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Iceland was revolutionary, unique in its legal and social fabric. The founding spirit of the nation was reflected in and formed the core of the Icelandic literary tradition. At the same time, Iceland had no significant tradition in dance or theater.
Before this century, Scandinavian dance, literature and art-folk dance and the folk arts aside- looked to the South. Even the greatest Scandinavians were compared to better-known Europeans. Holberg is called 'the Moliere of the North.' Our greatest cities are known as 'the Paris of the North, 'and ' the Venice of the North.' A rare few of our philosophers and writers have been so great that others must be discussed in the light of their work: Kierkegaard, Ibsen, Strindberg. What has been unique to the North has been a philosophy of life, a way of living in nature that is reflected in social planning and in the traditions of design, architecture and furniture making rather than in art and literature, certainly not in dance or music until quite recently.
Some centuries before our time we witnessed a small school of writers who created a tradition that was modern in the most intelligent sense of the word. They did not become as well known as Kierkegaard or lbsen. Despite writing in an astonishing manner, they worked in a language known only to a few inhabitants of a small, rocky country in the middle of the Atlantic. The majority of manuscripts were lost until a few were gathered and preserved in the late 18th century.
The situation bears comparison to the rebirth of interest in Greek drama. Sophocles became known to us relatively recently. Even though he won prize after prize at the great festivals of ancient Greece, his modern fame rests on a scant handful of his many plays. This is similar to the situation of the sagas in the modern European context.
Study of the history sagas is now part of the required curriculum of many Scandinavian schools. General knowledge of the saga as a literary art form, its deeper meaning, is not wide, even where the sagas are read. There has been no major birth of dance or art emerging from sagas. This is in distinct contrast to the immense interest in primitive mythology and Nordic primal religion springing from the Eddas, whose greatest interpreter was Snorri Sturluson, also the greatest of the saga writers.