Mánaðarskipt færslusafn fyrir: apríl 2018

Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Carolyne Larrington

‘We’re fighting the north and it’s not going anywhere’

Old Norse Myth and Culture, and Game of Thrones

Fimmtudaginn 17. maí 2018 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Carolyne Larrington

In this lecture, Carolyne Larrington talks about the connections between medieval Old Norse-Icelandic tradition, and the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. From direwolves to the Three-Eyed Raven, from beyond the Wall to the Iron Isles, she will trace the ways in which George R. R. Martin, author of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, on which the show is based, and David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the showrunners, adapt motifs from Old Norse literature, mythology and legend to shape its vision of the North. Óðinn, Valhöll, vikings, draugar, cosmic wolves and ravens, and the very Fimbulvetr itself, that inspires one of the series’ most resonant phrases: Winter is coming.

George R. R. Martin is steeped in Old Norse mythology and Viking history, and has made creative use of themes and tropes drawn from the medieval North. In particular the show harnesses the myth and attributes of Óðinn, traditions about the undead and the frost-giants, shape-changing magic, an exaggerated view of Viking ethics in its depiction of the Iron-Born people, and the fundamental myth of ragnarök itself. The show’s vision of apocalypse is shaped by the end of the world as imagined in Völuspá, and — since both show and book series have yet to conclude — we may wonder whether the continent of Westeros can hope for the kind of rebirth that follows catastrophe in Eddic poetry. And can saga tradition offer some clues as how the great existential threat of the White Walkers and their army of undead draugar can be countered?

The lecture will both discuss and critique Martin and the show’s views of the medieval North, examining how popular cultural genres can over-simplify, but also can build creatively on the medieval past, opening up interesting questions about ethics, identity, adapting to cultural change and the ways in which power, information and technology intersect in the imagined world of Westeros.

Carolyne Larrington’s most recent book is a popular guide to Old Norse myth and legend, published by Thames and Hudson in 2017, and has translated the Poetic Edda into English. In 2015 she published Winter is Coming: the Medieval World of Game of Thrones; she has lectured across three continents on the books, the show and their parallels in medieval history, literature and imaginations.

Carolyne Larrington is Professor of medieval European literature at the University of Oxford and Official Fellow in medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford. She researches widely in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, Arthurian studies, the history of emotion and, most recently, medievalism. Author of a best-selling book on Game of Thrones, she is currently writing a sequel about the show.

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Neil Price

Viking warrior women?

Reassessing Birka chamber grave Bj.581 and its implications

Þriðjudaginn 17. apríl 2018 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Neil Price

The warrior woman or ‘shield maiden’ has long been part of the Viking image, with a pedigree that extends from the Valkyries of Old Norse prose and poetry to Wagner’s operatic fantasies and beyond. In our own times, she has taken on a new lease of life through mass-media entertainment and television drama such as the Vikings series. However, until recently the actual Viking-Age evidence for female fighters, whether real or mythical, has been sparse and ambiguous.

This lecture presents the results of a new archaeological and genomic research project in central Sweden, focussing on a single grave from the island market centre of Birka. The burial, designated Bj.581, was excavated (rather well) in 1878 and even then was seen as unusual and special. Packed with weapons and war gear, it has always been universally interpreted as the grave of a high-status warrior, held up repeatedly as a kind of ‘ultimate Viking’ of the tenth century. In line with that view, the occupant has consistently been assumed to be male.

Our project began with a coincidence, when a general osteological analysis of the Birka human bone material — including the skeleton in Bj.581 — unexpectedly suggested that the body was in fact biologically female. Intrigued by the possible implications, we undertook DNA studies that confirmed this revised sexing of the dead. The publication of these findings, and our suggestion that the occupant of Bj.581 was therefore a female warrior of high status, immediately went viral and received global media attention — much to our surprise. They also attracted controversy and critique, that in turn spread across the internet. In particular, the very integrity of the burial, and our research, was called into question: we must have analysed the wrong skeleton, or else we had somehow overlooked a second body in the grave, and so on. These issues — none of which were ever raised while the deceased was believed to be male — are addressed in the talk, but also set in a wider context. Bj.581 provides a useful case study, not just in the martial cultures of the Viking Age and the interpretation of mortuary behaviour, but in the conflicting attitudes to gender that still frame our pictures of the time.

Neil Price is Distinguished Professor of Archaeology at the University of Uppsala, Sweden. Educated at UCL, York and Uppsala, he specialises in the Viking Age and the pre-Christian religions of the North. From 2016-2025, Neil is directing a Swedish Research Council project to explore the origins of The Viking Phenomenon.

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