Jan Alexander van Nahl

Take your chance?

Observations on Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar

Fimmtudaginn 15. janúar 2015 kl. 16.30
Odda 101

Jan Alexander van Nahl

What determines people’s life and actions? Do things happen due to a necessity beyond human influence? Throughout the history of humanity, people have striven to give an answer to this most crucial question, not least in times of crisis, threatening fundamental values and orders. Narration has always played a fundamental role in human attempts at sense-making, allowing people to gain distance from disturbing experiences. This holds even for medieval literature: a subtle literary treatment was capable not only of describing but of reflecting upon human’s status in the course of history.

Taking this assumption as a starting point, my paper draws attention to some interesting constellations in Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar. The kings sagas are commonly said to explain a king’s life and career by means of his nature, depicting more or less stereotypical attributes which foreshadow the coming events. On the other hand, Haralds saga bears witness to the significance of even minor incidents, also involving the danger of serious trouble. The clash of (seemingly) coincidental happenings and the saga protagonists’ attempts at response allows for different assessments. Are we supposed to read these accounts as a depiction of the inevitability of every man’s life, proving any attempt at a reasonable solution insufficient? Or should we rather stress people’s freedom to choose how to react to unexpected situations? Not least, these questions give us reason to speculate on Haralds saga’s purpose in 13th century Iceland.

Jan Alexander van Nahl studied in Bonn/Germany and Uppsala/Sweden, and holds a Dr. phil. from the university of Munich. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iceland and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. Jan has published on Old Norse literature, History of Science, Theology, Modern Literature, and the Digital Humanities.