Writing (hi)stories:Danish Antiquarians and Their Reception of Old Norse Literature (1658—1814)

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Katarzyna Anna Kapitan


University of Copenhagen


DKK 1,313,090




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This research project examines the scholarly reception of Old Norse literature before N. F. S. Grundtvig (1783 –1872). It takes its point of departure in the scholarly work of Thormodus Torfæus (1636—1719), the Royal Historian of the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway and the author of "Series dynastarum et regum Daniæ", and Thomas Bartholin (1659—1690), the Royal Antiquarian and author of "Antiqvitatum Danicarum". This project examines not only their approaches to the historicity of Old Norse legendary sagas but also the influence they had on later generations of Danish-Icelandic scholars.


Ever since Saxo Grammaticus, Danish historians have used Old Norse sources for their study of the Scandinavian past. Through the agency of, among others, Grundtvig these sources played an important role in the formation of Danish nationalism. Grundtvig's approach, however, did not spring out of an intellectual vacuum. Legendary sagas served as important sources in the early modern historiography. Scholars used sagas such as those of Ragnar loðbrók and Hrólfur kraki as historical sources, and there were vital discussions concerning their truth value. The subject matter of these sagas has since then became an inspiration for generations of artists, but their reception remained highly understudied.


The methodological framework of this study lies at the intersection of history and philology (understood as study of texts in manuscripts). There are numerous examples of the scholarly reception of Old Norse texts hidden in the manuscripts held in the Scandinavian repositories, such as the Royal Library in Copenhagen and the Arnamagnæan Institutes in Reykjavík and Copenhagen. The comparative analysis of the texts used as sources for Bartholin's and Torfæus's historical works along with various notes accompanying these texts in manuscripts will give us an insight into the perception of historical truth in this period.

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