Abstracts 2013

Anna Katharina Heiniger (Ph.D. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
Liminal characters and spaces in (Family) sagas

In this paper I would like to trace and present first thoughts on liminality in the Íslendingasögur with a focus on figures and places. Throughout the Íslendingasögur we meet various figures and places that are either for some reasons or in specific situations ambiguous and elude any definition. The anthropologist Victor Turner termed such betwixt and between occurrences liminal. On the basis of selected examples from various sagas, the paper tries to work out to what extent Turner’s definition of liminality applies to the Family sagas, and where or how it is necessary to make amendments. Or in other words: how this Old Norse genre thinks of or defines liminality.
For this purpose, the paper has a closer look at saga figures that seem difficult to grasp. There are several characters who often strike the audience with their conflicting characteristics, which make it hard to classify the figures themselves and their role in the narrative. Of special interest is – among others – certainly Grettir, his relationship to society in general and his numerous encounters with the most different people and supernatural beings such as Glámr and Hallmundr.
Saga figures in turn are standing in close connection to the places they live or stay in.
It will therefore be investigated whether the Íslendingasögur attribute special importance or qualities to certain places to mark them (either permanently or temporally) as liminal. Both natural places (f. ex. islands, glaciers) as well as man-made settings (f. ex. farms, interior spaces) will be looked at in detail.

Anna Millward (M.A. student at Háskóli Íslands)
Runes, Rhythm and Ritual : Sigdrífumál as Performance

When the Valkyrie Sigdrífa in Sigdrífumál hands the hero Sigurðr a drink full with, ‘lioða oc lícnstafa / góðra galdra oc gamanrúna’, (songs and comforting letters, / magic charms and joyful-runes), she is not only performing a very physical, ritualistic action but she is speaking with many voices: that of the scribe, the performer, and character. Packed with charms, spells and runic lore, Sigdrífumál is a dialogue between the Valkyrie Sigdrífa and hero Sigurðr, in which Sigdrífa instructs the hero on cutting the runes, offers wisdom and obscure mythological allusions. What makes the eddic heroic poem Sigdrífumál so interesting as a piece of poetic performance, and what makes it stand out from the rest of the heroic poems in the Sigurðr cycle, is its distinctly ritualistic tone and what appears to be the memory of religious belief or practice. Rather than trying to reconstruct the performance of Sigdrífumál as ancient ritual drama based on guess-work and disparate archaeological sources, however, I am interested to explore how this poem might have been performed in 13th-century Iceland. Combining a close analysis of the text with a Performance Studies approach, where I consider the use of space, sound, staging and movement in Sigdrífumál, I argue that this poem, filtered through the lens of a medieval scribe, contradicts contemporary notions of Snorra Edda which attempts to synthesise pre-Christian belief into a neat, coherent system. I finish by questioning not only how Sigdrífumál might have been performed, but how it might have been understood and received by a 13th-century audience.

Ásthildur Helen Gestsdóttir (Ph.D. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
Incorporation of Arthurian tradition and courtly discourse in late medieaval Icelandic romances: Cross-cultural adaptation and development of courtly discourse in the indigenous romance Dínus saga drambláta

Romances originated in Iceland were written under the influence of the European romance discourse witch was brought by Nordic translations into the Icelandic tradition. The lecture deals with the implementation of courtly discourse and it’s development in Icelandic romances. Attention will be drawn to the relationship between native romances and Arthurian motives. The maiden-king narrative Dínus saga drambláta will be discussed which was originally written in the first half of the 14th century as well as the later two versions, covering five hundred years of discourse. The changes of the Arthurian motives within the three translations will be explained. It is well known that various scribes have manipulated ancient manuscripts when being rewritten. For that reason it is plausible to suggest that new romances were written on the basis of older ones with
changed emphasis. The new versions could be the author’s interpretations of an older story or even include a review of certain topics. By comparison considerable differences can be found in each version of Dínus saga drambláta consisting of changes in motives, narrative methods and emphasis. Courtly discourse are most prominent in the original and the middle version but on the other hand a retreat due to the impact Icelandic
culture such as folklore and the sagas can be traced especially in the youngest version which was written on the 18th century. The lecture will explain the main changes that occurred in the courtly discourse, possible explanations and ultimately conclude whether the changes affected in any way the presentation of the story.

