The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

20
Icelandic Literature: A Historical Luxury?

AITOR YRAOLA


EVOLUTION OF ICELANDIC LITERATURE

Iceland has enriched world literature with two principal contributions: the sagas, ancient histories of heroes, in which reality meshes with fiction, and Scandinavian mythology. There is no doubt that the Icelandic poets were the first to write these sagas and histories. The earliest Icelandic literary manifestations were written by bards who, already in the beginning of the tenth century, recited poetry in the Scandinavian courts. The oldest written sagas date to the thirteenth century, even though it is commonly accepted that collected histories date even earlier. In Iceland between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries, translations of a religious nature, for example works dealing with the lives of the saints and especially translations into Latin of the Bible, abound. It would not be until the seventeenth century that scholars would begin to reexamine both Icelandic folklore and erudite works primarily written in Latin.

In Iceland there has always been an interest in poetry and the sagas, which then explains the survival of the Icelandic language since the time of the Norwegian Viking colonization of the island at the end of the nineteenth century. In addition to this internally focused literary interest, and with the exception of the role played by the church, geographic isolation has outlined the most distinctive characteristics of this narrative relatively untouched by exterior influences. Considering this, then, it is not surprising that the romantic movement was received in Iceland with moderation, if it is even true that the Icelandic writers emphasized language purity without going to the extreme of adopting a blind glorification of the past. Consequently, there was no clear confrontation between the Age of Reason and Romanticism in Iceland. Realism, then, arrived in Iceland with the magazine Verd+̴andi ( 1882). Gestur Pálsson ( 1852-1921), a journalist who graduated from the University of Copenhagen and who was influenced by the Danish critic Georg Brandes,

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