A few words about Norwegian medieval translators. New way to look at literature

European literature translated into Old Norse during the Middle Ages has been overlooked by researchers. – New knowledge that makes literature history must change, says linguist.

It’s about the lyrics, which were in the course of 300 years, from 1200 to 1500, when Norway joined Europe, according to the researchers Karl Gunnar Johansson and Terje Spurkland, associate professors in the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Oslo.

— Norse studies were previously seen as part of nation-building.

— This led to the translated literature, particularly literature Knight, was regarded as something inferior, something that came from outside and almost destroyed our own domestic literature, explains Spurkland.


Studies of translated European knight literature show that it has had an undeserved bad reputation. Studies say that it was not a goal for the translator to copy the original.

On the contrary. The ideal was to make the new Norse version even better adapted to a new time, a new culture, and new readers.

— The proliferation of literature in the Middle Ages took place in that each work was copied in the form of transcripts, conducted in different environments and contexts. Depreciation founders did not keep strictly to the original, they could both delete and add.

— Our research shows how important it is that each version is read according to what it says and even is. Text must be seen in context, says Johansson.

— The Norse literature is thus richer than previously thought?

— Yes. It’s a new way to look at the history of literature. It must be seen as a relational history, where different text versions must be included.

— When it comes to this time, until the 1500s, we need to rethink our notions of both genre, works and author. The idea of outstanding literature work as a fixed, unchanged unit, apeared probably only when it began printing books.

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It more than fixes cultural contradictions

The studies of the translated Norse lyrics tell us also that there existed no clear distinction, as previously assumed, between a written European elite culture, on the one hand, and an oral Norse folk culture on the other.
— A good example here is Hauksbok, says Johansson.

— In Haukr Erlendsson book there is virtually everything from lesson books at the time. What he does is very European. He was part of the elite society. But then he wrote one of the famous prehistoric age saga – an example of Norse folk.

— The popular text was, in other words, a part of high culture.

Norse mentality

— The text must also be seen in a social and political context, says Spurkland.

— It says something about the mentality of the Norse society which might have a historical relevance. It has therefore been important to have a multidisciplinary project. Different ways of reading a text help to raise awareness of it.

— What benefit do we have to know more about the Norse and its culture?

— It is essentially about the cultures mixing which we have today. We get new insight into what happens when cultures meet, we learn something about how cultural encounters can be fruitful. It is about gaining perspective on our own, it’s happening today, said Spurkland.