Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives

  Hermann, Pernille, Stephen A. Mitchell, and Jens Peter Schjødt, eds., with Amber J. Rose. 2017. Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives. Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature 3. Cambridge, MA: Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_HermannP_etal_eds.Old_Norse_Mythology.2017.

Framing the Hero: Medium and Metalepsis in Old Norse Heroic Narrative [1]

Kate Heslop, University of California, Berkeley

Abstract: This essay argues for a medial perspective on heroic legend. Traditional iconographic approaches to this material are methodologically problematic and their potential for generating new readings seems limited. The essay proposes focusing instead on the primary sources’ own discourse on their materiality and historicity—their “medium theory”, in W. J. T. Mitchell’s words. This new approach is exemplified by a close study of the frame, a formal device that guides and enables interpretation, in both manuscript codices and decorated runestones. Among the examples used are the Codex Regius manuscript of the Poetic Edda and the Ramsund and Gök runic inscriptions.

Old Norse heroic narratives are stories that know they are stories. They have always raised questions of medium and mediation: in what form tales were transmitted before the advent of writing, how images can be used to track developments in the narratives, and whether traces of earlier forms can be discerned in later works. The field seems to be gradually abandoning its preoccupation with lost origins. But medial reflection retains its importance and interest, in the form of a double commitment to understanding medieval uses, in a broad sense, of these texts, and to expanding our sense of what media can do. This is because the advent of writing in Scandinavia opened new possibilities for the transmission of narrative and maintenance of cultural memory, and generated interferences between text, image, inscription and performance, laying the groundwork for a vernacular theory of the medium. Rather than appearing as a theoretical meta-discourse, this takes the form of what Mitchell (2004) calls “medium theory”, and is expressed within the narratives themselves. In heroic narrative, it is especially apparent in the texts’ negotiation of their own historicity, a defining characteristic of heroic legends as compared to mythological narratives. How their subject-matter was preserved and transmitted from the past is a question of urgent, existential interest to these texts. In what follows I will argue that the ways heroic narrative is framed offer particularly rich insights into these texts’ self-conception as historical. The word frame can mean many things: from a “non-physical boundary” (Duro 1996b: 1) such as the institutional or gendered frame, through the frame narratives ubiquitous in medieval texts, to the physical border around an image. Cop movies offer the “frame-up” with its implications, relevant here, of purposeful invention. The common denominator is that the frame “guides and enables interpretation” (Wolf 2006: 3). Its presence in the conceptual armory of several disciplines suits the frame well to comparative study. The present contribution will sketch a comparison between two self-conscious and sophisticated acts of framing in medieval Scandinavia, the visual framing of images on late Viking Age Swedish runestones, and textual framing in the Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda. In relation to the central figure of Sigurðr Fáfnisbani, I will investigate what it means to frame the hero, and what happens when that frame is broken.

Edgar Degas called the frame “the pimp of the painting” (qtd. in Lebensztejn 1988: 38): that which offers access to the autonomous work of art it encloses (Simmel 1902). In his writings from the mid-1970s on the parergon, Jacques Derrida deconstructs this conception of framing, noting how the frame “is distinguished from two grounds, but in relation to each of these, it disappears into the other” (Derrida 1979: 24). As Paul Duro puts it, for Derrida the frame “rhetoricizes the relationship between inside [and] outside” (Duro 1996b: 8). The frame, as parergon, is neither a part of the work (ergon), nor extrinsic to it, but rather is a structure by means of which a differentiation between work and not-work is generated: “while enclosing and protecting an interior, the frame also produces an outside with which it must communicate” (Rodowick 1994: 98–99). Study of the picture frame lingers “in a no-man’s-land between the fine and the decorative arts” (Mitchell, Roberts and Adair 2010), and its history is obscure. In a seminal article from 1969, Meyer Schapiro explored the material conditions of possibility of artworks, the frame among them. Schapiro points out that the regular image field is itself “an advanced artifact” (1969: 223) in contrast to the rough unbounded surface the natural rock offered to cave painters. Field and boundary, he argues, come into being as concepts when artists have regular smooth surfaces to work on, such as ceramic pots or masonry walls, yielding “a field with a distinct plane (or regular curvature) of the surface and a definite boundary which may be the smoothed edges of an artifact” (Schapiro 1969: 224). The shaped runestone thus provides a minimal frame in the form of its edges. This is confirmed by the fact that runic inscriptions on natural rockfaces, unlike those on shaped stones, invariably have carved frames (cf. Stern 2013: 22n60).

Figure 1. Lärbro Stora Hammars I, Gotland, mid-Viking Age, 3.12 x 1.43 m. Image courtesy of Stephen Mitchell.

The earliest frames are found on Egyptian ceramics and tomb paintings of the second millennium BCE, and take the form of horizontal bands. Ground lines both link the figures together and emphasize the axes of the field, enabling contrasts to be established between stillness and movement (Mitchell, Roberts and Adair 2010; Schapiro 1969: 224–26). Scandinavian instances of composition in bands include the Gotland picture stones (for instance Lärbro Stora Hammars I, Figure 1), although even the earliest, Lindquist’s Group A, also exhibit interlace borders that follow the edge of the stone (see Karnell 2012: 16–21 for images). Ancient Greek vase painting and architectural reliefs mark the advent of the so-called “open frame” (Hurwit 1977: 6), in which “pictorial content and enframed field do not precisely coincide” (Hurwit 1977: 14). Truncation of the image by the frame gives a sense of depth, as “the frame seems to cross a represented field that extends behind it at the sides” (Schapiro 1969: 227). A handsome Scandinavian instance is the Style E sword-pommel from Stora Ihre, Hellvi, Gotland (Figure 2), where a single continuous animal body is glimpsed through three “windows”. The image crossing the frame, on the other hand, intensifies the illusion of movement. The wood-carvings from the stave church at Hylestad in Norway (Figure 3) nicely illustrate this, with Sigurðr’s body spilling over the borders of the medallion he is confined within as he gives Fáfnir his death-blow. A final Greek development relevant to the runestone material is what Hurwit calls the “pictorialization of the border” (1977: 2), whereby figures in the image interact with the frame, leaning objects against it, seizing it in their hands, and so on. This implies a shift in the role of the image from decorative and emblematic to narrative, associated in the Greek material with the growth of a corpus of myth and heroic legend at the end of the Geometric period, ca. 900–700 BCE—an idea with resonance for the late Viking Age runestones. Medieval framing practices in media such as illuminated books, stained glass, stone sculpture, and embroidery yield many examples of the open frame (cf. Broderick 1982), as well as bearing witness to a new tendency, “the manic compulsion to divide and subdivide” (Kemp 1996: 19). Particularly in stained glass, where narratives are divided up between “semicircles or quarter circles, blossom leaves, half or whole quatrefoils” (Kemp 1996: 20), the complex geometrical structures that mediated visual narrative in the Middle Ages gave rise to conventions such as fixed mise-en-page, which worked as “ontological and epistemological maps” for reading these images (Whatling 2010: 83). The existence of stable conventions in turn allowed their violation to be marked and meaning-bearing, especially in the case of metalepsis, a point to which I will return in the final part of this essay.

