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The Ancient Literary Inheritance

Icelandic literature has its roots in a period before the writing age and even before settlement. Before writing culture developed, the oldest sagas and poems were preserved in an oral tradition. Literary culture was brought to Iceland in the wake of Christianization (1000), a change which was accompanied by a considerable amount of book-making.
    Icelanders had another form of letters before the advent of writing culture, the so-called runes, or a special alphabet which the Germanic nations formed on the basis of the Roman and Greek models and which were meant to be inscribed on trees and cut into stone. Scholars believe that poetry was not preserved much by rune carvings, rather by memory.
    With the arrival of writing culture, Icelanders began to record the old sagas and poems which had lived in people’s memories from generation to generation and which the Icelandic settlers had brought with them from their original homelands. The oldest Icelandic literature is made up of sagas and poems about the heathen gods and heroes.
    The ancient poetry of the Icelanders is usually divided into two categories: eddukvæði and dróttkvæði. The dróttkvæði are contemporary poems, mainly concerning kings, whilst the eddukvæði are deeply rooted in the heathen beliefs. The latter are closely related to worship of the Ása gods and, together with Snorri Sturluson’s instruction book about poetic composition, are a significant source of Old Norse religion.