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22. Royal Biography

Ármann Jakobsson

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00025.x


The group of sagas often classified as a sub-genre of the saga literature under the heading ‘kings’ sagas’ ( konunga sögur ) is extremely diverse in length, structure and subject matter. The kings’ sagas are not even all written in the same language. Under this heading we find not only sagas in the vernacular which structurally and thematically have much in common with the sagas of Icelanders, but also some synoptic historical works in Latin with a strong resemblance to other European royal biographies. It may be helpful to start with a rather loose definition, somewhat on these lines: kings’ sagas are historical and biographical works concerning Norwegian and Danish kings of what, at their time of writing, was the relatively recent past (c.850–1280). Most kings’ sagas were composed in 1180–1280. A unifying feature of this saga category, which separates it from the sagas of Icelanders, if not from the legendary sagas which are for the most part concerned with a more ancient past, is the figure of the king. Kingship ideology is thus very relevant to all attempts to deal with the kings’ sagas in generic terms. Power feeds upon ideology. Without ideology, no power can be lasting, and power without some kind of ideology, however puny, is almost unthinkable. The ideology of power must be conveyed to the learned and unlearned alike, either in an analytical manner, as in, say, a political ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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