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Reviewed by:
  • Poetry on Christian Subjects. Part 1: The Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Part 2: The Fourteenth Century
  • John Kennedy
Clunies Ross, Margaret, ed., Poetry on Christian Subjects. Part 1: The Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Part 2: The Fourteenth Century (Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, 7), Turnhout, Brepols, 2007; cloth; pp. lxix, 1040; R.R.P. €120.00; ISBN 9782503518930 (in 2 vols.).

Poetry on Christian Subjects is the first publication of a planned nine volumes which will present most of the surviving Old Norse poetry from before about 1400. Only the poems of the Poetic Edda and some closely associated texts fall outside the scope of the project ‘Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages’, a major international initiative with its administrative headquarters in the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Sydney. It is intended that electronic as well as print editions will appear.

This volume, designated Number 7, presents twenty-eight items edited by fifteen contributing editors, including many of the most distinguished figures in the field of skaldic studies. These poems of Christian piety, composed between the mid-twelfth century and the early 1400s, vary in length from 1 to 149 stanzas. Most are substantial works, although almost all are, in the general editor’s words, ‘relatively neglected and unappreciated’ (p. liii). The best known are probably the justly celebrated Lilja, Einar Skulason’s Geisli, and the powerful but notoriously difficult Sólarljóð.

After the general introduction and other preliminary matter, each item has its own brief introduction. The normalized text of each stanza is followed by an arrangement in prose order of the Norse text (or in the case of two curious stanzas a Latin text in skaldic metre), a clear English translation which explains the poetic kennings (periphrases), detailed information about manuscripts and their readings, details about the appearance of the stanza in previous editions, notably the hitherto standard Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning of Finnur Jónsson (1912–15), notes where relevant on the prose context of the poem, and notes designed primarily to elucidate the meaning.

A reviewer, inevitably, can note minor blemishes, such as the use of the obsolete íslenzkum on page xi instead of the correct íslenskum (see p. xv); the omission from their proper alphabetical places of the sigla ‘Anon. Gyð’, ‘Anon. Heil’, and ‘Anon. Hsv’ in the list ‘Sigla used in this volume’; and the unhelpfulness of some of the bibliography entries, such as the one reading simply ‘GBpB = Guðmundar saga biskups (‘B’). In Bskp, 559–60426, 60822[End Page 206] 136’, with no explanation of Bskp. But such flaws are a very minor element in what gives abundant evidence of being a tour de force of meticulous scholarship. Unlike most publications which might merit that description, Poetry on Christian Subjects is also an exceptionally clear and attractive work, which makes available to specialists and non-specialists a variety of poems that cast an intriguing light on intellectual currents in medieval Iceland and on Iceland’s relationships with other medieval societies and literatures.

John Kennedy
School of Information Studies
Charles Sturt University


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