Gabriel Turville-Petre

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Gabriel Turville-Petre
G. Turville-Petre.png
Born(1908-03-25)March 25, 1908
DiedFebruary 17, 1978(1978-02-17) (aged 69)
Oxford, United Kingdom
Scientific career
FieldsOld Norse

Edward Oswald Gabriel Turville-Petre F.B.A. (known as Gabriel) (25 March 1908 – 17 February 1978) was an English philologist who was Professor of Ancient Icelandic Literature and Antiquities at the University of Oxford. He wrote numerous books and articles in English and Icelandic on Norse mythology and Icelandic literature. His works on these subjects are still considered authoritative.[2]


Gabriel Turville-Petre was born his family's ancestral home of Bosworth Hall, Husbands Bosworth, Leicestershire in on 25 March 1908. He was the fourth of the five children of Lieutenant-Colonel Oswald Henry Philip Turville-Petre (1862–1941), who was the high sheriff of Leicestershire, and Margaret Lucy, née Cave (d. 1954).[2] The family belonged to the Roman Catholic landed gentry of England. His older brother was the archaeologist Francis Turville-Petre.

Turville-Petre was educated at Ampleforth College and entered Christ Church, Oxford University in 1926, taking a third there in 1930. He studied for a B.Litt in English from 1931 to 1934 and was supervised by J. R. R. Tolkien, graduating in 1936. Along with Alan S. C. Ross, he was strongly influenced by Charles Leslie Wrenn.[1] Turville-Petre studied Icelandic and early Scandinavian literature and traditions from an early age, first in England and later in Iceland (where he spent several years) and in other Scandinavian countries.

From 1936 to 1938 Turville-Petre was Lektor in English at the University of Iceland, during which he served as the British pro-consul in Reykjavik.[1] For a time he also lectured at the University of Turku.[1] Turville-Petre was appointed the first Vigfusson Reader in Ancient Icelandic Literature and Antiquities at Oxford University in 1941, and was appointed Professor in 1953. He held the position until his retirement in 1975.

He was created a Knight of the Order of the Falcon in 1963,[2] a member of the Royal Gustavus Adolphus Academy (Sweden), and an honorary Life Member of the Viking Society for Northern Research. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1973.

Gabriel Turville-Petre was the author of numerous books and articles, and his Origins of Icelandic Literature (1953) and Myth and Religion of the North (1964) are still considered the best accounts of Icelandic literature and Norse mythology in English.[2] Fluent in other North Germanic languages, in addition to German and several Celtic languages, Turville-Petre did pioneering research on parallels between Celtic and Germanic literature and mythology.[2][1]

Turville-Petre married Joan Elizabeth Blomfield on 7 January 1943. She was herself a distinguished scholar on Old Norse. They had three sons: Thorlac Francis Samuel (born 6 January 1944), Merlin Oswald (born 2 July 1946) and Brendan Arthur Auberon (born 16 September 1948).

Turville-Petre died of cancer in Oxford on 17 February 1978. He bequeathed his personal library to the English Faculty Library of Oxford University (Icelandic Collections). At Oxford, an annual prize for distinguished work in Old Norse and Icelandic studies by a student is given in his name, and the room which houses the university's collection of books on these subjects is named after him.[2]

Selected works[edit]

  • "The Cult of Freyr in the Evening of Paganism" Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society 111(6):317-322 (1935)
  • "The Traditions of Víga-Glúms Saga" Transactions of the Philological Society 54-75 (1936)
  • Víga-Glúms Saga (ed. E. O. G. Turville-Petre) Clarendon Press, Oxford (1940)
  • The Life of Gudmund the Good, Bishop of Holar Trans: E. O. G. Turville-Petre and E. S. Olszewska. Coventry, The Viking Society for Northern Research (1942)
  • The Heroic Age of Scandinavia Hutchinson, London (1951)
  • Origins of Icelandic Literature Clarendon Press, Oxford (1953)
  • Hervarar Saga ok Heidreks (ed. E. O. G. Turville-Petre) London: University College London, for the Viking Society for Northern Research. Introduction by C. J. R. Tolkien (1956)
  • Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London (1964)
  • "Fertility of Beast and Soil in Old Norse Literature" in Old Norse Literature and Mythology: A Symposium (ed. Edgar C. Polomé) University of Texas Press, Austin. 244–64 (1969)
  • Scaldic Poetry Clarendon Press, Oxford (1976)
  • Nine Norse Studies London: University College London, for the Viking Society for Northern Research (1972)



  • O'Donoghue, Heather (23 September 2004). "Petre, (Edward Oswald) Gabriel Turville". Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/58900. Retrieved 3 March 2020.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • "Prof Gabriel Turville-Petre". The Times. 18 February 1978. p. 16. Retrieved 3 March 2020.

Further reading[edit]