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.