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Norse Literature

Without a knowledge of mythology much of the elegant literature of our own language cannot be understood and appreciated. - Thomas Bulfinch

A tale is but half told when only one person tells it. - The Saga of Grettir the Strong (Fit for courts)

There are more things to be thought of by men than money alone. - The Saga of Grettir the Strong

Apart from raiding and looting other people with skill for 250 years or so - a period known as the Viking Age - a very dark period in European history - Norse folks were skilled in story-telling fit for long winter nights. They had other skills to support their bodily needs, such as survivor skills on land and sea. The were excellent ship builders, and some "island hoppers" reached Canada in their boats long before Columbus.

Some tales are about mysterious happenings and people, like Norse gods and heroes among such barbarians. There are also visionary literature in the form of poems. Voluspå is one of them. It speaks of the end of the world, Ragnarok, and what is about to happen after the end. Again.

There is teaching poetry that speaks of taking care and not to trust and take many a thing for granted. It shares several characteristics with proverbs of Solomon, according to Inger Broberg. Havamal is the best known poem from Norse times.

Literature in English includes books like those below. NORSE LITERATURE: A distinction between Icelandic and Norwegian literature is more or less by whim, as the literature of Northmen, or Norsemen (c. 850 – c. 1350), survived mainly in Icelandic writings. From c. 1100 to c. 1350 both former oral poetry and new compositions were put down in writing on Iceland in the Old Norse language. The clear prose style that developed for both saga and history predates that of all other modern European literatures except Gaelic.

The bulk of medieval Norse literature, and the most readable today, survives in the form of sagas, which are prose narratives that are at times interspersed with verse. Sagas relate the lives of legendary or historical figures with some objectivity and skilful characterisation.

HAVAMAL: "There are no howling wolves on Iceland". A study of the Havamal tells it is Norwegian; bits are found in Bergen excavations; the animals and scenery in it are Norwegian, not Icelandic, although it was preserved on Iceland, written in Norse. [A source: Ludvig Holm-Olsen. trans. Edda-dikt. 2nd rev. ed. Oslo: Cappelen, 1985

HEIMSKRINGLA: The chronicle of Norwegian kings (Heimskringla), was written on Iceland before Iceland united with Norway in the 1200s. So the work is Icelandic, even though it tells of Norwegian people for most part. Icelanders - some of them bards - were often in the service of Norwegian noblemen at that time.

NATIONS AND CULTURAL MILIEU (ENVIRONMENT): The literature of Norse people intertwined as nations were formed, united, or were taken over.

Further Clarifications

Norse, Old Norse

Used as an adjective the word 'Norse' means "of, relating to, or characteristic of ancient and medieval Scandinavia or its inhabitants", or "of, relating to, or characteristic of Norway."

As a noun in refers to a group of Germanic languages, used in Scandinavia. Old Norse was used between c. AD 800 and c. AD 1300 - that is, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish in their ancient or medieval forms. And 'Proto-Norse' is the Germanic language that preceded Old Norse.

As a noun, 'Norse' may further refer to Norsemen, the Scandinavian people before Scandinavia was christened about a thousand years ago, give and take.

The modern languages Norwegian, Faroese, Icelandic and Greenlandic Norse are derived somehow from West Norse. Norn, the language that was spoken in Shetland and Orkney, off the north coast of mainland Scotland, and in Caithness, also had Norse roots.

The modern languages of Danish and Swedish stem from East Norse.


Norsemen were people who spoke Old Norse between the 700s and 1000 AD. Norseman means "person from the North" and applied primarily to Old Norse-speaking tribes in southern and central Scandinavia. They established states and settlements in England, Scotland, Iceland, Wales, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Ireland, Russia, Greenland, France, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, and Poland, as well as outposts in Sicily and North America. The Old Frankish word Nortmann in time became Norman. And Normandy was settled by Norsemen in the 900s AD.

