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3. Christian Poetry

Katrina Attwood

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00006.x


The history of Old Norse-Icelandic Christian poetry is at once one of continuity with the established traditions of skaldic (and, to a lesser extent, eddic) poetry and of their gradual subversion. As we shall see, Christianity brought to Scandinavia a vast, constantly expanding, body of story material, hymnody and liturgy, all of which was to have a profound effect on the content, diction and metre of skaldic poetry, as well as on the circumstances of its composition, reception and transmission. The poets, however, were inheritors of a proud tradition, mythologized as the heirs of Bragi the Old and, ultimately, of that thief of the poetic mead, Óðinn himself. Nor was this pagan inheritance merely spiritual: the skaldic tradition was suffused with, and structured around, complex kennings and heiti (see chapter 27 ) alluding to pagan myths. As I hope to demonstrate in this chapter, poets throughout the Christian period were attempting a delicate chemistry. Could the heady, Odinic mead of poetry be blended with the sacramental wine of European Christendom, or would the resulting liquor split the wineskins of traditional poetic forms even as it was poured into them? The earliest Christian poetry is very much in the tradition of skaldic court-poetry: encomia for newly converted, royal Norwegian patrons, composed by professional, usually Icelandic, retainer-poets. Thus we find poets ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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