Icelandic literature

Icelandic literature refers to literature written in Iceland or by Icelandic
people. It is best known for the sagas written in medieval times, starting in
the 13th century. As Icelandic and Old Norse are almost the same, and
because Icelandic works constitute most of Old Norse literature, Old Norse
literature is often wrongly considered a subset of Icelandic literature.
However, works by Norwegians are present in the standard reader Sýnisbók
íslenzkra bókmennta til miðrar átjándu aldar, compiled by Sigurður Nordal on
the grounds that the language was the same
Early Icelandic literature
The medieval Icelandic literature is usually divided into three parts:
1. Eddic poetry
The Poetic Edda is the modern attribution for an unnamed collection of Old
Norse poems, while several versions exist all consist primarily of text from
the Icelandic mediaeval manuscript known as the Codex Regius. The Codex
Regius is arguably the most important extant source on Norse mythology and
Germanic heroic legends, and from the early 19th century onwards has had a
powerful influence on later Scandinavian literatures, not merely through the
stories it contains but through the visionary force and dramatic quality of
many of the poems. It has also become an inspiring model for many later
innovations in poetic meter, particularly in the Nordic languages, offering
many varied examples of terse, stress-based metrical schemes working
without any final rhyme, and instead using alliterative devices and strongly
concentrated imagery. Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Poetic
Edda include Vilhelm Ekelund, August Strindberg, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ezra Pound,
Jorge Luis Borges and Karin Boye.
Codex Regius was written in the 13th century but nothing is known of its
whereabouts until 1643 when it came into the possession of Brynjólfur
Sveinsson, then Bishop of Skálholt. At that time versions of the Prose Edda
were well known in Iceland but scholars speculated that there once was
another Edda—an Elder Edda—which contained the pagan poems which
Snorri quotes in his Prose Edda. When Codex Regius was discovered, it
seemed that this speculation had proven correct. Brynjólfur attributed the
manuscript to Sæmundr the Learned, a larger-than-life 12th century
Icelandic priest. While this attribution is rejected by modern scholars, the
name Sæmundar Edda is still sometimes associated with "Poetic Edda."

None of the poems are attributed to a particular author though many of them show strong individual characteristics and are likely to have been the work of individual poets. is the younger derivative work. composing in the latter half of the 10th century. Time The dating of the poems has been a lively source of scholarly argument for a long time. For example Eyvindr skáldaspillir. Composition The title page of Olive Bray's English translation of the Poetic Edda depicting the tree Yggdrasil and a number of its inhabitants (1908) by W. While lines from the Eddic poems sometimes appear in poems by known poets such evidence is difficult to evaluate. The few demonstrably historical characters mentioned in the poems. Authorship Like most early poetry the Eddic poems were minstrel poems. Scholars sometimes speculate on hypothetical authors but firm and accepted conclusions have never been reached. about a quarter. The language of the poems is usually clear and relatively unadorned. are composed in ljóðaháttr. G. Firm conclusions are hard to reach. uses in his Hákonarmál a couple of lines also found in Hávamál. passing orally from singer to singer and from poet to poet for centuries. Most are in fornyrðislag. The Eddic poems are composed in alliterative verse. provide a terminus post quem of sorts. While kennings are often employed they do not rise to the frequency or complexity found in skaldic poetry. For centuries it was stored in the Royal Library in Copenhagen but in 1971 it was returned to Iceland. like Attila. hence the name.Bishop Brynjólfur sent Codex Regius as a present to the Danish king. while málaháttr is a common variation. The rest. The dating of the manuscripts themselves provides a more useful terminus ante quem. . It is possible that he was quoting a known poem but it is also possible that Hávamál. or at least the strophe in question. Collingwood.

