Myth and Religion in the Poetry of a Reluctant Convert

Myth and Religion in the Poetry of a Reluctant Convert

By Diana Whaley

Paper given at the 11th International Saga Conference (2000)

Introduction: Great exceptions – great expectations. As Wolfgang Lange pointed out, the Icelanders are the great exceptions (die grosse Ausnahme) to the rule that the Germanic peoples leave no direct accounts of their conversion to Christianity, and the uniqueness of their evidence gives it particular value. Among Icelandic skalds it is surely Hallfredr vandrædaskáld who is most dramatically affected by the conversion. In a central scene in Hallfredar saga ch. 6, which according to the saga chronology would be set c. 996, the hero conducts an antiphonal prosimetrum conversation with his new patron, the missionary king Óláfr Tryggvason. The skald’s three dróttkvætt stanzas and two half-stanzas voice the difficulty with which he accepts the new religion, and are punctuated by prose comments from the king, who reacts at first with indignation, then with shades of grudging acceptance as the poet distances himself increasingly from the old gods.

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