Figure 2. Detail of sword-pommel from Stora Ihre grave 174, Gotland, second half of the eighth century. Length: 9.5 cm. Image courtesy of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Figure 3. Detail of Hylestad church portal, Setesdal, first half of the thirteenth century. 2.2 x 0. 52 m. Image courtesy of the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo.

Framing in the runestone medium

Although the “unframed” image persists, and occurs in every time and place, from the early Upplandic stones from Möjbro (U 877, fifth–sixth centuries) and Krogsta (U 1125, sixth century, Figure 4), to the Late Viking Age stones at Ålum (Ålum 3, DR 96, reverse side) or Altuna (U 1161), runestones exhibit broad, geographically inflected (cf. e.g. Barnes 2012: 68–70) tendencies towards increasing explicitness and complexity of framing through time. In particular, the latest phase of runestone production, the Swedish Late Viking Age stones, trouble easy distinctions between frame, content and ground.

Figure 4. Krogsta (U 1125), Uppland, sixth century. 1.7 x 0.85 m. Image courtesy of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Traditionally, runestone studies have focused on the runic inscription and placed the ornament and the stone itself in the parergonal roles of frame and ground respectively. [2] Mats Malm describes the traditional view: “Runstenarnas skrivtecken […] inramas […] an utstuderade ornament” (2011: 4) (runestones’ written characters are framed by studied ornament). On these late ornamented stones, however, a reversal of the frame/content relationship takes place, at least as far as the visual impact of the stones is concerned. Here the rune band becomes a frame, demarcating a pictorial field. A similar reversal has taken place in runestone scholarship in recent years, with a number of interesting contributions, especially by younger scholars, paying close attention to figural decoration on the Swedish Late Viking Age stones (Oehrl 2006 and 2011; Helmbrecht 2011; Stern 2013; Zilmer 2011); the complex medial signature of the combination of stone, inscription and ornament is taken up by Bianchi 2010. Some of this work touches on the topic of framing (Stern 2013; Zilmer 2011; cf. also, somewhat controversially, Andrén 2000), but as yet there has been no thorough study of the relationship between the images and the decorative borders, rune bands, or rune-animals that frame them. [3] This is not that study. Instead the following, necessarily brief overview serves as a background for the discussion of the Ramsund and Gök stones in the following section, by exploring the conventions that these stones play on.

Figure 5. Hunnestad 3 (DR 284), Scania, late tenth-early eleventh century. 1.79 x 1.06 m. Image courtesy of Stephen Mitchell.

Figure 6. Jelling 2 (DR 42), southern Denmark, late tenth century. 2.43 x 2.90 m (inscription side). Image courtesy of the National Museum of Denmark.

Figure 7. Stora Runhällen (U 1164), Uppland, eleventh century. 1.67 x 1.6 m. Image courtesy of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

A Danish innovation is for the inscription to follow the outline of the stone within a band consisting of two parallel lines. [5] A refinement of this is the “portal” layout (Fuglesang 2001: 178), in which the rune band forms a doorframe-like shape mimicking the shape of the stone’s top half. The Hunnestad monument (DR 282–6, late tenth–early eleventh centuries) offers several instances of portal framing of images, one with two parallel rune bands in “portal” configuration framing a warrior figure (DR 282), and one where the portal consists not of a rune band, but of a serpent-like animal (the Hyrrokkin stone, DR 284, Figure 5). This combination of the portal type with another Danish development, the rune band with snake-head termination, produces a rune-animal following the contours of the stone (see further examples at Fuglesang 2001: 180). Signe Horn Fuglesang sees this type as the precursor of the Urnes rune-animal, and suggests that the Danish Jelling 2 stone, where the double lines that frame the runebands are furnished with tendrils which intertwine with a (now-destroyed) snake, was an important influence on the later Swedish development of the rune-animal (2001: 161). The Jelling 2 stone (DR 42, late tenth century, Figure 6) exerted a powerful influence on later runestone fashions (Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1966; Fuglesang 2001; Graham-Campbell 2013). Among its many innovations (cf Roesdahl 2013) is a new kind of framing. Two of its three sides are dominated by large images, of a quadruped fighting a serpent and a crucifixion respectively, above a single horizontal line of runes. It has long been recognized that the left-to-right, horizontal orientation of the runic inscription shows the influence of manuscript layout. Else Roesdahl has recently taken this idea further, suggesting that the monument is a “bog af sten” (book in stone):

Den første og bredeste side med sin særlig udformning er en tekstside, mens de følgende sider, som kunne ses under ét og som hver har et stort billede inden for ensdannede og sammenhængende rammer, svarer til et billedopslag i en fornemt illustreret bog. (Roesdahl 1999: 242)

(The first and broadest side with its special form is a text side, while the following sides, each of which can be seen as a whole and has a large image within a matching, continuous frame, corresponds to an illustrated opening in a splendid illuminated book.)

The Continental, Christian milieu in which Harald Blátǫnn (Harald Bluetooth, r. ca. 958–987) moved makes it likely that he and his artists were exposed to Carolingian and Ottonian manuscript art, with gifts given at his baptism as one possible vector (Wamers 2000: 158). The Ringerike- and Urnes-style Swedish runestones of the late Viking Age explore the idea of inscription as frame most intensively, perhaps due to the prominence of the ground in the Urnes style, in the form of the spaces enclosed by the style’s characteristic loops (Owen 2001: 204).

Figure 8. Prästgården (U 855), Uppland, eleventh century. 2.57 x 2.12 m. Image courtesy of Stephen Mitchell.