Ben Allport (M.A. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
An exploration of the ‘Universalisation’ of pre-Christian Scandinavian belief systems

The nature of pre-Christian Scandinavian religion continues to be mired in uncertainty; the large variety of evidence available and the difficulty associated with its interpretation defies straightforward consensus. While broadly termed a ‘non-doctrinal community religion’ (Hultgård, 2008) emphasising personal and local god worship, the surviving literature often hints at more ‘universal’ elements to the belief system, such as the increasing role of Óðinn seen in later texts. Even when accepted by scholars there is a tendency to assume that such elements were adopted as part of a defensive pagan reaction to conversion, however I believe that there is also a debt to continental influence absorbed long before widespread conversion which should be acknowledged.
In this presentation I intend to explore the evidence for the ‘universalisation’ of Scandinavian paganism at the time of conversion. I intend to focus primarily on the ninth- to eleventh-century accounts of Latin and Arabic scholars such as Adam of Bremen and Ibn Fadlan, on the basis that the motivations of those who may have had access to reality are more easily penetrated than the obscurity of time which clouds the later sources. Having said that, I will not disregard sources such as Eddic poetry, but rather present them as the end products of both ‘universalisation’ and conversion. Furthermore, I hope to present the hypothesis that ‘universalisation’ was part of a long-term process, closely tied to cultural and socio-political development and continental influence, which need not be viewed purely as a so-called ‘pagan reaction’ to Christianity.

Elaine Machietto (M.A. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
To Do For Others:Freyja as Eve and the Bringer of Forbidden Knowledge in Norse Mythology

The biblical figure of Eve is most known for her transgressions: She is responsible for her and Adam’s gaining of forbidden knowledge by eating of the Tree, and this act condemns mankind to evil and sin. The Norse goddess Freyja is here examined as a parallel to Eve as a result of her bringing forbidden knowledge to mankind through the teaching of seiðr to Oðinn.
Attention will be given to the origin and inherent nature of magical knowledge in both the biblical and Norse mythological texts, as well as to the source of its power; the negative consequences of the spread of this forbidden knowledge are analyzed in this context. The aspect of gender is also crucial to this study, and the perception of both Eve and Freyja in their respective societies will be closely examined and compared.

Gerður Halldóra Sigurðardóttir (M.A. Student Háskóli Íslands)
Costumes of the Dead: Putting on a Show for the Afterlife

In Ibn Fadlan’s account it says that the body of the dead chieftain was stored for ten days while new clothes were made for him (among other things). It also says in some Icelandic Sagas that people were put in their graves with all their weapons and fully clothed. In my lecture I intend to review accounts of how people were outfitted for death in Old-Nordic texts as well as what has been found in graves from that period.

Isabel Ros Ruiz (M.A. Student at University of Oslo)
The men who came from the north. Viking presence in the Christian Iberian kingdoms in the IX –XI centuries.

In my paper I wish to discuss the Viking presence in the Iberian Christian Kingdoms during the 9th – 11th centuries. First, I will review the sources of these attacks, focusing in the sources from the Christian kingdoms as they tend to be shadowed by the muslim sources, much richer in details. I plan to use the medieval chronicles, such as the Chronica Albeldiensis(881), Chronica Silensis (ca. 1115), or Historia Gothica (ca. 1245)
The muslim sources from Al-Andalus will be commented as well. I will comment the work of Al-Razi (Rasis in the Christian sources) and his son, Isa Al-Razi, whose writings cover the period of the 10th. Ibn Al-Athir will be commented as well, because even if he is not andalusian himself, he uses andalusian sources to build his discourse. Ibn-Khaldun, thought he spent most of his life outside, was andalusian of origin and one of the greatest historians of its time, so a mention to him is a must.
There is no time to mention all the attacks and other evidence Viking presence in the Christian Kingdoms, so I will review the attacks against Galicia (844, 858, 951, 968) and the kidnapping of the lord García Íñiguez (859).
Finally, I would like to mention some legends regarding the Vikings that we encounter in the Spanish chronicles as well. I will point the legend of the help provided from St. James against the Vikings in Galicia and the legend of the bishop St. Gonzalo.

