Applications 24. Handout.  On the Decline of Paroemial Cognitive Patterning in Some Later Icelandic Sagas
Presented at the Old Norse Discussion Group, MLA Chicago, 10 January 2014.
Richard L. Harris, Department of English, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.    [heorot@sasktel.net]

Walter J. Ong on the pre-literate repository of knowledge and its structuring of human thought:
“How could you ever call back to mind what you had so laboriously worked out?  The only answer is: Think memorable thoughts.  . . . you have to put your thinking into mnemonic patterns . . .  Your thought must come into being in . . . epithetic and formulary expressions . . . in proverbs which are constantly heard by everyone so that they come to mind readily and which themselves are patterned for retension and ready to recall, or in other mnemonic form.  Serious thought is intertwined with memory systems.  Mnemonic needs determine even syntax. (Havelock 1963, pp. 87-96. 131-2. 294-6).” p. 34.
“Fixed, often rhythmically balanced, expressions of this sort . . . can be found occasionally in print, indeed can be ‘looked up’ in books of sayings, but in oral cultures they are not occasional.  They are incessant.  They form the substance of thought itself.  Thought in any extended form is impossible without them, for it consists in them.” p. 35.
Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy. The Technologizing of the Word. NY, 1982, 2002.

Richard Harris, “In the Beginning was the Proverb,” on Paroemial Cognitive Patterning:
Work particularly with the process of proverbial allusion has led me to consider the proposition that the proverbs which we notice in the Íslendingasögur might be studied more accurately as partially extant evidence of the early existence of a much larger and more complex oral repository of wisdom formulas central to the ethics and mores of the pre-literate culture.  In fact, it must in its immanent entirety have delineated those conceptual structures describing the behavioural expectations of the pre-literate society of Iceland and its inhabitants’ continental forebears.  Such a repository was so deeply embedded in the consciousness and of such profound psychic impact that it informed, at least in part, the very thinking even of the literate and in some cases highly educated composers of the sagas, as well as that of the characters whose utterances and undertakings they described. This paroemial cognitive patterning of the pre-literate saga mind, though so far of purely conjectured existence and with little clarity of form or content, may eventually prove useful to us in our effort to understand what the sagas, written as they were on the cusp of that society’s transition into literacy, were meant to be about.

The character of Hreiðarr heimski:
Hann var ljótr maðr ok varla sjálfbjargi fyr vits sǫkum.  Hann var manna frávastr ok vel at afli búinn ok hógværr í skapi, ok var hann heima jafnan.  [ÍF XXIII. Morkinskinna I. 26. 152.] 

Some of Hávamál’s thoughts on foolish people:
St. 6. Þá er horskr ok þǫgull kømr heimisgarða til,/sjaldan verðr víti vǫrom;/þvíat óbrigða vin fær maðr aldregi/en manvit mikit.
St. 17. Kópir afglapi er til kynnis kømr,/þylsk hann um eða þrumir;/allt er senn, ef hann sylg um getr;/uppi er þá geð guma.
St. 27. Ósnotr maðr, er með aldir kømr,/þat er batst at hann þegi;/engi þat veit at hann ekki kann,/nema hann mæli til mart./veita maðr hinn er vetki veit,/þótt hann mæli til mart.

Hreiðarr heimski argues with his brother Þórðr and with King Magnús using the argument of the necessity of a brother’s protection:
“. . . mun þá hverr maðr draga af mér fé okkat, alls ek kann engi forræði þau er nýt eru. Ok era þér þá betra hlut í at eiga ef ek ber á mǫnnum eða gerik aðra óvísu, þeim er um fé mitt sitja at lokka af mér, en eptir þat sé ek barðr eða meiddr fyr mína tilgerðir; enda er þat sannast í at þér mun torsótt at halda mér eptir er ek vil fara.”  [ÍF XXIII. Morkinskinna I. 26. 152.]

