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Introductory Bibliography to Old Norse Literature

Gentle Readers:

I'm going to give some general info about various types of Old Norse literature below, as well as a good many links to the small portions available online and book references. Start with the online materials, but don't forget to check your library or bookstore for some of the books -- the online materials, due to copyright restrictions, are usually very old translations, and not everything is available online.

Also, please note, that I have not listed every title possibly available, neither the titles of the Viking works nor of modern translations. This is an introduction!

And, Gentle Readers, if you have suggestions for other books or articles which should be listed here, please contact me at gunnora@vikinganswerlady.com!




Viking Poetry Bibliography

There are, in general, three main types of Viking poetry. The first is Eddaic poetry, which is found in the Poetic Edda. Eddaic verse is anonymous and is composed in relatively simple language and meters. The themes are mythical or drawn from heroic legends. Stanzas vary in number of lines within the same poem.

Another source which is not, strictly speaking, poetry is the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson. In the Prose Edda, Snorri was trying to create a manual explaining the mechanics of Viking poetry, including the mythological tales, meters, kennings, and so forth. This was to help others to understand the old poetry, but also to help poets who came later to create Old Norse poetry in the same style.

Eddaic Poetry

  • Hollander, Lee M. trans. Poetic Edda. Austin: University of Texas Press. 1962. 2nd revised edition, 1986.
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  • Larrington, Carolyne, trans. The Poetic Edda. World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1997.
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  • Bellows, Henry Adams, trans. The Poetic Edda. Edwin Mellen Press. 1991.
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  • Poetic Edda: Side-by-Side Old Norse and English. Normanni Thiud aet Reik Website. Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [Contains the Old Norse texts of the Eddaic poems placed side-by-side against the Benjamin Thorpe English translation.]

  • Northern European Studies Texts: The Eddas. Northvegr Foundation Website. Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [Contains links to a number of translations for the individual Eddaic poems, and sometimes to several different translations of the same poem.]

  • The Poetic Edda Online. Runes, Alphabet of Mystery Website. Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [Contains links to a number of translations for the individual Eddaic poems, and sometimes to several different translations of the same poem.]

  • Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Jean I. Young. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1954.
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  • Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. trans. Anthony Faulkes. Everyman Paperback Classics.
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  • The Prose Edda Online.Runes, Alphabet of Mystery Website. Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [Contains links to a number of translations for the individual sections of the Prose Edda.]


Skaldic Verse

The second type of Viking poetry is skaldic verse. Skaldic poms are usually attributed to named poets and many of them are praise poems made for a specific jarl or king. Skaldic meters follow strict rules and can be very complex in structure, and the language used is often convoluted, kenning-rich, and a challenge for those unversed in the poetic tradition to understand without footnotes.

A kenning is a riddling reference to one item or concept which does not name it directly, but rather suggests it by the elliptical way in which the subject is spoken of, which causes the listener or reader to visualize the intended concept. An example of a simple kenning is "wound-wand", which is a sword, or "raven's-mead", which is blood, usually of men slain in battle. A complex kenning uses several layers of allusion.

A two-level complex kenning might be, "ice of the hawk's land" -- "the hawk's land" is the wrist, and "ice of the wrist" is a silver bracelet.

A three-level complex kenning might be, "chariot-Vidur of wondrous- wide ground of Endil" is similarly deciphered. Endil is the name of a legendary sea-king. "The sea-king's ground" therefore is the ocean. This gives us "Chariot-Vidur of the ocean," which can also be read as "Vidur of the chariot of the ocean." "Chariot of the ocean" is a ship, giving us "Vidur of the ship." Vidur is one of the heiti or alternate names of Odinn, and here is used to mean "god." The "god of a ship" is its captain.

Kennings can be even more complex than these, but a good translation will usually include footnotes explaining them.

  • Bragi Boddason. Ragnarsdrápa.
    [Includes several variants of the Old Norse text, as well as translation.]

  • Hollander, Lee M. trans. The Skalds: A Selection of their Poems with Introduction and Notes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1945.

  • Frank, Roberta. Old Norse Court Poetry: The Dróttkvætt Stanza. Islandica 42. Ithaca NY. 1978.
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  • Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Scaldic Poetry. Oxford. 1976.
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  • Poole, Russell. Skaldic Poetry in the Sagas. Ph.D. Dissertation. Toronto. 1975. May be ordered from University Microfilms Inc.

  • Poole, Russell. "Skaldic Verse and Anglo-Saxon History: Some Aspects of the Period 1009-1016." Speculum 62 (1987) pp. 265-298.

  • Poole, Russell. Skaldsagas: Text, Vocation, and Desire in the Icelandic Sagas of Poets. Walter De Gruyter. 2001
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  • Dick Ringler. Formal Features of Jˇnas HallgrÝmsson's Poetry and the Present Verse Translations. 1996-1998. Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [Contains an excellent description of the features of skaldic poetry.]

I'm also eagerly awaiting a book being written by Sandy Straubhaar, PhD, (Mistress Brynhildr jarla Kormaksdottir), Women Skalds: Voices from the Medieval North. She has it about half done, says her webpage.


Rune Poems

The third type of Viking poetry are the Rune Poems. The rune poems are usually composed with a stanza for each of the runes, and we think that these stanzas explain a bit about the meaning the runes had in terms of divination.

