Centre for Medieval Studies Lectures

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan

When a king of Norway became a king of Russia

Transmission and reception of legendary sagas in early-modern Scandinavia

Thursday, November 14, 2019, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan

Old Norse legendary sagas (Ice. fornaldarsögur) played an important role in Scandinavian historiography at the dawn of absolutism. These sagas, generally forgotten until the middle of the seventeenth century, by the end of the very same century served as sources to construct narrative about splendid legendary past of Scandinavian countries. They were used not only in Sweden, where the early editions of these texts originate, but also in Denmark and Norway, where they served as supplementary material to Saxo’s Gesta Danorum and Snorri’s Heimskringla.

This presentation uses an example of a single saga, Hrómundar saga Greipssonar, its transmission and reception, to showcase how the legendary sagas were used to serve political purposes. Not only how were they read and interpreted, but also how they were written and re-written. The transmission history of Hrómundar saga delivers good examples for the practice of manipulating the narratives in order to satisfy the contemporary antiquarian interest.

This famous lost saga recited at the wedding feast in Reykhólar in 1119, according to Þorgils saga ok Hafliða, is not preserved in prose form in any medieval manuscript. Surprisingly it appears, however, in a number of late seventeenth-century manuscripts. These manuscripts are associated with Jón Eggertsson (1643–1689), a poet, scribe and manuscript collector on behalf of the Swedish Antikvitetskollegium, and Þormóður Torfason (1636–1719), the royal Danish antiquarian and author of, among other works, Series dynastarum et regum Daniæ and Historia rerum Norvegicarum. The early transmission history of this saga shows that the scribes and readers of this story were especially interested in place names and genealogies appearing in the text, and that they treated its accounts as historical sources. The level of manipulation into the text of the saga led to a somewhat comical misunderstanding used in the title of this presentation, when Óláfr, king of Norway, became a king of Garðaríki (Rus), which made its way to one of the most recent popular translations of the saga.

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan (MA, PhD) is H.M. Queen Margrethe II Distinguished Research Fellow at the Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle, where she works on the reception of Old Norse literature in Danish historiography. Her research interests include manuscript studies, digital scholarly editing, transmission history and textual criticism, as well as history of historiography.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.