast doubt on its authenticity and are not scribal (see below), those forms are retained orthographically (if metrical) with the relevant information given in the Notes. For example, in Egill’s Lv 39/1V (Eg 69) nýtr illsǫgull ýtir, literally ‘enjoys ill-speaking pusher’, the verb nýtr ‘enjoys’, which occurs here in position 1 in a Type C-line, carries internal rhyme and belongs to a metrical type that is otherwise attested in dróttkvætt poetry only after 1010 (see Kuhn 1983, 262). The form is secured by all manuscripts and has been retained in the SkP edition, but the irregularity is mentioned and appropriate references are included in the Notes.

Aside from the correction of manifest scribal mistakes, the normalisations in the SkP editions are of two types: those necessitated by requirements imposed by syllable-counting metres and those resulting from linguistic changes that occurred in Old Norse-Icelandic from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries. Both types of normalisation are discussed in more detail in this section.

In Skald, Kock follows Finnur’s dating and attributions of the poetry in the skaldic corpus.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj A = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15a. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. A: Tekst efter håndskrifterne. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1967. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. Fidjestøl, Bjarne. 1982. Det norrøne fyrstediktet. Universitet i Bergen Nordisk institutts skriftserie 11. Øvre Ervik: Alvheim & Eide.
  5. Gade, Kari Ellen. 2001b. ‘The Dating and Attributions of Verses in the Skald Sagas’. In Poole 2001a, 50-74.
  6. Kuhn, Hans (1899). 1983. Das Dróttkvætt. Heidelberg: Winter.
  7. SkP = Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols.
  8. SkP I = Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Ed. Diana Whaley. 2012.
  9. SkP III = Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Ed. Kari Ellen Gade in collaboration with Edith Marold. 2017.
  10. SkP V = Poetry in Sagas of Icelanders. Ed. Tarrin Wills, Kari Ellen Gade and Margaret Clunies Ross. Forthcoming.
  11. Internal references
  12. Kari Ellen Gade 2017, ‘Háttatal’ 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].
  13. Not published: do not cite (Egill Lv 39V (Eg 69))

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