Fracture and Containment in the Icelandic Skalds’ Sagas

Fracture and Containment in the Icelandic Skalds’ Sagas

Sayers, William

Medieval Forum Vol.3 (2003)


Icelandic biographies of tenth- and eleventh-century poets are superficially characterized by the alternation between a linear prose narrative and the poets’ extemporaneous verses, which are less a comment on events than their stimulus. Similarly divided and divisive is the vacillating character of the wordsmith, self-pitying, indecisive, confrontational. Not only are individual poets irresolute, the poetic personality is often divided, with two poets ostensibly contending over the same girl but in reality driven by the antagonistic exchange of versified insult. This article argues that a variety of fracturing effects are a means to the disempowerment and containment of socially destabilizing verse that were better composed in honor of a prince than spent in the vilification of community members or on the seduction of unmarried farmgirls.

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