The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2016, 17-25

Crying and Mourning in Edda and Beowulf: on the way from ritual to literature

N. Y. Gvozdetskaya

The two earliest examples of Germanic alliterative verse are used to analyze
the ways of transformation of ‘mourning’ as part of funerary ritual into
literary genres of medieval Iceland and England. Three lines of development
are identified – towards the spells and verbal duels, towards the elegies and
towards the memorial songs of praise, each of which is reflected in the Elder
Edda and Beowulf in varying degrees. While the Edda preserves the ancient
syncretism of ritual text, emphasizing all the three ‘actants’ of the situation of
mourning (the subject, the object and the cause of mourning), the Beowulf more
clearly reveals the transformation of ‘mourning’ into the genre of elegy due to
its emphasis on the feelings of the mourner as well as due to the expansion of
gnomic motives. One more way of development represented in Beowulf is a
kind of ‘dissolution’ of mourning in oral improvisation as such.

ritual text, oral tradition, folklore and literary genres, spells, memorial songs of praise, heroic elegies, the old Germanic alliterative poetry, the Elder Edda, Beowulf

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