chapter  8
14 Pages

Knowledge production reconsidered

Epic poetry and historical reality During the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries ad of northern Europe, myths, legends and poetry existed as ‘remembered history’: ‘Whether memory changes or not, culture is reproduced by remembrance put into words and deeds’ (Vansina 1985: xi). Myths and histories persist as long as they are able to account for, and adapt to, unforeseeable events and new developments. Prominent myths therefore take on different forms at different moments in time. Despite these variations, the myths or legends retain a core of substance, of ‘hard facts’ – perhaps a name, a time, a place – probably transformed into an archetypical situation. Without this accepted echo of historical ‘truth’, the myth or legend loses its capacity to unite the past with the present (Howe 1989: 4). The corpus of historical accounts is based on a few topics such as origins, migrations, descent, wars (over land, women, or wealth) and natural catastrophes, and they deal mainly with leaders and the elite. In this they reflect central issues of authority, power and legitimacy (Vansina 1985: 120).