Figure 9. Ramsund rock engraving (Sö 101), Södermanland, Sweden, eleventh century. 4.7 x 1.8 m. Image courtesy of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

The Late Viking Age runestone frame is an open frame, to use Hurwit’s terms. Images are usually placed so that they touch one another or the frame. [6] This seems to have been an important organizing principle. One possible reason could be that this is a reflex of the space-filling interlace types of composition ubiquitous in Scandinavian art. It could also have been encouraged by the grooved incision technique used to carve these stones. The Gotland rune stones (Lindquist’s Type E) are carved in a relief technique and here the tendency for decorative elements to touch the rune band is less marked. Many late Viking Age stones exhibit mutual encroachment of frame and image: cropping of the image by the rune band, overlapping of the rune band by the image, or, often, both. The majority of stones with this feature are images of the so-called “Great Beast”, e.g. U 1164 Stora Runhällen (Figure 7), [7] and frame/image encroachments may have become visual conventions for expressing the beast’s dynamic movement and strength, ideologemes central to runestone iconography, as Fuglesang (2005) observes. It has been suggested that cropping in the Gotland picture stones results from re-use and resulting misalignment of templates (Åhfeldt 2012b: 190), and a similar explanation could perhaps be considered here, especially as recent research suggests that the rune band and the ornament were often not carved by the same person (Åhfeldt 2012). However, the frequent occurrence of frame-image encroachment on the Swedish late Viking Age runestones strongly suggests that it was not accidental, and may have been intended to enhance certain spatial effects, notably depth and dynamic movement. The final aspect of the open frame as described by Hurwit is the interaction of figures with the frame, for instance on the Aspö stone (Sö 175), where the rune-animals intertwine with the frontal human figure’s elbows and knees, giving rise to a striking illusion of depth, and at Rångsta (U 1065), where a frontally presented human figure grasps the rune-animal with its hands and hauls its head and upper body above the frame. The most famous instance of a figure interacting with the frame is, of course, the Sigurðr stones, where the framing rune-animal becomes Fáfnir, transfixed by the hero’s sword. Pictorial motifs only rarely appear outside the frame on Swedish late Viking Age stones. [8] Placement of motifs outside the frame is therefore a marked, deliberate choice. As well as indicating the development of the frame in late Viking Age runestone carving practice towards complete enclosure of the image field, these instances throw light on the way the frame organizes space. Birds, perching on or flying above the upper rune band, are the commonest motifs to occur outside the frame (cf. for instance U 746, U 753, U 920, U 1071). Instances such as the Prästgården stone (U 855, Figure 8), where a bird alights on the upper rune band, which in turn encloses a hunting scene, suggests that the area inside the frame was coming to be considered as an oriented representational space, with the upper border representing the sky, and the lower providing a ground line. [9] Carl Säve, one of the earliest scholarly commentators on the Sigurðr image at Ramsund, already gestures at an interpretation of this kind:

Man könnte fast sagen, dass die Fläche des umrahmten Bildes, auf welchem diese Begebenheiten dargestellt sind, die halbmythische Gnitaheide selbst veranschaulichen soll, wo nach der Aussage alter Lieder die Haupt- und Schlusshandlung stattgehabt! (Säve 1870: 28)

(One could almost say that the surface of the framed image on which these events are shown is itself meant to be an illustration of the half-mythical Gnitaheide, where according to old poems the main and climactic action took place.)

Pictures of Sigurðr

Carved in the first half of the eleventh century into a massive boulder, the Ramsund inscription (Sö 101, Figure 9) commemorates the building of a bridge by a woman named Sigrid in memory of a male relative, Holmger, and is decorated with the best-known pictorial representation of the Sigurðr narrative. The inscription at Gök (Sö 327, eleventh century, Figure 10), only a few kilometers away, is usually scorned in the scholarly literature as a bungled copy (cf. however Liepe 1989; Ney 2013), due both to its willful combination of motifs familiar from Ramsund and its indecipherable inscription—the corpus edition notes indignantly that it uses reisti “raised”, the usual verb for erecting a runestone, in an inscription which is unmistakably on a natural rock face.

Figure 10. Gök rock engraving (Sö 327), Södermanland, Sweden, eleventh century. 2.5 x 1.65 m. Image courtesy of the Swedish National Heritage Board.

Sigurðr’s dragon-killing pose in both carvings is the Knielauf (kneeling-running) position known from many archaic sculpture traditions. He pierces the rune-animal’s body from underneath with an upward thrust of his sword, which passes via a slit in the animal’s body through to the enframed area (at Gök it comes dangerously close to the bird’s tail feathers). As has often been pointed out, this is in accordance with the version of the story in Vǫlsunga saga, according to which Sigurðr kills Fáfnir from a pit dug on Óðinn’s advice. Skewered on Sigurðr’s sword, the precarious status of the rune band between representational image, written inscription and decoration becomes apparent. The horizontal stroke indicating the wound contrasts with both the runic staves that surround it and the decorative pattern on the body of the upper rune-animals on the Ramsund stone (unlike the lower one, the upper animals function purely as framing devices). Different orders of representation literally intersect on these stones, making any assumption of primacy—which part of the ensemble has interpretive privilege over the others—impossible. The rune-animal frame is simultaneously inside and outside the narrative. It is both Fáfnir’s body, that is, part of the diegesis, and the bearer of an utterance, the runic inscription, whose relation to the depicted narrative is anything but self-evident. [11] By escaping the frame and entering our space—a rare phenomenon in the Swedish runic corpus, as we have seen—Sigurðr is what the narratologists would call an “antimetaleptic” (Genette 2004: 27) figure. His sword crosses the unstable border, made of writing, between the extra- and intradiegetic worlds.

Artistic enthusiasm for Sigurðr Fáfnisbani makes itself felt in three geographically, chronologically and medially distinct settings (Düwel 2005): tenth-century insular stone reliefs (Isle of Man, Lancashire, Yorkshire), eleventh-century runestones from eastern Sweden (Södermanland, Uppland) and thirteenth-century southern Norwegian church furnishings, mainly wooden reliefs (Aust-Agder, Telemark, Vestfold). [12] Each of these historical moments of Sigurðr-related creativity gave rise to a small body of artifacts. Only the last of them could have coincided with the written transmission of narratives about Sigurðr, as thirteenth-century Norway is a plausible locale for the writing down of early versions of Vǫlsunga saga (von See 1999; Larrington 2012: 263–4). This makes the Sigurðr images valuable evidence for the transmission of heroic narrative in media other than writing (von See 1999b: 190). The individual motifs used to depict the Sigurðr story, as well as the basic plot these objects sketch, show astonishing similarities across large gulfs of time and space, right down to the number of pieces of Fáfnir’s heart in the kebab Sigurðr roasts for Reginn (three slices in both Viking Age Man and high medieval Norway). The likeliest explanation for this is a combination of visual and oral mediation: images on now-lost portable objects such as textiles, decorated metal- or woodwork, accompanied by a performance, most likely poetic. These similarities of motif also raise a number of methodological questions, however.

