30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Vésteinn Ólason, "The Composition of Hávamál – Oral or Written?"

The conventional approach to Eddic poetry has been to see it as relatively uncontaminated recordings of oral presentations. All we have, however, are literary texts, and I want to explore the effects of what might be called ‘literarisation’ of Eddic poetry, that is, the process whereby the oral antecedents of these texts have been turned into literature. Not only the fixation of the poems as text is imporant but also the context in which they appear in their written form. Hávamál, the second poem in the Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda and the longest one, contains more varied material than other eddic poems, only short passages are narrative. Already in the 19th century scholars divided Hávamál into as many as six parts considered to have existed as independent poems in oral tradition, although only a division into three sections is supported by the manuscript itself. I shall present arguments for looking at the poem as a separate identity that has existed in written form before it was included in CR and ask what keeps it together. My main concern will be how diverse materials have been developed into a whole in Codex Regius and its written exemplars through a literary process.


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