History and Fantasy in Jómsvíkinga saga

History and Fantasy in Jómsvíkinga saga

By Alison Finlay

Paper given at Thirteenth International Saga Conference (2006)

Introduction: In his Prologue to Heimskringla Snorri Sturluson enumerates the kinds of source material he drew upon for his history of the kings of Norway. Besides genealogies and oral narratives, he acknowledges influence from fornum kvæðum eða söguljóðum er menn hafa haft til skemmtanar sér. While this is a reference to poetic material rather than the written sources that Snorri also clearly used, it acknowledges that some of his source material was intended for entertainment rather than sober historical record. Snorri’s Prologue makes no mention of written sources, which he may have assumed could be taken (literally) as read, but it is generally accepted that he did make use of earlier written works, and among them was almost certainly a version of Jómsvíkinga saga, in a separate redaction from that to which the surviving manuscripts belong.

Jómsvíkinga saga was written in Iceland probably around 1200, and its textual history is complex. Because of the considerable difference between the version used by Snorri and the author of Fagrskinna on the one hand, and the version best preserved in AM 291 4to (other surviving versions appear to be based on a combination of these redactions), it has been deduced that ‘if we assume there was originally one written saga, based on oral traditions and to a lesser extent on older written sources, this saga would seem to have split into two redactions quite soon after its composition. The alternative is to allow for two sagas composed separately, but both based on oral traditions’.

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