For one, what constellation of Sigurðr-associated motifs must be present to indicate a Sigurðr image? No single object displays the entire Sigurðr repertoire, pithily defined by Klaus Düwel as “Otterbuße, Drachenstich, Herzbraten, Fingerprobe, Vogelrat, Regins Tötung und Granis Bürde” (2003: 127) (otter-payment, dragon-stabbing, heart-roasting, finger-test, birds’ advice, killing of Reginn and Grani’s burden). [13] But how low can you go? Will one central motif do, as Düwel implies (2005: 421), and if so, how to decide which motif is central? The sword thrusting through Fáfnir’s body is the obvious candidate, and reduced forms (Vladimir-Susdal axe, Tansberg stone) may suggest it alone was enough to make the link. But we have no other evidence that these objects have anything to do with Sigurðr, and Grani with his burden has at least an equal claim to prominence. Not only is Grani at the center of the composition at Ramsund and Gök, he appears on all the Manx carvings (Fáfnir does not) and his name is slightly better attested in gold-kennings than the dragon’s is (cf. Finnur Jónsson 1931: s.v. “Grani”, “Fáfnir”). Agneta Ney, following Thomas Lindkvist (1997) has recently argued that the central placement of the treasure motif at Ramsund confirms the monument’s status as “ett socialt och ekonomiskt styrkebesked” (Ney 2013: 31) (a social and economic show of strength) on Sigrid’s part. She thus sees its significance exclusively in terms of the social status of its commissioner. The fact that Sigrid chose as the decorative program for her monument a narrative that turns on heroic triumph and death suggests that a purely quotidian reading is too narrow, however, especially considering the Christian allegorical meanings borne by the Sigurðr figure everywhere he appears in the visual arts. Grani’s burden represents the apex of the treasure motif in the Vǫlsung legend. Freshly won, the dragon’s gold bathes Sigurðr in a divine glow, arousing the envy of all who see him. Gjúki’s watchmen observe of the approaching hero, “þat hygg ek at hér fari einn af goðunum. Þessi maðr er allr við gull búinn” (Vǫlsunga saga p. 46) (I think one of the gods is approaching. This man is gold all over), and Brynhildr describes how she and Atli “í hǫll húnscrar þióðar / eld á iǫfri ormbeðs litom” (Guðrúnarkviða I v. 26: Edda p. 206) (in the Hunnish people’s hall […] saw the fire of the serpent’s bed shine on the prince (Larrington p. 175)). The lavish grave goods of the Viking Age demonstrate a strong association of treasure with the divine realms of the afterlife. Later written sources suggest that riches eased the passage of the dead thence, whether to Valhǫll (cf. the passages cited in Wanner 2008: 397–403) or to the watery kingdom of Rán:

“Nú þykkir mér ván,” segir Friðþjófr, “at nǫkkurir várir menn muni til Ránar fara. Munu vér ekki sendligir þykkja, þá vér komum þar, nema vér búmz vaskliga. Þykki mér ráð, at hverr maðr hafi nǫkkut gull á sér.” (Friðþjófs saga p. 24)

(“Now it appears likely,” said Fridthjof, “that some of our men will journey to Ran. We will not appear properly attired when we come there, unless we prepare ourselves bravely. I think it’s advisable for every man to have some gold on him.” (Waggoner pp. 67–68))

Similar echoes of a traditional association between treasure, the world of gods and heroes and the numinous realms of the afterlife may have persisted even into the Christian commemorative practices at Ramsund and Gök (cf. Zachrisson 1998, who proposes just such a rationale for buried deposits of gold in Viking Age Uppland).

Another source of difficulty in interpreting these images lies not in the relationship of single motifs to the ensemble, but rather in their multivalence. Can we always be sure whether images showing smiths’ tools, decapitated bodies and birds, such as the Halton and Leeds crosses, should be read as Sigurðr narratives or Vǫlundr ones? Perhaps this ambiguity was a feature not a bug, a visual equivalent to the repeated motifs and foreshadowings that are so prominent in compilations such as Vǫlsunga saga and the Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda. And finally—a question with a long history—is the presence, or more daringly, the absence of motifs at certain times or places useful for reconstructing the evolution of the underlying narrative (cf. Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir 2012)? The persistence of such issues means that much of the massive secondary literature on the Sigurðr images is devoted not to interpreting them, but to arguing for a particular object’s inclusion in or rejection from the corpus (Oehrl 2013 is a recent example).

Figure 11. Lellinge Kohave B bracteate (IK 105), Seeland, fifth–sixth century. Diameter: 2.79 cm. Image courtesy of the National Museum of Denmark.

These problems are characteristic of a particular kind of comparativism, namely Erwin Panofsky’s iconographic method. The reductionist, logocentric tendencies of iconographic analysis have frequently been criticized by art historians (Cassidy 1993b; Camille 1993; Liepe 2003), and W. J. T. Mitchell attacks the comparative method for its emphasis on relations of “similarity, resemblance and analogy” (Mitchell 1994: 89). Such relations are understandably important when we wish to identify figures in images with those in texts, but he argues that they drive out more complex readings. [14] Iconographic analysis makes it hard, we might say, for the images to talk back, or tell us anything surprising. From a discipline-internal position, Anne-Sofie Gräslund faults recent work on runestone images for its focus on motif and tendency to read the motifs it discovers in a biologiskt (biological) manner, neglecting the stylization that is central to the runestone carvers’ artistic heritage (Gräslund 2013: 202). This stylization must temper our amazement at the congruence of Sigurðr motifs across widely separated times and places. They draw on a highly conventional and conservative artistic language. Almost every episode in the Sigurðr repertoire is conveyed by stereotyped motifs that also occur in other contexts, and often have long histories. The “Fingerprobe”, for instance, where Sigurðr sucks not his finger, as in the textual sources, but his thumb, has antecedents on Migration Age bracteates and guldgubber (Ellis Davidson 1989; Hauck 1993: 458–59, Figure 11), which themselves are influenced by Late Roman images on coins and medallions, depicting hands raised in acclamation to a victorious emperor (Wamers 2003). Sucking or biting the thumb also has ancient associations with prophecy (Ellis Davidson 1989), which the artists may have been referring to. The birds on Ramsund’s tree, with their hooked beaks, look like the birds of prey which appear elsewhere in hunting or battle scenes, but in the context of Ramsund they must be igður (nuthatches) (Stern 2013: 66–67). The visual representation of Sigurðr’s sword-thrust at Ramsund and Gök, as a horizontal stroke in the animal’s body through which the weapon passes, also appears in Danish Romanesque stone sculpture (Belling 1984). Even something as basic as the rightwards direction of Grani’s gaze in all but one of the Sigurðr objects [15] need not imply anything about their filiation, as this is the commonest orientation for runic quadrupeds (Oehrl 2011: 18). All this is, however, no counsel of despair for would-be interpreters. It makes for porous boundaries: no two interpreters of the Vǫlsung images agree which objects make up the corpus. But the massive, solid presence of convention bolsters interpretation of the central witnesses, by underlining just how striking the departures at Ramsund and Gök are.

