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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
February 2024
Print publication year:
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Book description

A landmark new history of Old Norse-Icelandic literature, this volume is a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to a unique and celebrated body of medieval writing. Chapters by internationally recognized experts offer the latest in-depth analysis of every significant genre and group of texts in the corpus, including sagas and skaldic verse, romances and saints' lives, myths and histories, laws and learned literature. Together, they provide a scholarly, readable and accessible overview of the whole field. Innovatively organized by the chronology and geography of the texts' settings – which stretch from mythic history to medieval Iceland, from Vinland to Byzantium – they reveal the interconnectedness of diverse genres encompassing verse and prose, translations and original works, Christian and pre-Christian literature, fiction and non-fiction. This is the ideal volume for specialists, students and general readers who want a fresh and authoritative guide to the literature of medieval Iceland and Norway.


‘The Cambridge History of Old Norse-Icelandic Literature offers readers comprehensive and authoritative essays on the principal genres, concepts, and contexts connected with this extraordinary medieval literature. Written by leading experts in the field, the book's twenty-six essays are divided into six sections, reflecting a broadly chronological arrangement (Contexts, The Distant Past, The Saga Age, The New Christian World, Beyond Iceland, and Compilations). The topics of the individual chapters range widely from, for example, ‘Theoretical Approaches' to ‘Landscape and Material Culture' to ‘Diaspora Sagas' to ‘Homilies and Christian Instruction', and in addition to treatments of the better-known saga genres this reference work also examines such critically important topics as legal culture and ‘Rímur'. Elegantly written, with generous references to the scholarly literature, The Cambridge History of Old Norse-Icelandic Literature seems destined to hold a prominent place on the ‘ready-reference' shelf of every medievalist's library.'

Stephen A. Mitchell - Harvard University

‘This comprehensive volume exceeds even the expectations raised by its distinguished list of contributors. It consistently delivers masterly, up-to-date accounts of all key aspects of the medieval vernacular literature of Iceland, Norway, and the Norse-speaking diaspora, from manuscripts and metre to landscape and law. Organised mainly by genre, it does justice both to such extensively studied texts as family sagas, heroic poetry and myth, and to comparatively neglected writings (including saints lives', learned literature, homilies, and rímur), astutely elucidating the claims of each kind of text on our attention. Anyone with the good sense to read this Cambridge History from cover to cover will encounter fascinating topics as varied as the literary afterlife of Attila the Hun, the insights offered by biocodicology and the medieval uses of walrus oil. The book will be a stimulating and essential resource for everyone interested in the riches of Old Norse-Icelandic literature, from beginning students to expert researchers.'

Carl Phelpstead - Professor of English Literature, Cardiff University

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