A Store of Common Sense
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A Store of Common Sense : Gnomic Theme and Wisdom in Old Icelandic and Old English Wisdom Poetry

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A Store of Common Sense is the first comparative study in English of Old Icelandic and Old English wisdom poetry. It examines problems of form, unity, and coherence, and how the genre responds to social change, both reflecting and shaping the thinking of the communities which originate it.

Carolyne Larrington analyses the differences between the pagan wisdom of Norse, ranging through everyday practical advice, rune magic, and spells, and the Christian, socially oriented ideals of Old English wisdom poetry, strongly rooted in Christian concepts of `natural' order and hierarchy in God's Creation. Close reading in primary texts, both runic and magical, lays bare the skilful, structural integration of pragmatic, social wisdom with other kinds of knowledge.

The book explores the possibility of Christian influence on Norse texts and demonstrates the impact of Christian learning on the ancient pagan genre. The existence of a gnomic `key' in Norse and English narrative verse is also shown.

Far from being platitudinous moralizing, the wisdom poets of the two literatures reveal themselves as comic, ironic, dramatic, and grandiose by turns, exploring a gamut of themes unequalled in any other genre of the period.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 254 pages
  • 141 x 225 x 20mm | 446g
  • Clarendon Press
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0198119828
  • 9780198119821
  • 2,561,695

Back cover copy

A Store of Common Sense is the first comparative study in English of Old Icelandic and Old English wisdom poetry. It examines problems of form, unity, and coherence, and how the genre responds to social change, both reflecting and shaping the thinking of the communities which originate it. Carolyne Larrington analyses the differences between the pagan wisdom of Norse, ranging through everyday practical advice, rune magic, and spells, and the Christian, socially oriented ideals of Old English wisdom poetry, strongly rooted in Christian concepts of 'natural' order and hierarchy in God's Creation. Close reading in primary texts, both runic and magical, lays bare the skilful, structural integration of pragmatic, social wisdom with other kinds of knowledge. The book explores the possibility of Christian influence on Norse texts and demonstrates the impact of Christian learning on the ancient pagan genre. The existence of a gnomic 'key' in Norse and English narrative verse is also shown. Far from being platitudinous moralizing, the wisdom poems of the two literatures reveal themselves as comic, ironic, dramatic, and grandiose by turns, exploring a gamut of themes unequal led in any other genre of the period.
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Review quote

fascinating and thorough study of Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon gnomic verse ... this authoritative, comprehensive study, which also contains a wealth of comparative material ... is a fine book, which succeeds in its aim of showing us that "far from being platitudinous moralizing, the wisdom poems of the two literatures reveal themselves as comic, ironic, dramatic and grandiose by turns, exploring a gamut of themes unequalled in any other genre." * J.E.H. Roper. Lore & Language, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1996) * there is much in this book that evinces wide reading, a sincere devotion to the subject and exemplary sobriety of judgement ... What Dr Larrington mostly does is take us through the poems one by one, with much quotation, translation, paraphrase and summary, interwoven with judicious comments. * D.A.H. Evans, Saga-Book, XXIV: 2-3 (1995) * a further contribution to the study of 'wisdom poetry'...and...goes against the present current of specialisaion and departmental demarcation, in covering both Old English and Old Icelandic texts...This admirable volume points to the gaps and gives scholars the resources to begin filling them...this is the most useful work I have seen for years. * Modern Language Review * 'Larrington's citations and translations of her texts are accurate and pleasing.'
Roberta Frank, University of Toronto. Notes and Queries June '94
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