Breaking the frame: metalepsis in textual and visual media

Metalepsis is a traditional rhetorical term, although from the beginning there was little agreement as to what it actually meant (Nauta 2013). It is used in narratology in the sense made popular by Gérard Genette in his Discours du récit (1972), for when figures in a narrative transgress its levels of representation, for instance when the extradiegetic narrator enters the storyworld, or a figure from the storyworld breaks out of the diegesis. Metalepsis has attracted much interest of late, and has been found in narratives ranging from comic books, to “akkadischer und ägyptischer Literatur […] der hebräischen Bibel […] rabbinischen Midraschim […] paganer antiker Literatur aller Epochen und […] frühchristlicher Literatur” (Eisen and Möllendorf 2013: cover text) (Akkadian and Egyptian literature […] the Hebrew Bible […] rabbinic midrashim […] pagan antique literature of all epochs and […] early Christian literature). The canonical example of metalepsis in modern literature is a short story by the Argentinian novelist Julio Cortázar, “Continuidad de los parques” (1956), in which a reader is murdered by a character in the book he is reading. Such a “transgression délibérée du seuil d’enchâssement” (Genette 2004: 14) (intentional transgression of the threshold setting) points, according to Genette, to a “théorie de la fiction” (Genette 2004: 7) (theory of fiction). This transgression involves “a deviant referential operation, a violation of semantic thresholds of representation that involves the beholder in an ontological transgression of universes” (Pier 2009: 190). Cortázar’s story is a radical instance of metalepsis. Eisen and Möllendorf propose that metalepsis in ancient texts and artworks is more restricted, operating not, as Cortázar’s does, to destabilize the entire narrative, but rather in a local fashion, in the form of “weiche, gleitende metaleptische Ebenenübergänge” (Eisen and Möllendorf 2013b: 2) (smooth, gliding metaleptic level transitions) from one narrative level to another. Rather than disjunctively staging illusionistic aspects of the artwork, as modern metalepsis does (Kukkonnen and Klimek 2011), antique metalepsis is primarily a matter of mediality:

Hier ist etwa in Erwägung zu ziehen, dass sich antike narrative Plots außerordentlich häufig auf eine (skriptural oder oral vorliegende) Erzähltradition beziehen, die einen historisch realen Hintergrund suggeriert und behauptet. Der metaleptische Kontakt, so ließe sich mithin formulieren, durchschlägt dann nur eine als solche schon ontologisch durchlässige Grenze und verlängert die reale Gültigkeit und Existenz etwa eines mythischen Geschehens oder einer mythischen Figur bis in die Lesegegenwart, ohne aber im Grunde einen wirklichen Paralogismus zu generieren. (Eisen and Möllendorf 2013b: 2)

(Here, for instance, it should be considered that ancient narrative plots draw very often on a (written or oral) narrative tradition that implies and asserts a real, historical background. The metaleptic contact, we may thus say, then merely breaks through a boundary which is as such already ontologically permeable, and extends the real validity and existence of a mythical event or figure, for example, into the present of reading; without, however, in principle generating an actual logical fallacy.)

Antique metalepsis acts, then, as Eisen and Möllendorf see it, to enhance the authority, plausibility and effectiveness of textualised traditional materials in the setting of vocality (Schaefer 1992). It supports textual discourse rather than calling it into question, as its modern cousin does. Further:

Gerade in späteren antiken Epochen zunehmend selbstverständlicher Schriftlichkeit von Texten […] ist der Einsatz metaleptischer Verfahren des Öfteren auch an die Thematisierung von Medialität gebunden und soll offenbar helfen, die härtere Grenzziehung, die der Einsatz von Schrift gegenüber einem oral-auditiven Übermittlungsverfahren darstellt, aufzuweichen. (Eisen and Möllendorf 2013b: 3)

(Precisely in later antiquity, as the writtenness of texts was becoming increasingly a matter of course […] the use of metaleptic techniques is frequently linked to the thematizing of mediality and evidently is intended to help soften the hardness of the demarcation between writing and oral-auditive processes of transmission.)

The prose in the heroic part of the Codex Regius collection of eddic poetry (GKS 2365 4to, ca. 1270) has been described as fornaldarsaga-like (Lindblad 1980: 144, 166), insofar as it makes a frame for the poems out of causal and genealogical links. This is in stark contrast to the mythological part, whose frame is discontinuous. [16] Another systematic difference between the framing of the heroic and mythological parts of the Codex Regius collection has attracted less comment. This is the presence or absence of narrative level switching, or to use Eisen and Möllendorf’s terms, metaleptic level transitions. Mythological poems in Codex Regius that begin with direct speech are introduced with an inquit, as for example in Grímnismál: “Þá var eldrinn svá kominn, at feldrinn brann af Grímni. Hann qvað Heitr ertu […]” (Edda p. 57) (Then the fire had come so close that Grimnir’s cloak burned. He said: “Hot you are […]”) (Larrington pp. 48–49). Skírnismál, Hárbarðsljóð, and Lokasenna are also framed in this manner, with a prose passage concluding in an inquit that introduces direct speech in the first line of the poem. In these cases, the framing prose and the poetic text are on the same narrative level: the narrator does not step out of character at the interface between the two, but merely switches mode from prose to poetry. When the first line of the poem is not direct speech, the prose introduction is simply absent, and the Codex Regius manuscript either has a title rubric above the poem (as is the case for Hávamál, Vafþrúðnismál, Hymiskviða, and Þrymskviða), or the poem has no rubric at all and simply begins with the first line of the text (Vǫluspá). Here again, no change in the narrative level is implied, with the only signal of the beginning of the poetic text being the paratextual, non-narrative one of the rubric. The only exceptions to this pattern in the mythological part are the two poems in the “hinge” between the mythological and heroic parts: Alvíssmal, which although it begins with direct speech, has no prose introduction and, revealingly, Vǫlundarkviða.

The prose text “Frá Vǫlundi” precedes Vǫlundarkviða in the Codex Regius, and it concludes in a way characteristic not of the mythological, but rather of the heroic part of the collection: “Níðuðr konungr lét hann hǫndom taca, svá sem hér er um qveðit” (Edda p. 116; my emphasis) (King Nidud had him seized, as is told of here) (Larrington p. 98). It is often observed that Vǫlundarkviða, on Vǫlundr/Weland the smith, is out of place in the mythological section of Regius, and the nature of its prose frame supports this assessment. The frame also, however, offers an opening for rethinking the nature of the distinction between the two parts, and retreating from its anachronistic implication that medieval Scandinavians thought in terms of “heroic” versus “mythic”. Rather, the framing in Regius suggests, it is a matter of a different attitude on the part of the tradition bearers to the narrative material in the two sections. The medial form of the heroic texts, but not of the mythological ones, matters to the narrator of Codex Regius. A striking characteristic of the prose frame of the heroic part is its insistent reference to the poems as poems, the use of deictic phrases to refer to the texts in the collection, and its mentions of other poems that have not been included. Prose-heavy sections of the collection, such as Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, are especially rich in such references, both to the poem itself and to other texts: “í Vǫlsungaqviðo inni forno” (in the old Vǫlsungakviða), “í Helgaqviðo” (in Helgakviða), “svá sem qveðit er í Károlióðom” (as is told in Káruljóð). The mythological texts, on the other hand, trigger no such medial self-reflection and are presented in a “transparent” mode of unbroken narrative continuity. [17] As in the mythological part, poems in the heroic part of Regius that begin with direct speech [18] are introduced by an inquit. Framelessness is not an option in the heroic part. Hamðismál is the only heroic poem that lacks a prose prelude, and even it has a “postlude” at the end: “Þetta ero kǫlluð Hamðismál in forno” (Edda p. 274) (That is called the old Hamðismál). [19] The remaining poems [20] all begin with narration, and almost all are framed by a reference to the poem, often including a deictic pronoun:

