Abstracts 2016

Katelin Elizabeth Anderson
MA student in Medieval Icelandic Studies
University of Iceland

Vitoð ér enn eða hvat: Speech Acts in Völuspá and Gylfaginning 

Previous scholarship has somewhat addressed the parallels between Völuspá and Gylfaginning, both in terms of narratological framing devices and the search for knowledge motif. Of particular interest, however, and largely unaddressed, is the refrain “Vitoð ér enn eða hvat?” (“Know you yet or what?”) The Codex Regius version of Völuspá has many repetitions of the question; Gylfaginning has three. While it undoubtedly has a poetic function, either for aesthetic or memorization purposes, to take it only as such limits the understanding of the texts. I argue further that the inclusion and repetition of the phrase suggests it has more function than informational inquiry.

Application of Speech Act Theory sheds light on the role and purpose of the question itself, both in Völuspá and as quoted in Gylfaginning. “Vitoð ér enn eða hvat?” arguably functions as a challenge to further knowledge in both texts. However, the different context of the two narratives allows for nuances of interpretation as to how the speech act is framed and understood, or if it can genuinely be considered a speech act at all. The intertextual nuance then allows for the development of extant and new interpretations of the interactions in both Völuspá and Gylfaginning. This paper aims to develop the consequences and motivations for using this question as a refrain, analyzing the effects of a formalized speech act on the possible interpretations of these key works, as well as building on the limited use of Speech Act Theory in saga studies.

Andri M. Kristjánsson
MA í almennri bókmenntafræði
University of Iceland

Landslýðurinn í Mírmanns sögu: Birtingarmyndir siðareglna riddarans 

Fyrirlesturinn fjallar um birtingarmyndir siðareglna riddarans innan íslensku frumsömdu riddarasögunnar Mírmanns sögu. Sérstaklega er sjónum beint að því gagnrýna viðhorfi sem kemur fram til reglnanna. Litið er á stutt en mikilvægt atriði innan sögunnar þar sem Mírmann kemst að því að hann hefur verið blekktur af seinni eiginkonu sinni til að vera giftur tveimur konum á sama tíma. Þrátt fyrir þá vitneskju og vilja af hans hálfu til að fara aftur til fyrri eiginkonunnar, reynist það Mírmanni ógerlegt að snúa aftur og hann verður um kyrrt hjá seinni eiginkonunni. Í getuleysi Mírmanns til aðgerða kemur fram togstreita í siðareglum riddarans sem kristallast í ástæðunni sem hann gefur fyrir aðgerðarleysinu þ.e. að hann komist ekki frá seinni eiginkonu sinni vegna landslýðsins.

Ástæða Mírmanns er stutt og sett fram innan frásagnarinnar án frekari útskýringar, sem gefur til kynna að höfundur og lesendur sögunnar hafi skilið hvaða samfélagslegi þrýstingur fellst í því sem Mírmann kallar landslýðinn. Til að færa rök fyrir því að lesandinn skilji hvað landslýðurinn merkir og hvernig hann tengist siðareglum riddarans er rýnt nánar í fyrrnefnt atriði.

Mírmanns saga er til í 6 gerðum, A-F gerð og liggja 35 handrit gerðunum til grundvallar. Í handritum sögunnar er að finna vísbendingar þess efnis að skilningur seinni tíma lesanda og skrifara sögunnar hafi tekið breytingum og merkingin á landslýðnum orðið óljósari. Breytingarnar sem eiga sér stað milli gerða Mírmanns sögu benda til þess að sú þekking á siðareglum riddarans sem kemur fram í eldri gerðum sögunnar sé algjörlega horfin í seinni gerðunum.

Í framhaldinu er sjónum beint að þeirri gagnrýni á siðareglur riddarans sem kemur fram í atriðinu. Með því að sýna Mírmann í aðstæðum þar sem hann getur ekkert aðhafst án þess að brjóta siðareglur riddarans tel ég að höfundur sögunnar sé að gagnrýna hugmyndafræðina sem liggur að baki siðareglunum. Til þess að styrkja þá kenningu er litið til byggingar sögunnar. Ljósi er varpað á hvernig hin hefðbundna tvískipting riddarasögunnar, sem kemur fram í mörgum af sögum Chrétiens de Troyes, er notuð í Mírmanns sögu til þess að gagnrýna siðareglurnar og hvernig þær takmarka getu riddarans til athafna.


