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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035

8. Volume Introduction

1. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages — a new edition (MCR)
2. The poetry in this volume (DW)
3. Sources for skaldic poetry cited in the kings’ sagas: manuscripts, facsimiles and editions (KEG)
4. Biographies (KSH)
5. Metres and poetic diction (DW)
6. How to use this edition (MCR)

(Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 > 8. Volume Introduction > 3. Sources for skaldic poetry cited in the kings’ sagas: manuscripts, facsimiles and editions)

3. Sources for skaldic poetry cited in the kings’ sagas: manuscripts, facsimiles and editions (KEG)

The manuscripts (mss) which are the basis for the editions in SkP I are presented here, grouped according to the prose sources that they represent and with the sources in alphabetical order. For each source a stemma is shown where possible, followed by a listing of mss, facsimiles, and editions (for full details of which, see Bibliography); a brief account of the source; and a note of the skaldic poetry contained, normally in order of its appearance in the prose source. References to ‘stanzas’ refer to part stanzas as well as whole ones, and estimates of stanzas in prose sources are frequently approximate since mss may vary, as may the configuration of lines into stanzas. (For readers wishing to consult this volume for editions of the stanzas in a particular prose source the Index of First Lines is also a useful aid.) The prose (or strictly prosimetrum) sources concerned are mainly sagas of kings, whether single sagas or compilations, and these are ordered under the subheadings 3.1. ‘Sagas of the kings of Norway to c. 1035’, 3.2. ‘Sagas relating to Denmark and Orkney to c. 1035’; 3.3. ‘Other sources’. The sigla for the prose sources correspond to those of the Registre to Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog (ONP, 1989; see also General Abbreviations above and Bibliography at the end of the volume).

The mss for each of the prose sources are listed and described briefly. The full, standard ms. sigla in the SkP editions follow those of the Registre to ONP wherever possible; the sigla for the ms. collections and the mss used in SkP I are listed under ‘General Abbreviations’ above. The abbreviated sigla given below and used in the ms. sections in the individual editions were developed by Tarrin Wills for the SkP project. In keeping with the practice established by the Registre to ONP, a superscript ˣ is added to the sigla of all paper mss. The approximate dates of the mss also follow those of the Registre; for mss not cited in ONP, the standard editions have been consulted (see also Kålund 1888-94). Stemmata are drawn mainly from standard editions of the prose sources concerned. Asterisks in the stemmata indicate lost mss (in some cases hypothetical), and in many cases there may be further lost stages of transmission. On the use of stemmata see below.

Facsimiles and earlier editions are also listed for each prose source (for full details of which, see Bibliography). While some editions are core and are used throughout SkP I, some have not been found of equal value by all editors in the context of particular poetry, and therefore appear selectively throughout SkP I.

Before the information about sources is presented, some explanation of the editorial problems arising within this volume, supplementary to the principles outlined in Section 2.3 ‘Editorial methodology’ in the General Introduction, may be helpful. Here and throughout the SkP edition, the selection of mss, the choice of main ms. and the internal ordering of mss representing the same text are guided by the stemmata produced by modern editors of the sagas, reproduced below, for instance those which underpin the 1941 edition of the Separate Saga of S. Óláfr / Óláfs saga helga in sérstaka (ÓH) by Jón Helgason and O. A. Johnsen or the 1958-2000 edition of the Greatest Saga of Óláfr Tryggvason / Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar in mesta (ÓT) by Ólafur Halldórsson. These are in many cases based on analysis of the poetic texts as well as the prose, and give a firm foundation for the handling of ms. readings, provided it is borne in mind that the stemmata often show presumed relations between mss rather than proven ones, and that the transmission history of the poetry is not necessarily identical with that of the prose in which it is embedded. A further point to note is the possibility that certain skaldic texts are, as it were, too good to be true. If not supported by other available ms. witnesses, such texts might be suspected of having been ‘improved’ by a scribe or redactor; the scribe of the vellum K has, for instance, been suspected of such activity (ÍF 28, xcv n. 1).

