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

HM Queen Margrethe II Distinguished Research Project on the Danish-Icelandic reception of Nordic antiquity

What

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.

Why

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.

How

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.

SSR

In light of the growing interest in the Scandinavian Middle Ages, as manifested recently in popular culture, the origins of the interest in the Old Norse sagas as sources for the past of Scandinavia deserve scholarly investigation. Such an investigation will challenge the perception of Norse antiquities manifested in popular culture, for instance in the TV-series "The Vikings", partially inspired by the figure of Ragnar loðbrók, the protagonist of one of the legendary sagas to be examined in this project.