Textual scholarship in Norway began with the activities of Rudolf Keyser at Christiania University. Prior to his development towards history-writing, Keyser inventorized manuscripts and edited the ancient laws of medieval, independent Norway (Norges gamle Love indtil 1387, with P.A. Munch, 3 vols. 1846-49), followed by editions of a mirror for princes (Speculum regale – Konungs Skuggsjá, with Munch and Carl Richard Unger, 1848) and, with Unger, some literary material (Olafs Saga hins helga, 1849; Strengleikar eða Lioðabok, 1850). Keyser’s alumni, such as Sophus Bugge, continued this editorial tradition: Bugge edited Gamle Norske Folkeviser in 1858 and the Edda in 1867 (as Norrœn fornkvæði). Unger, who studied and researched in Copenhagen, Paris and London in the 1840s, instigated the 15-volume Diplomatarium Norvegicum (1847-1900) and edited a number of “King’s Sagas”.
The Heimskringla, composed in the 1220s by Snorri Sturluson, contained an extensive collection of sagas on the Norwegian kings from the days that Norway was still an independent state, spanning a period from the early 10th to the late 12th century. As such, the Old Norse kings’ sagas came closest to constituting a Norwegian national epic.
The Heimskringla had first been given a Swedish/Latin edition in 1697 by Johan Peringskiöld; a new Danish edition had come out between 1777 and 1783. In Norway, the first translator who dedicated himself to the Heimskringla was Jacob Aall; his work appeared in two volumes in 1838-39, with Danish at the time still being the country’s official written language. Unger’s editions of the Heimskringla’s King’s Sagas appeared in 4 volumes between 1864 and 1868. Against the backdrop of the heated debates on language reform and the search for a Norwegian written standard, the Heimskringla also appeared in Landsmål, the most non-Danish variant: Steinar Schjøtt’s edition appeared in 1874-77. A second, revised edition in 1900 contained illustrations by leading artists like Christian Krohg, Erik Werenskiold, and Gerhard Munthe. A similar edition in Riksmål had appeared the year before, with translations by Gustav Storm. Both projects were subsidized by the Norwegian parliament in order to boost circulation. Consequently, these popular editions of the Heimskringla – owing both to their content and the language in which they were published – played their part in heightening national feeling leading up to the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905.