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Thread: The Implications of Knowledge Acquisition in Havamal and Sigrdrifumal

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    The Implications of Knowledge Acquisition in Havamal and Sigrdrifumal

    Among Eddic poems, Hávamál is considered a ‘wisdom poem’ because of its visible gnomic component (st. 1-103 and st. 112-137), but didactic verses are also found in Sigrdrífumál (st. 5-37) and to a lesser extent in Reginsmál (st. 4 and 19-22) and Fáfnismál (12-15).

    In fact, these three heroic poems are consecutive in the Codex Regius manuscript (c. 1270) and together with a lost fragment in the final eight-leave lacuna are considered to have been a continuous composition dedicated to the early life of the hero Sigurðr fáfnisbani prefaced by Grípisspá.

    What is certain is that they provide a context that is not available for Hávamál, which basically stands alone in the Eddic compilation. However, wisdom poetry may include other kinds of knowledge, too, particularly in anonymous compositions with oral implications.

    Wisdom poetry has been often criticised due to its unstructured appearance, which has been explained by its catalogue nature. Yet another reason for this is that such knowledge must have had a gradual origin and thus one or many different structures before it came into writing, considering that at least a part of it is originally rooted in the oral tradition.

    Most views about Eddic poetry tend to take rather extreme positions, going from claiming that long traditional compositions were preserved untouched by influence from written sources to asserting that they were produced by a literate mind under scarce influence from oral tradition.

    The principle that lies beneath this dissertation is that Eddic poetry was composed in a transitional period and it should be considered a transitional product, considering that orality is not only attested by (oral-formulaic) composition but also by other factors such as performance, transmission and even narrative plot.

    The aim of this thesis is to show that the fragmentary all-in-one knowledge structure that is particularly present in Hávamál but also recognisable in Sigrdrífumál can be explained to some degree by their transitional nature, i.e. between the medieval literate mind and the oral cognitive structures, though such an idea does not confirm the explicit Latin influence suggested by some scholars.

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