All posts by Haraldur Bernharðsson

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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Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Yoav Tirosh & Michael MacPherson

On Ljósvetninga saga’s Redactions and What They Teach Us About Reading the Íslendingasögur

Thursday, February 20, 2020, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Yoav Tirosh — Michael MacPherson

Ljósvetninga saga, one of the less-discussed Íslendingasögur, is a text that poses many questions to its editors and scholars. The text’s main challenge lies in its complex manuscript transmission and its two redactions. The redactions at times offer a very similar plot and narrative, told in almost the exact same words, while at other occasions entire stories are missing/added or told in a significantly altered manner in terms of details and order of events. This variance fed into the twentieth-century freeprose-bookprose debate in regards to the Íslendingasögur origins. When that settled down, so did the interest in this saga.

Many misunderstandings and false assumptions lay behind the interpretation of Ljósvetninga saga, which has much to do with the drama of mid-twentieth century scholarship, with each side inter-preting the evidence in a manner that suits their scholarly goals. Nowhere is this more evident than in the editions of the saga, and its translations. These manipulate the redactions’ texts, mis-lead the readers into a false sense of unity, and in the case of the A-redaction, give the impression of a much fuller and more extant text than we actually possess.

This paper will look into the issue of Ljósvetninga saga’s redactions and offer several ways of sal-vaging them: A manuscript-oriented generic one, a memory-oriented solution, and a literary in-terpretation that settles some of the text’s alleged discrepancies. Finally, a segment of the talk will be delivered by Michael MacPherson, who will discuss the stylometric analysis that we have con-ducted on the saga’s two redactions.

Stylometric studies on Old Norse literature have to-date been limited to widely-available and often heavily-editing versions of texts as their base. In contrast, the unique transmission of Ljósvetninga saga defies many assumptions made by traditional stylometric methods. This study aims to high-light the pitfalls of these traditional methods and to advance a more manuscript-informed stylo-metric methodology. Taken together, these results help to illuminate the various textual relation-ships that are at play within and without Ljósvetninga saga.

Yoav Tirosh is a post-doc researcher at the University of Iceland Disability before Disability project. He has recently finished his Ph.D. thesis, which dealt with issues of memory, genre and scholarship in Ljósvetninga saga.

Michael MacPherson holds an M.A. from the University of Iceland in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies and is currently undertaking a Ph.D. at the same university, writing on the Codex Regius of the Snorra Edda.

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

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Rebecca Merkelbach

Alternative Histories of the Settlement?

Story-Worlds and the Fictionality of the ‘Post-Classical’ Sagas of Icelanders

Thursday, February 6, 2020, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Rebecca Merkelbach

The ‘post-classical’ Sagas of Icelanders comprise a group of 14 of the Íslendingasögur which have been dated to the late medieval period, and were thus supposedly composed after 1300. Due to their assumed late date of composition, attitudes to these sagas have been almost universally negative, and only in recent years has it been acknowledged that ‘scholars have unfinished business’ with them, as Chris Callow has stated. One of the many ways in which business with these sagas is unfinished relates to their overt fictionality, to their frequent inclusion of the paranormal and fantastic, and to the way in which they play with motifs derived from folktale or romance. It is to this aspect of these narratives that I will offer a possible new approach.

Introducing the concepts of worldbuilding and story-worlds to the study of saga literature, this talk aims to firstly explore the constituents of the world(s) built by ‘post-classical’ saga narratives — their settings, characters, events, and laws. This will then enable a reassessment of their fictionality, a feature that has bothered previous scholars who considered the Íslendingasögur a genre whose main mode is historiography, and who have therefore neglected the ‘post-classical’ sagas because they did not fit this mode. This shift in focus will also allow a new approach to the ‘post-classical’ sagas as a literary product of the late medieval period — a product not characterised by decline, as most literary saga scholars have believed, but by change and subversion. Ultimately, I will present an approach that considers the ‘post-classical’ Íslendingasögur, in their subversive fictionality, as reflecting the needs and concerns of the present that gave rise to them: as alternative histories of the settlement, as stories that needed to be told to accommodate new socio-cultural developments in late medieval Iceland.

Rebecca Merkelbach holds a Ph.D. from the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, and is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Tübingen, working on a re-evaluation of the ‘post-classical’ Íslendingasögur. Her monograph, Monsters in Society: Alterity, Transgression, and the Use of the Past in Medieval Iceland, came out with MIP/De Gruyter in October 2019

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

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Luke John Murphy

An Anatomy of the Blood Eagle

The Anatomical and Sociocultural Limits of Viking Torture

Thursday, January 23, 2020, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Luke John Murphy

The infamous blood eagle ritual has long been controversial: did Viking-Age Nordic people really torture one another to death by severing each others’ ribs from their spine and removing their lungs, or is it all a misunderstanding of some complicated poetry? Previous scholarship on the topic has tended to focus on the details and reliability of extant medieval descriptions of the blood eagle, arguing for or against the ritual’s historicity. What has not yet been considered are the anatomical and sociocultural limitations within which any Viking-Age blood eagle would have had to have been performed.

