Playing With the Truth
Contests of Wits, Word Games and the Historicity of the Fornaldarsögur
Tuesday March 24, 2015, at 16.30
The fornaldarsögur have traditionally been associated with viking-style heroics but they also contain a fair amount of verbal wit and wisdom. The riddles in Hervara saga and Ragnar loðbrók’s apparently paradoxical requirements for his first meeting with Áslaug/Kráka are just two examples. Taking my thesis on Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra as a starting point, I look at the concept of truth developed through such verbal contests and riddles which are found within the genre, and an attempt is made to show their relevance for the ongoing debates concerning historicity and fictionality. It has been argued that our modern concepts of factual modes of writing as opposed to imaginative ones cannot be applied to Old Norse-Icelandic literature. While this is certainly true, narratorial apologiae show that scribes/authors were aware of competing claims as to how narrative material related to people’s lived experiences in both the present and the past. In brainteasers and puzzles we witness another way in which writers have developed and revealed a playfully complex conception of veracity as well as the way in which words can represent or distort reality. I will argue that these elements have encouraged readers old and new to reject any monolithic interpretation of the distant past and push audiences towards a ludic and intellectually engaged interaction with legendary saga literature.
Philip Lavender has recently successfully defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Copenhagen. Prior to that he studied English Literature and Medieval Studies at Oxford University. He is currently a research assistant at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen. His research focusses on fornaldarsögur, rímur, saga reception and Scandinavian intellectual history.