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On the Oral-Formulaic Theory and its Application in the Poetic Edda: The Cases of Alvíssmál and Hávamál

Diego Ferioli

Nordicum-Mediterraneum, Vol. 5, no. 1 (2010)

The aim of this essay is to make some considerations concerning the usage and the development of the Oral-Formulaic Theory since its initial stage in the field of Eddic studies. Doing so I will comment on the most relevant problems and scholarly views I encountered while I was dealing with the subject, and in some cases give my own interpretation of them. In the second part of the paper I will then discuss more in detail the Eddic poems Alvíssmál and Hávamál from an oral-formulaic point of view. First of all, I will give a short introduction to the Oral-Formulaic Theory, also referred to as ‘Parry-Lord Theory’, from the names of its two major – and first – proposers. Their approach to literature was a totally new one, and changed radically the questions literature scholars have asked themselves ever since. It was originally intended to be a contribution towards the solution of the age-old Homeric question: for centuries, Homeric scholars had been debating over the identity of Homer and the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey, which now came to be better understood as rooted in traditional oral poetry, and hence excluding any modern-like one-man literary composition (at least ex novo). The concept of originality, thus, had to be fully redefined, for there can be no real originality without authorship. The term compiler, then, started being used referring to written texts, and the tradition conceived as the sum of the contributions of single exponents, or singer of tales – who were the ones who kept it alive and dynamic – took over the role of the author.

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