  • Dickins, Bruce. Runic and Heroic Poems of the Old Teutonic Peoples. Cambridge. 1915.

  • The Rune Poems Online. Runes, Alphabet of Mystery Website. Accessed 19 December 2005.
    [Uses Bruce Dickins' translations.]


Old Norse Prose Literature

There are several types of Viking Age prose literature. Generally speaking, the main ones being the saga, which can range in length from what we'd consider a short story up to a novel, the ■attr, which is generally a fairly short story, and often makes up a small part of a longer saga, and histories, which often resemble collections of sagas. All three types may have a basis in history, but should be understood to be "historical fiction" and not undisputed fact. There are also stories that revolve around mythical and fantastic elements as well.

One good way of locating translations is to look in a bibliography. There may be newer ones by now, or supplements, but the one I know of is:

  • Fry, Donald K. Norse Sagas Translated into English: A Bibliography. New York: AMS Press. 1980.
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Below I've listed a number of print and online sources. Often there are several sources containing the same tale.

Bandamanna Saga (The Saga of the Confederates)

  • Palsson, Hermann, trans. The Confederates and Hen-Thorir. (Bandamanna Saga and HŠnsa-١ris Saga). Edinburgh: Southside. 1975.
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Egils saga Skallagrímssonar (The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson)

Eiríks saga rauða (The Saga of Eric the Red)

  • Jones, Gwyn, trans. The Norse Atlantic Saga. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 1986.
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  • Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Palsson, trans. The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1965.
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  • Fitzhugh, William W. and Elisabeth I. Ward, eds. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. 2000.
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  • Jones, Gwyn, trans. (1964) Eiríks saga Rauða Online. National Library of Canada. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Eyrbyggja Saga (The Saga of the Ere-Dwellers)

  • Palsson, Hermann and Paul Edwards, trans. Eyrbyggja Saga. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press. 1973.
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  • Quaritch, Bernard, trans. (1892) Eyrbyggja Saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). June 1995. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Færeyinga Saga (The Faroe Islanders' Saga)

Gautreks Saga

  • Palsson, Hermann and Paul Edwards, trans. Gautrek's Saga and Other Medieval Tales. New York: New York University Press. 1968.
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Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes)

Gisla saga Súrssonar (The Saga of Gisli)

  • Johnston, George, trans. Gisla saga Surssonar (The Saga of Gisli). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1959.
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Grettis Saga (The Saga of Grettir the Strong)

  • Hight, G. H., trans. (1914) Grettir's Saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). June 1995. Accessed 19 December 2005.

  • Grettir's Saga Online. Mirrors the OMACL version. Sweden: Luleä University. 20 Aug 1997. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Hænsa-Þóris Saga (The Saga of Hen-Thorir)

  • Palsson, Hermann, trans. The Confederates and Hen-Thorir. (Bandamanna Saga and HŠnsa-١ris Saga). Edinburgh: Southside. 1975.
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Heimskringla (Chronicle of the Kings of Norway)

  • Sturluson, Snorri. Heimskringla: Or the Lives of the Norse Kings. 1932; New York: Dover. 1990.
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  • Laing, Samuel, trans. (1844) Heimskringla Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). April-May 1996. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Heiþarvíga Saga (The Saga of the Heath-Slayings)

  • Quaritch, Bernard, trans. (1892) Heitharviga Saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). January 1998. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoði (The Saga of Hrafnkel Frey's-Priest)

  • Palsson, Hermann, trans. Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories. New York: Penguin. 1983.
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Kormáks Saga (The Saga of Kormak the Skald)

  • Hollander, Lee M., trans. The Sagas of Kormak and the Sworn Brothers. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. 1949.

  • Collingwood W.G. and J. Stefansson, trans. (1901) Kormaks Saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). March 1995. Accessed 19 December 2005.

  • Kormaks Saga Online. Mirrors the OMACL version. Sweden: Luleń University. 20 Aug 1997. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Laxdæla Saga

  • Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Palsson, trans. Laxdaela Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1969.
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  • Press, Muriel, trans. (1899) Laxdaela Saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). November 1997. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Njáls Saga (also known as Brennu-Njáls Saga, or The Saga of Burnt Njáll)

  • Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Palsson, trans. Njal's Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1960.
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  • DaSent, George W., trans. (1861) Njal's Saga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). July 1995. Accessed 19 December 2005.

Orkneyingasaga (Saga of the Earls or Orkney)

  • Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Palsson, trans. Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney. New York: Penguin. 1978. Reprint 1985.
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Sturlunga Saga (The Saga of the Sturlung Family)

  • McGrew, Julia H. and R. George Thomas, trans. Sturlunga Saga. 2 vols. New York: Twayne. 1970 and 1974.
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Vatnsdœla Saga. (Saga of the Men of Water-Dales)

  • Jones, Gwyn, trans. The Vatnsdaler's Saga. New York: Princeton University Press. 1944.

Vôlsungasaga (The Saga of the Volsungs)

  • Morris, William and EirÝkr Magnusson, trans. (1888) Volsungasaga Online. Online Medieval and Classical Library (OMACL). May 1997. Accessed 19 December 2005.

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