Abstract

“These two books [Theod. and Historia Norwegie] might be picked out of the Middle Ages on purpose to make a contrast of their style with the Icelandic saga. Th. . . . indulges in all the favourite medieval irrelevances, drags in the Roman historians and the Platonic year, digresses from Charybdis to the Huns, and embroiders his text with quotations from the Latin poets.” In this way, W. P. Ker highlights the radical differences between the sagas and Latin contemporary literature, in accordance with scholarly opinion of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Ker’s perspective was in turn connected to the idea put forward by the Norwegian Historical School (Munch and Keyser) in the mid-nineteenth century that the sagas were based on oral tradition and contained trustworthy information about events in the distant past. This idea often had a background in the various national revivals of the nineteenth century, according to which the sagas formed part of a Scandinavian, Norwegian, or Icelandic heritage. T he understanding of the sagas as products of oral tradition was gradually weakened during the second half of the nineteenth century, before being rejected in its entirety by Lauritz Weibull in 1911.2 According to Weibull, the sagas, far from representing oral tradition, were in fact literary products that reflected their time of composition and were consequently useless as source material for events that had occurred several hundred years earlier. Weibull was mainly concerned with the use of the sagas as historical sources; but he also referred to literary loans as a way of explaining the origins of certain episodes in the sagas that had previously been understood as deriving from oral evidence.

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