Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book recommendation: Snorri's Edda, Faulkes trans.

Snorri Sturulson's prose Edda is a textbook for poets in the classic Nordic style. It is three textbooks, in fact, for there are three subjects Snorri sees it as essential for the skald to master, and devotes a section to each of them. It is unclear whether Snorri Sturulson wrote the entire text or merely compiled it, but his editorial hand definitely unites the text, and scholars are generally in agreement that the final third (on verse-forms) is his own composition.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Literary License in the Italian Orlando Epics

A Tartar king and several French paladins fight for the love of the Princess of Cathay, the Saracen king of Spain has pushed north into France and laid siege to Paris, and the greatest champions of the Saracen and Christian kingdoms have fallen in love.

So ends Matteo Maria Boiardo's unfinished epic Orlando Innamorato, which takes its inspiration from the legends concerning Carolingian France but leaves both legend and history in the dust as it spins its own story of the madness of love. Written in the 15th century, and abandoned when Boiardo's native Venice was plunged into war with a Muslim enemy once again, the thread is picked up by Ludovico Ariosto in his continuation, Orlando Furioso. Both stories are set during an attempted invasion of France by the Saracens, perhaps inspired by that stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732, but in neither case do the details of the story bear any resemblance to the earlier legends which seem to serve as their inspiration, nor to the true history which lies behind the myths.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Karlamagnussaga: the Scandinavian Matter of France

Whether it's a translation of lost sources or primarily a compilation of lore based largely in ones we know is unclear (it's most likely a little of both), but the Old Norse Karlamagnussaga, or "Saga of Charlemagne," is one of the best sources we have for how medieval legend portrayed Charlemagne - all presented in the way that legend was shaped for presentation to a Scandinavian audience.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Twelve Peers Prepare for Battle

When Rollant sees that now must be combat,
More fierce he's found than lion or leopard;
The Franks he calls, and Oliver commands:
"Now say no more, my friends, nor thou, comrade.
That Emperour, who left us Franks on guard,
A thousand score stout men he set apart,
And well he knows, not one will prove coward.
Man for his lord should suffer with good heart,
Of bitter cold and great heat bear the smart,
His blood let drain, and all his flesh be scarred.
Strike with thy lance, and I with Durendal,
With my good sword that was the King's reward.
So, if I die, who has it afterward
Noble vassal's he well may say it was."