Now Online! | The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition: A Discourse on Method, by Gísli Sigurðsson

As part of an initiative to make more widely available research from the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, the CHS is pleased to announce the online publication of Gísli Sigurðsson’s The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition: A Discourse on Method. Forthcoming online from the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature series is Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives, edited by Pernille Hermann, Stephen A. Mitchell, Jens Peter Schjødt, and Amber J. Rose.

From the series foreword

[…]Explaining why a Classicist would find it necessary to immerse himself in a living tradition of epic singing, Milman Parry wrote:

My purpose in undertaking the study of this poetry was as follows. My Homeric studies […] have from the beginning shown me that Homeric poetry, and indeed all early Greek poetry, is oral, and so can be properly understood, criticized, and edited only when we have a complete knowledge of the processes of oral poetry; this is also true for other early poetries such as Anglo-Saxon, French, or Norse, to the extent they are oral. [emphasis added]

“To the extent they are oral” had, as Parry no doubt knew, long been a matter of debate for scholars of Old Norse literature. Tackling this point directly, Gísli Sigurðsson examines in this book questions at the heart of orality in Old Icelandic: How did the lawspeakers, embodying traditional Norse reliance on orality, regard the new written culture? How do we best understand characters, genealogies and events that appear in several sagas between which a written link cannot be established? Based on our understanding of oral tradition in a cross-cultural context, can we reconstruct the mental map with which the sagas about the Vínland voyages are likely to have provided their audiences? Through his answers to these and other critical questions, Gísli Sigurðsson adds significantly to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that the role of orality in Old Norse is both recoverable and necessary for the understanding of the sagas, just as Parry predicted.

Stephen Mitchell and Gregory Nagy
Curators, Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature

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