Timothy Causbrook
MPhil at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic
University of Cambridge

Fate as a Social Reality in Old Norse and Old Irish Narrative 

I seek to provide a new analysis of fate as a social reality which eschews the modern tendency to compartmentalise the ‘natural’ and the ‘supernatural.’ There has not yet been an analysis which suggests that the ‘supernatural’ character of belief in fate is partially informed and made intelligible by the social realities of saga-age Iceland and early literary Ireland. Such an account is necessary because the modern demarcations of a ‘supernatural’ and a ‘natural’ world are anachronistic and thus unsuitable for giving accounts of the ways in which fate might have been understood by original audiences. Clunies-Ross has pointed out that the categories of ‘real’ and ‘fantasy’, which all too often are understood in modern discources as synonyms for ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’, simply did not exist in medieval Icleand and as such a more fluid and dynamic relationship between the two (modern) categories must be taken into account when understanding the narratives (Clunies-Ross 2010, 96). Beliefs were embedded in, and hence inextricable from, social and political realities (Harrison 2015, 47) and as a result of this the relevant cultural knowledge and assumptions that are required of us to comprehend the ways in which the original audiences understood a concept such as fate must be explicated in the context of contemporary social realities. This provides the context for my argument that the elucidation of the structure of the societies depicted in the Íslendingasögur and the early narrative works of Ireland will inform our understanding of the belief in fate that is so prevalent in both bodies of work.

Jonathan Correa
MA student in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies
University of Iceland

With an Un-Trembling Heart: A Study of Fear in the Old Norse Culture 

Even though they have a universal corporeal aspect, emotions are formed culturally and historically. But, how can we study emotion from a 13th century text, for example? Though it might be difficult to make a statement about how emotion was experienced, we can definitely use historical sources to talk about how emotions were expressed. And the expression of emotion is ultimately more important in the creation of a social reality than the ‘actual’ way in which emotions were experienced. By considering the expression of emotions in the different cultural objects (both material and textual culture), we can illuminate our understanding of the role of emotions in the society that produces these objects, and we can also get a glimpse of the social reality they help to construct.

William Reddy’s concept of emotives and Barbara Rosenwein’s notion of ‘emotional communities’ can offer interesting and innovative interpretations of the different textual and archaeological sources that allow us to identify historical changes in how emotions are expressed, valued and condemned. However, methodological difficulties arise when an attempt is made to apply these new theoretical considerations to the historical research of a past culture. This is partly due to the time gap between the modern researcher and that of the object of his study. In addition, the scarcity and reliability of the primary sources that survive from the Old Norse emotional communities make the task all the harder. Nonetheless, the surviving sources can provide significant insight about how emotion was expressed, and perhaps experienced, by the people in these communities.

To narrow down the topic, a case study of a single emotion will be performed. The recent theoretical aims and methods from the History of Emotions will be used in the analysis of Old Norse texts in which fear plays a significant role. The texts to be considered in this paper are: Hrólfs saga kraka, Fóstbræðra saga, Atlamál and Atlakviða. The aim of the project is to identify a common pattern (or patterns) in the expression of fear across the different genres.

Michael George Frost
Ph.D candidate at the Centre for Scandinavian Studies
University of Aberdeen

A Muddle of Bishops: The Great Schism in the Faeroe Islands 

The Great Schism between Rome and Avignon coincides with a period of great confusion in the episcopal succession to the see of Kirkjubøur, in the Faeroe Islands, with no fewer than six different individuals attested as bishops or electi of the diocese in just thirteen years, several of them with apparently overlapping episcopates. The obvious explanation for this phenomenon is that two rival lines of bishops were being provided to the diocese by the two rival popes, as occurred in a number of other dioceses at this time, including those of Kirkwall (Orkney) and Garðar (Greenland), which like Kirkjubøur lay in the Norwegian church province. However, there is little evidence to suggest that any one of the six claimants to the bishopric owed his appointment to an Avignon pope, and it therefore seems likelier that the chaos in Kirkjubøur was actually a manifestation of a wider struggle for control of episcopal appointments in the Norwegian province between the papacy and the archbishops of Niðaróss. This paper will attempt to reconstruct the course of events in Kirkjubøur during the years of the Schism and to test this second hypothesis, which will also require consideration of events in several mainland Norwegian dioceses during the same time period. In so doing it will also set this question in the context of wider historical issues, in particular the incorporation of Norway and its dependent territories into the Kalmar Union and the historiographical debate about ‘foreign bishops’ in the Norwegian province and in particular the two Icelandic dioceses.

