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British Theories of Mythology and Old Norse Poetry: A study of methodologies in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries

Schlereth, LT; (2012) British Theories of Mythology and Old Norse Poetry: A study of methodologies in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This study is an examination of the major theories concerning mythology that were popular in the United Kingdom from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century and the ways in which they can be applied to Old Norse myth. The goal is to develop a greater understanding of how specific theories can or cannot be applied to certain mythological poems that are contained with the Poetic Edda collection. The examination begins with the etymological approach of Max Müller and his applicability to Alvíssmál, Skírnismál and Lokasenna. It will be shown that Müller’s ideas are difficult to apply, with only Skírnismál being particularly receptive. The next chapter examines the development of anthropological approaches, specifically that of Edward Tylor and Andrew Lang, and the content of Vafþrúðnismál and Vǫlospá. These poems will be shown to have many indicators of the scholar’s theories, but offer little insight into any larger, societal, functions the myths contained within the poems may have served. The third chapter focuses on the role ritual was thought to play in relation to myth and continues the examination of Vafþrúðnismál and Vǫlospá from the perspective of William Robertson Smith and Sir James George Frazer. Here, special focus is placed on the riddle-contest form of Vafþrúðnismál and the narrative surrounding the god Baldr that is partially contained in Vǫlospá. Finally, the study analyzes the theories of the Cambridge Ritualists and Bertha Phillpotts; scholars who posited that myths were derived from not only rituals, but ritual dramas. These final scholars will reveal that at the beginning of the twentieth century there was good reason to believe some of the Poetic Edda poems had a previous dramatic state, but more thorough research was needed. The study concludes with a summary of scholarship that followed these academics and possible future avenues of examination.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:British Theories of Mythology and Old Norse Poetry: A study of methodologies in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of EU Langs, Culture and Society > Scandinavian Studies

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