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26. Short Prose Narrative (þáttr)

Elizabeth Ashman Rowe and Joseph Harris

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00029.x


Þáttr (pl. þættir ) is the modern (and also one medieval) designation for short narratives in medieval Icelandic prose. Some þættir are preserved in the medieval equivalent of short-story collections, but many are found as parts of much longer composite narratives. For example, Geirmundar þáttr heljarskinns forms the introduction to the compilation of sagas collectively known as Sturlunga saga , and Nornagests þáttr was interpolated into the D redaction of the king's saga Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar by an anonymous mid-fourteenth-century scribe. Because such short narratives are not always clearly labelled, whether with ‘ þáttr ’ or another term, and because other criteria for their recognition can be subjective, their exact number will always be a matter of controversy. We feel, however, that a conservative estimate would recognize between 75 and 100 short narratives as þættir . Early scholarship on the saga literature largely ignored these stories or took their literary-historical status for granted, and modern scholarship begins effectively with a brief survey by Wolfgang Lange in 1957. This is reflected in Kurt Schier's admirable guide, Sagaliteratur , from 1970, which nevertheless treats þættir only in passing. By contrast Jónas Kristjánsson's Eddas and Sagas : Iceland's Medieval Literature , from 1988, devotes a separate chapter to the most prominent group of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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