In this presentation, I will present the results of a collaborate research project that analysed medieval descriptions of the ritual in the light of modern anatomical knowledge. I hope to contextualise these accounts with up-to-date archaeological and historical scholarship concerning elite culture and the ritualised peri- and post-mortem mutilation of the human body in the Viking Age. On the basis of these discourses, I will present our conclusions that even the fullest form of the blood eagle outlined in our textual sources would have been possible — though difficult — to perform, but would have resulted in the victim’s death early in proceedings. Given the context of the ritual depicted in medieval discourse, we also consider archaeological evidence of “deviant burials”, suggesting that any historical blood eagle would have existed as part of a wider continuum of cultural praxis, and been employed to reclaim or secure the social status of the ritual’s commissioner following the “bad death” of a male relative at the hands of the ritual’s eventual victim.

Luke John Murphy completed his Ph.D. at Aarhus University in spring 2017, held a Bernadotte Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Stockholm University in autumn 2017, and was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leicester 2018–2019. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in Archaeology at the University of Iceland, working on early medieval religion and ritual. His research interests include ritual objects, religious and cultural transition, and method and theory in the study of Pre-Christian religions.

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

Landnám Íslands

Landnám Íslands

Úr fyrirlestraröð Miðaldastofu Háskóla Íslands 2014-2015

ÚTGÁFUHÓF

Fagnið með okkur útgáfu bókarinnar
fimmtudaginn 5. desember kl. 16.00
í ljósmyndasal Þjóðminjasafns Íslands
Allir velkomnir!

Út er komið hjá Miðaldastofu Háskóla Íslands og Háskólaútgáfunni greinasafnið Landnám Íslands: úr fyrirlestraröð Miðaldastofu Háskóla Íslands 2014-2015. Landnámið er spennandi rannsóknarefni enda gefst þar einstakt tækifæri til að afla vitneskju um hvernig samfélag manna verður til í ósnortnu landi. Rannsóknarsaga landnámsins er löng. Framan af voru ritheimildir á borð við Landnámabók, Íslendingabók Ara fróða og Íslendingasögur í öndvegi en á undanförnum áratugum hafa rannsóknir á fornleifum skipað æ stærri sess og notið stuðnings af rannsóknum á gjóskulögum og mannabeinum og af geislakolsmælingum. Þá hafa mikilsverðar upplýsingar fengist úr rannsóknum í erfðafræði og vistfræði og öðrum greinum. Á þessari bók birtast fjórtán greinar byggðar á fyrirlestrunum þar sem innlendir og erlendir fræðimenn segja frá rannsóknum sínum á landnámi Íslands frá ólíkum hliðum og sjónarhóli ólíkra fræðigreina, svo sem sagnfræði, siglingafræði, vistfræði, málsögu, menningarfræði og bókmenntafræði.

Efni

  • Gunnar Karlsson: Ágrip af landnámsrannsóknarsögu
  • Þorsteinn Vilhjálmsson: Landnám, skip og siglingar
  • Árni Einarsson: Garðlög fornaldar og vistfræði landnáms
  • Kristján Árnason: Tunga nemur land
  • Pernille Hermann: The Landnám: Narratives of New Beginnings, the Weather and Myths
  • Elisabeth Ida Ward: The Embodied Practice of Emplacement in Landnám
  • Sveinbjörn Rafnsson: Að trúa Landnámu
  • Auður Ingvarsdóttir: Forn fræði og ættartölur: Hugmyndir um samsetningu og innihald Landnámabókar
  • Helgi Þorláksson: Fimmtíu ár forgefins? Um undirtektir við fræðilegri gagnrýni á heimildargildi Landnámu
  • Torfi H. Tulinius: Skrásetning og stjórnun lands og lýðs: Um Landnámuritun og goðamenningu
  • Ármann Jakobsson: Þörfin fyrir sanna sögu: Hvaða máli skiptir sannleiksgildi fornrita á borð við Landnámabók fyrir tuttugustu aldar fræðastarf?
  • Ólína Kjerúlf Þorvarðardóttir: Misfarir eða missagnir? Staðfræði tveggja fornra frásagna
  • Marion Lerner: Pólitísk goðsögn, rými og staðir: Íslensk ferðafélög og landnám þeirra á fyrri hluta tuttugustu aldar
  • Helgi Þorláksson: Endursýn landnáms að leiðarlokum

Centre for Medieval Studies Lectures

Timothy Bourns

Driftwood and the Divine: Ecocritical Readings of trémenn

Thursday, November 28, 2019, at 16.30
Lögberg 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.

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

Centre for Medieval Studies Lectures

Ryder Patzuk-Russell

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019, at 16.30
Lögberg 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.

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

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Jan A. Kozák

Body Parts and Metaphors

The Logic of Transformations in Old Norse Mythology

Tuesday, November 19, 2019, at 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.

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

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