The “Quest of Seth” in Old Icelandic Literature:

Sethskvæði and Its Antecedents

  • Tiffany Nicole White


In this article, Sethskvæði is identified as a poetic re-working of a text which Esther Quinn calls “The Quest of Seth for the Oil of Life.” This connection is important not only for Old Icelandic studies but also for the study of pseudepigrapha and apocrypha, because the Quest has not been preserved elsewhere in medieval or early modern literature separated from the Legend of the Holy Cross. The transmission of Sethskvæði is traced from its early Judaic beginnings up to its inclusion in Icelandic literature. Three trends are explored: the shortening of the Legend of the Holy Cross in the Legenda (The “Quest of Seth” plus the Legend of the Holy Cross), the use of rubrics that title the text as having to do with Adam and Seth rather than the Holy Cross, and the eventual existence of the Quest on its own in the form of Sethskvæði. Because Sethskvæði has yet to be edited, a transcription of two versions of the poem from AM 100 8vo is included in the appendix.