A Stylometric Analysis of Ljósvetninga saga

  • Michael MacPherson University of Iceland
  • Yoav Tirosh
Keywords: Ljósvetninga saga, Íslendingasögur, stylometry, philology


Ljósvetninga saga is preserved in two primary versions, the A-redaction and C-redaction. These two redactions feature parallel (though not identical) sections as well as a section (chapters 13–18) which is entirely divergent. Scholars and editors have long disagreed over the question of which version of the saga is more internally consistent. Two stylistic studies by Adolfine Erichsen in 1919 and Hallvard Magerøy in 1956 arrived at opposite conclusions: the former preferring the stylistic coherence of the C-redaction and the latter preferring the A-redaction. The conclusions of these scholars reflected opposing stances on the Freeprose-Bookprose origin of the Íslendingasögur. Proponents of the Freeprose school including Knut Liestøl leveraged Erichsen’s stylistic investigation to argue that the divergent section in A-redaction should be considered a genuine oral variant, whereas proponents of the Bookprose school (including the editor of the saga’s Íslenzk fornrit edition, Björn Sigfússon) criticized the oral understanding and instead framed the divergent C-redaction section as a historical novelization of what was originally the A-redaction. The development of stylometry in recent years has provided us with a statistically-robust set of methods to interrogate the style of texts. In this article, the authors revisit the debate and present stylometric evidence to support Erichsen’s conclusion and reject Magerøy’s: the divergent section of the C-redaction has more in common with the parallel chapters and the A-redaction is likely an independent version of the text retold, possibly with recourse to oral tradition.