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Old Norse Kennings: 'gátur skalda' (the riddles of the skalds)?

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To describe kennings, the characteristic feature of Old Norse skaldic diction, as ‘riddling’ or ‘riddle-like’ is common and helpful. But to what extent are kennings actually like Old Norse riddles? Appropriately enough, the small corpus of Old Norse gátur (riddles) remains shrouded in mystery: where do they come from? What are they for? In this paper, I will probe the kenning-riddle comparison in the context of the Old Norse riddle corpus (rather than in terms of the use of the modern English word) to see exactly where the similarities lie, and whether this can shed any light on the composition and function of the Old Norse riddles. In turn, I hope to provide a new perspective on the mental processes involved in the composition and comprehension of kennings, the artistry involved in each figure, and the conceptions of the world they reveal.

This talk is part of the Magdalene Society of Medievalists series.

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