Abstracts 2014

Lyonel Perabo (MA student in Old Nordic Religion)
The Image of Seiðr in Old Icelandic Literature: Consistency or Variation?

Most of those working in the field of Old Norse or Viking Studies have come across the concept of seiðr: an enigmatic magical practice seemingly practiced among heathen Scandinavians. Much has been written about seiðr in the past decades and scholars of various fields have attempted, some with more success than other, to shed some lights upon it using their own academic background. In the following paper, I mean to shift back the focus from the numerous contemporary theories about the origin of seiðr to the written sources which constitute our most important documentation of the phenomena. By lurching back towards the Sagas and Eddas, it is possible, I argue, to gain a newer hindsight into a practice shrouded in mystery. By attempting to follow a systematic approach in the study of seiðr and basing our analysis on the fragmented, yet rich written corpus of seiðr séances, völva appearances and ergi condemnations, a picture of seiðr emerges that is maybe less baroque than what many would have believed but also coherent than often thought.

Eduardo Ramos (MA student in Medieval Icelandic Studies)
The Dreams of a Bear: Böðvarr Bjarki and the Battle at Hleiðargarðr

Böðvarr Bjarki, the greatest of King Hrólfr kraki’s champions, was among the most popular legendary heroes in the medieval north, making appearances in the writings of both Snorri Sturluson in Iceland and Saxo Grammaticus in Denmark. The most substantial prose account of the character is preserved in the late medieval text Hrólfs saga kraka. Hrólfs saga tells that Bjarki was absent from the early fighting at Hleiðargarðr, where king Hrólfr and his men would eventually fall. However in Bjarki’s place a large bear, impervious to enemy attacks, defended the king. This mighty bear suddenly disappeared when Bjarki, who was found sitting still away from the fighting, was disturbed.
Despite its eccentricity, this episode has received relatively little attention from scholars. My paper addresses the issue of this unique episode within the context of the berserkir and animal warrior tradition found within the sagas, and the supernatural beings who often appear in animal form called fylgjur. Specifically I will be looking at the shifting views on berserkir, fylgjur, and the supernatural in medieval Iceland in order to reveal how these traditions converged with the liminal character B?ðvarr Bjarki resulting in the fighting bear episode. I argue that as berserkir took on an increasingly negative connotation in the later Middle Ages, Böðvarr Bjarki’s supernatural qualities were attributed to the more neutral fylgjur.

Anna Solovyeva (MA student in Medieval Icelandic Studies)
Icelandic galdramenn and the legend of Doctor Faust:The ambiguity of sacred and demonic in the fairy-tales about magicians

In the 19th-century collections of Icelandic folk-tales, primarily in the one put together by Jón Árnason, we find a whole group of tales dealing with legendary Icelandic magicians. Such figures as Sæmundr the Wise or Loftur the Enchanter, Eírikur of Vogsos or Hálfdan of Fell are especially remarkable for being Christian priests as well as skilled sorcerers, necromancers and demon tamers. The stories of this kind have some particular Icelandic flavor to them, as they deal matter-of-factly and familiarly with the supernatural forces, but they also seem to form a part of a wider tradition, showing certain signs of relation to the European (primarily but not solely German) legend of doctor Faust, the theologian who made a pact with the Devil.
Characteristic to the Icelandic rendering of the plot is the amplification of the contradictions and extremities inherent to it. The priest seems entitled to more holiness, higher degree of complicity to the divine sphere than a theologian. But as Faust, in the course of the development of this plot in European culture, acquires more and more similarities to his demonic counterpart, so does the magician-priest of Icelandic folk-tales manifest the qualities of an obvious trickster. Although set in the presumably conservative medieval environment, his case is not a story with a moral, and he is not a sinner making a deadly mistake and losing his soul. The trick and the unique charm of these tales are showing the demonic trickster side of the typical culture hero, the Christian priest.

Karyn Bellamy-Dagneau (MA student in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies)
Hervör, A Berserkr Woman

The recent historiographical shift concerning the usefulness of fornaldarsögur in historical research has permitted a renewal of interest in sagas once thought of as fantastical and false. We now look at them to learn of the concerns of the culture and time in which they have been written, but we may also glean some information from older times and older practices. In Völsunga saga, Sinfjötli may be initiated to be a berserkr by his uncle/father Sigmundr. Other fornaldarsaga such as Hrólf saga kraka, and also Íslendingasögur such as Víga-Glúms saga or Grettis saga, seem to indicate that berserkir had an older, pre-Christian social function within Scandinavian and Germanic culture. In this paper, I intend to observe the initiation pattern of the berserkr warrior in order to see if such a pattern can be identified in another fornaldarsaga, Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs. Hervör as a character has been the focus of interest for many a scholar for more than a century. While Carol Clover (Maiden Warriors and Other Sons, 1986) defines her as a maiden warrior on account of her acting as a surrogate son, I have come to wonder if she undergoes a berserkr initiation. In addition, while Clover considers that Hervör transmits key family attributes from her male ancestors to her progeny, berserkr qualities seem to be a watering down inheritance within a family’s genealogy. This paper will attempt to determine if Hervör is undergoing a bersekr’s initiation and if such a thing may be seen in the context of the continuity of her family.

Hannah Hethmon (MA student in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies)
“Margar vís með”: The Holistic Role of Poetry in Hverarar saga ok Heiðreks.