Jørgen Sandstedt (M.A. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
Quantitative linguistic methods in scribal hand identification: a case study of the writings of Pål Styrkårsson

In recent years the automated identification of handwriting has received a great deal of research interest primarily for its forensic applicability and use in signature verification. The application of such techniques to medieval scripta for identifying anonymous scribal hands has also proven reasonably effective, however the pattern recognition engines used in these studies typically have been text-independent. That is, they analyze the document pictorially; focusing on texture-level features such as the slant, curvature, and roundness of writing. Automated identification attempts using graphic-level data (i.e. automated analysis of allographic variation) have not yet been capable of separating individual scribes and the corroboration of linguistic data has not been employed or evaluated. These represent fundamental problems for handwriting identification research. To begin to assess the contribution linguistic data can make in delimiting intrascribal variability, I offer a quantitative analysis of the distribution of Vowel Harmony and related umlaut and laxing phenomena in the signed charter material of 14th century Norwegian scribe Pål Styrkårsson. By statistical analysis of these features across nine charters written between 1332 and 1340, the minimal amount of variability in Pål’s phonology can be quantitatively defined. It is hoped that this manner of quantitative descriptive analysis might better identify what feature correlations might prove most distinctive for the identification of Pål’s hand in anonymous scripta. Ongoing comparative research with other contemporary scribes will better illuminate how effective such phonological data are in delimiting interscribal variability, however these beginning exploratory efforts represent a significant first step towards linguistic-corroborated automated scribal hand identification.

Katherine Fritcher (M.A. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
The Women in the Water: Gender and the Sea in Old Nordic Religions

Of all Icelandic sagas, Eyrbyggja Saga boasts some of the most curious ghost scenes. When the Hebridean woman Þórgunna dies and her wishes are not carried out, a series of hauntings with a nautical theme plague the farm she lived on, culminating in the famous ghostly court scene. Among the different watery ghosts are a seal, a seal’s tail that eats all the dried fish, and a revenant host of drowned men. In regard to the drowned men, the author of the saga mentions Rán, the goddess of the sea who all drowned men belong to. Given that both the cause of the ghostly events and the goddess of the sea mentioned in the saga are both female, is there a connection between woman and the ocean? If so, what is the nature of this connection?
This paper will explore the relationship between females and water in old Nordic religion systems, from the earliest sacrifices made to bogs and lakes to the echoes of women and water present in the sagas and later folklore. By exploring the depths of feminine connection to water, this paper will enhance the understanding of gender in Old Nordic religions.

Katrín Sif Einarsdottir (M.A. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
Horses, the dead and grave spaces in Norse Mythology

As early as the Bronze and Iron ages, archaeological finds have proven that horses were important to mythology and pre-Christian religion. Depictions of horses pulling sun chariots, burial sites with horse skeletons, and sacrificial sites with horse skins show that horses were an integral part of pagan rituals and graves spaces. Into the Viking and Medieval Ages, horses maintained this importance, being found not only in archaeological sources, but also in narrative sources. Founding narratives of Norse Mythology include horses playing a symbolic role as a transcendent animal, able to move between worlds and furthermore, transport the living and dead between worlds.
The goddess Gná rides a flying, sea-treading horse Hófvarpnir to run errands in other worlds for Frigg, suggesting that horses were a means of encountering different worlds. Óðinn´s eight-legged horse Sleipnir is used to take both Óðdinn and Hermod to hel to help Baldr, showing that horses were able to transcend between dead and living spaces. The Valkyries were spirits who took the living to the dead, and depictions of a goddess welcoming the dead on horseback also relate the horse to funeral performance and grave spaces.
Countless instances of horses in battle, references to bloody-hooved horses, and the case of Hrafnkels saga´s Freyfaxi strengthen the idea that horses represent a to the afterlife. A closer look at funerals and the grave space in archaeological sources and the eddaic sources will help us understand the role of horses in encountering the paranormal and interacting with the dead.

