BOOK REVIEW: The Eufemiavisor and Courtly Culture: Time, Texts and Cultural Transfer—Review by Heidi Synnøve Djuve

The Eufemiavisor and Courtly Culture: Time, Texts and Cultural Transfer, eds. Ferm, Hedström, Lodén, Pettersson and Åkestam (Stockholm: Kungliga Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien, 2015) pp. 288, ISBN: 9789174024364, SEK 235,00.

The Eufemiavisor and Courtly Culture is the proceedings from a conference of the same title held in Stockholm in 2012. The conference, as well as this collection of articles, focused on the historical and cultural contexts of the East Norse medieval chivalric verse narratives – Herr Ivan, Flores och Blanzeflor and Hertig Fredrik av Normandie – often referred to collectively as the Eufemiavisor (The Songs of Eufemia). These three discourses constitute the earliest known texts that are preserved in the Old Swedish vernacular, and they alone represent the longest and most progressive pieces of literature from a time and place that is generally characterised by an otherwise modest production of vernacular culture.

The collection is made up of 16 articles in total, in which each contributor gives a new approach to either all or one of these three texts based on an interdisciplinary and thematic angle. Neither the theme of the conference or the proceedings were restricted to analysing the texts themselves but encouraged new perspectives on the interpretation of historical and cultural contexts, as well as the Eufemiavisor’s significance for textual tradition and transmission. Ultimately, the different articles together reveal the beneficial results of applying multidisciplinary attitudes towards the East Norse source corpus – a field which up until the latter part of the twentieth century was predominantly rooted in philology. The present work, however, deals with these sources from a broad scope, incorporating for example history, art history, translation studies, philosophy and Old French and Old Swedish philology. As the editors emphasise in the proceedings’ preface (p. 7-9), this consciously wide approach to the Eufemiavisor originates from the contemporary developments in the field of Scandinavian medieval history and literature (p. 7). Over the past decades, there has been an upsurge of scholarly interest in the dissemination of courtly culture and the increased production and transmission of medieval translations. To demonstrate this tendency of adopting courtliness during the Middle Ages – both in Europe and on the western periphery – the Eufemiavisor provides a useful starting point in attesting to the international background and transfer of courtly culture during the medieval period. As with most research that deals with medieval source material, studies on the Eufemiavisor has primarily been occupied with identifying either the texts’ author(s) or the origins of their literary influences. The present article collection as a whole, on the other hand, provides a more extensive introduction to the narratives by placing them in their historical context, and the reader is consequently left with a thorough understanding of courtly literature and their part in the historical development of the thirteenth century. Various research questions are addressed in the different articles, although one can discern different thematic strands or orientations in the collection (p. 8).

In Herman Bengtsson’s ‘Courtliness and the Gothic Style. Art and Society in Scandinavia, c. 1300’ (pp. 49-66), Carin Franzén’s ‘Ambiguities of Spiritual and Courtly Love – A Theoretic Reflection’ (pp. 121-135), Bjørn Bandlien’s ‘Didactic Literature for Women and Romance in the Age of Queen Eufemia of Norway’ (pp. 32-48), and Regina Jucknies’ ‘Through an Old Danish Lens? Precious Stones in the Late Medieval Danish Reception of Courtly Literature’ (pp. 162-175), we are presented with the different layers of the process of disseminating courtly culture, and how the conception was received by the contemporaries of the Eufemiavisor. The second group of articles include Kim Berqvist’s ‘Debating the Limitations of Kingship in Fourteenth-Century Sweden. Political Language and Norms in Romance and Chronicle (pp. 67-85), and Corinne Peneau’s ‘Pouvoir et distinction des Eufemiavisor á l’Erikskrönika (pp. 189-220), which are primarily angled towards historical contextualisation. The third group have a more textual and literary approach, in which Sofia Lóden’s ‘The Eufemiavisor: A Unified Whole’ (pp. 176-188), Agnieszka Backman’s ‘Flores och Blanzeflor According to Stockholm, Cod. Holm. D 3’ (pp. 11-19), Joseph M. Sullivan’s ‘Making the Woods More Negative and Praising Life at Court: Herr Ivan and the Hero’s Descent into the Forest’ (pp. 235-254), and Virgile Reiter’s ‘De Blanchefleur á Blanzeflor: de la jeune fille á la sainte reine’ (pp. 221-234), respectively investigate how the texts were influenced by other literature and how this gradually led to changes in the texts – either as a whole in Lodén’s article or as separate texts in Sullivan’s, or even from looking at the manuscripts specifically in Backman’s study. The fourth and last thematic category consists of Keith Busby’s ‘Generic Hybridity and Memory in Hertig Fredrik av Normandie´ (pp. 98-108), Olle Ferm’s ‘The Emergence of Courtly Literature in Sweden’ (pp. 109-120), Karl G. Johansson’s ‘Queen Eufemia, the Norwegian Élite and the Background of the Eufemiavisor’ (pp. 136-161), Elena Brandenburg’s ‘Wie Flores Nach Norden wanderte – Kulturtransfer von Frankreich nach Skandinavien am Beispiel der Flóres saga ok Blankiflúr und Flores och Blanzeflor’ (pp. 86-97), Lars Wollin’s ‘Chivalry and the Scriptures’ (pp. 273-284), and Massimiliano Bampi’s ‘The Eufemiavisor and Konung Alexander: Diverging Ideologies?’ (pp. 20-31). These contributions first and foremost deal with text history, and specifically the Eufemiavisor’s provenance in a European background, which ultimately demonstrates the emergence of a Swedish medieval literate milieu that was heavily influenced by the transferral of continental courtliness and court literature. The last contribution to the collection is an appendix by William Layher, ‘Appendix: Manuscripts of the Eufemiavisor’ (pp. 273-284), which accounts for all the different manuscripts and early prints of the Eufemiavisor, and discusses the contents of each of these manuscripts alongside a full bibliography of editions (pp. 280-284). This provides a useful guide for the reader, especially for those working with the manuscripts specifically.

In conclusion, The Eufemiavisor and Courtly Culture constitutes a solid and scholarly contribution to research on both the Scandinavian and particularly East Norse medieval period. It gives the reader a good introduction to the texts, the historical circumstance in which they originated, and how courtly culture was disseminated on the western periphery during the high- and late Middle Ages. The thematic approaches are varied, although despite each piece investigating a specific aspect or conducting a case study, the collection of articles fulfils its initial and overarching goal of textual interpretation and context analysis. I would recommend this book to both scholars and students working in the fields of Scandinavian studies, medieval studies, literary science and history. Besides its interesting and well-conducted articles, the language is also accessible and makes for a pleasant reading experience.

Heidi Synnøve Djuve, University of Aberdeen

Heidi Synnøve Djuve is a PhD candidate in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen, UK. Her thesis is a comparative analysis of Scandinavian medieval advice literature, but other research interests include the dissemination courtly culture and medieval political philosophy.