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25. Sagas of Icelandic Prehistory (fornaldarsögur)

Torfi H. Tulinius

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00028.x


The term fornaldarsaga Norðurlanda (pl. fornaldarsögur ) means ‘a tale of the Nordic countries in ancient times’. It is not a medieval concept, but was created by the Danish philologist Carl Christian Rafn (1795–1864), who first collected these sagas from different manuscripts and published them under this blanket title in his three-volume edition of 1829–30. Time has proved it an apt term for this group of sagas, since it is still in use in Iceland and is commonly used by specialists in other countries. In English they have also been referred to as ‘legendary sagas’ and ‘myth-ical-heroic sagas’. Of these two the latter term seems preferable from a literary perspective, telling us that they are tales of heroes steeped in a world of legends and myths. However, Rafn's original name tells us more about their relationship to the rest of the saga literature: what distinguishes them from other sagas is their chronological and geographical setting. Unlike the contemporary sagas or sagas of Icelanders, they take place in the Nordic (or Germanic) world and not in Iceland; and unlike the kings’ sagas, they are set in the period before the unification of Norway by Haraldr Finehair, a turn of events which the saga writers believed was contemporaneous with the settlement of Iceland. It can therefore be said that the fornaldarsögur reflect the way the past of the Nordic world was constructed ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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