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Icelandic Online Dictionary and Readings

Carry On Icelandic: Culture [selections] (2004)

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Forn bˇkmenntaarfur - The Ancient Literary Inheritance

Forn bˇkmenntaarfur

Uppruni Ýslenskra bˇkmennta ß rŠtur a­ rekja til tÝmans fyrir daga ritlistar og jafnvel fyrir landnßm. Elstu s÷gur og kvŠ­i var­veittust Ý munnlegri geymd fyrir tÝma ritmenningar. Ritlistin barst til landsins Ý kj÷lfar kristnit÷ku (1000) og mikil bˇkager­ henni samfara.

Black and white illustration

R˙naletri­ er elsta leturger­ Nor­urlandanna (The runic alphabet is the oldest form of writing in the Nordic countries).

Fyrir tÝma ritlistarinnar ßttu ═slendingar sÚr anna­ letur, s.k. r˙nir, en ■a­ var sÚrstakt stafrˇf sem germanskar ■jˇ­ir ger­u sÚr a­ rˇmverskri og grÝskri fyrirmynd en til ■ess falli­ a­ rista Ý trÚ e­a h÷ggva Ý stein. FrŠ­imenn telja a­ kve­skapur hafi ekki a­ rß­i veri­ var­veittur Ý r˙naristum, heldur Ý minni manna.

Me­ tilkomu ritlistarinnar var fari­ a­ skrßsetja fornar s÷gur og kvŠ­i sem var­veist h÷f­u Ý minni manna kynslˇ­ fram af kynslˇ­ og landnßmsmenn fluttu me­ sÚr ˙r sÝnum g÷mlu heimkynnum. Elstu bˇkmenntir ═slendinga eru s÷gur og kvŠ­i af hei­num go­um og hetjum.

Fornum kve­skap ═slendinga er jafnan skipt Ý tvŠr h÷fu­greinar; eddukvŠ­i og drˇttkvŠ­i. DrˇttkvŠ­in eru samtÝmakve­skapur, a­allega um konunga, en eddukvŠ­in fjalla um hei­in go­ og hetjur og eru m÷rg ort Ý hei­num si­. Ůau eru ■vÝ nßtengd ßsatr˙nni og merk heimild um fornan norrŠnan ßtr˙na­ ßsamt Snorra-Eddu, sem er frŠ­slubˇk um forna kve­skaparlist eftir Snorra Sturluson.

The Ancient Literary Inheritance

Icelandic literature has its roots in a period before the writing age and even before settlement. Before writing culture developed, the oldest sagas and poems were preserved in an oral tradition. Literary culture was brought to Iceland in the wake of Christianization (1000), a change which was accompanied by a considerable amount of book-making.

Icelanders had another form of letters before the advent of writing culture, the so-called runes, or a special alphabet which the Germanic nations formed on the basis of the Roman and Greek models and which were meant to be inscribed on trees and cut into stone. Scholars believe that poetry was not preserved much by rune carvings, rather by memory.

With the arrival of writing culture, Icelanders began to record the old sagas and poems which had lived in people's memories from generation to generation and which the Icelandic settlers had brought with them from their original homelands. The oldest Icelandic literature is made up of sagas and poems about the heathen gods and heroes.

The ancient poetry of the Icelanders is usually divided into two categories: eddukvŠ­i and drˇttkvŠ­i. The drˇttkvŠ­i are contemporary poems, mainly concerning kings, whilst the eddukvŠ­i are deeply rooted in the heathen beliefs. The latter are closely related to worship of the ┴sa gods and, together with Snorri Sturluson's instruction book about poetic composition, are a significant source of Old Norse religion.

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