propaganda for the chiefs, see 2.1-2.2 above, some exaggeration of
their feats may be expected. Vansina says (1973:76):
For instance, poems in praise of the kings . . . The purpose of
these poems is to extol the kings, therefore they distort events of
the past in the sense that they exaggerate the valorous deeds of
the kings and pass over their defeats in silence.
And on praise poems dealing with military actions Finnegan (1976:
126) has this to say:
The basis of the events mentioned is authentic, but the emphasis
is on those incidents in which the hero excelled.
But while the poems throw a considerable light on the society in
which they came into being, they were probably never intended to
record history. This has been dealt with by Vansina (1973:149):
A poem of praise is certainly not composed for the purpose of
recording history. Poetry of this kind is composed either during
the lifetime of the person concerned, or immediately after his
death . . . It is obligatory to use a large number of stereotype
phrases in this category of poems, so the poems serve as a source
of information about the social ideals prevalent at the time when
they were composed.
(e) The court poems were handed down orally, but it is an open
question how accurate this tradition was. Snorri Sturluson (Den store
saga om Olav den hellige 1941:4) has this to say on the problem:
Þau orð er i qvedscap standa ero en somo sem i fyrstu voro ef
rett er kveðit þott hveR maðr hafi siðan numit at auðrom. oc ma
þvi ecki breyta.
He states, again somewhat optimistically, that the poems cannot be
altered if they were metrically correct at the outset. There is no reason
to doubt that those who knew and recited the poems intended to hand
them down unchanged, and that they occasionally succeeded in this.
But there are examples of the same verse being found in two different
sources in divergent, even widely divergent versions, and this in spite
of the metre (cf. Jón Helgason 1953:107-108).
This is of course only what is to be expected in the case of an oral