Vikings: Norsemen out to Plunder

In the early medieval period, and today, a Viking was a Norseman. Vikings are typically associated with raids and monastic plundering in many countries of Europe. In the 700s the inrush of unrestrained, savage, and pitiless pillaging Viking began to be felt all over Pictland (Scotland). These Vikings were pagans and savages of the most unrestrained and pitiless type. Norwegian Vikings and Danish Vikings went west and south, whereas Swedish Vikings travelled east. Most Vikings who visited Slavic lands originated in east-central Sweden. Their Scandinavian settlements in Slavic lands formed the names of the countries of Russia and Belarus, it is held by archaeologists and historians.

Scandinavians are Nordic people

The modern people of Norway, Sweden and Denmark identify themselves as Scandinavians.

The Finnish language is not Germanic, but Finland was for around six centuries a part of Sweden (late 12th century to 1809)

Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands are geographically separate from the Scandinavian peninsula. The term Nordic countries is therefore used to encompass the Scandinavian countries, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroes, and Finland.


Norse literature, stories of the Norse folks Literature  

Arthur, Ross G., comp. English–Old Norse Dictionary. Cambridge, Ontario: In parentheses Publications, Linguistics Series, 2002.

Bellows, Henry Adams. tr. The Poetic Edda. 2 vols. in one. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1936.

Crossley-Holland, Kevin, reteller. The Penguin Book of Norse Myths: The Gods of the Vikings. Reprint ed. London: Penguin, 1993.

Daly, Kathleen N. Norse mythology A to Z. Revised by Marian Rengel. 3rd ed. New York: Chelsea House, 2010.

Davidson, Hilda Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Reprint ed. London: Penguin, 1990.

Ekrem, Inger, and Lars Boje Mortensen. Historia Norwegie. Tr. Peter Fisher. E-book. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen / Museum Tusculanum Press, 2006.

Finch, R. G., ed. Volsunga Saga: The Saga of the Volsungs. London: Nelson, 1965.

Graham-Campbell, James, and Dafydd Kidd. The Vikings. London: British Museum Publications, 1980.

Haywood, John. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. London: Penguin, 1995.

Larsen, Laurence Marcellus, tr. The King's Mirror (Speculum regale Konungs skuggsjá). New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1917.

Monachus, Theodoricus. Historia de antiquitate regum Norwagiensium: Account of the Ancient History of the Norwegian Kings. Trs. David and Ian McDougall. Reprint ed. Exeter: Short Run Press, 2006.

Ross, Margaret Clunies. A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2005.

Sawyer, P. H. Kings and Vikings. Ebook ed. London: Taylor and Francis, 2003.

Smith, Beverley Balley, Simon Taylor, Gareth Williams, eds. West over Sea: Studies in Scandinavian Sea-Borne Expansion and Settlement before 1300. A Festschrift. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. Tr. Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin Books, 2005.

Williams, Gareth, and Paul Bibire, eds. Sagas, Saints and Settlements. Leiden: Brill, 2004.

Winroth, Anders. The Age of the Vikings. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Wærdahl, Randi Bjørshol. The Incorporation and Integration of the King's Tributary Lands into the Norwegian Realm c. 1195–1397. Tr. Alan Crozier. Leiden: Brill, 2011.

In a Scandinavian Language

Boberg, Inger M. Dansk folketradition i tro og digtning og deraf afhængig skik. (Danmarks Folkeminder 72). Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1962.

Helle, Knut, main ed. Aschehougs norgeshistorie. Reprint ed. Vols 1-3. Oslo: Aschehoug, 2007. ——— These three volumes cover a span from "before 800 AD" to 1350 when the Black Plague had just arrived.

Holm-Olsen, Ludvig, tr. Edda-dikt. 2nd rev. ed. Oslo: Cappelen, 1985.

Hødnebø, Finn and Magerøy, Hallvard eds. Norges kongesagaer. Vols 1-4. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1979 (and later editions, in Nynorsk Norwegian too).

Sigurðsson, Jón Viðar, og Anne Irene Riisøy. Norsk historie 800-1536: Frå krigerske bønder til lydige undersåttar. Bd 1. Oslo: Samlaget, 1999.

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