Mánaðarskipt færslusafn fyrir: nóvember 2019

Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Timothy Bourns

Driftwood and the Divine: Ecocritical Readings of trémenn

Fimmtudaginn 28. nóvember 2019 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Timothy Bourns

This presentation will examine trémenn and the ways in which the categories of human and wood intersect in Old Norse literature, both metaphorically and metaphysically, thus blurring the lines between human and non-human, sentient and non-sentient, mind and matter.

Þorleifs þáttr jarlaskálds—the tale of Þorleifr, the earl’s poet—provides an introductory case study, telling of a Norwegian king who calls upon his tutelary goddesses, the sisters Þorgerðr Hǫrgabrúðr and Irpa, to help him construct a trémaðr assassin out of a piece of driftwood and a human heart, which he sends to Iceland to kill the poet who shamed him. This wooden character is named—Þorgarðr—given clothes, and is able to walk and talk.

Drawing on wide-ranging examples, I will explore the ways in which this type of pre-Christian figure was imagined in post-conversion Iceland (e.g., the wooden idols of Freyr in Gunnars þáttr helmings and Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta); how trémenn are imbued with emotional interiority and selfhood (e.g., the ashamed trémenn in Hávamál and the tearful trémaðr in Ragnars saga loðbrókar); and how bark acts as both metaphorical and literal clothing (e.g. the Birkibeinar in Sverris saga and the Næframaðr in Örvar-Odds saga). Evidence from Sonatorrek and other skaldic verse provides parallel evidence, with a diverse range of kennings figuratively linking people with trees.

I will also analyse why driftwood in particular is used as a building material for human-tree hybrids (e.g., Askr and Embla in Gylfaginning); the symbolic connection between driftwood and fate (e.g., Ingólfr’s high-seat pillars in Landnámabók); how natural objects can be granted vitality and narrative agency (e.g., Þuríðr’s cursed driftwood in Grettis saga); and how this might relate to medieval Icelandic thinking about wood, trees, and a changing environment with limited natural resources.

I will thus argue for the merits of a more expansive, post-humanist, object-oriented, material ecocriticism to provide new readings of the Old Norse-Icelandic literary environment.

Timothy Bourns is graduate of the Medieval Icelandic Studies Master’s program. He wrote his doctoral thesis about animals in Old Norse literature at the University of Oxford, and now he is a postdoctoral researcher on the international project ‘Emotion and the Medieval Self in Northern Europe’ based at the University of Iceland.

Fyrirlesturinn verður fluttur á ensku og er öllum opinn.

Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Ryder Patzuk-Russell

Love and Learning: Social Bonding and Friendship in Medieval Icelandic Education

Fimmtudaginn 21. nóvember 2019 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Ryder Patzuk-Russell
Ryder Patzuk-Russell

Education in medieval Icelandic took many forms. It could be the more or less informal imparting of practical knowledge from a foster-parent to their child, or the careful training of an aspiring priest at a monastery or cathedral school, or something in between. These student-teacher relationships were a fundamental type of social bond throughout the medieval period. Such bonds were, of course, grounded by a number of different emotions, but these emotions are only rarely expressed in the extant sources. This paper will focus on some of the most explicit references from the biskupasögur corpus. These references are primarily expressions of love and friendship between students and teachers in the monasteries and bishoprics, and show a clear relationship to broader European and classical norms for expressing love and friendship. There is thus a fundamental tension and uncertainty in how much the emotional expressions may reflect real feelings, or even real expectations for the social expression of feeling, and how much they may be purely literary tropes.

At the eleventh-century school of bishop Ísleifr Gizurarson at Skálholt, as described in Jóns saga helga, Bishop Ísleifr and the future Saint Jón Ögmundarson are said to have been bonded through a love inspired by the virtue and promise Ísleifr saw in his student. In the fourteenth century, in Lárentíus saga, a similar type of relationship is described between bishop Lárentíus and his student Bergr Sokkason at the monastery of Þingeyrar. However, the saga describes slightly different relationships between Lárentíus and his other students. Finally, these examples from institutional schools can be compared to Guðmundar saga, where Guðmundr Arason is presented as having a more paternal affection for his students, who are also his foster-children. These main references to the emotions between students and teachers can likewise be compared to more implicit references in the other biskupasögur, notably Saint Þorlákr’s relationship with Eyjólfr Sæmundarson.

Bishops Ísleifr and Lárentíus and their students are both described in ways fitting classical Ciceronian ideals of friendship, which were widely disseminated in the medieval church. These ideals were particularly important in eleventh-century cathedral schools, and it is not impossible that they made their way to Iceland. Once in Iceland, they would have interacted with the emotions and expectations that had existed before Christianity between foster-parents and the children they raised and instructed.

Ryder Patzuk-Russell is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Iceland. He is currently undertaking a three-year project exploring the liturgy of medieval Iceland. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Birmingham in 2017. His dissertation dealt with medieval Icelandic schools and education.

Fyrirlesturinn verður fluttur á ensku og er öllum opinn.

Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Jan A. Kozák

Body Parts and Metaphors

The Logic of Transformations in Old Norse Mythology

Þriðjudaginn 19. nóvember 2019 kl. 16.30
Lögberg 101

Jan A. Kozák

The talk will offer an answer to the question „Why are myths so weird?“ that is: why are myths articulated in the form of surreal images and stories and not in “plain speech.” The Old Norse mythology contains a number of especially surreal motifs of body transformation that serve as crucial points of cosmogony: gods or other anthropomorphic beings are dissected or wounded in various ways and these acts translate directly to the establishment of the Cosmos and its various features (e.g. Mímir’s head, Kvasir’s blood, Týr’s hand, Óðinn’s eye, Ymir’s whole body, Þjazi’s eyes, Aurvandill’s toe, etc.). I will show, however, that these mutilations and body transformations follow a specific logic which can be described and understood with the help of new insights provided by cognitive linguistics and semiotics of religion.

Recent studies into conceptual metaphors and other basic tropes (metonymy, synecdoche, irony) reveal their constitutive role in our cognition and in the construction of cultural codes. Mythology as a code is special in this respect, because it applies conceptual metaphors much more ‘boldly’ and in much wider scale than everyday speech or realistic genres — building whole myths out of them, hence the surreal nature of the narratives. We will go through the various myths where body symbolism is prominent and establish a ‘typology of tropes’. This system will be then put in the wider context and we will review the same principles of association based on conceptual metaphors using the examples of magical practices, visual symbolism, sacred and secular art. One of the goals of the talk is to show how even the weird and fantastic motifs that we find in myths and magical practices are built on concepts that have their roots in our bodily experience (mediated through culture). This theoretical framework is especially useful for systematic comparison of various eras or neighbouring cultures.

Jan A. Kozák (MA, PhD) is Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Bergen, researching body symbolism in Old Norse myth. He holds a Ph.D. in History of Religions from the Charles University of Prague. His publications include a bilingual edition of Hervarar saga and articles on initiatory structure in myth and heroic legend.

Fyrirlesturinn verður fluttur á ensku og er öllum opinn.

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan

When a king of Norway became a king of Russia

Transmission and reception of legendary sagas in early-modern Scandinavia

Fimmtudaginn 14. nóvember 2019 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan

Old Norse legendary sagas (Ice. fornaldarsögur) played an important role in Scandinavian historiography at the dawn of absolutism. These sagas, generally forgotten until the middle of the seventeenth century, by the end of the very same century served as sources to construct narrative about splendid legendary past of Scandinavian countries. They were used not only in Sweden, where the early editions of these texts originate, but also in Denmark and Norway, where they served as supplementary material to Saxo’s Gesta Danorum and Snorri’s Heimskringla.

This presentation uses an example of a single saga, Hrómundar saga Greipssonar, its transmission and reception, to showcase how the legendary sagas were used to serve political purposes. Not only how were they read and interpreted, but also how they were written and re-written. The transmission history of Hrómundar saga delivers good examples for the practice of manipulating the narratives in order to satisfy the contemporary antiquarian interest.

This famous lost saga recited at the wedding feast in Reykhólar in 1119, according to Þorgils saga ok Hafliða, is not preserved in prose form in any medieval manuscript. Surprisingly it appears, however, in a number of late seventeenth-century manuscripts. These manuscripts are associated with Jón Eggertsson (1643–1689), a poet, scribe and manuscript collector on behalf of the Swedish Antikvitetskollegium, and Þormóður Torfason (1636–1719), the royal Danish antiquarian and author of, among other works, Series dynastarum et regum Daniæ and Historia rerum Norvegicarum. The early transmission history of this saga shows that the scribes and readers of this story were especially interested in place names and genealogies appearing in the text, and that they treated its accounts as historical sources. The level of manipulation into the text of the saga led to a somewhat comical misunderstanding used in the title of this presentation, when Óláfr, king of Norway, became a king of Garðaríki (Rus), which made its way to one of the most recent popular translations of the saga.

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan (MA, PhD) is H.M. Queen Margrethe II Distinguished Research Fellow at the Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle, where she works on the reception of Old Norse literature in Danish historiography. Her research interests include manuscript studies, digital scholarly editing, transmission history and textual criticism, as well as history of historiography.

Fyrirlesturinn verður fluttur á ensku og er öllum opinn.

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Matthew Driscoll

Kæri Fiðr: Assessing the legacy of Finnur Jónsson

Fimmtudaginn 7. nóvember 2019 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Matthew Driscoll

Finnur Jónsson (1858-1934), professor of Nordic philology at the University of Copenhagen, was among the most prominent and prolific Old Norse scholars of his day, producing editions, often more than one, of an extraordinarily large number of works both in verse and prose. In addition to his editorial activity, Finnur also wrote hundreds of studies of a literary historical or critical nature. The list of his publications compiled shortly after his death comprises over 500 items.

Although Finnur Jónsson was without question one of the most important figures in the history of Old Norse philology, he was, and remains, also one of the most controversial. He engaged in protracted academic feuds with a large number of other scholars during his lifetime, and many of his publications have been the subject of highly critical assessments following his death.

In my paper I will attempt a reassessment of Finnur Jónsson’s legacy, trying to prove neither that he was a far better nor a far worse scholar than previously believed, but attempting simply to understand better what he did and why he did it, and show how his ghost in many ways still haunts us today.

Matthew Driscoll (Cand.mag., DPhil (Oxon.)) is Professor of Old Norse Philology at the University of Copenhagen. His publications include articles and books on various aspects of late pre-modern Icelandic literature, as well as editions and translations of a number of medieval and post-medieval Icelandic works.

Fyrirlesturinn verður fluttur á ensku og er öllum opinn.