Marion Poilvez (Ph.D. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
Who’s holding the rope? Trust and space in crossing worlds within the sagas

Scenes of Mound-breaking are widespread in the Norse literary corpus. They belong, together with bear-fighting, berserkr-challenge and court performance, to the literary rites of passage a character is said to undergo, most frequently abroad. Being often the most uncanny scene in a saga, the fight in the draugr’s dwelling tends to attract both the attention of the audience and of the scholarship. While such scenes are often used to analyze burial rituals and conception of death, little attention has been paid to the practical aspects connected with the cairn-opening and to who is involved in the process. All adventurers need a helper, a less important character who stays outside during the fight and is left in charge of holding the rope. The rope then becomes the thin symbol linking the world of men and the world of the dead. In several occasions, the rope is held by a defective character who thinks that the adventurer is already dead, gets scared and runs away. Therefore, the character brave enough to go down the mound has to climb back by his own means and without his trusted companion’s help.
This paper will gather different mound-breaking scenes from the Old Norse literary corpus and explore both their common features and variations, in order to establish the importance of this scene for the rest of the narrative. The conditions of possibility such as time (day/night) and space (islands/forests/mountains) will be addressed, and an emphasis will be put on the identity, status and reaction of the companion in charge of the rope. This will aim to answer the question on who were perceived as trustworthy to guard the link between the two worlds.

Melissa Mayus (M.A. Student at Háskóli Íslands / Ph.D. Student at University of Notre Dame)
En þó munu vér þat bragðs taka: Social Determinism in Njal’s Saga

A number of scholars have made forays into the study of fate and foreknowledge in the Icelandic sagas, and just as many have studied social interactions in those sagas, particularly related to feuds. However, these two lines of inquiry have for the most part been treated separately, and it would be useful to map the ways in which they intertwine in order to get a clearer picture of how human agency is understood in the sagas. It is particularly interesting to consider instances were characters use language which makes it seem as if they are bowing to fate when what they are really doing is acknowledging social pressure. Thus some claims of constrained agency can be seen as the result of characters recognizing social determinism; characters see their own choices, both present and future, constrained by social forces and react accordingly. This idea seems particularly interesting to examine in the context of Njal´s Saga, which contains numerous instances of fated events, but also contains ‘prophetic’ statements based solely on social circumstances, such as Flosi’s declaration of constrained choice just before the burning of Njal’s farm. Examining examples such as this, as well as others in which characters speak about social determinism in fatalistic or theological terms, allows us to re-evaluate the conception of human agency that lies behind Njal´s Sagaand show that the author understood social forces to be at least as constraining as fate or providence.

Yoav Tirosh (M.A. Student at Háskóli Íslands)
Víga-Njáll – A Psychoanalytic Look at Njáls saga

An Icelandic father lays a feminine piece of cloth on a pile of compensation money, thus forcing the offended party to continue a feud and places his sons in danger. He later on uses guilt and weak logic to sway his sons from fighting their assailers, thus dooming them to certain death. The logical reading for these actions is that the father is, whether consciously or subconsciously, aiming for his sons’ deaths. But readers of Njáls saga have generally either not considered or avoided such an interpretation, explaining away Njáll’s actions as lack of foresight. Surprisingly enough, the scholar who had come the closest to an unfavorable interpretation of Njáll’s actions was Einar Ól. Sveinsson, although he used these to show the protagonist’s Christian spirit rather than murderous motives.
In this paper I present a psychoanalytic interpretation of the above mentioned two crucial scenes. By applying Ármann Jakobsson’s “Nasty Old Man” type in the Íslendingasögur on Njáll, I show that it was not a failing of his predictive powers that spawned these destructive actions but rather a result of key aspects in his personality and the relationship between the members of his family. In his last days, “Old Beardless” did not lose the will to fight; it is simply the choice of his adversaries that will surprise the reader.

Veronique Favero (M.A. student at Háskóli Íslands)
The Norse rewriting of a French romance: realism and courtly love in Erex Saga

Erex Saga is the Old Norse translation of the French romance Erec et Enide. The most ancient manuscript conserving this saga is from around 1500 but is incomplete. The text is thus known to us by two manuscripts from the seventeenth century. However, it is tempting to consider that this saga was certainly translated in the thirteenth century for Hákon Hákonarson. The saga displays a number of differences with the romance it translates and it is difficult to assert whether these differences come from the original translator or from later copyists.
This paper aims to demonstrate that more than a mere translation of Chrétien de Troyes’ romance, Erex Saga is a complete rewriting of it. I will do so by studying comparatively the structure of the two texts and by analyzing the temporality of Erex Saga in contrast with the one of Erec et Enide. This will show how supernatural elements are replaced in the Norse saga by realistic facts. I will also study how the courtly love motifs which form the core of the French romance are transformed to reflect the concerns of the Norse society