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decorative image that illustrates the project

AM 434 4to, fol. 15v–16r. (© Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum)

Part project 6: Notions of Authorship in Old Norse Scholarship

Prof. Dr. Lukas Rösli

With the exception of a few textual attributions that are not undisputed in scholarship, Old Norse-Icelandic literature of the Middle Ages is an anonymous, i.e. authorless, literature that knows no autographs or textual versions authorised by authors. Despite or precisely because of this indeterminacy of authorial instances and because of the extraordinarily long history of transmission of Old Norse-Icelandic literature, from the earliest times on, efforts have been made again and again to assign texts to certain historically identifiable persons. The search for authorships of Old Norse-Icelandic narratives has very different motives and constitutes different networks that overlap, negate or condense each other. What they all have in common is that these networks and their respective Setzungen resonate to the present day.

The concept of the author in the sense of a text-authorising and not just merely memory-creating instance only appeared in the course of the antiquarian interest in Old Norse-Icelandic manuscripts as witnesses of a past that was bindingly set and historically guaranteed through the narratives. In protophilological circles, manuscripts were grouped into a network of memory guarantors that could, as it were, supply the mainland Scandinavian monarchies with their history, as well as put Iceland on the historical-literary map of Europe and thus also into the consciousness of the developing academic community. In the long 19th century, Old Norse-Icelandic literature was used as the main node in a discursive network to define a somewhat obscure ‘Germanic’. An Old Germanic-Nordic scholarly network contributed to this, which, with these problematic premises, established the discipline of Old Norse studies. These discursive appropriations were followed in the first half of the 20thcentury by the völkisch and National Socialist over-forming of the concept of the ‘Nordic’. In these academic networks, authorship was no longer seen as something originating in a genius, singular mind, as it had been in Romanticism, but as something drawing from a ‘germanisches Formgefühl’ that resonated in Old Norse and Icelandic literature. In Iceland, on the other hand, a distinct school of thought emerged that, influenced by national Romantic ideals, declared medieval Old Norse-Icelandic literature to be the genius literature of medieval Icelandic authors and attempted to prove this point of view on the basis of networks of medieval scholars, historians, politicians, theologians, and literary figures.

This part project aims to define authorship in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, which is mainly considered anonymous, as a diachronic resonance of a Setzung that reverberates in the other central paradigms in the history of Old Norse scholarship that are addressed in the project. Authorship, or the authorisation of texts and narratives, is a metaparadigm that fundamentally informs further scholarly perspectives and research theorems. The attribution to authorial instances connects narratives to presumed historical contexts of origin. Based on and dependent on these contexts thus established, the narratives are then reinterpreted again by scholars. The influence of this metaparadigm will be studied based on author-related mentions in diachronically analysed scholarly discourses and on the basis of the holdings in the Arnamagnæan manuscript collections and other archives.

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