Nú sýnisk mér hitt vitrligra at vera heldr hjá þeim er um mik hyggr, sem Þórðr er bróðir minn, þótt þar sé heldr fjǫlmenni, en hinnug þótt menn sé fáir ok sé þar engi til umbóta.  [ÍF XXIII. Morkinskinna I. 26. 157.]

Saxo’s version of Berr er hverr at baki, nema sér bróður eigi:
O-R Liber quintus. 114. III. 8. At ubi ad regiam perventum est, prior introitum petens fratrem pone consequi iubet. . . . Ericus itaque semifusus nudum habere tergum fraternitatis inopem referebat.
PF Book V. 128.  Erik approaches Frothi's court:

When he reached the palace, before seeking admittance he asked his brother to follow close behind him. . . . Erik, leaning at an angle, remarked that a brotherless man has a bare back. 42 HED 77  42This is a popular saying quoted more than once in the sagas: Berr er hverr at baki, nema sér bróður eigi (Bare is the back of the man without a brother). This is found in Njáls Saga 152 and Grettis Saga 82. cf. Kallstenius p. 20, no. 17, where he gives a Danish equivalent.
Saxo (Kallstenius) 20. Frändskap. 17. nudum habere tergum fraternitatis inopem, referebat, s. 13519. – Bar er broderløs Bag, Vedel s. 8911. Se vidare D n:r 395 med komm., Rosenberg a. a. II s. 601 not, Gering Ark 32 s. 6 och JR II n:r 169 (s. 19).
TPMA 2.   128. BRUDER/frère/brother 1. Ein Bruder ist wertvoll und von grossem Nutzen 1.3. Wer keinen Bruder hat, ist nackt (ungeschützt) Mlat. 9 Nudum habere tergum fraternitatis inopem, referebat (scil. Ericus) Er (Ericus) rief, dass der Bruderlose einen ungeschützten Rücken habe SAXO GRAMM. 135, 19. Nord. 10.11 Berr er hverr á bakinu (NJÁLS SAGA: at baki), nema sér bróður eigi Jeder ist am Rücken nackt, ausser demjenigen, der einen Bruder hat GRETTIS SAGA 82, 13 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 25. GERING S. 6. JÓNSSON 22). NJÁLS SAGA 152, 5. 12 Fratribus orbatus est pro nudo reputatus. – Bar ær brodherløss man Jemand, der seiner Brüder beraubt ist, wird als nackt angesehen. – Ein bruderloser Mann ist nackt LÅLE 395. Variiert: 13 Opt kømr mér Mána brúþar (H.s.: bjarnar2) Í byrvind Brœþraleyse; Hyggjomk umb, Es hildr þróask Oft kommt mir der Mangel an Brüdern in den Sinn (wörtl.: in den Fahrtwind der Mondbraut [des Mondbären]); ich denke darüber nach, wenn der Kampflärm anschwillt EGILL, SONATORREK 13, 1 (→EGILS SAGA S. 305).

Good and bad rulers:
Bad: Ásbjörn [Hrafnkelsson] kvaðst svó leiða skyldu smámönnum at veita bóndum ágang. [ÍF XI.   2. 218.]
Good:  Þiðrandi var ríkr maðr ok þó vinsæll, því at hann var hægr við sína undirmenn.  [ÍF XI.   3. 218.]
Þorvaldr and Droplaug Bjǫrgólfsdóttir have a good marriage:  Vóru góðar þeirra samfarir, því at hvórt þeirra veitti öðru vel, en við aðra menn var hun heldr skapstór . . .  [ÍF XI.   6. 232.]

On Heremod, in Beowulf:Ne wearð Heremod swa/eaforum Ecgwelan, Ar-Scyldingum;/ne geweox he him to willan, ac to wæl-fealle/ond to deað-cwalum Deniga leodum. [ll. 1709-1712.]