Gerður Halldóra Sigurðardóttir
MA student in Old Norse Religion
University of Iceland

Managing the Dead – Performances of Death in Old Norse Literature and Scandinavian Folklore

In Old Norse-Icelandic literature, myth and legend there tends to be a certain uncertainty or ambivalence surrounding a person‘s death. The person, having been a relatively known entity – a live one – suddenly transforms into an unknown being – and, in some people’s beliefs, has the potential of becoming a supernatural one. How does one deal with such circumstances? What do we do with this transformed being that once belonged to our world but does not belong there anymore? How would – could – people make sure that the new being goes where it is supposed to go and does not linger on in our world to cause us harm?  In my presentation I mean to explore the idea that the performances and rituals people are shown as carrying out in narratives relating to death from earlier times can be seen, at least partly, as attempts to manage this precarious situation, ensuring that the deceased crosses safely from this world to whatever otherworld s(he) is supposed to now belong to, a place that is somewhere else than here. In my lecture I will take several examples ranging from the death of Þórólfr bægifótr in Eyrbyggja to that of Skalla-Grímur in Egils saga, making one or two pit stops in contemporary narratives of funerals such as that by Ibn Fadlan noting the lengths people of the Nordic world of the past seem to have gone to in order to safeguard themselves and their world from the perceived threat of these recently transformed supernatural beings – the dead. By looking at this material from the perspective of the real performances that lay behind these narratives, I hope to be able to suggest some possible answers to the questions above.

Daria Glebova
MA student in Medieval Icelandic Studies
University of Iceland

Þórðr Kolbeinsson: How A Weak Man Becomes A Villain. Approaching the Narrative Strategy in Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa 

Characters in Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa have already drawn scholarly attention. It has been noted that there is a very clear distinction between the hero and the villain; the situation, as Theodore M. Andersson argued, is almost black and white. But if one starts to look at how these characters are “built” in the saga, it appears that the image of the villain, Þórðr Kolbeinsson, has a very complicated construction: his behaviour is contradictory, his deeds are ambiguous, and his storyline has details and episodes that, at first sight, seem to be unnecessary to the main plot. Þórðr is definitely narrated as a villain, but is he merely a simple “scoundrel”, created only to build up the figure of the hero, Bjorn? Maybe this character-as-a-villain has a particular purpose in the narrative, and the details that make Þórðr’s image so complicated are, in reality, important for the narrative strategy of the whole saga. Three questions arise: What is a villain for the narrator of Bjarnar saga? What is evil? And how this evil should be dealt with?

This paper will attempt to argue that the representation of the main villain in Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa is carefully planned according to the ideological layer of the saga. By analyzing the key points of the saga conflict structure, the author will suggest that Þórðr disturbs the balance in the saga because he has human weaknesses (for example, he thinks too much about his neighbors’ opinion). Thus, blinded by the weakness, the character disturbs the balance and this action results in the tragic end. Nevertheless, at the final arbitration point of the saga the theme of forgiveness emerges: although it is suggested that Þórðr should die for his crimes, the powerful friend saves him.

Helga Jónsdóttir
MA student in Comparative Literature
University of Iceland

Hlutverkaleikur og valdatafl: Samspil kyngervis og valds í Sigurðar sögu þögla 

Sigurðar saga þögla fylgir ákveðinni frásagnargerð frumsaminna riddarasagna sem hverfist um svokallaða meykónga. Það er því venja að flokka söguna til meykóngasagna en minnið virðist hafa þróast hér á landi og einskorðast við íslenskar rómönsur. Lengi vel þóttu frumsamdar riddarasögur fremur ómerkilegar en í seinni tíð hefur viðhorfið til þeirra breyst og fræðimenn rannsakað þær í meira mæli. Sagnfræðingurinn Henric Bagerius heldur því t.a.m. fram að í íslenskum rómönsum megi greina gildismat og þankagang sem gefi upplýsingar um samtíma sagnanna. Af handritageymd rómansanna að dæma var bókmenntagreinin afar vinsæl en til að ná til fjöldans þurftu þær væntanlega að fjalla um efni sem lesendum á miðöldum var hugleikið. Þar með ætti hugmyndafræðin sem þær birta að varpa ljósi á samfélagið sem þær eru sprottnar úr.