Much of the research on the four poems in Hverarar saga ok Heiðreks focuses on the origins and evolution of the poetry, analyzes its standalone literary merits, or attempts to determine when and how the poems were combined with the prose. These are relevant questions, but tend to bypass the idea that this saga has reached us as a whole, perhaps even complete, work of prosimetrical art. It is my view that the poems of Hverarar saga have a complicated, but vital role in the delivery of the narrative and thematic content of the saga. The larger goal of this paper is to contribute and provoke more dialogue on the study and appreciation of the works of Old Norse literature as we have inherited them, dissecting them not for the purpose of cataloguing the individual parts, but in order to better understand the nuances of the Old Norse sagas and poems as holistic works of art. This paper combines current research from several perspectives on Hverarar saga ok Heiðreks with close reading in order to draw new conclusions about the role of the poetry within the saga and to demonstrate the cohesive nature of the saga’s prosimetrum. The connections between the poems, including the less studied Heiðreks Gátur, reveal complex maneuvering around themes such as the persistence of the sword curse, gender inversion, and legitimacy of inheritance. As such, the poems serve the saga as pillars of thematic content around which the prose narrative can develop.

Teresa Dröfn Njarðvík (independent scholar)
From my BA thesis on the oral transmission of Beowulf and its possible development

This paper aims to establish a time line for Beowulf and show how it‘s oral transmission from Scandinavia to England is most likely to have happened. This is to be achieved by looking at some previous academic debates regarding the poem along with an etymological study of certain words and compound dictions. I wish to draw together what has been written about Beowulf and establish what we really know about it, what we can deduce from that and try to provide the most likely method for Beowulf’s transmission from a Scandinavian, pre-Christian, oral epic poem to an Anglo-Saxon one where at a later time Christian interpolations were added. These later Christian interpolations could then be seen as highly significant in regards to the cultural transmission of the poem within the Anglo-Saxon culture as it adapted Christianity.
My thesis is that linguistic evidence along with archaeological evidence of Anglo-Saxon material culture indicates an earlier date for Beowulf than is commonly believed. I would like to show that originally it must have been written down in 625-760 in the kingdom of Mercia, first in its full pre-Christian glory but was later modernized both in terms of Christian additions and linguistic changes in some parts.

Malo Adeux (MA student in Medieval Icelandic Studies)
Cuaran and the North

In this paper, I will sum up my work on the different versions of the English narrative of Havelok, prince of England and Denmark. This narrative knew several literary versions between the 12th and the 14th century in Anglonorman as well as in Middle English.
I will focus my presentation on the particular character of Havelok, which surname in some versions is “Cuaran,” a name of Celtic origin which is found also in Icelandic narratives. This will lead eventually to a discussion about literary links between England, France, Scandinavia and Celtia.

Kevin French (MA student in Medieval Icelandic Studies)

The goddess Gefjun has generally been seen as confusing and conflicting by scholars of Norse mythology, seeming to break the “rules” believed to govern mythology, especially regarding goddesses. Her attributes and attestations are examined closely and an attempt is made to put them into the context of a general understanding of Norse religion, and particularly on feminine divinity. She is compared to goddesses and other beings within Norse mythology as well as to figures from other Germanic-speaking areas. Especially interesting are the votive inscriptions dedicated to Matronae Gabiae in Roman-occupied Germania, and the possibility of a connection between them is discussed. Scholarship on the function of Matronae figures is used to compare Gefjun’s role as relayed by Snorri Sturlusson as the founder of the land of Sjælland and wife of its legendary first king, Skjöldr. Gefjun is presented as a goddess connected both to fertility of the land and to sovereignty. On the other hand, some evidence may also suggest a role on the household level, and possible connections to witchcraft can also be observed. The literary evidence for Gefjun appears confusing and self-contradictory, but some underlying continuity, rather than mere confusion by Christian recorders of Norse mythology, may be discernible.

Védís Ragnheiðardóttir (MA Student in Medieval Icelandic Literature)
Meykóngasögur: þróun, uppruni og möguleg tengsl við meypíslarvottasögur

Árið 1938 kom út doktorsritgerð Eriks Wahlgrens The Maiden King in Iceland og var þar um að ræða fyrstu tilraun til að skilgreina meykóngasögur sem undirflokk íslenskra miðaldabókmennta. Í niðurstöðum doktorsritgerðar sinnar ræðir Wahlgren ýmsa möguleika á uppruna meykóngasagnanna; hann nefnir innlenda hefð byggða á Þornbjörgu, Hervöru og öðrum kvenhetjum fornaldarsagnanna, innflutning hefðar í gegnum þýðingu Klári sögu og innflutning austurlenskrar hefðar í gegnum margar ólíkar sögur, líklegasta kostinn taldi Wahlgren vera að að minnsta kosti hluti minnisins hafi verið innfluttur til Íslands í gegnum Klári sögu. Þessar vangaveltur Wahlgrens áttu eftir að endurspeglast í umræðum sporgöngumanna hans um uppruna meykóngasagnanna.
Marianne E. Kalinke, sem einna mest fræðimanna hefur ritað um frumsamdar riddarasögur, hefur lengið haldið á lofti þeirri skoðun að Klári saga hafi haft einna mest áhrif á þá þróun meykóngasagna sem varð þegar minnið var tekið upp við ritun frumsaminna riddarasagna. Hafi sagan haft þau áhrif að niðurlæging og ofbeldi gagnvart meykóngum varð mun meira áberandi en það var í fornaldarsögunum.
Aðrir fræðimenn, svo sem Jenny Jochens og Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, telja að meykóngar riddarasagna komi fram sem hluti af þróun innlends sagnaarfs og óþarfi sé að gera ráð fyrir sterkum áhrifum vegna þýðingar einnar sögu.
Í fyrirlestrinum mun ég fara yfir þessar deilur fræðimanna og reyna að varpa nýju ljósi á málið. Mun ég bera saman meykóngasögur og meypíslarvottasögur og velta upp þeirri hugmynd hvort ákveðin líkindi milli þessara sagna geti varpað nánara ljósi á þróun meykóngasagna.