Helgakviða Hundingsbana I: “Hér hefr upp qvæði frá Helga Hundingsbana þeira oc Hǫðbrodds” (Edda p. 130) (Here begins the poem about Helgi Hundingsbani and Hǫðbroddr)

Guðrúnarkviða I: “Þetta er enn qveðit um Guðrúno” (“Frá dauða Sigurðar”, Edda p. 201) (This is also said of Gudrun (Larrington p. 172))

Sigurðarkviða in skamma: “svá sem segir í Sigurðarqviðo inni scǫmmo” (Edda p. 206) (as is told in the “Short Poem about Sigurðr” (Larrington p. 176))

Oddrúnargrátr: “Um þessa sǫgo er hér qveðit” (Edda p. 234) (About this tale, this is told)

Atlakviða: “Um þetta er siá qviða ort” (“Dauði Atla”, Edda p. 239) (This poem was composed about it (Larrington p. 204))

Atlamál: “Enn segir gleggra í Atlamálom inom grœnlenzcom” (Edda p. 247) (The “Greenlandic Lay of Atli” tells this story more clearly (Larrington p. 210))

Guðrúnarhvǫt: “Enn er þat spurði Guðrún, þá qvaddi hon sono sína” (Edda p. 263) (And when Gudrun heard this, she spoke to her sons (Larrington p. 226))

The consistency with which this distinction is adhered to is striking. Guðrúnarhvǫt is the sole instance of a mixture of the two framing options, as it is introduced by an inquit but does not begin with direct speech from one of the poem’s protagonists. Rather, the poem’s narrator speaks:

Þá frá ec senno slíðrfengligsta,
trauð mál, talið af trega stórom,
er harðhuguð hvatti at vígi
grimmom orðom Guðrún sono. (Edda p. 264)

(Then I heard quarrelling of the most ill-fated sort,
faltering words uttered out of great grief,
when the fierce-spirited Gudrun whetted for the fight,
with grim words, her sons. (Larrington p. 226))

The opening stanza of Guðrúnarhvǫt, with its emphatic first-person pronoun and multiple verbs of speaking, seems to have triggered the inquit type of framing. This left the compiler no choice but to make Guðrún the subject of the inquit. The medial signature (or, if you prefer, controlling fiction) of the collection is that of authentic, anonymous oral transmission from ancient times. This forbids both the Regius’ narrator from stepping into the limelight as the poem’s originating instance (þá kvað ec “then I spoke” is thus not possible), [
21] and the use of the kind of stereotyped introductory phrases ubiquitous in the skaldic corpus (sem skáldit kvað, “as the skald said”). The framing prose is, then, an important site of Codex Regius’ “medium theory”. [22] The frame is also the place where one of the main stumbling-blocks to the collection’s “medieval cyclic impulse” (Clover 1982: 59) is negotiated, namely the existence of conflicting variants of heroic narratives such as the death of Sigurðr. [23] Variants become problematic—or even visible as such—as a consequence of the “remediation” (Grusin and Bolter 1999) of oral poetry in a medium, the written codex, which adds a lasting, material dimension to the oral poem’s temporal, performance-bound mode of existence. It is this process that yields an emphatic sense of sjá kviða (this poem), and the possibility (or necessity) of evaluative commentary (cf. note 22). Where previous researchers have seen in the inclusion of multiple versions of events witnesses to the compiler’s completist or antiquarian tendencies, they become on a narratological reading reckonings with the poem’s historicity. A good example is the text headed “Frá dauða Sigurðar”:

Hér er sagt í þessi qviðo frá dauða Sigurðar, oc vícr hér svá til, sem þeir dræpi hann úti. Enn sumir segia svá, at þeir dræpi hann inni í reccio sinni sofanda. Enn þýðverscir menn segia svá, at þeir dræpi hann úti í scógi. Oc svá segir í Guðrúnarqviðo inni forno, at Sigurðr oc Giúca synir hefði til þings riðit, þá er hann var drepinn. Enn þat segia allir einnig, at þeir svico hann í trygð oc vógo at hánom liggianda oc óbúnom. (Edda p. 201)

(In this poem the death of Sigurd is related and here it sounds as if they killed him outside. But some say this, that they killed him inside, sleeping in his bed. And Germans say that they killed him out in the forest. And the “Old Poem of Gudrun” says that Sigurd and the sons of Giuki were riding to the Assembly when he was killed. But they all say that they treacherously betrayed him and attacked him when he was lying down and unarmed. (Larrington, p. 171))

As Andreas Heusler wrote, “Die Heldenfabeln geben sich als Geschichte” (the heroic narratives purport to be history) (1941: 162; my emphasis). Historicity is becoming hard for the Regius narrator to maintain in the face of the variability of the tradition, even though, paradoxically enough, a sense that the heroic poems were historical documents, transmitting genealogically relevant information, was probably a significant motivation for the preservation of the variants in the first place (Rowe 2006). And it is a small step from a conception of the traditional material as a body of meaningful variation, to an understanding of it as fictional, in the modern sense of “a representation portraying an imaginary/invented universe or world” (Schaeffer 2013), whose events unfold in a manner determined by literary rather than referential patterns and constraints. Once the convention that the narrator is reporting events that have happened has been broken with, the heroic material can be developed in ways that exploit narrative contingency.

