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						ELIZABETH ASHMAN ROWE
FOLKTALE AND PARABLE:
The Unity o/Gautreks Saga
As several scholars have pointed out, Gautreks saga has no single pro-
tagonist, no chronological plot, and a haphazard assortment of characters and
settings.' It is currently considered a single text, but the heterogenous nature
of its parts is so great that it has led in the past to the perception of these parts
as constituting relatively independent/?œrf/7.2 Despite such „deviations" from
the techniques of classical composition, I would like to propose that a single
theme does inform the saga.3 In it, the traditional characteristics of the suc-
1  E.g., Boyer (1979) and Kathryn Hume (1973). Joseph Harris (1975, 1986:210 ff.) has
drawn attention to a number of texts which do not display „biographical unity", such as Qg-
mundar þáttr dytts ok Gunnars helmings, and Gautreks saga can be added to the list. Although
Gautreks saga is preserved in two versions, one shorter and earlier, and the other longer and later,
it is with the longer one, believed written towards the end of the thirteenth century, that I am
concemed. See Ranisch (1900:i—xviii). The shorter version, whose lack of detail makes the
action seem illogical and unmotivated, also does not include the story of Starkaðr. Henceforth,
references to Gautreks saga indicate the longer version unless specified otherwise.
2 So Schier (1970:76, 78, 89). Hermann Pálsson and Edwards (1985:10-3) give no hint in the
introduction to their translation that Gautreks saga might be „separable", and the assumption of
the unity of Gautreks saga is essential to the argument of Régis Boyer (1979). The seventeenth-
century copyists varied in their opinions, with Jón Erlendsson (in AM 65 fol, AM 203 fol, and
AM 358 4to) and Björn Jónsson (in AM 164 h fol) entitling the parts of the shorter version as
though they were relatively independent þættir. At the other extreme, the unknown copyists of
AM 194 a fol and AM 590 b-c 4to included the text of the longer Gautreks saga in their copies
of „Saga af Hrolfe Gautrekssyne". Kálund seemed to think Gautreks saga and Gjafa-Refs saga
were independent, for he uses both these titles when listing the untitled contents of compilation
manuscripts (the former for AM 356 4to, and the latter for AM 152 fol), rather than calling one
a defective version of the other.
¦ The fact that it is difficult to assign priority to any one of them has been considered a flaw
in the composition of the saga (Boyer 1979). Hume (1973) argues that readers of the (family)
sagas should not expect organic unity, although if the sagas are composed „genealogically", as
she suggests, then they should at least have a similar underlying continuity. Seymour Chatman
(1978:47) briefly discusses Jean Pouillon's notion of „contingency" as the organizational prin-
ciple of events in „extreme modem cases" (replacing the traditional Aristotelian „causality"
principle), but it seems very relevant to this particular criticism of the sagas.
					
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Kįpa III
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