Charlemagne in the Norse and Celtic Worlds
Edited by Helen Fulton and Sif Rikhardsdottir
In a few sentences, please tell us what Charlemagne in the Norse and Celtic Worlds aims to do?
The goal was to provide a holistic introduction and overview that would capture for the first time the richness of the Charlemagne tradition in medieval Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Wales and Ireland. These traditions have historically been understudied and by bringing them together in one volume the aim was to foreground the parallels and differences between the mediation, adaptation and influences of the Charlemagne legend across the Nordic and Celtic linguistic and cultural realms. Our approach was consciously textual and material, focusing on modes of transmission, translation and reception across a number of different literary and linguistic traditions.
What was one of the most unexpected parallels you found among the traditions your book looks at?
We did not really know what to expect, quite honestly. Despite the shared history of the regions, Nordic and Celtic studies rarely intersect and so it was a welcome challenge to explore the way in which the different political contexts, patronage, and linguistic and/or generic frameworks affected the mediation of the material across more or less the entire North-East to North-West periphery of Europe. And we did indeed find unexpected or surprising synergies. For instance, in Old Norse the individual Old French chansons de geste have been transmitted in a compilation commonly known as Karlamagnús saga (The Saga of Charlemagne). Here we encountered an overlap with the Welsh tradition, which also features a compilation of a Charlemagne cycle similar to the one found in the North. This is a notable deviation from most (if not all) the Continental conventions of the Charlemagne legend and suggests a potential ideological or literary functionality within the Norse and Welsh cultural contexts that notably deviates from the French tradition, for instance. In the East Norse and the Irish tradition, on the other hand, only two texts have been preserved. And in both instances the transmission is quite late, signalling differing political and cultural impulses for the transmission of the material across those regions, when compared again with the Welsh and the earlier Norwegian and Icelandic context. Perhaps what is most striking is that all the language groups wanted their own versions of the Charlemagne legends for broadly similar reasons, to import French imperial ideologies into national and regional peripheries.
How do the Norse and Celtic Charlemagne traditions differ? How are they similar?
The Charlemagne material was transmitted to Nordic and Celtic-speaking audiences at different times, from the thirteenth-century Norse and Welsh translations through to the fifteenth-century Swedish, Danish and Irish versions. There are clear signs that the political and cultural circumstances that instigated or affected the transmission of the Charlemagne material at particular times have shaped its representation and function within each context. This has in turn affected the way in which the material is mediated – as a compilation, for instance, that features a sort of vita of Charlemagne (unlike the French chansons tradition) or as individual episodes that contain content that was presumably relevant to each particular community at any given time. Such motivations for the translation, transmission, or copying of the material can for instance be religious, political, affective, or socio-cultural. Finally, the form these texts have taken and the eventual impact they have had on the respective literary traditions are in turn dependent on the pre-existing linguistic, literary, or generic conventions of each receptive community. Reading them together can thus highlight the various motivations, literary conventions and political impulses at play across the Norse and Celtic realms from the twelfth century and beyond.
Your cover is great! Can you tell us about the idea behind the design?
Well, we think so too! It is entirely thanks to the wonderful design team at Boydell & Brewer. We were both admittedly slightly sceptical when they suggested a design that would incorporate Nordic and Celtic elements, but it turned out to be a brilliant and captivating cover, both in terms of its visual impact and in terms of successfully conveying the content of the book. The use of colour and the unusual font create an immediately striking impression of a contemporary study of a premodern world.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We were delighted to work with an excellent team of international researchers who are all experts in their field and whose contributions are notably original and informative. The book is part of a series on the reception of Charlemagne in different language communities, so we hope our readers will look out for other titles in the same series.
Edited by Helen Fulton and Sif Rikhardsdottir
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HELEN FULTON is Chair of Medieval Literature at the University of Bristol.
SIF RIKHARDSDOTTIR is Professor and Chair of Comparative Literature at the University of Iceland.