Í fyrirlestinum verður sjónum beint að hugmyndafræðinni sem birtist í Sigurðar sögu þögla og einblínt á hvaða hugmyndir um kyn og kyngervi koma fram. Umfjöllun og kenningar fræðimanna um hugmyndir miðaldamanna varðandi þessi hugtök verður höfð til hliðsjónar og þannig leitast við að fanga hugmyndasögulegt samhengi verksins. Áhersla verður lögð á hvernig kyngervi meykóngsins, Sedentíönu, birtist í sögunni og út frá því dregnar ályktanir um hvaða hugmyndir fólk hafði um félagslegt hlutverk kynjanna í samtíma verksins. Sett verður fram sú kenning að persónusköpun í Sigurðar sögu þögla bendi til þess að miðaldamenn hafi ekki litið á ólík kyngervi karla og kvenna sem náttúruleg eða eðlislæg, heldur menningarleg og þar af leiðandi óstöðug.

Jafnframt verður leitast við að sýna fram á tengsl valds og kyngervis í verkinu og hvernig samspil þess endurspeglar stöðu kynjanna í menningunni sem sagan er sprottin úr. Sedentíana tekur upp óhefðbundið hlutverk og kannað verður hvaða afleiðingar það hefur í för með sér að stíga út fyrir sitt hefðbundna kyngervi. Út frá því verða dregnar ályktanir um hver staða kynjanna gæti hafa verið á Íslandi í samtíma sögunnar.

Nicholas Hoffman
MA student in Medieval Icelandic Studies
University of Iceland

Beasts of Battle: Disentangling the Allusive Knot

Traditionally the beasts of battle have constituted a highly-stylized poetic device in medieval Germanic literature, in which scenes of martial conflict are prefaced by the descent of various carrion-eating animals (ravens, eagles, and wolves) onto the battlefield. Since the first formal consideration of the trope of the beasts in Old English literature was put forward by Francis P. Magoun in 1955, scholars have interpreted its numerous witnesses in manifold ways, mainly in discussions of oral tradition and transmission. Beyond considerations of ‘fate’ and dramatic irony, the trope has received relatively little attention until recently with Joseph Harris’ ‘Beasts of Battle, North and South.’ In his article, Harris consolidates previous scholarship while arguing for a wider geographical and temporal range of witnesses, including poetry in Old English, Old Norse, and Middle High German.

Although he does well to acknowledge the ‘cultural depths’ from which the trope arises, the study reveals further areas for scholarly consideration. Far more than a formulaic construction, the poetical beasts consolidate multiple layers of meaning; interwoven into numerous narrative traditions, they show an acute awareness of the interconnection between violence and the landscape, folkloric resonances, and Christian devotion. This paper will examine each of these threads in order to come to a more comprehensive understanding of the various narrative traditions that inform this poetic trope. The beasts poeticize the realities of carnage as present in historiographies of battle, reflecting very tangible cultural memories or even the memories of readers themselves. Meanwhile, the beasts simultaneous underscore Christian and folkloric approaches to literary expression. Do depictions of carrion-eating animals in the context of battle constitute allusive references to the valkyrjur or berserkir? Are they in dialogue with the Psalms or the ubi sunt motif found throughout medieval Latin literature? Though the definitive origins of the poetical beasts may be lost to us, we can come to a greater understanding of their prevalence if we examine and subsequently unravel this entanglement of allusion.

Line Korsholm Lauridsen
MA student in Medieval and Renaissance Arcaehology
Aarhus University

Proto-Industrialisation of the Medieval Scandinavian Iron Production 

The early medieval period in Scandinavian history is a period of great change, and this includes changes in the production of iron. Through studies of Scandinavian iron production sites it is possible to identify some of these changes in the production and distribution of iron during the late Viking Age and towards the middle of the 13th Century. These changes might even call for the usage of the term Proto-Industrialisation. However, the origin of this term is problematic and could be misguiding which is why it should be used with strict definitions. Furthermore, the research in the study of iron has suffered from a lack of interest and research within the archaeological field. However, within the last decades the research field has experienced a renaissance in archaeological circles, which has yielded new datings and new results. This however has only scratched the surface and we are only now beginning to understand the societal complexity of the early medieval period.