Any young poems. This approach usually does not yield firm results. Scholars have attempted to localize individual poems by studying the geography. While there are. is considered by some scholars to be an interpolation. For example Atlamál hin groenlenzku is claimed by its title. on the other hand.but this is hardly certain. If so. Location The problem of dating the poems is linked with the problem of finding out where they were composed. it can be no earlier than about 985 since there were no Scandinavians in Greenland until that time. For example stanzas 9-16 of Völuspá. flora and fauna which they refer to. anything composed before that time would necessarily have been elsewhere. In some cases old poems can have been interpolated with younger verses or merged with other poems. for example. no wolves in Iceland we can be sure that Icelandic poets were familiar with the species. are likely Icelandic in origin. and seems by some internal evidence. Since Iceland was not settled until about 870.Individual poems have individual clues to their age. the "Dvergatal" or "Roster of Dwarfs". Similarly the apocalyptic descriptions of Völuspá have been taken as evidence that the poet who composed it had seen a volcanic eruption in Iceland . . Editions and inclusions The cover of Lee M. Hollander's English translation of the Poetic Edda. to have been composed in Greenland. most likely in Scandinavia.

Important manuscripts include AM 748 I 4to. 2. except legendary sagas. They are sometimes romanticised and fantastic. sometimes pagan. often with stanzas or whole poems in alliterative verse embedded in the text. and Larrington with proper names in the normalized English forms found in John Lindow's Norse Mythology and in Andy Orchard's Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. They were written in the Old Norse language. sometimes Christian. Those not in Codex Regius are sometimes called Eddica minora from their appearance in an edition with that title edited by Andreas Heusler and Wilhelm Ranisch in 1903. English translators are not consistent on the translations of the names of the Eddic poems or on how the Old Norse forms should be rendered in English.Some poems similar to those found in Codex Regius are normally also included in editions of the Poetic Edda. . Many of the poems are quoted in Snorri's Edda but usually only in bits and pieces. Hollander. about early Viking voyages.[2] Background Excerpt from Njáls saga in the Möðruvallabók (AM 132 folio 13r) circa 1350. about migration to Iceland and of feuds between Icelandic families.[1] The texts are tales in prose which share some similarities with the epic. What poems are included in an edition of the Poetic Edda depends on the editor. mainly in Iceland. Up to three translations are given below. but always dealing with human beings one can understand. taken from the translations of Bellows." who were often Vikings. The tales are usually realistic. sagas of saints. of heroic deeds of days long gone. Sagas Sagas are stories mostly about ancient Nordic and Germanic history. Hauksbók and Flateyjarbók. the battles that took place during the voyages. "tales of worthy men. sagas of bishops and translated or recomposed romances.

The British Isles. tale. most scholars now believe the sagas were conscious artistic creations. Most of the manuscripts in which the sagas are preserved were taken to Denmark and Sweden in the 17th century.g. Egils saga). history". Most were written down between 1190 to 1320. and for some we do know the sources: the author of King Sverrir's saga had met the king and used him as a source. and the German Sage. The sagas describe a part of the history of some of the Nordic countries (e. It was only recently (start of 20th century) that the tales of the voyages to North America (modern day Canada) were authenticated. Bandamanna saga) and larger than life characters (e. It is cognate with the English word saw (as in old saw). The accuracy of the sagas is often hotly disputed.g.The term saga originates from the Norse saga (pl. g. Scholars once believed that these sagas were transmitted orally from generation to generation until scribes wrote them down in the 1200s. the last chapter of Hervarar saga).[4] Most sagas of Icelanders take place in the period 930–1030. sögur). bishops. However. but later returned to Iceland.g. sometimes existing as oral traditions long before. Icelandic sagas are based on oral traditions and much research has focused on what is real and what is fiction within each tale.[3] There are plenty of tales of kings (e. contemporary sagas have their own time frame.[5] . these clothing are not contemporary with the events of the saga as they are a closer match to the clothing worn in the 12th century. by dressing the characters in what was at the time thought to be "old fashioned clothing". The sagas of kings. Classic sagas were composed in the 1200s. which is called söguöld (Age of the Sagas) in Icelandic history. However. A study focusing on the description of the items of clothing mentioned in the sagas concludes that the authors attempted to create a historic "feel" to the story. others are pure fiction. based on both oral and written tradition. Heimskringla). northern France and North America are also mentioned. statement" or (2) "story. and refers to (1) "what is said. everyday people (e.

