Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Amplified Saga: Structural Disunity in Morkinskinna

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Amplified Saga: Structural Disunity in Morkinskinna

Article excerpt

The paettir of Morkinskinna

De gamle sagaer om de enkelte konger er bleven udvidede med st6fre og mindre lvettir, der skal tjxne til at belyse kongernes karakter; de star ikke i nogen organisk sammenhxng med hovedsagaen.1

(The ancient sagas of individual kings have been expanded by greater and smaller paettir with the intention to illustrate the characters of the kings; they are not in any organic way integrated into the main story.)

With this remark in 19 32 Finnur Jonsson epitomized a century of scholarly assumptions about the saga of Norwegian kings contained in the thirteenthcentury Icelandic manuscript customarily known as Morkinskinna. The text in Morkinskinna was in the past thought to be a 'younger' and heavily interpolated - and hence inferior - version of an older but no longer extant `original Morkinskinna'.2

Although scholars differed about most of the details, they agreed in regarding the Morkinskinna manuscript as corrupt, and consequently they paid no attention to its structure. Morkinskinna in their view was not the work of a single author, but a potpourri of older kings' sagas, insertions from Agrip af Noregskonunga sbg um, and interpolated narratives about Icelanders, the pattir.3

The main reason why the text in the Morkinskinna manuscript was considered corrupt was its awkward structure. On the whole it resembles other kings' sagas in that facts are related in the order in which they take place, but it also contains several narratives not found in other kings' sagas, the supposed interpolations. Because they were not found elsewhere, these narratives, the paettir, were thought to have no place in a royal biography; hence they were additions to the original saga.4 The lack of interest in the Morkinskinna text was thus largely due to a textbook case of circular argumentation.

For much of this century the batir were held to be either rudimentary family sagas or a separate literary genre.5 This is echoed in several editions of the paettir, where they are extracted from the kings' sagas and presented as short stories.6 According to this view, the paettir originated as short independent narratives which were then borrowed by the Morkinskinna author or inserted by a later scribe. However, while most of the f&-Uir are regarded as later additions to the original text of Morkinskinna, scholars have not indicated clearly how many of them they consider to have been in the original saga and how many were added.7

The problem is that while there are reasons for viewing the paettir in the kings' sagas as separate narratives, the status of similar narratives in the family sagas has hitherto been ignored. In addition, the notion of the origins of the paettir as separate narratives is plagued with the dilemma that the paettir are seldom to be found outside their current setting, the kings' sagas.8 It is thus, in my view, necessary to look more closely at the significance of the paettir within the structure of Morkinskinna. A reappraisal of the whole question of the origins of Morkinskinna is long overdue.

Structure in medieval narrative

The first attempts at analysing saga structure were firmly rooted in the Aristotelian framework.9 Recent decades, however, have seen a dramatic reappraisal of medieval narrative structure, most importantly the discovery of a structural style peculiar to the Middle Ages, and contrary to Aristotelian doctrine, These narrative habits were especially potent in romance narratives, but in 1982 Carol Clover began fitting them to the Icelandic sagas. She used such diverse sagas as Njals saga, Grettis saga, and Olafs saga Tryggvasonar as examples of stranding, interlace composition, and bipartition.10

The Aristotelian structure with a clearly distinguishable beginning, middle, and end was far from universal in the Middle Ages. While some medieval writers wrote separate and self-contained units, others wrote nothing but sequels or preludes, narratives which were dependent upon older narratives. …

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