Institute of English Languages and Literatures

What is our project about?

Verse quotation is intrinsic to the literary style of the medieval Icelandic corpus of Íslendingasögur (Sagas of Icelanders), one of the most important vernacular literary genres of the European Middle Ages. While the majority of the sagas in the corpus include quoted poetry, there is nonetheless a striking degree of variation in the number of verses quoted across different sagas in the corpus and, in some cases, divergent content across verses quoted in manuscript witnesses of the same saga. Furthermore, it is clear that the combination of prose and verse constituted a distinctive literary aesthetic, and that in the medieval Icelandic literary tradition it was not a question of choosing between prose and verse as the vehicle for recounting stories about the foundational generations of settlers on the island, but of combining both modes to forge the unique literary form of the saga. Verse quotation has always been recognised as an important aspect of the Íslendingasögur, but until now there has been very little research on the nature of the Íslendingasögur as prosimetrum – long prose narratives punctuated by verse quotation. To date, the significance of verse to the aesthetic of the narrative has mainly been explored with reference to the sub-genre of the skáldasögur (Sagas of poets), in which the proportion of verse to prose is at its highest.

In our project we will analyse the Íslendingasögur as prosimetrum, that is, we will treat the combination of verse and prose as a salient generic feature of this body of sagas. This is an innovative approach that will enable a better understanding on the literary mode of the corpus as a whole as well as producing fresh insights into the compositional habits of the (anonymous) authors of individual sagas. On the firm basis of data that we will collect – on the number of verses quoted in each saga, the number (and social position) of speakers of verses, the metre and style of the verses and their relations to the surrounding prose – we will pose a number of critical questions which have so far been asked separately for prose narrative and skaldic verse, questions which will stimulate new responses when considered in the context of medieval Icelandic prosimetrum as a literary form. The project’s objective is to create the first comprehensive quantitative and qualitative analysis of the prosimetrum of the forty extant Íslendingasögur and to explore the generic qualities of saga prosimetrum that amounts to much more than a simple combination of prose and verse.

Persons involved in the project

PI Dr. Judy Quinn, University of Cambridge
PI Dr. Stefanie Gropper, University of Tübingen
PostDoc Dr. Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir, University of Cambridge
PostDoc Dr. Alexander James Wilson, University of Tübingen

Dr Tarrin Wills, University of Copenhagen in collaboration for the Prosimetrum database


During the course of the project, we will organise a series of workshops to elaborate and interrogate our research findings in dialogue with other scholars in the field.