By presenting results from my undergraduate thesis Proto-Industrialisation of the Medieval Scandinavian Iron Production, I seek to explore the proto-industrialization of the iron production and its possible impact on the urbanisation in medieval Scandinavia. This is done through a study on various archaeological iron production sites in Norway, Sweden and Denmark among these Gråfjellet in Norway. Throughout this project I will argue that the proto-industrialisation of the iron production in the early medieval period could have been one of the most important contributing factors towards the urbanisation in Northern Europe.

Balduin Landolt
BA student in Iceland as a Second Language / MA student in Scandinavian Studies and German Studies
University of Iceland / University of Basel
balduin.landolt@stud.unibas.ch / bal4@hi.is

The Self-Consciousness of Literature. Metapoetic Reflections in the Prologue of the Old Norse Strengleikar 

Prologues are more than mere conglomerations of formulaic topoi. Since there were no vernacular poetics in medieval Europe, poetology could only be discussed in the paratexts of literary works. Assuming that every writer had a particular poetological position, it is possible to deduce this position from the way the prologue is built. Based on this, Old French and Middle High German prologues have been studied fruitfully (Haug 1985).

Old Norse prologues have received considerably less attention, even though the translated Riddarasögur contain promising material in this area. The Strengleikar in particular have a very interesting two-part prologue; one part is translated from the Old French source, the other part is added by the translator himself. This not only allows for comparison of these two parts, but also of the translation with the original. The two parts diverge in their argumentation to legitimise literary pursuits. The translator also shows a differentiated and consistent terminology regarding the processes of transmission and the mediality of literature.

In this paper, I will analyse the prologue of the Strengleikar according to the Latin tradition of prologue rhetoric. In doing so, I seek to glean the translators’ poetological position by comparing the metapoetic reflexes of both the translated and the uniquely Old Norse parts of the prologue. Changes between the translated passages and the Old French source will also be taken into consideration, as well as further paratextual elements from within the compilation of the Strengleikar. This study thus aims not only to give insight into the construction of the prologue of the Strengleikar, and the function and legitimation of literature according to their translator; it also attempts to demonstrate the potential (and limits) of this method when applied to the Old Norse literary corpus and the chivalric sagas in particular.

Aleksi Moine
MA student in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies
University of Iceland

The Conversion of Karelians to Christianity: A Struggle between East and West?

Karelia is the region situated between the White Sea and the Gulf of Finland, now on the border between Finland and Russia. Its strategical importance, due to its position on Northern trade routes between East and West, has led to century-long fights for political domination between Sweden and Rus’, or Russia. Efforts have been made by both parties to convert local peoples, mainly Finnic, to Christianity, in order to ensure and assert their political strength. The Christianisation of Karelia has been a long process, lasting from the 10th to the 16th century, and embodied a tension between Orthodoxy in the East, and Catholicism, followed by Protestantism, in the West.

The aim of my presentation is to address some of the problems that arise when studying this conversion process. First, I would like to expose the methodological problems related to the scarcity of our sources. Very few written sources are available, and all are external, as Finno-Ugric languages have rarely been written down before Christianity. Archaeological findings are more numerous, but they also require interpretation. The second and main point of my presentation is to show the need for a critical review of the scholarship dealing with the topic. Indeed, much of the debate since the 19th century has been shaped by nationalistic views. Karelia has been considered as the cradle of the Finnish national identity, through a developing interest in traditional “pagan” practices. During the 20th century, the Cold War contributed to further shaping the view of a region torn between East and West.

By addressing these problems, I aim at challenging a prevalent conception of conversion, in a context of post-colonial studies. Therefore, I think that introducing the concept of “popular Christianity” could help us understanding this process, in an attempt to adopt an emic point of view on it. Most Finnic peoples of Karelia have, indeed, considered Christianity as an important factor of their identity, up to this day. Thus, I hope to make Finnic voices heard and to show them as actors in the process of adoption of Christianity, which mingled with their own previous traditions.

