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Misc: Academic quotes & Opinions

Reference fodder for later research

Peter Orton, “Pagan Myth and Religion” in A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture, 2005, Edited by Rory McTurk, p. 317:

  • “Students of Old Norse Mythology should not despair at the sheer range of possible approaches to its interpretation. The fact that some myths seem naturally to repel certain approaches and invite others does not undermine or favor the validity of any particular approach; it is only a function of the breadth of our current ideas about what constitutes myth.”

Professor Jónas Kristjánsson [former Director of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavik] “Icelandic Manuscripts: Sagas, History, and Art” translated by Jeffrey Cosser; The Icelandic Literary Society, 1996:

  • "We have to be content with an imperfect and patchy understanding of the old religion. But this does not entitle us to assume that the religion itself was correspondingly primitive or incomplete. We must bear in mind that no extensive direct information about the pagan religion was recorded until fully two centuries after the conversion to Christianity, and the generations which had come and gone meanwhile were, or were supposed to be, hostile to these pagan heresies.”

    "It seems an inescapable conclusion that stories told in prose must always have existed alongside stories told in verse. Many of the heroic lays are shaped in such a way that it is evident the poets assumed more knowledge of the subject-matter on the audience's part than the poems themselves encompass: a whole legend is there as a backdrop to the verse."

  • Margaret Clunies Ross, A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics, 2005, , p. 97 ff.

    • “It is almost certain that the subject matter of Norse eddic poetry, pagan myths of the gods, giants and dwarfs on the one hand, and legends about well-known heroes of the Migration Age in Europe on the other, which were the common property of all the Germanic peoples, was widely known by the communities of medieval Norway and Iceland.

      “This very fact of its subject matter being widely known is an important part of the aesthetic character of Old Norse eddic poetry. It has often been observed that, in societies in which the subject matter of literature and other cultural forms, like songs and the visual arts, is widely known, it is less necessary (for obvious reasons) for poets and other artists to tell the story that underlies that work of art (see Clunies Ross 1983). This phenomenon, that the audience knows the story-line already, has several important effects upon the aesthetic of such texts. First, it means that there are far fewer works in which one actually finds a full-scale narrative of a myth or other kind of plot, because the audience knows it already and it would be boring for them to hear it spelled out in detail. This may sometimes be frustrating for modern readers and scholars, who would dearly like to know, for example, why it was that the god Freyr fought a giant named Beli, a mythic story that Snorri Sturluson refers to in his Edda, without, however, giving any details, and which is the basis for several kennings for the god. As we know no other telling of this story, its full extent is likely to remain a mystery to us. When the audience already knows a narrative, it is unnecessary for the poet or other artist to create suspense in the way we find essential in the traditional modem novel, although there are ways in which the sense of terror and anticipation can be intensified even with a known story, as we see very clearly from the Old English epic poem Beowulf or the Old Icelandic Grettis saga, works that share significant motifs (Cook 1993).

      “Understandably, traditional poets and their audiences often value most highly allusive, even cryptic references to well-known stories or other kinds of information or perhaps an unusual perspective on a well-known legend. One example is the Old Norse Atlamal in comparison with Atlakviða; another, the telling of the heroic fight at Finnesburh in the Old English Beowulf, where the narrator looks at it from the viewpoint of both a woman and a man who face tragic dilemmas of personal loyalty, compared with that in the much more straightforward independent Finnesburh Fragment, which narrates the story as a typical surprise attack on a Germanic hall. Old Norse eddic poetry displays many of the aesthetic qualities that derive from its subject matter being known to its audiences. Very few of the poems of this type are of primarily narrative kind, as Heinz Klingenberg (1983) has demonstrated in an excellent study. Of the mythological poems in the Elder Edda collection, only Skírnismal, Hymiskviða, Prymskviða and Völundarkviða are primarily narratives. Þrymskviða tells the myth of how the god Þórr had his hammer stolen by the giant Þrymr and how the gods managed to get it back by having Þórr dress up as the giant's bride, while Völundarkviða narrates the master smith Völundr' s imprisonment by a tyrannous king, Niðuðr, and tells how he took his revenge on the king and his family. Hymiskviða contains two mythic narratives, the one made contingent on the other in the poem; they are the myth of how the gods Þórr and Tyr obtain a cauldron for brewing ale from the giant Hymir, and the better-known myth, and a Viking Age favourite, of how Þórr, in company with Hymir, rows out to sea in order to catch the World Serpent Miðgarðs- ormr. Skírnismál narrates how the god Freyr becomes infatuated with a giantess named Gerðr and how he sends his servant Skirnir to woo her on his behalf and persuade the reluctant giantess to marry him through the use of some rather heavy threats. Among the heroic poems of this collection, explicit narrative is more frequent, though a good deal in the background to the telling is still left to be supplied by the audience from their common cultural knowledge.”