The Old Norse and Icelandic poets have left us vivid accounts of conflict and peace-making in the Viking Age. Russell G. Poole's editorial and critical analysis reveals much about the texts themselves, the events that they describe, and the culture from which they come. Poole attempts to put right many misunderstandings about the integrity of the texts and their narrative techniques. From a historical perspective, he weighs the poems' authenticity as contemporary documents which provide evidence bearing upon the reconstruction of Viking Age battles, peace negotiations, and other events. He traces the social roles played by violence in medieval Scandinavian society, and explores the many functions of the poet within that society. Arguing that these texts exhibit a mind-style so vastly different from our own present 'individualism,' Poole suggests that the mind-set of the medieval Scandinavian could be termed 'non-individualist.'
The poems discussed are the 'Darradarljod,' where the speakers are Valkyries; 'Lidsmannaflokkr,' a rank-and-file warrior's description of Canute the Great's siege of London in 1016; 'Torf-Einarr's Revenge'; 'Egil's Duel with Ljotr,' five verses from the classic Egils saga Skallagrimssonar; 'A Battle on the Health,' marking the culmination of a famous feud described in a very early Icelandic saga, the Heidarviga saga; and two extracts from the poem Sexstefia, one describing Haraldr of Norway's great fleet and victory over Sveinn of Denmark, and the other the peace settlement between these two kinds. The texts are presented in association with translations and commentaries as a resource not merely for medieval Scandinavian studies but also for the increasingly interwoven specialisms of literary theory and anthropology.
Russell Poole is a professor emeritus of the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario and the managing editor of the journal Viking and Medieval Scandinavia.