Karin Murray-Bergquist
MA student in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies
University of Iceland

Knowledge in Disguise

This paper explores the interactions and commonalities between the Anglo-Saxon riddles of the Exeter Book and the Old Norse use of literary riddles and kennings, and through it I intend to demonstrate the ways in which the literature of disguise is used to display the versatility of language. In this study I emphasise the distinction between literary riddles in the vernacular and the established Latin counterpart that existed alongside them, and examine their possible place, in the growing prominence of both written languages, as drivers of this change. If the meaning of words was indeed crucial to the formation of a riddle, the language of their composition was an important aspect of the development of vernacular literature. Following this suggestion, I compare the contexts in which riddles and kennings are found, both between the two languages and in contrast to the contemporary forms of written expression. Through the understanding of their apparent literary place, I propose some possible functions that riddles and kennings may have served, particularly as a form of education. At last I address the question of subject matter, with a view to illuminating the priorities, perceptions, and concerns of the people of the past. In looking at shared riddle subjects across cultures, I interpret literary riddles and kennings via their social function and ability to portray, by deliberate deception, a decipherable meaning to the cultures in which they arose. Along with medieval sources, I make brief reference to the later roles taken by riddles in literature and culture, including changes in associated status. In these ways I argue that the function of such literary devices is to explore the uses and meanings of words, to educate the reader on both language and the world around them, and to establish the social role of subjects deemed worthwhile to write on, demonstrating the ties between culture and wordplay.

Ermenegilda Müller
MA student in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies
University of Iceland

Is Grettir antisocial? Characterization and psychology

As a child, Grettir displays aggressive and mischievous behaviour. He hardly ever engages in the collective activities of the other youths and, when he does, he reacts to vexations with impulsive violence. He opposes his father’s authority, and takes the tasks he is commanded to perform as occasions for disturbingly cruel pranks. These traits of his personality, though they tend to fade later on, follow and hamper him throughout his life, preventing him from integrating into social groups and cultivating friendly relationships; they are among the main factors in his outlawry. At first sight, this characterization makes him look pretty much like the kind of individual that modern psychology would define as antisocial. Is it a pertinent way to analyse him?

Grettir is a fictional character whose personality is crafted after literary topoi and cultural constructions. To some extent, the prototypic portraits used in our classification of personality disorders also are: they are contingent upon our perception and explanation of human behaviour. It seems perilous to use the methods of psychology to define the protagonist of a saga, since it entails the risk of neglecting the fictional nature of the text. However, it may prove fruitful in a slightly subtler way. Indeed, Grettis saga is one of the Íslendingasögur that gives the most detailed image of its hero’s psyche; one seldom comes across such a precise account of a character’s inner conflicts in medieval Icelandic literature. Thus, it seems that the saga aims at providing elements of analysis and explanation for Grettir’s attitude, and comparing these elements with what we know and use to describe personality disorders may give us an insight into the way medieval Icelandic authors understood the human mind and recreated it in fiction. Furthermore, it may give us clues as to how the society in which the sagas where written coped with marginal individuals. Using comparative methods, this presentation would confront the literary art of the sagas and modern psychology in order to see how the medieval authors and audiences categorized and analyzed abnormal personalities.

Eleonora Pancetti
MA student in Modern Languages and Literature
University of Pisa

A Cue from a Saga: The Waif Woman by R. L. Stevenson and Ϸórgunna’s Haunt from Eyrbyggja saga 

During the 19th Century, the literary background of most European cultures was marked by the emergence of nationalism and by the constant struggle for independence. The tendency toward a rediscovering of the past was widespread among writers, poets, scholars and artists, and led to a broad re-evaluation of all the genres and themes traditionally linked to the literary image of a primeval time.

Still trying to cope with the redefinition of their cultural identity, the problematic handling of a distant and mythological past is a core issue also for 19th-century Scottish intellectuals, as well.

The main focus of the present paper is the literary analysis of an unpublished short story by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, The Waif Woman (1893), and its textual and the­matic relations with the original source of the novel: the so-called “Ϸórgunna’s episode” taken from Eyrbyggja saga (Chapters L-LV). Through a close-reading of both texts, comparisons and dif­ferences will be ultimately highlighted. Special attention will be paid to the depiction of the Hebridean woman Ϸórgunna, her relationship with Audr the Light-Minded, and then the re­currence of Ϸórgunna’s supposed uncanny role in crossing the liminal space between Heathenism and Christianity.

Stevenson’s ‘cue from a saga’ displays the possibility to thoroughly consider his short story as a modern attempt of textualization of the past. Moreover, the re-shaping of the past in a literary form represents a key resource in approaching the medieval Icelanders’ sagas too. In fact, as this paper would eventually prove, Stevenson’s short story can be inscribed in that cultural horizon of 19th Century, which contributed to build up a fictionalized image of the Scandinavian Middle Ages.