in shorter form. The Icelanders' sagas (Íslendinga sögur) are heroic prose narratives written in the 12th to 14th centuries of the great families of Iceland from 930 to 1030. circa 1899 Kings' sagas are of the lives of Scandinavian kings. Chivalric sagas (Riddarasögur) and Saga of the Greenlanders (Grænlendingasögur). and were written soon after the events they describe.[6] Dronning Ragnhilds drøm (Queen Ragnhild's dream) from Snorre Sturlassons Kongesagaer by Erik Werenskiold. Saints' sagas (Heilagra manna sögur) and bishops' sagas (Biskupa sögur). Legendary Sagas blend remote history with myth or legend.and 13th-century Iceland. Most are preserved in the compilation Sturlunga saga. a distinctive literary movement in the fourteenth century involves sagas. sagas of Icelanders (Íslendinga sögur). Associated with Iceland's . mostly on religious topics. The narratives of the Contemporary Sagas are set in 12th. Short tales of Icelanders (Íslendingaþættir). such as Arons saga Hjörleifssonar are preserved separately. Legendary sagas (Fornaldarsögur). These are the highest form of the classical Icelandic saga writing. They were composed in the 12th to 14th centuries. Chivalric sagas are translations of Latin pseudo-historical works and French chansons de geste as well as native creations in the same style. The material of the Short tales of Icelanders sagas is similar to Íslendinga sögur. Contemporary sagas (Samtíðarsögur or Samtímasögur). Some well-known examples include Njáls saga. Scandinavia's pagan past was a proud and heroic history for the Icelanders. The aim is on a lively narrative and entertainment.[7] While sagas are generally anonymous. with identifiable authors and a distinctive Latinate style. portrait by Christian Krohg: Illustration for Heimskringla 1899-Edition Norse sagas are generally classified as: the Kings' sagas (Konungasögur).Classification Snorri Sturluson. Laxdæla saga and Grettis saga. though some.

The subject is usually historical and encomiastic. Icelandic journalist Þorsteinn Thorarensen (1926–2006) translated the work into Hringadróttins saga meaning "Saga of the Lord of the Rings". J. Saga is a cognate of the English word say: its various meanings in Icelandic are approximately equivalent to "something said" or "a narrative in prose". Skaldic poetry forms one of two main groupings of Old Norse poetry. probably fictional. in Swedish and Danish. while the Danish and Norwegian term is eventyr ("adventure"). it also covers terms such as history. The most prevalent metre of skaldic poetry is dróttkvætt. somewhat along the lines of a "story". a "tale". such as Hans Christian Andersen or Astrid Lindgren. is generally used for poets who composed at the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders during the Viking Age and Middle Ages.[11] In Swedish history. a literal translation from the original. or a "history". The 2004 translation was titled Ringarnas herre. the word underwent U-umlaut becoming Søga. story. R. the word saga has gained a broader meaning in Nordic languages. Konstsaga is the Swedish term for a fairy tale by a known author. this movement is known as the North Icelandic Benedictine School (Norðlenski Benediktskólinn).[12] In Faroese.northern diocese of Hólar. tale. 3. In contemporary Swedish and Danish it describes a non-realistic or epic work of fiction. Through the centuries. though . as it describes the semi-legendary kings of Sweden.[8] Contemporary Usage "Saga" is a word originating from Old Norse or Icelandic language ("Saga" is also the modern Icelandic and Swedish word for "story"). detailing the deeds of the skald's patron. who are known only from unreliable. sources. R. Skaldic poetry The term skald (or skáld) meaning ‘poet’. In addition to saga.[13] and adopted a wider meaning. "saga king" is intended to be ambiguous. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series was translated into Swedish by Åke Ohlmarks with the title Sagan om ringen: "The Saga of the Ring". a fairy tale by an unknown author. There is no evidence that the skalds employed musical instruments. the other being the anonymous Eddic poetry. the term sagokung.[9][10] Saga can also be a work of fantasy fiction. Folksaga means folk tale.

