From the 10th century onwards, the British Isles became a challenging centre for the promotion, production and reception of new forms of poetry. One of them was the skaldic poetry, an innovative and extraordinary rigorous discipline with its roots in the oral tradition, which initially flowered in Iceland and Norway and soon spread to in the rest of Scandinavia and beyond. The unparalleled success of this poetic genre reflects a very sensitive and sometimes exclusive audience and exalts its real protagonist: the skald. The exploits of bold, boaster, greedy sea-farers and verse-talented nordic poets, often struggling with foreign kings, chieftains and nobles are reported in a number of prose compositions of the celebrated old Icelandic sagas. One of of the most famous of them, Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, tells the story of the outstanding role gained at the Anglo-Saxon court of Æthelstan of Wessex (and later of ‘Ænglalond’) by a stubborn, harsh and talented Icelander, Egill Skallagrímsson. As it is often the case with skaldic poetry, most of his verse is embedded and handed down in a prose narration, Egils saga, and some of it relate to the participation of Egill in the battle of Brunanburh, 937 AD, an event which is recorded by chronicles and celebrated in a masterpiece of old English heroic poetry (the so-called Battle of Brunanburh). Egill’s verse about the battle fought at the otherwise unknown Vínheiðr, with its portrayal of the death of his brother and of the compensation paid by the king, expresses skaldic poetry at its best, its painful stylistic burden and its rich and powerful metaphoric creations. This is a case when poetry becomes a historical source, although inaccurate and partial. The poetic units within the saga turn over the features of common lore in the traditional anonymous poetry and still strike the modern reader for its skilful description of the feelings, attitudes, and art of an individual through the stages of his life, ruled over by familiar bonds, war, and death.
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