Bianca Patria
MA student in Historical Linguistics, Germanic and Celtic Philology
University of Pisa

The Language of Myth: Some Remarks on the Heiti for ‘Giantess’ in Snorri’s Edda

In Skáldskaparmál, the second part of his ars poetica, Snorri Sturluson analyses skaldic diction and its main features. Besides the kenning, the poetic category most fully discussed is the (ókennt) heiti, a term usually translated as ‘poetic synonym’. The study of heiti raises complex questions, not solely of a linguistic and semantic nature. In 13th and 14th century Scandinavia, heiti became context-free candidates for listing and cataloguing. A large number of poetic synonyms, most of them never used in the surviving skaldic corpus, are listed in specific metrical lists known as þulur (sing. þula), arranged by subject matter and supplementing the text of Skáldskaparmál in a number of manuscripts.

The aim of this paper is to highlight some interesting dynamics concerning the genesis and scope of the heiti collections with an analysis of the skaldic þula known as tröllkvinna heiti (‘names of the trollwives’). In the first section of the paper I give a definition of heiti and þula and describe their main characteristics. There follows an overview of the names for ‘giantess’ transmitted in the aforementioned þula. Lastly, some observations of an etymological and morphological nature are made in relation to 15 of the 62 heiti for ‘troll-wife’ (or ‘giantess’) recorded in the Skáldskaparmál manuscripts. These names have been selected for their semantic and formal features but also because of the role they played in the shaping of skaldic stanzas – often  a paradoxical role, given their far from obviously synonymous character in many cases.

Data concerning the use of these poetic terms in the skaldic corpus, and the strategies used to generate new heiti from well-established ones, lead to interesting conclusions about what seems to be the “compiling obsession” of the anonymous authors of these lists. What to a modern reader may look like an aimless parade of defective erudition probably reflects what was a common practice in medieval Scandinavia, and one which played a major role in the construction of a literary and cultural identity through the preservation of traditional indigenous poetic material.

Andreas Schmidt
Ph.D candidate
Institute for Nordic Philology – LMU Munich

Our Norwegian Enemy? – On the role of Norwegian sovereigns in Færeyinga saga 

The relationship between Norway and Iceland as depicted in the Íslendingasögur, concentrated on visits of Icelanders (often skalds) to the Norwegian court (a motif called ʻtravel patternʼ), has been a popular field of research in Old Norse studies. It has been argued that the overall depiction of Norwegian kings in the sagas of Icelanders is a negative one, and that the medieval Icelanders by this depiction of their relations to their former motherland created a myth of Icelandic freedom and independence against the background of their submission to the Norwegian king in the 13th century. This understanding, however, has seen criticism in recent years (cf. Ármann Jakobsson 2002, Boulhosa 2005).

The relationship between the Faroe Islands and Norway as depicted in Færeyinga saga, a comparably understudied saga, has not seen so much scholarly interest. However, this relationship has also been read against the background of Icelandic history in the 13th century. According to this reading, an autonomous and pre-Christian society in the Faroe Islands is eventually subdued in the saga in favour of a new system that is Christian and hierarchical (cf. Bonté 2014). In this paper, I propose a new understanding of the relation between the Faroe Islands and Norway by a narratological examination of the role that Norwegian sovereigns play as minor characters in the overall saga. I imply that these relations mirror the Icelandic-Norwegian relations in the Íslendingasögur, and that such an examination can enhance our understanding of these. I argue further that the situation in Færeyinga saga is by far more complex than has been stated hitherto and that by this analysis it is possible to gain deeper insights into the structural composition of Færeyinga saga, while also unearthing largely differing literary agendas between the various redactions of the saga as reflected in its complicated manuscript-transmission.

Benjamin Sibley
MA student in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies
University of Iceland

Oðinn, Jötunn, or Jesus? : Reevaluating Njals saga’s Járngrímr as a Pagan-Christian Deity 

My paper analyzes and reinterprets the two extant references to the saga-character, Járngrímr, found in Njáls saga and Sturlunga saga‘s Íslendinga saga. In Njáls saga, Járngrímr exists in the traditional dream motif so often depicted in Old Norse literature. In the latter saga, Járngrímr is a mysterious traveler met on a road in the Iceland. Until now, Járngrímr has been connected primarily with either Óðinn, or the jötunn due to the unique imagery presented by each encounter; however, the Járngrímr presented in Íslendinga saga differs significantly from that of Njáls saga in narrative portrayal and, I argue, authorial intent. My presentation puts forth the theory that Njáls saga’s representation is heavily marked by Christian imagery, and that he acts as a transitional, pagan-Christian deity, masking Jesus within the text—a trend not so uncommon in neighboring cultures, as exemplified by early Irish Christianity’s adoption of the pagan goddess, Brighid, into St. Brigit.