Bad things from bad people in Fljótsdœla saga:
ÍF XI.   16. 261. “Gjörðu þat eigi, því at þat er fornt mál, at opt hlýzt illt af illum, ok vil ek eigi, at þú eigir við hann.”
CSI IV.   16. Thidrandi to Gunnstein Koreksson, who wants to shoot his spear at Asbjorn Wall-hammer:
409. Thidrandi said, "Don’t do it, because it's an old saying that bad things often come from bad people, and I don’t want you to deal with him.”
FJ Proverb word 198. Page 100. illr (jfr kátr) – opt hlýtr (hlýzk) ilt af illum Isls II 151, Dropl* 641) el. ilt mun af illum hljóta Grett 82 (Boer 131) ‘Ofte opnår man ondt af den slette’. 1) Hermed menes Fljótsdæla hin meiri 1883.
TPMA 10.   138.  SCHLECHT/mauvais/bad  1.Das Schlechte (Das Übel, das Böse) 1.2.Schlechtes trägt die Tendenz zu Schlechterem in sich 1.2.1. Ein Übel bringt weitere mit sich  Nord. 22 Opt hlýtr illt af illum Oft gibt es Böses aus Bösem HŒNSA ÞÓRIS SAGA 8 S. 23. 23 En illt mun af illum hljóta Aus dem Bösen erwächst wohl oft Böses GRETTIS SAGA 34, 5 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 198). 24 Þuiat þad er fornnt mal, ad opt hlijst illt af illum Denn das ist eine alte Redensart, dass aus Bösem wohl oft Böses erwächst FLJÓTSDŒLA SAGA 64, 25 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 198).