The visual material is more tantalizing, and its metalepses more radical. It seems that the remediation of oral traditions about Sigurðr in a new medium, that of the image-bearing runestone, was also leading to a reconsideration of the ontological status of those traditions in eleventh century Sweden, as remediation in written form did in high medieval Iceland. [24] Perhaps the impetus to commit these narratives to the more permanent medium of stone was also associated in Sweden with the advent of writing? A related point has already been made, in a metaphorical mode: “Lange bevor die Heldensage des Nordens auf das Pergament gelangt, fand sie ihren ersten “schriftlichen” Niederschlag in den Bildzeugnissen” (Ploss 1966: 78) (Long before the heroic legends of the north made it on to parchment, they experienced a first “scriptural” deposition in the visual witnesses). The shortcoming of such an account is its underestimation of the medial specificity of the “visual witnesses”: in the case of the Swedish runestones, their combination of monumental form, text, ornament and image. Similar problems befall the popular but at times facile comparison of runes with skaldic poetry (see Beck 2001 for an instance of this very widespread scholarly topos). The question can also be approached from another perspective, however: that of the history of media technologies. Here two possibilities present themselves, a weak and a strong theory. The weak version takes its point of departure from the widely-accepted influence of codex layout on the Jelling 2 stone, and the profound effect that Danish models had on the Swedish tradition of decorated runestones (Fuglesang 1998: 199). An indirect influence of the new technology of writing on the overall conception of the engravings at Ramsund and Gök can thus be safely asserted. The strong version seeks a more immediate context in eleventh-century Sweden for possible influences of the advent of writing. It is unlikely that heroic legends were being committed to Latin letters in eleventh-century Sweden. At any rate, no trace of such activity has survived. However, there is ample evidence that Latin and runic scripts coexisted and influenced one another, as close to the time and place of our witnesses as eleventh century Sigtuna (Källström 2012; cf. on Swedish runic Latinity more generally Gustavson 1994; Öberg 1994), and that manuscripts were not only used, but in fact produced in Sweden at this time (Åhfeldt 2012: 90; Gullick 2005: 32). The survey of runestone framing presented above suggests a growing tendency to consider the enframed field as a closed illusionistic space, the precondition of the metaleptic play at Ramsund and Gök. Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt describes a general trend for Swedish stones in the course of the eleventh century in the direction of “more formalised inscriptions and more elaborated ornament” (2012: 77). Signe Horn Fuglesang also sees the eleventh century as a moment of innovation, now in visual narration. The juxtaposition of emblematic scenes from different narratives, as seen on the Franks’ Casket and Ardre VII picture stone (Fuglesang 2005: 81), is succeeded by the representation of several stages of one narrative in a single image (Fuglesang 1986: 187). Such developments in the visual sources could be associated with the practices of collection, canonization and cyclification, fellow travelers of Verschriftlichung (textualization) cross-culturally, not only of heroic epic, but also of traditions ranging from biblical narrative, through chronicles and genealogies, to laws (Assmann 1992; for Scandinavia in particular, cf. Quinn 2000). Could it be that formal innovations in eleventh century Swedish runecarving were influenced by the presence there of the new medium of the manuscript codex? The current state of our knowledge of textual culture in eleventh century Sweden does not allow for a certain answer to this question, although Öberg (1994: 221) points to early medieval examples of artists who were literate in both Latin and the vernacular, and so exposed to book culture. A clerical commissioner of the runic monument is another obvious conduit for such influences. But the emergence of the rune band as frame of an illusionistic space, whose “rhetoriciz[ation of] the relationship between inside [and] outside” the antimetaleptic Sigurðr makes abundantly clear, has suggestive parallels with the presentation of heroic narratives in Codex Regius as sjá kviða, concrete realizations crystallized from the flux of orality. The Codex Regius manuscript of the Poetic Edda is exquisitely self-conscious, but these processes also took place, often unmarked, in other text corpora (Rohrbach 2014), and may have begun earlier than surviving texts bear witness (cf. Bianchi 2010: 22). In this connection it is worth remembering that the tenth-century cross fragments from Kirk Andreas on the Isle of Man include not only a Sigurðr image, but also one of a figure carrying a cross and a book (Figure 12). It is a commonplace that such juxtapositions indicate “the meeting of the two religions” (Wilson 2008: 80); they also imply the meeting of two medial regimes. Perhaps Ramsund’s and Gök’s Sigurðr is bookish, too, in other ways than hitherto realized.


Figure 12. Kirk Andreas cross fragments: left, Thorwald’s cross (inventory nr. 128) and, right, Sigurd’s cross (inventory nr. 121), Isle of Man, tenth century. Length: 35 cm (128), 68 cm (121). Images courtesy of Manx National Heritage.

The rock engravings at Ramsund and Gök show an analogous awareness of the narrative closure of the Sigurðr story. This is more apparent at Ramsund than at Gök, as on the latter stone the visual field’s organization is less illusionistic and more indebted to traditional space-filling compositional norms. The foregoing analysis suggests that the differences between the two stones should be put down not to the Gök carver’s bungling, or his poor memory, but to his unfamiliarity with new, textually-inspired ways of organizing narrative information. The largely incomprehensible runic inscription on the Gök stone, usually assumed to indicate a carver not fully conversant with runic script and not at home in the literate milieu, supports this interpretation. Sigurðr’s sword both pins together the monuments’ multiple media, and destabilizes the relationship between their orders of representation. The line it cuts into the rune band interrupts the syntax of linguistic symbols with an iconic visual sign, and draws attention to the materiality of the runic letters as lines on the rockface. The antimetaleptic figure of Sigurðr inverts the figure/ground relationship by making the ground outside the frame part of the image, and foregrounds the conventions undergirding the illusionistic space of the framed area. As Eisen and Möllendorf argue, it is not necessary—and perhaps it is anachronistic—to interpret this as a sophisticated undermining of narrative norms. Such a destabilization would also be surprising if these developments were as recent as they have been argued here to be. Rather, they suggest the lack of transparency of the conventions for those to whom they were new. The “medium theory” of these engravings is, on this reading, a reckoning with the narrative potentialities of runestone carving at a moment of medial innovation.

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[ back ] 1. I am grateful to Stephen Mitchell for the invitation to present an earlier version of the following remarks at the Old Norse Mythology in its Comparative Contexts conference, and to my audience for their comments. My thanks also go to Judy Quinn and Karin Sanders, who read draft versions and made a number of helpful suggestions.

[ back ] 2. Of course there has been a good deal of art-historical interest in runestone ornament, especially as it relates to dating (see e.g. Thompson 1975; Fuglesang 1998; Lager 2002; Gräslund 2006). The Sigurðr engravings have also long attracted attention; for bibliography see below.

[ back ] 3. Stern’s 2013 dissertation comes the closest, collecting a large amount of data highly relevant to several topics touched on below, for example the issue of the spatial relationships between elements, but its main interest is in the images rather than the frame.

[ back ] 4. It is possible that the image and runic inscription on the Eggja stone were executed at different times (Williams 2013: 200).

[ back ] 5. Cf. Danmarks Runindskrifter: Saglexikon, s.v. “Indskriftordning b. Konturordningen”. Erik Moltke has a figure giving an overview of Danish runestone layouts (1985: 270). He suggests that the fragmentary Horne stone (DR 34, tenth century) is the oldest representative of konturordning (1985: 246).