The amalgamate pagan and Christian structure of Njáls saga has long sparked debate. With the saga’s retelling of Iceland’s conversion, and its complex juxtaposition of traditional and heroic pagan characters, to the wise Christians, like Njáll, the complexity of its representation of religion in early Christian Iceland impossible to dispute. The saga draws from two deep religious systems, intertwined and represented; therefore, it is impossible to clearly divide the traditions. However, an analysis of the characters’ respective descriptive elements, paired alongside arguments backed by folkloristics and religious studies, permits a discussion of the deeper meanings behind the characters’ varied textual incarnations.


Matteo Tarsi
Ph.D candidate in Icelandic Linguistics
University of Iceland

Loanwords vs. native words What can this phenomenon say about older stages of Icelandic? 

It is a well-known fact that Icelandic is nowadays dominated in its various dimensions by linguistic purism (cf. Ari Páll Kristinsson 2006). With regard to the lexicon, the overt Icelandic linguistic policy demands language users to avoid loanwords in favour of native words (see e.g. Ari Páll Kristinsson & Hilmarsson-Dunn 2015 on language users’ behaviour with respect to loanwords and native words). This is particularly true for what concerns diaphasically high varieties. As a consequence of this, several (quasi-)synonymic couples, formed by a loanword and a native word, have arisen. However, this phenomenon is not exclusively tied to Modern Icelandic, as it can also be found in Old and Middle Icelandic, being both borrowing and word formation very active processes in lexical enrichment (see e.g. Árni Böðvarsson 1964, Halldór Halldórsson 1964 and 1979, Stefán Karlsson 2000: 41).

In my paper, I will deal with one of the focal points of my doctoral project, albeit in a preliminary fashion, namely the alternation of loanwords and native words in the early stages of Icelandic (up to 1550), i.e. in the absence of an acknowledged puristic ideology, which is in fact believed to have arisen between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the wake of the Icelandic Humanism (see Ottósson 1990: 14–23).

After presenting some data from different literary genres (e.g. from the Icelandic Homily Book, Egils saga, Grágás), this will be contextualised according to the evidence from the texts and their manuscript witnesses. Finally, some remarks will be made on how such interaction between loanwords and native words can shed light on the history of the Icelandic language. The main research question here addressed can be therefore formulated as follows: Given that loanwords and native words coexist in the early Icelandic lexicon, how do they relate one to another?

The aim of this paper is thus twofold: to survey the lexical mechanisms which supposedly underlie the phenomenon under research; and to hopefully get some insightful comments from the audience.

Romina Werth
Ph.D candidate in Icelandic literature
University of Iceland

Folkloristics and Old Norse studies: their historical parallels and its revival

This paper seeks to examine the historical parallels between Folkloristics, especially folktale research, and Old Norse Studies. Many of the early scholars of Old Norse literature and religion in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, took also a strong interest in the folktale and its oral transmission. Jakob Grimm (1785-1863), George Stephens (1813-1895), George Webbe Dasent (1817-1896), Konrad Maurer (1823-1902), Friedrich von der Leyen (1873-1966) and Adeline Rittershaus-Bjarnason (1876-1924), to name only a few, dedicated their scholarship to both disciplines. Especially the Icelandic scholar Einar Ól. Sveinsson (1899-1984) published extensively on Icelandic folk- and fairy tales as well as on the sagas. Therefore, it might not appear peculiar, that many similarities can be found between the early research history in both scholarly fields, which have their common root in seventeenth and eighteenth century philology. Both disciplines grew distinct in the twentieth century, after the bookprose theory grew more and more influential.

In recent years, however, the interest in using folkloristic material within Old Norse Studies started to rise again and may be explained by the growing number of scholarly works on post-medieval material, which had long been neglected. Recent publications such as Folklore in Old Norse – Old Norse in Folklore make it even more clear that folklore is considered a key for accessing Old Norse material in new ways and to shed light on its diversity. This paper hopes to show the common grounds of both scholarly fields as well as advantages and shortcomings of early scholarship. The presentation will close with a critical overview on new perspectives on how Folkloristics can enrich Old Norse Studies in the present and future.