Death and the wisdom of "Solarljod"
Sager, Kurt Matthew
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Solarljo∂ is an Old Icelandic poem in which a deceased father advises his son from beyond the grave. The poem consists of a series of parables and proverbs, a moving description of dying, and accounts of both heaven and hell. Solarljo∂ is concerned with eschatological mystery, and this mystery is reinforced by the poet through the use of obscure imagery and enigmatic presentation. This study begins with an introduction to the general form, content and composition of Solarljo∂. There then follows a description of the manuscripts in which Solarljo∂ has been preserved, adding several new records to the list recently begun by Njor∂ur P. Njar∂vik. The manuscripts are cross referenced to the editions which have been based upon them. Previous research has traditionally resulted in new readings of Solarljo∂ which have been embodied in new editions or rewritings of the poem. This has produced a confusing proliferation of different poems claiming to be Solarljo∂. No "improved" edition is offered here. Instead, the editorial tradition is broken and previous editions are compared on their merits. The versions in Sophus Bugge's Norroen Fornkvae∂i and Finnur Jonsson's Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning are supported as standards to be used pending a more accessible and legible version of Njor∂ur Njar∂vik's Solsangen . The literature is otherwise examined with the aim of clarifying bibliographical contradictions and providing a critical evaluation of the sources regularly cited in connection with Solarljo∂ . Finally, Solarljo∂ is examined within the context of gnomic poetry, particularly the Disticha Catonis, Hugsvinnsmal , and Havamal. Solarljo∂ is stylistically related to these works less in terms of direct influence than in an attempt by Solarljo∂'s poet to appropriate the authority of the genre in order to reinforce his or her own didactic message. This message is one simply of memento mori , comprehensible on a strong emotional level even today, despite or, indeed, because of a great deal of ambiguity in the poem's symbolism and imagery. This reading of Solarljo∂ breaks away from the philological hermeneutics of previous studies to take a broader view of Solarljo∂ as literary art, seen as a living work with a voice that can still be understood.
Medieval literature; Germanic literature