Helen F. Leslie-Jacobsen


Associate Professor, Old Norse Philology


Research groups


I am the project leader for two projects: "Transformations of Medieval Law: Innovation and Application in Early Modern Norwegian Law Books" and "Ballads Across Borders: The Faroe Islands in the Norse Story-Telling World".

My research is centred on later translations of medieval texts (both early modern and modern), early modern law books, legal prologues, the Faroese Völsung ballads and Old Norse prosimetrum, particularly in the fornaldarsögur


Selected publications (see my Academia.edu page for PDFs of many of these)

  • 2022. 'Translation and the Fracturing of the Law: The Motivation Behind the Norwegian Law of 1604.' RMN Newsletter 15-16 (2020-2021): 57-65.
  • 2019.   ‘Ǫrvar-Oddr’s Ævikviða and the Genesis of Ǫrvar-Odds saga: A Poem on the Move.’ Moving Words in the Nordic Middle Ages. Ed. Amy Mulligan and Else Mundal. Turnhout: Brepols. 279-296.
  • 2018.   ‘Perspectives on Translating Medieval Law.’ Tradurre: un viaggio nel tempo. Ed. Maria Grazia Cammarota. Venezia: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari. 131-147.
  • 2017. 'The Ecology of Eddic and Skaldic Poetry.' RMN Newsletter 12-13: 123-138.
  • 2016. 'Eddic Poetry and the Genre System of the Fornaldarsögur.' Genre – Text - Interpretation: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Folklore and Beyond. Ed. Frog, Kaarina Koski and Ulla Savolainen. Studia Fennica 22. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society. 251-275.
  • 2015. 'The Old Norse Poetic Form stikki.' RMN Newsletter 9: 35-43.
  • 2014. 'The Death Songs of Örvar-Odds saga.' Cartografies del l’ànima. Identitat, memòria i escriptura. Ed. Isabel Grifoll, Julián Acebrón & Flocel Sabaté. Lleida: Pagès editors. 231-244.
  • 2013. 'Younger Icelandic Manuscripts and Old Norse Studies.' Approaching Methodology. Ed. Frog & Pauliina Latvala with Helen F. Leslie. Revised 2nd edition with an introduction by Ulrika Wolf-Knuts. Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae, Humaniora series, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica. 287-309.
  • 2012. 'Younger Icelandic Manuscripts and Old Norse Studies.' RMN Newsletter (special issue Approaching Methodology) 5: 148-161.
  • 2010. '"The Matter of Hrafnista".'  Quaestio Insularis 11: 169 – 208.
  • 2009. 'Border Crossings: Landscape and the Other World in the Fornaldarsögur.' Scripta Islandica 60: 119 – 136.
Academic article
Academic chapter/article/Conference paper
Academic lecture
Popular scientific lecture
Academic anthology/Conference proceedings
Doctoral dissertation
Book review

See a complete overview of publications in Cristin.


Project leader for:

Transformations of Medieval Law: Innovation and Application in Early Modern Norwegian Law Books

Funded by Bergen Research Foundation and University of Bergen

The research project Transformations of Medieval Law explores how medieval and Early Modern law books in Norway and Iceland reflect the legal and cultural contexts in which they were written and compiled. How were the laws recorded before the timeframe of the recognisable red volume, Norges lover 1687-2015?

The answer to that is found in over 100 manuscripts preserving Norway’s medieval and Early Modern law-code. The law code valid in Norway prior to 1687 was written in Bergen and passed in 1274, and is known as the Landslov, the first law-code valid for the whole of Norway. It was in force for an exceptional 400 years, lasting for the reigns of 19 monarchs until it was superseded by Christian den femtes Norske Lov of 1687. This exceptionally long-lived code is of the utmost importance for Norway’s history; law manuscripts are the most abundant genre of manuscript available from medieval to Early Modern times. 1 During that period, Norway transformed from a medieval kingdom to an Early Modern European state, the sweeping changes in religion, culture and language all captured in and reflected by the law manuscripts of the period.

The problem is that many of the manuscripts pertinent to this project are so far unedited and not analysed: whilst the medieval Landslov manuscripts from the 14th century onwards in Old Norwegian have generally been well-researched, very little information is available about the translation of the law from Old Norwegian to Danish in early modern Norway (16th and 17th centuries), the ammendments by the roster of later monarchs who later edited the law, and its revision to form the law-code Jónsbók in Iceland, some parts of which are still in force today.

This innovative project seeks to fill this gap in research by employing methodologies and theoretical frameworks in a novel way to combine legal history and philology. The project team will undertake research on the later manuscripts of the Landslov in order to gain an insight into the development of the law from the end of the Middle Ages onwards. The project makes these manuscripts and their contents accessible to a wide audience, and highlights Norwegian Early Modern cultural heritage, thus making an important contribution to the study of Norway’s legal, linguistic and book history from a hitherto unexplored perspective.

The project has been developed based on the following research questions:

1) How and to what extent do innovations in the structure, contents and use of law books of Early Modern Norway reflect changes to Norwegian society during the Reformation and Renaissance?

2) How did legal circles in Norway and Iceland order and apply their knowledge in medieval and Early Modern times?

The goal of the project is to situate this approach in the cultural, historical and religious contexts in which the Landslov existed through its lifetime. The interdisciplinary, longue durée approach presented here is a unique approach to the contextualisation, transformation and application of the law.

Ballads Across Borders: The Faroe Islands in the Norse Story-Telling World

Young CAS Fellowship, Centre for Advanced Studies (Oslo)

The Faroe Islands are a tiny archipelago nation in the North Atlantic Ocean with a truly unique story-telling heritage; this project explores how this small community preserved and transmitted some of the most exciting and enduring stories from Germanic legends. The Faroese medieval heroic ballads preserve an enormous amount of material from the story-world of the medieval north. Despite this, they remain hugely under-researched and are inaccessible to most researchers.

The project 'Ballads Across Borders: The Faroe Islands in the Norse Story-Telling World (BARD)' will conduct ground-breaking research on the medieval heroic Faroese ballads from the perspective of Old Norse philology, thereby locating the Faroese ballads in the Norse story-telling world. By doing so, the project will uncover new material about several of the preeminent heroes of the north: Sigurðr Fáfnisbani (the mighty dragon slayer, called Sjúrður Fávnisbani in Faroese) and his mysterious and violent lover, Brynhildr Buðladóttir, not only updating but significantly extending previous research. The subject of the project is three, very long, medieval Faroese ballads called Regin smiður, Brynhildar táttr and Høgna táttr (known collectively as the Sjúrðar kvæði, ‘ballads about Sigurðr’), which provide some of the preeminent material from the medieval North concerning the Völsung legend, stories about the hero Sigurðr Fáfnisbani and his violent, mysterious and powerful lover, Brynhildr Buðladóttir.

The aims of the project are to determine how the Faroese ballads relate to and are located in the Norse and wider Germanic story-telling world, and to integrate the Faroese ballads into the relevant research fields that discuss story-telling traditions of the North. The project will also make all of the Faroese ballad material about Sigurðr Fáfnisbani available in English translation, to aid other scholars in building on the project’s findings.