Passages in Fljótsdœla saga concerned with the dangers and insecurity of trust:
ÍF XI.   13. 255-6. “. . . ek mun segja ykkr, at þit látið eigi vónda menn komast í milli ykkar ok mín, . . .”
CSI IV.   13. Bersi to Helgi and Grim:
406 .
“. . . what I’m going to tell you. Don’t let scoundrels come between you and me, . . .”
ÍF XI.   11. 243.  Helgi svarar: “Er svó, móðir, at ruglat er skapi þínu. En hafðu ráð mitt at því, þó at þér þyki sem er, at ek em ungr. Skipaðu aldri skap þitt eptir hins versta manns orðum. Legg aldri trúnað þinn á slíkt, er enginn mun annarra.”
CSI IV.   11.
Helgi's advice to his mother, continued:
397. Helgi replied, “Your mind is confused, mother. Take my advice, even though you think I am young. Never build your mind on the words of a wretch. Never put your faith in something no one else believes.”
ÍF XI.   11. 245. Grímr mælti: “Hvat sagðir þú við móður þína á hausti, at hun skyldi eigi skipta skap sitt eptir hins versta manns orðum. Láttu nú eigi þat á þik falla.”
CSI IV.   11. Grim reminds Helgi of his wise admonition to his mother:
398. Grim said, “What was it you said to your mother last autumn? That she should not build her mind on the words of a wretch. Don't let the same happen to you.”
ÍF XI.   23. 290. “Satt er þat, sem mælt er, at öngum skyldi maðr treystast, því at sá kann mann mest at blekkja, er hann hefir mestan trúnað á.”
CSI IV.   23.
Hallstein to Bersi, who doesn’t think it wise for him to marry Droplaug and who doesn’t want to support him in this:
429. Hallstein replied, “There’s truth in the saying, that a man should trust nobody, because the one you’ve trusted most betrays you worst.”
ÍF XI.   13. 250. “. . .en þar kemr at því, sem mælt er, at betra er véltum at vera en öngum at trúa, því at þú hefir trúat honum sem sjálfum þér.”
Fljótsdœla hin meiri (Kålund, Kh, 1883) p. 48.  en þar kemur ad þui, sem mællt er, ad betra er vieltum ad vera en ongum ad trua; þuiat þu hefur truad honum sem sialfum þier.   vieltum] BCDE: villtum; F. villr.  I G. Jonssons "Safn af íslenzkum orðskviðum" har ordsproget ved en besynderlig misforståelse fået formen:  Betra er viltum að vera, enn öllum að trúa.
CSI IV.   13. Nollar, egging Bersi to stop Helgi’s visits to Helga:
402. “. . . and the saying’s come true, that it’s better to be betrayed than to trust anyone, because you have trusted him like yourself.”
Young and Haworth. 13. 32. 'Helgi, your foster-son, has come out to Skeggjastead and means to seduce Helga, Thorbjorn's daughter, away to Eyvindara and go to bed with her; and it's come tho this, as the saying goes: "It's better to be betrayed than to trust no one" -- because you have trusted him as you would yourself.  What you have done for him can't be put into words, and now look how he repays you with what he has plenty of --wickedness and deceit.'
ÍM 349. VÉLA. Betra er véltum að vera en engum að trúa.  Fljótsd. 13. kap.
TPMA 11.  408.   TRAUEN/faire/avoir confiance/to trust  1. Vertrauen als Wert 1.3. Mangel an Vertrauen ist schlecht Nord. 11 Enn þar kemur ad þui, ad betra er vieltumm ad vera enn onngum ad trua Es kommt dazu, wie man sagt, dass es besser ist, zu den Betrogenen zu gehören, als niemandem zu trauen FLJÓTSDŒLA SAGA 48, 19 (=JÓNSSON, ARKIV 447).
Saxon on trusting the untrustworthy:
O-R Liber quintus. 113. III. 3. Hercule, ni fallor, ad eum, qui protulit ipsum,/editus ignave sermo redire solet./Ad prolatorem iusto conamine divi/fusa parum docte verba referre solent./Quando lupi dubias primum discernimus aures,/ipsum in vicino credimus esse lupum./Nulla fides fidei vacuo præstanda putatur,/quem rumor sontem proditionis agit.
PF Book V. 127.  Erik engages in a contest of words with Grep, who bullies with insolence, while the hero relies particularly upon proverbial wisdom for his own rhetorical weapons. Erik:
By heaven, brainless talk, unless I am much mistaken,/often rebounds on the head of him who uttered it./Through the righteous dispensation of the gods, words poured forth/with too little wit return to plague the deliverer./As soon as we first detect a pair of suspicious wolf's ears,/we believe the creature itself is lurking near./No one thinks we should trust a person empty of faith,/one whom report pronounces guilty of treason.
Two interesting and similar paroemial texts in Fljótsdœla saga, though irrelevant to the present paper:
1. ÍF XI.   17. 265. “Satt er þat, er mælt er, at eigi má mann sjá, hverr hverrgi er.”
CSI IV.   17. A woman servant to Gunnar the Norwegian, who is boarding with Ketill, who needs his help:
411. She began speaking, “It’s true what they say, that you can’t see someone who is nowhere.”
FJ Proverb word 269. Page 170. maðr – . . . eigi má mann sjá, hverr hvergi er Dropl* 69. ‘Man kan ikke på et menneske se, hvem enhver er’ (hvad han indeholder).
TPMA 10.   381. SEIN/être/to be  5. Sein = geartet sein  vgl. unten 7.   5.8 Man weiss nicht, wer jeder ist   Nord. 33 Eigi má mann sjá, hver hvergi er Man kann dem Menschen nicht ansehen, wer ein jeder ist DROPLAUGARSONA SAGA 69 (→ JÓNSSON, ARKIV 269 [= JÓNSSON 113]). 34 Satt er þad, er mællt er, ad eigi ma mann sia huor huorgi er Bekannt ist, was gesagt wird, dass man nicht sehen kann, wer ein jeder ist FLJÓTSDŒLA SAGA 69, 6 (= JÓNSSON, ARKIV 269. JÓNSSON 113).
2. ÍF XI.   20. 284.  Þórdís kvaðst eigi mega þat segja, er eigi var til ok hun vissi eigi, hvar væri.
CSI IV.   20.

