Heroic Sagas and Ballads

Heroic Sagas and Ballads

Heroic Sagas and Ballads

Heroic Sagas and Ballads

Excerpt

An article of faith in modern folklore studies holds that there is no text without context. In a similar vein, understanding the historical and intellectual context of this book necessitates a few words on the contours of Old Norse studies, particularly for the nonspecialist. Almost all scholarly treatments of the sagas can be characterized as gravitating toward one of two poles, namely, belief in either oral or written sagas. Of course, such terms as the 'oral saga' or the 'written saga' connote much more than the simple equation of the medieval texts with the acts of speaking or writing. The question might be phrased as follows: is the background to the sagas' art to be conceived of as native and essentially spoken (or verbal, or performed, or recited), or is the background based on foreign models in which the key aspects of composition have been shaped by literacy? Neither of these positions is absolute: proponents of the oral saga readily concede that the available works have come down to us in a written medium that cannot have failed to impart something to the text, and even the most strident advocates of the written saga will agree that the texts are frequently informed by oral traditions. In general, these orientations reflect preoccupations with "the folk" and "the court." In the history of the field, these two views have been called many things, but while the labels change, the positions shift, and the interpretations their adherents place on the evidence vary, the divisions (if not their centers of gravity) are . . .

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