[ back ] 6. Stern notes that 78% of the images in her corpus touch one or more of “the inscription, the (serpent) ornamentation, a cross, or the other figural decoration”, or are fully enclosed by other carvings (2013: 103–104).

[ back ] 7. Further examples are U 678 (reverse side), DR 271, Vg 181, U 696, U 719, U 742, U 759, U 692, U 742, Vs 29, U 791, U 751, U 753, U 763, Vs 19.

[ back ] 8. Stern (2013: 105) gives the proportion of images in her corpus that occur outside the frame as 12%.

[ back ] 9. DR 42, U 678, U 696, U 719, U 742, G 77, G 114 are instances of stones where images are placed on a horizontal ground line. The Alstad and Dynna stones, in which a bird and a star respectively are uppermost in the image field, suggest that this sense of oriented representational space was also present in Norway around the same time.

[ back ] 10. Agneta Ney has recently compared the rune-animals on the two stones. She concludes that Gök’s belongs to an older iconographic tradition (Ney 2013: 32).

[ back ] 11. Interpretations linking the content of the inscription with the images are listed by Klaus Düwel (2003: 128). See also Andrén (2000: 19–21).

[ back ] 12. It has been proposed that the Gotland picture stones include elements from the Sigurðr narrative. The more expansive interpretation of them is, however, rather controversial (Andrén 1989) while the more conservative one (Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir 2012b) identifies only single motifs, raising the question canvased below: how reduced can the presentation of the narrative be and still be identifiable as such?

[ back ] 13. Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir (2012b: 73–74) suggests a much longer list, spanning 24 items, which in turn yields a much larger corpus of Vǫlsung-related images.

[ back ] 14. Marcel Detienne presents a defense of comparativism as an interdisciplinary practice linking anthropology and history. He comes to the opposite conclusion to Mitchell, namely that comparison enables the researcher to “discover cognitive dissonances […] bring out some detail or feature that had escaped the notice of other interpreters and observers” (Detienne 2008: 23) and “set in perspective the values and choices of the society to which one belongs” (Detienne 2008: 38).

[ back ] 15. I am grateful to Jürg Glauser for drawing this feature to my attention. The sole example of leftwards orientation is on the Manx cross from Jurby, although it is by no means certain that the saddled horse in the bottom right field is in fact Grani. The horse on the Kirk Andreas cross is annotated with a runic graffito reading kan, presumably, “Grani” (Margeson 1983: 100).

[ back ] 16. It is well-established that the Codex Regius draws on a number of smaller manuscript collections (Lindblad 1954, 1980), and that a now-unidentifiable quantum of its prose frame came into being at a lower stratigraphic level of the written transmission. As the prose is retained in Regius, it can nonetheless be assumed to reflect the decisions of its compiler, and be read as the collection’s narrative voice.

[ back ] 17. The question remains: why is Vǫlundarkviða not with the other heroic poems? A convincing explanation has been proposed for its position in relation to the other poems of the mythological section: as an elf, Vǫlundr is ghettoized with Alvíss the dwarf close to the end of the sequence. Its absence from the heroic section, on the other hand, is probably due to the strong emphasis on cyclical arrangement in the heroic poetry. All the protagonists from Helgakviða Hundingsbana I on are shoehorned into the matter of Sigurðr, no matter the main force this may require. The Vǫlundr narrative offers no links to Sigurðr, and the Old English material, as well as the early and abundant visual sources, suggest this narrative was very well-known. Perhaps manufacturing such links seemed like taking things too far. The mid-thirteenth century compiler/s of Þiðreks saga had no such compunctions, but were working in the rather different literary milieu of Hanseatic Bergen (cf. Kramarz-Bein 2005).

[ back ] 18. Helgakviða Hjǫrvarðssonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, Grípisspá, Reginsmál-Fáfnismál-Sigrdrífumál, Helreið Brynhildar, Guðrúnarkviða II & III.

[ back ] 19. The collection of eddic poetry in AM 748 4to (Fragments of the Elder and the Younger Edda) makes a similar distinction to Regius in the framing of mythological and heroic material, with the mythological poems Baldrs draumar, Skírnismál and Hymiskviða all lacking a prose frame, and Grímnismál and Vǫlundarkviða framed, as far as we can tell (Vǫlundarkviða’s frame is fragmentary) as they are in Regius. AM 748 II 4to introduces its single stanza from the heroic poem Grottasǫngr as follows: “þat er sagt, at þær kvæði lióð þau, er kallat er Grottasǫngr ok er þetta upphaf at” (it is said that they performed the song which is called Grottasǫngr and this is the beginning of it (my translation)). In GKS 2367 4to (Regius manuscript of the Prose Edda) Grottasǫngr has no introduction.

[ back ] 20. Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Guðrúnarkviða I, Sigurðarkviða in skamma, Oddrúnargrátr, Atlakviða, Atlamál and Guðrúnarhvǫt. The opening of Brot af Sigurðarkviðu is lost in the lacuna.

[ back ] 21. I do not think that the compiler wrote Guðrúnarhvǫt. My point is merely that the conventions of the collection prohibit a claim of authorship on the part of the narrative voice.

[ back ] 22. The narrative voice in the heroic part of Codex Regius does much more than this, of course, also making cross-referential: “svá sem fyrr er ritað” (Edda p. 154) (as is written above (p. 135)); explanatory: “hon var Sváva endrborin” (Edda p. 151) (she [Sigrún] was Sváva reincarnated (p. 133)); evaluative: “hann … kalla allir menn í fornfrœðum um alla menn fram” (Edda p. 163) (in the old tradition everyone says he [Sigurðr] was the greatest of all men (p. 142)); and downright critical comments on the texts: “Þat var trúa í fornescio, at menn væri endrbornir, enn þat er nú kǫlluð kerlingavilla” (Edda p. 161) (there was a belief in the pagan religion, which we now reckon an old wives’ tale, that people could be reincarnated (p. 141)).

[ back ] 23. In the mythological part, such incommensurabilities are largely avoided, although we know that contradictory narratives existed, for instance, about Þórr’s fishing of Miðgarðsormr.

[ back ] 24. On Verschriftlichung (textualization) in Codex Regius, cf. Johansson 2005.

[ back ] 25. Victor Millet observes that the heroic material’s juxtaposition with myth in Codex Regius pushes heroic legend back into the past and “präsentiert sie als den schauderhaften Bericht dessen, was zu jener mythischen, definitiv vergangenen Zeit geschah” (2008: 309) (presents it as a gruesome report on what took place in that mythic, definitively past time). In Norse literary history we can trace the further ramifications of this process of fictionalization in the rise of the fantastical later fornaldarsögur and indigenous riddarasögur.