some speculate they may have accompanied their verses with the harp or lyre. and their work . OHG has skalsang "song of praise. blame. which mean "shouting abuse" or "calling names. The OHG variant stem skeltan etymologically identical to the skald. This bears striking similarities to the Dutch verb "schelden" and the southern German "schelten". reflecting the central position of mocking taunts in Germanic poetry. clang. skellan means "ring. like Egill Skallagrímsson and Thorbjorn hornklofi. many Skalds came after him. resound". The person doing the insulting is a skelto or skeltāri. the subject of early skaldic verses by Bragi Boddason and Ulfr Uggason. However. who gained much fame in the 10th century for the poems composed for the kings they served and of their own exploits." The West Germanic counterpart of the skald is the scop. At this time. An early modern depiction of Thor’s fight with the World Serpent.[1] The technical demands of the skaldic form were equal to the complicated verse forms mastered by the Welsh bards and Gaelic (in both Scotland and Ireland) ollaves. and like those poets. the Icelanders and Nordic people were still pagan. insult". which is related to Modern English scoff. voice. Etymology The word skald is perhaps ultimately related to Proto-Germanic *skalliz "sound. accuse. considered the oldest surviving Norse poem. Not unlike the scop. the name skald is continued in English scold. psalm". Bragi is considered the oldest and original Skald. shout" (OHG skal "sound").stem (Proto-Germanic *skeldan) means "to scold. much of skaldic verse consisted of panegyrics to kings and aristocrats. History[edit] Skaldic poetry can be traced to the earlier 9th century with Bragi Boddason and his Ragnarsdrápa. or memorials and testimonials to their battles.

the Prose Edda broke down and explained all the kennings used in Skaldic poetry. while others worked with churches to record the lives and miracles of Saints. His Prose Edda did preserve and pass on the traditions and methods of the Skalds. to tales on exploits of kings. the Viking culture shifted towards Christianity. that gave him much fame. as it was the Skalds who learned and shared the largely oral history. As the years passed. This last point is a very important point. Every king and chieftain needed a Skald to record their feats and ensure their legacy lived on.[2] The poetry from this time also can be noted for its portrayal of a "heroic age" for the Vikings. born in Iceland during the 12th century is the most famous Skald. until Snorri Sturluson compiled the Prose Edda as a manual with the aim to preserve an appreciative understanding of their art. as well as becoming the main historians of their society. designed to commemorate kings and other prominent people. The written artifacts of that time come from Skalds. ranging from re-telling old Norse legends. For example. Skalds became the main source of Icelandic and Norse history and culture. as Skalds were the main agents of culture. often in the form of quite long poems. leading the government of Iceland. along with faith in seers and runes. having many references to supernatural and ancient beliefs. allowing many of them to be understood today.[5] .reflected that. and providing much of the information which is known today about Skalds and how they worked. and "praise poetry. recording laws and happenings of the government. Beyond writing the Prose Edda. as they were the first from the time and place to record on paper. In addition to being a great poet. which make his reputation live on beyond his death. as well."[2] As time went on. such as gods like Thor and Odin.[3] This lead to a shift in the role of the Skald.[4] Snorri. adding a much needed stimulus to the profession. he was leader of the Althing for part of his life. allowing them to gain more prominent positions. some even being elected to the Thing and Althing. the Skald profession was threatened with extinction. along with passing on the ideals of Christianity. Snorri had many great poems. when the Skalds began glorifying and passing on Christianity over the old pagan beliefs. Some Skalds became clerical workers.