For each stanza, a ms. has been chosen as the main ms. – normally the one believed to represent most faithfully the notional ‘archetype’ of the stanza. A leading criterion in assigning priority to mss is their presumed position in the stemma of the work they represent and (where the stanza is preserved in more than one saga text) the status of the work they represent in relation to others. Other factors may also be important, such as the number, age and coverage of ms. witnesses to a particular work, and the apparent accuracy of their readings. As a general principle, the present edition avoids too frequent switching of main ms. within the presentation of a single poem or set of stanzas, with the result that sources containing a large amount of poetry, such as Heimskringla (Hkr) and Fagrskinna (Fsk), tend to be prioritised over those with little, though it should be stressed that the witness of the main ms. is never adopted automatically but is tested against the paradosis or range of mss as a whole. A further principle is that where there are multiple copies of lost mss, the approach is generally selective (see, for instance, the remarks on the Fsk mss below). Copies of mss whose exemplars are extant have not been consulted, since (however interesting in themselves) they are not of independent value for the establishment of the text.

Most of the skaldic poetry from the kings’ sagas is preserved in more than one saga (see the invaluable listings of stanzas occurring in only one saga, or in more, in Fidjestøl 1982, 33-7). The crucial and challenging question therefore arises of the relationships between these sagas and their implications for the editing of the poetry, especially the choice of main ms. Painstaking work by scholars including Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson (1937), Beyschlag (1950) and Ellehøj (1965) produced a consensus that complex patterns of indebtedness connect many of the kings’ sagas (see Fidjestøl 1982, 9-12 and Andersson 1985 for summaries, stemmata and comments), but only partial scholarly agreement on the detail. Much remains unknown about the relations between the saga texts, and these are often complicated by the fact that many or most extant versions seem to have had predecessors which are now lost. Thus, for instance, a postulated early version of Orkneyinga saga (Orkn) seems to have influenced parts of Hkr, which in turn has influenced the extant version of Orkn. It is a courageous scholar, then, who attempts a combined stemma of the kings’ sagas, and when Fidjestøl (1982, 10) does so, the result, invaluable though it is, and complex though it is, is attended by caveats about uncertainties and oversimplifications. Moreover, the kings’ sagas alone do not give the full picture, since skaldic poetry was transmitted through other routes, notably Snorra Edda (SnE) among the known written sources (Fidjestøl 1982, 38, citing the example of ÞSjár Klœingr, which could have come from SnE or a common source of SnE and Hkr rather than from Fsk).

Where sagas have a known relationship, the selection of stanzas cited can differ markedly, and even where they share verse quotations it cannot necessarily be assumed that the textual transmission of the verse has followed the same path as that of the prose (cf. the same point noted above in relation to mss of the same saga text). Thus even when saga n is known to depend on saga m, the compiler or scribe of n may have obtained the stanzas from another source, oral or written. Addressing the thorny problem of possible oral sources, Fidjestøl (1982, 45-60) examined a range of candidates and found oral-type variation in, for instance, the stanzas he called ‘“Haraldskvæði”-komplekset’ and in BjHall Kálffl, but not in Þjóð Yt or Hfr Óldr. Overall he emphasises the stability of the textual tradition of the kings’ sagas, and finds that generally the textual variation that is found does not exceed what is normal in written transmission (1982, 45). Bearing in mind all these considerations, mss and readings are evaluated throughout SkP in the light of textual scholarship and especially of the stemmata proposed, but editors remain open to a range of textual situations as suggested by the evidence of particular configurations of readings.

While the great majority of stanzas in SkP I are preserved within a prose context, some are written out continuously and independently of a prose context: HSt Rst and Anon Ól in the ÓT ms. Bb (see ‘Greatest Saga’, Section 3.1 below), Bjbp Jóms 1-40 in the SnE ms. R (see Snorra Edda, Section 3.3) and miscellaneous stanzas in 761aˣ, 761bˣ (Section 3.3).

Some sources introduced here are also relevant to other volumes of SkP, especially SkP II, while others are introduced only summarily here and more fully in other volumes, especially SkP II and III, where they are of greater importance.

(expand subsections)

3.1. Sagas of the kings of Norway to c. 1035

3.2. Sagas relating to Denmark and Orkney to c. 1035

3.3. Other sources

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