Klári saga is one of the chivalric sagas. Ostensibly derived from a Latin poem which Jón Halldórsson, Bishop of Skálholt, found in France, it became a prototype of the maiden king medieval Icelandic bridal-quest romances: it seems to have been the earliest of these, and was followed by many more. These include Nitida saga, which is thought to be a direct response to Klári saga.
Content and themes
The protagonist of the story, Prince Klárus of Germany, falls in love with Princess Serena of France. Against the counsel of his teacher, Perus, he asks for Serena's hand in marriage but is treated mockingly by her. Subsequent attempts are even less successful, leading to Klárus being whipped and humiliated. Eventually Klárus and Perus succeed in bewitching Serena's chief lady-in-waiting into aiding their cause and Klárus successfully beds Serena. Following this is a lengthy denouement where Perus and Klárus humiliate and abuse Serena. Finally she becomes Klárus's queen in a happy ending.
While a romance, the saga, at least in its early versions, also positions itself as an exemplum. In the words of Shaun F. D. Hughes, 'It is clear from the epilogue to Klári saga, that Bishop Jón is using the romance genre as an elaborate exemplum to promote his uncompromising views on the responsible behaviors of wives towards their husbands'. This aspect of the saga was, however, less influential on its successors than its bridal-quest plot. The saga is noted for its Latinate style (traditionally attributed to the putative Latin original but, according to Hughes and Kalinke, more likely simply a mark of learned Icelandic prose-style) and for heavy linguistic influence from Low German.
Kalinke and Mitchell list the following manuscripts of the saga:
- AM 179, fol. (17th c), defective
- AM 181e, fol. (ca. 1650)
- AM 395, fol. (18thc)
- AM 567, 4° IX (early 16th c), vellum, 3 leaves
- AM 589c, 4° (15th c), vellum, 1 leaf
- AM 589d, 4° (15th c), vellum
- AM 657a-b, 4° (late 14th c), vellum, defective
- Rask 31 (18th c.)
- The British Library Add. 4870,4° (18th c.)
- Lbs 222, fol. (1695-98)
- Lbs 1491, 4° (1880-1905)
- Lbs 1637, 4° (ca. 1780)
- Lbs 2319, 4° (1727-29)
- Lbs 3021,4° (1877)
- Lbs 4489, 4° (1885)
- Lbs 2315, 8° (ca. 1780-1819)
- Lbs 2484, 8° (ca. 1852)
- Lbs 2956, 8° (1858-64)
- JS 636, 4° (17th-19th c)
- IB 138, 4° (1774)
- Héraðsskjalasafn Skagfirðinga, Sauðárkrókur: HSk 32, 8° (late 19th c.)
- Private Collection, Iceland: Boðvar Kvaran, Tjaldanes, MS. V, 8.b (1914), "Fornmannasogur Nordurlanda"
- Royal Library, Stockholm: Perg. 4:o nr 6 (ca. 1400), defective
- Royal Library, Stockholm: Papp. 4:o nr 13 (ca. 1670), defective
- (1884) Sagan af Klarusi keisarasyni. Reykjavík, Bjarni Bjarnarson. (Based on an eighteenth-century manuscript, giving a late version.)
- Cederschiöld, Gustaf (1879). Clarus saga : Clari fabella. Lund, C.W.K. Gleerup. (A diplomatic edition based on the earliest texts.)
- Cederschiöld, Gustaf (1907). Altnordische Saga-Bibliothek : Heft 12 : Clári saga. Halle A. S., Verlag von Max Niemeyer. (A normalised edition of the previous.)
- Marianne Kalinke, Bridal-Quest Romance in Medieval Iceland, Islandica 46 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), pp. 98–107; Shaun F. D. Hughes, 'Klári saga as an Indigenous Romance', in Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iceland, ed. by Kirsten Wolf and Johanna Denzin, Islandica 54 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, 2008), pp. 135-164, at http://cip.cornell.edu/DPubS?service=UI&version=1.0&verb=Display&handle=cul.isl/1242914143.
- Paul Bibire, 'From Riddarasaga to Lygisaga: The Norse Response to Romance', in Les Sagas de Chevaliers (Riddarasögur): Actes de la Ve Conférence Internationale sur les Sagas Présentés par Régis Boyer (Toulon. Juillet 1982), ed. by Régis Boyer, Serie Civilisations, 10 (Toulon: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 1985), pp. 55-74, at pp. 67, 70.
- ' Klári saga as an Indigenous Romance', in Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iceland, ed. by Kirsten Wolf and Johanna Denzin, Islandica 54 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, 2008), pp. 135-164, at p. 158, available at http://cip.cornell.edu/DPubS?service=UI&version=1.0&verb=Display&handle=cul.isl/1242914143.
- Shaun F. D. Hughes, ' Klári saga as an Indigenous Romance', in Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iceland, ed. by Kirsten Wolf and Johanna Denzin, Islandica 54 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, 2008), pp. 135-164, available at http://cip.cornell.edu/DPubS?service=UI&version=1.0&verb=Display&handle=cul.isl/1242914143; cf. Marianne Kalinke, 'Clári saga: A Case of Low German Infiltration', Scripta Islandica: Isländska sällskapets ärbok, 59 (2008), 5-25.
- Marianne E. Kalinke and P. M. Mitchell, Bibliography of Old Norse–Icelandic Romances, Islandica, 44 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 72-73.