426.  Thordis said she could not say something that did not exist, and that she did not know where he was.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Andersson, Theodore M. “The Displacement of the Heroic Ideal in the Family Sagas,” Speculum 45 1970 575-93.
___________________ .  “The Textual Evidence for an Oral Family Saga,” Arkiv förnordisk filologi 1966 81 1-23.
Austfirðinga sǫgur. Þorsteins saga hvíta. Vápnfirðinga saga. Þorsteins þáttr stangarhǫggs. Ǫlkofra þáttr. Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða. Droplaugarsona saga. Brandkrossa þáttr. Gunnars þáttr Þiðrandabana. Fljótsdœla saga. Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar. Draumr Þorsteins Síðu-Hallssonar. Þorsteins þáttr Austfirðings. Þorsteins þáttr sǫgufróða. Gull-Ásu-Þórðar þáttr. Ed. Jón Jóhannesson. ÍF XI Reykjavík 1950.
The Fljotsdale Saga and The Droplaugarsons, tr. Eleanor Haworth and Jean Young. Intro. Jean Young. Everyman London 1990.
Clover, Carol. “The Long Prose Form,” Arkiv förnordisk filologi 1986 101 10-39.
Danielsson, Tommy. Hrafnkels saga: eller Fallet med den undflyende traditionen. Södertälje 2002.
________________ .  Sagorna om Norges kungar: Från Magnús góði till Magnús Erlingsson. Södertälje 2002.
Gísli Sigurðsson. The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition. A Discourse on Method. Cambridge, Mass. 2004.
________________ .  “16. Orality and Literacy in the Sagas of the Icelanders,” in A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture, ed. R. McTurk.  Oxford 2005 285-301.
Hallberg, Peter. “Några Anteckningar om Replik och Dialog i Njals saga,” Festschrift Walter Baetke, ed. Kurt Rudolph et al. Weimar 1966 130- 50.
Harris, Richard L.  Concordance to the Proverbs and Proverbial Materials in the Old Icelandic Sagas http://www.usask.ca/english/icelanders/
______________.  “In the Beginning was the Proverb: Communal Wisdom and Individual Deeds in the Íslendingasögur” Presented at the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, May 2013. http://www.usask.ca/english/icelanders/applic_PCP.html
______________.  “The Proverbial Heart of Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða: ‘Mér þykkir þar heimskum manni at duga, sem þú ert,’” Scandinavian-Canadian Studies 16 2006 28-54.   http://scancan.net/article.htm?id=harris_1_16
Jakobsen, Jakob. Austfirðingar sǫgur. STUAGNL XXIX København 1902-3.
Kålund, Kristian. Fljótsdœla hin meiri, eller den længere Droplaugarsona-saga efter håndskrifterne udgiven af Kristian Kålund. STUAGNL XI København 1883.
Larrington, Carolyne. A Store of Common Sense: Gnomic Theme and Style in Old Icelandic and Old English Wisdom Poetry. Oxford 1993.
Netter, Irmgard.  Die direkte Rede in den Isländersagas.  Leipzig 1925.
Ranković, Slavica. “The Temporality of the (Immanent) Saga: Tinkering with Formulas,” Dating the Sagas: Reviews and Revisions, ed. Else Mundal Copenhagen 2013 149–194
The Saga of the People of Fljotsdal, tr. John Porter, inThe Complete Sagas of Icelanders, ed. Viðar Hreinsson  Reykjavík 1997. 5 vols. IV 379-433.
Stefán Karlsson. “Aldur Fljótsdæla sögu.” Sagnaþing helgað Jónasi Kristjánssyni sjötugum 10. Apríl 1994  Ed. Gísli Sigurðsson et al. Reykjavík 1994. II 743-59.
Thesaurus Proverbiorum Medii Aevi. Lexikon der Sprichwörter des romanisch-germanischen Mittelalters. Kuratorium Singer.  Vols. 1-13 & Quellenverzeichnis Berlin & New York 1995-2002.

Return to Decline paper.

Return to Applications, Concordance.