Studies in the prose style of the Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian Homily Books
The importance of the Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian Homily Books as the earliest monuments of continuous prose in Old West Norse has long been recognized, but to date the style of the homilies has only been given cursory treatment in short articles or general literary histories and has not been the subject of a special study. In my dissertation I have examined various aspects of Old West Norse homiletic prose style in an effort to show how the early homilists were able to take advantage of a Latin literary tradition to enhance the resources of their own language. The first chapter is a general discussion of rhetorical and "narrative" techniques in the Homily Books. Here those traits normally associated with Icelandic prose written in the so-called "popular style" are compared with stylistic features developed in imitation of Latin models. The second and third chapters of the thesis deal with native proverbs and learned sententiae in the homilies, with special reference to the use of the phrases at fagrt meala ok flatt hyggia and at bera dust I vindi. Chapter four is devoted to a discussion of metaphorical compounds. Commonplace metaphors and similitudes used in the homilies are set against their Latin background and compared with analogous figures in later Old West Norse religious literature. The next two sections are semantic studies -- chapter five, of the special use of sjooa in the sense "to ponder" in an Easter sermon in the Old Norwegian Homily Book, and chapter six, of the cryptic phrase vl ma mm sal a bita gras meó aórum salom found in a sermon on Judgement Day included in the same collection. The final chapter is an investigation of source-material for the sermon Postola mal in the Old Icelandic Homily Book. This piece illustrates the eclectic method of sermon-construction characteristic of most of the "original" compositions in the Homily Books.