The historical worth of Rgsula

Frederic Amory

As Rgsula was transmitted orally down the Christian centuries from poet to
poet and audience to audience, other adaptations of its subject matter to historical,persons and events like the political machinations of Earl Skli and Hkon ungi were naturally always viable, but the oral text that reached the Codex Wormianus seems to have retained all the vestiges of the primary historicization of the Rgsula folktale in the mid-Viking Age when the poem proper was under composition.

In its Irish aura and the prospective kingship of Konr ungr, in its elementary
social structure of three main divisions of people with no more than fi ve gradations of rank among them, and in the dress, ornaments, and occupations of its dramatis personae inheres the historical worth of Rigsula, make of it what we will. In the view to which I subscribe, these things are so many facets of the life, times, and places (at home and abroad) of early medieval Norwegian society on the eve of the millennium, as seen by some Icelandic poet who frequented Norse-Irish courts.
Regrettably, of the historians named at the outset of this paper perhaps Gurevich alone would wholly concur in this fi nal assessment; Karras and Helgi Gumunds son, who opt for a composition date to the poem in the High Middle Ages (12001250),would scarcely regard Rgsula as a mirror of early medieval society. But the minority view may still be the truer one.