Monthly Archives: March 2020

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Merrill Kaplan

A leek with a grain of salt: Laukr in Vǫlsa þáttr and elsewhere

Thursday, March 12, 2020, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Merrill Kaplan

It is a commonplace of Old Norse scholarship that laukr has rich pagan significance to do with fertility. Our interpretations of texts ranging from early bracteate inscriptions (laukaʀ) to lines of eddic verse have been affected accordingly, but the idea rests on shaky ground and circular argumentation. Classical and medieval sources confirm that the onions, leeks, and other Alliums were understood as legitimately useful medical herbs that also attracted “superstitious” belief. Seeing this helps us understand the húsfreyja’s words in Vǫlsa þáttr when she ceremonially lifts the vǫlsi, líni gœddr, laukum studdr. If we look closely, we see the Vǫlsa þáttr author differentiate between legitimate and stigmatized uses of laukr, simultaneously rationalizing the weird events of the tale and characterizing the heathen housewife as a transgressor of Christian spiritual norms.

Merrill Kaplan is Associate Professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies at the Ohio State University, USA. She has a Ph.D. in Scandinavian from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research concerns the Old Norse-Icelandic mythological sources, the supernatural in medieval and later tradition, and digital folklore.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Mikael Males

Fóstbrœðra saga: A Missing Link?

Thursday, March 5, 2020, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Mikael Males

There is broad consensus that kings’ sagas developed before sagas of Icelanders, and it seems plausible that sagas of Icelanders developed from the kings’ sagas, not least given the presence of þættir about Icelanders in the Oldest Saga of Saint Óláfr. The most obvious candidate for representing a ‘missing link’ between the two genres is Fóstbrœðra saga, whose end overlaps thematically, but not verbally, with the Oldest Saga (as represented by the Legendary Saga). Stylistically, Fóstbrœðra saga is in some respects unique, and I will argue that this is partly due to the fact that it is the product of an early and probably monastic attempt at creating a new kind of historical narrative: namely, what would eventually come to be known as ‘sagas of Icelanders’.

This hypothesis presupposes that Fóstbrœðra saga is a very early, possibly the earliest, saga of Icelanders, and I therefore address the date first. After that, I move on to an analysis of the saga’s stylistic peculiarities and what they may contribute to our understanding of its place in the larger literary development, as well as plausible milieus for an undertaking of this kind.

A key claim in my analysis is that the stylistic peculiarities in Fóstbrœðra saga are not best understood in light of later, translated literature, as argued by Jónas Kristjánsson. While not all scholars have accepted Jónas’s dating of Fóstbrœðra saga to the second half of the thirteenth century, his stylistic arguments have not been dealt with. I contend, however, that saga’s stylistic uniqueness must be taken at face value, and that it is more consistent with homiletic literature and poetic experiments from the twelfth and early thirteenth century than with later texts.

Mikael Males is associate professor of Old Norse Philology at the University of Oslo. He specialises in the interface of traditional poetics and Latin learning and recently published The Poetic Genesis of Old Icelandic Literature (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2020).

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

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