Skalds also composed insult (níðvísur) and very occasionally. erotic verse (mansöngr). much skaldic poetry is attributable to an author (called a skald). and almost always using the dróttkvætt stanza (also known as the Court or Lordly Metre).  Flokkr. with a refrain (stef) at intervals. a long series of stanzas (usually dróttkvætt).Skaldic poetry Most Nordic verse of the Viking Age came in one of two forms: eddic or skaldic. Technically. and were thus biographically noted. with kennings and heiti being used frequently and gratuitously. and these attributions may be relied on with a reasonable degree of confidence. usually dróttkvætt or a variation thereof. Forms of skaldic poetry Forms of skaldic poetry are:  Drápa. and usually composed as a tribute or homage to a particular Jarl or king.[6] Unlike many other literary forms of the time. dealing largely with mythological or heroic content. There is debate over the performance of skaldic poetry. was complex. vísur or dræplingr. Skaldic poetry was written in variants and dialects of Old Norse languages. The meter is ornate. Many skalds were men of influence and power. where each pair of lines is an original single long line which is conventionally written as two lines. a single stanza of dróttkvætt said to have been improvised impromptu for the occasion it marks. Skaldic verse. the fixed metaphors found in most northern European poetry of the time.  Lausavísa. although there is a general scholalry consensus that it was spoken rather than sung. conversely. Kennings are . in terms of content. a shorter series of such stanzas without refrain. Eddic verse was usually simple. Dróttkvætt is effectively an eight line form. The syntax is complex. their verse was usually a form of alliterative verse. with sentences commonly interwoven. style and metre. Kennings The verses of the skalds contain a great profusion of kennings.

while Jón Þorláksson á Bægisá (is) (1744–1819) undertook several major translations. known for his satires. this period was a great revival of Icelandic literature.devices ready to supply a standard image to form an alliterating half-line to fit the requirements of dróttkvætt. A full translation of the Bible was published in the 16th century. but the substantially greater technical demands of skaldic verse required that these devices be multiplied and compounded in order to meet its demands for skill and wordplay. The most prominent poet of the 18th century was Eggert Ólafsson (1726–1768). rímur. Romanticism arrived in Iceland and was dominant especially during the 1830s. a translation of John Milton's Paradise Lost. and so he is considered the father of modern Icelandic novel. also the first writer of modern Icelandic short stories. Middle Icelandic literature Important compositions of the time from the 15th century to the 19th include sacred verse. there was a linguistic and literary revival. Modern Icelandic literature Literary revival In the beginning of the 19th century. Stephansson (1853– . in 1850. Jónas Hallgrímsson. who wrote many plays that are considered the beginning of modern Icelandic drama. influenced Jón Thoroddsen (1818–68). rhymed epic poems with alliterative verse that consist of two to four verses per stanza. Realism and naturalism followed romanticism. in the work of poets like Bjarni Thorarensen (1786–1841) and Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807–45). who wrote many heroic poems and Matthías Jochumsson (1835–1920). and autobiographical prose writings such as the Píslarsaga of Jón Magnússon. This classic Icelandic style from the 19th and early 20th centuries was continued chiefly by Grímur Thomsen (1820–96). Notable Realistic writers include the short-story writer Gestur Pálsson (is) (1852–91). popular until the end of the 19th century. among many others. and the Icelandic-Canadian poet Stephan G. who. published the first Icelandic novel. These images can therefore become somewhat hermetic. including the Paradísarmissir. In short. most famously the Passíusálmar of Hallgrímur Pétursson. at least to those who fail to grasp the allusions that lie at the root of many of them.

and Gunnar Gunnarsson (1889–1975). but the prize itself is not awarded until January. Einar Benediktsson must be mentioned here as an early proponent of Neo-romanticism. Because the year's nominations come in the middle of the Christmas book flood. One award is for fiction or poetry and the other for academic and non-fiction works.1927). He is in many ways a lone in Icelandic poetry. noted for his sensitive way to deal with the language and for his ironic vein. the Icelandic Publishers Association appoints a selection committee which chooses the winners. with authors such as Davíð Stefánsson and Tómas Guðmundsson. Widely-translated works include the expressionist novels Independent People (1934–35) and Iceland's Bell (1943–46). among them Jóhann Sigurjónsson. 1961) works have met with success outside of Iceland. from the end of World War II. After World War I. these books receive a great deal of marketing. but is generally acknowledged to be one of the great figures of the "Golden Age" in poetry. who later became the representer of traditional poetry in Iceland in the 20th century.[3] In the early 20th century several Icelandic writers started writing in Danish. crime novelist Arnaldur Indriðason's (b. Writer Halldór Laxness (1902–98). and the year's nominations are publicized in the beginning of December. short stories and novels. is an award which is given to two books each year by the Icelandic Publishers Association. mainly in poetry. poems. won the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature. List of winners of the Icelandic Literary Prize for fiction Yea Winner r Title (English) Title (Icelandic) Not es . tend to merge the classical style with a modernist style. and was the author of many articles. The prize was founded on the association's centennial in 1989. there was a revival of the classic style. Icelandic Literary Prize The Icelandic Literary Prize (Icelandic: Íslensku bókmenntaverðlaunin). Once the books have been nominated. essays. or Icelandic Literary Award. More recently. Modern authors. Five books are nominated in each category.

