The Prehistory of Frá Fornjóti ok hans ættmönnum: Connections with the Chronicon Lethrense and their Consequences
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionNeophilologus: An International Journal of Modern and Mediaeval Language and Literature, 2022. 10.1007/s11061-021-09723-4
The Old Norse origin myth known as Frá Fornjóti ok hans ættmönnum, which claims that Norway was founded by a pair of brothers named Nórr and Górr, is preserved in two distinct variants in the late fourteenth-century Icelandic manuscript known as Flateyjarbók. One variant, Fundinn Noregr, forms the preface to Orkneyinga saga and had therefore come into existence by c. 1230, whereas the other, Hversu Noregr byggðist, is not attested before c. 1290. Most scholars have argued that Hversu Noregr byggðist is a derivative of Fundinn Noregr, which was created to preface Orkneyinga saga by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson. This article draws attention to hitherto-undocumented parallels between both variants of Frá Fornjóti and a twelfth-century Latin text known as the Chronicon Lethrense or Lejre Chronicle. To explain these parallels, a new hypothesis for the pre-history of Frá Fornjóti is formulated: that both variants are independent witnesses to an earlier version of the myth which drew upon the Chronicon Lethrense or a shared model. This hypothesis is tested against arguments supporting the consensus that regards Fundinn Noregr as the original, taking the myth’s ideological underpinnings and analogues in Old Norse literature into account. It is suggested that the hypothesis best explains patterns of shared wording revealed by close comparative readings of passages in both variants, Orkneyinga saga, and other contemporary Old Norse texts. The article concludes with speculation about the context in which a previous version of the myth might have been composed.