The Skald as Scholar

In addition to writing poetry in modern versions of the traditional Old Norse and Old English meters, I also study those meters from a scholarly perspective. This week, I’m going to the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies, where I’ll be presenting a paper on the uses of the galdralag meter in the Old Norse poetic corpus. It is a condensed version of a longer paper that takes a broader look at historical galdralag. In the future, I may post the shorter paper here or on my page, and I intended to seek publication for the longer, more comprehensive paper.

As a brief taste, here are the two introductory paragraphs of the shorter paper.

What Goals had Galdralag? A Look at the Uses of the Meter.
by Eirik Westcoat

1. Introduction.

Stanza 101 of Snorri Sturluson’s Háttatal is a curiously repetitive piece labeled only with the word galdralag and no other description. The name means “meter of magic” and the use of the form is usually taken to indicate magic in the story being told, but does it really do that, and if so, can anything more be said about it?

To answer that question, my study first attempts to identify all the instances of galdralag in the ljóðaháttr poetry of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. To do that, I use a rule regarding the ending of ljóðaháttr full lines and I combine that with a concept of poetic lists in order to separate genuine instances of galdralag from those that simply appear to be consecutive full lines as a result of printing conventions. Using the resulting list of galdralag instances, I have analyzed them to first determine what themes occur in multiple instances, and then secondly and separately aspects of functionality in their usage. The findings show that notions of magic are well represented in the themes which include runes, fetters, memory charms, and curses. However, it is also seen that not all instances of galdralag refer to magic. The look into functional aspects of clarification, limitation, and expansion reveals a possible vector by which galdralag could have been seen as magical speech by the Old Norse.

Copyright © 2013 Eirik Westcoat.
All rights reserved.


One thought on “The Skald as Scholar

  1. Looks very interesting, Eirik. I look forward to reading the paper. And thank you for – I’m now signed up and following you (and a boatload of others!)

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