Sigurðardóttir Through the Night Meðan nóttin líður 19 91 Guðbergur Bergsson The Swan Svanurinn 19 92 Þorsteinn frá Hamri The Sleeping Sailor Sæfarinn sofandi 19 93 Hannes Pétursson Eldhylur 19 94 Vigdís Grímsdóttir Grandavegur 7 19 95 Steinunn Sigurðardóttir Heart Place Hjartastaður 19 96 Böðvar Guðmundsson Tree of Life Lífsins tré 19 97 Guðbergur Bergsson Faðir og móðir og dulmagn bernskunnar: skáldævisaga 19 98 Thor Vilhjálmsson Morgunþula í stráum 19 99 Andri Snær Magnason 20 00 Gyrðir Elíasson The Story of the Blue Planet Sagan af bláa hnettinum Gula húsið .19 89 Stefán Hörður Grímsson Yfir heiðan morgun: ljóð '87-'89 19 90 Fríða Á.

20 01 Hallgrímur Helgason The Author of Iceland 20 02 Ingibjörg Haraldsdóttir Hvar sem ég verð 20 03 Ólafur Gunnarsson Öxin og jörðin 20 04 Auður Jónsdóttir The People in the Basement Fólkið í kjallaranum 20 05 Jón Kalman Stefánsson Summer Light and Then Comes the Night Sumarljós og svo kemur nóttin 20 06 Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson Aldingarðurinn 20 07 Sigurður Pálsson Minnisbók 20 08 Einar Kárason Ofsi 20 09 Guðmundur Óskarsson Bankster 20 10 Gerdur Kristný 20 11 Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir 20 12 Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl Bloodhoof Evil Höfundur Íslands Blódhófnir [1] Allt með kossi vekur [2] Illska .

saga og notkun 19 94 Silja Aðalsteinsdóttir Skáldið sem sólin kyssti : ævisaga Guðmundar Böðvarssonar 19 95 Þór Whitehead Milli vonar og ótta 19 96 Þorsteinn Gylfason 19 97 Guðjón Friðriksson Einar Benediktsson 19 98 Hörður Ágústsson Íslensk byggingararfleifð I: ágrip af húsagerðarsögu 1750-1940 19 99 Páll Valsson Jónas Hallgrímsson 20 00 Guðmundur Páll Ólafsson Hálendið í náttúru Íslands 20 Sigríður Dúna Björg 19 93 Thinking in Icelandic Að hugsa á íslensku Not es . Friðjónsson Mergur málsins : íslensk orðatiltæki: uppruni.List of winners of the Icelandic Literary Prize for academic works Yea Winner r Title (English) Title (Icelandic) Jón G.

Gylfi Gíslason. ævisaga II 20 04 Halldór Guðmundsson Halldór Laxness– ævisaga 20 05 Kristín B. Pétur M. Þættir um skáldskap Sigfúsar Daðasonar 20 08 Þorvaldur Kristinsson Lárus Pálsson leikari 20 09 Helgi Björnsson Jöklar á Íslandi 20 10 Helgi Hallgrímsson 20 11 Páll Björnsson The Mushroom Book Sveppabókin Jón forseti allur? Táknmynd þjóðhetju [1] . Matthías Johannessen. Silja Aðalsteinsdóttir Kjarval 20 06 Andri Snær Magnason Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation Draumalandið sjálfshjálparbók handa hræddri þjóð 20 07 Þorsteinn Þorsteinsson Ljóðhús. Arthur Danto. Jónasson Þingvallavatn 20 03 Guðjón Friðriksson Jón Sigurðsson. Guðnadóttir.01 Kristmundsdóttir 20 02 Páll Hersteinsson.

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