Mudcat Café message #2493720 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #116157   Message #2493720
Posted By: Piers Plowman
14-Nov-08 - 09:47 AM
Thread Name: Pagan Songs
Subject: RE: Pagan Songs
Skaldic poetry was a form of alliterative poetry with complex rules. Quite a lot of it has survived, mostly embedded in stories about when this or that verse was spoken. Because of the complexity of the rules, one can reasonably certain that they are reasonably authentic; i.e., it would be hard to find alternative words that would obey the rules. On the other hand, the interpretation is quite difficult and a lot of the material one has to work with, such as the main editions, are sadly out-of-date.

One amazing thing about it is that typically they are supposed to have been spoken without days and days of preparation and understood by people who heard them, at least, after pondering upon them. They are _very_ cryptic, like the London Times' crossword puzzle or the questions in the "Round Britain Quiz".

Many refer to mythological subjects but if I recall correctly, most that have been preserved are post-Christian. Some may even have Christian subject matter. It's been a long time since I studied this and I never studied skaldic poetry very much.

There are later works called "ballads" preserved in Icelandic and Faeroese. They were sung or chanted and danced to, though I believe it was rather simple dancing with lots of stamping. I imagine it to be rather lugubrious and not so much like the dancing of Fred Astaire or Isadora Duncan, however someone who knows more may correct me.

The ballads are not as popular as some of the other genre's of Icelandic literature. The Eddic poetry and many of the sagas are genuinely enjoyable to read and the Eddic poetry in particular contains a great deal of mythological information about pre-Christian Skandinavian religion --- all of it written down by Christians, so it must be taken with a large grain of salt.

Of course, there's archaeological evidence from pre-Christian Europe, some information from Greek and Roman authors (and at least one Arabic one!) and comparative material from other Indo-European religions, but we really don't know an awful lot about pre-Christian religion in Western Europe and Britain and what we do know is often very uncertain. It's too bad, but that's the way it is, and one must be very cautious when drawing conclusions about what pre-Christian religion was in Britain or elsewhere in Western Europe. Unfortunately, not everyone is, but then not everyone is interested in the subject from a scholarly perspective.

Writings about pre-Christian religion have gotten a lot of attention from scholars since the beginnings of Germanic philology, but one should bear in mind that a great deal more material with Christian subject matter has survived. The emphasis on pre-Christian religion tends to skew our perception of what people were reading and writing. For example, where there is one manuscript of "Beowulf", there may be 20 manuscripts of a vita of the Virgin Mary.