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Old Icelandic Literature and Society
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  • Page extent: 352 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.69 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 839/.609
  • Dewey version: 21
  • LC Classification: PT7113 .O53 2000
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Old Norse literature--History and criticism
    • Iceland--Civilization

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521631129 | ISBN-10: 0521631122)

From the period of settlement (870–930) to the end of the fourteenth century, Icelanders produced one of the most varied and original literatures of medieval Europe. This is the first book to provide a comprehensive account of Old Icelandic literature within its social setting and across a range of genres. An international team of specialists examines the ways in which the unique social experiment in Iceland, a kingless society without an established authority structure, inspired a wealth of innovative writing composed in the Icelandic vernacular. Icelanders explored their uniqueness through poetry, mythologies, metrical treatises, religious writing, and through saga, a new literary genre which textualised their history and incorporated oral traditions in a written form. The book shows that Icelanders often used their textual abilities to gain themselves political and intellectual advantage, not least in the period when the state's freedom came to an end.

• The only English-language volume to examine Old Icelandic literature in its social context across the majority of literary genres • Offers a sociological-anthropological as well as literary approach • Takes account of all recent research: written by a team of international experts


Introduction Margaret Clunies Ross; 1. Social institutions and belief systems of medieval Iceland (ca. 870–1400) and their relation to literary production Preben Meulengracht Sørensen; 2. From orality to literacy in medieval Iceland Judy Quinn; 3. Poetry and its changing importance in medieval Icelandic culture Kari Ellen Gade; 4. Øláfr Pø∂arson hvítaskáld and oral poetry in the west of Iceland ca. 1250 Gísli Sigur∂sson; 5. The conservation and reinterpretation of myth in medieval Icelandic writings Margaret Clunies Ross; 6. Medieval Iceland artes poeticae Stephen Tranter; 7. A useful past: historical writing in medieval Iceland Diana Whaley; 8. Sagas of Icelanders as the literary representation of a new social space Jürg Glauser; 9. The contemporary sagas and their social context Gu∂rún Nordal; 10. The matter of the north: fiction and uncertain identities in thirteenth-century Iceland Torfi H. Tulinius; 11. Romance in Iceland Geraldine Barnes; 12. The Bible and biblical interpretation in medieval Iceland Ian Kirby; 13. Sagas of saints Margaret Cormack.


'… it works as a sound new slant on [Old Icelandic literature] from a contemporary academic perspective. All those working in the field will want to take account of it.' Heather O'Donoghue, The Times Literary Supplement

' … the book provides a well-grounded and interesting introduction to Old Icelandic literature, with the bonus of multiple signposts towards new directions in Old Norse scholarship.' Modern Language Review


Margaret Clunies Ross, Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, Judy Quinn, Kari Ellen Gade, Gísli Sigur∂sson, Stephen Tranter, Diana Whaley, Jürg Glauser, Gu∂rún Nordal, Torfi H. Tulinius, Geraldine Barnes, Ian Kirby, Margaret Cormack

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