Monthly Archives: November 2014

Strengleikar

Andrea Maraschi

Food is language

Utopias and daily basic needs in the Middle Ages

Thursday November 25, 2014, at 16.30
Árnagarði 422

Andrea Maraschi
Andrea Maraschi

Food was a fundamental element in many symbolic linguistic codes of the past, and this was particularly evident in medieval times. Judaic-Christian culture, just like Greek-Roman, Celtic and Norse mythologies, amongst the others, show that one of the common traits of ancient cults was the typology of their “lexicon”: food parables and allegories; the idea of a paradise with an everlasting summer, where food is available for everyone, forever; the connection between gods, natural forces and, as a consequence, abundance or lack of food, fecundity or famine. The success and effectiveness of this “food language” depended on its universal and dynamic essence: everybody could understand, memorize and spread it with basically no risk of misinterpretation. Just because the target crowds of such religious cults were mainly formed of illiterates, linguistic codes based on familiar elements (bread, wine, ale, cattle, agriculture, fishing, cooking, etc.) were undoubtedly the most suitable, pragmatic and handy ones to use. In hindsight, the “food language” can also be studied as a historical source which lets us know many aspects about food cultures of the Middle Ages, from the fear of hunger to “civilizing plants”. This lecture will cover the use of the food language as a response to people’s worry of death and the unknown, but also to their practical everyday needs, so as to get a glimpse of their mentality.

Andrea Maraschi is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iceland where he studies the symbolic meaning of food in medieval cultures. He holds a BA degree in Modern Humanities, an MA degree in Medieval History and a Ph.D. in Medieval History, all from the University of Bologna.

The Settlement of Iceland

05 Landnám Gudlaugur og Elisabeth.002

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Guðlaugur Rúnar Guðmundsson

Elstu nafngiftir á Innnesjum við Faxaflóa

Fimmtudaginn 20. nóvember 2014 kl. 16.30
Odda 101

Gudlaugur Runar Gudmundsson
Guðlaugur Rúnar Guðmundsson

Hinir fornu hreppar með Sundum við Faxaflóa, Seltjarnarneshreppur og Álftaneshreppur, voru áður fyrr kallaðir saman Innnes og íbúarnir Innnesingar. Íbúar Innnesja voru kallaðir ýmsum nöfnum. Þekktustu nöfnin voru Hraunamenn, Álftnesingar og Seltirningar. Höfuðborgarsvæðið, þar sem flestir Íslendingar búa, er nú að mestu í landi þessara fornu hreppa.

Fjallað verður um elstu heimildir um örnefni á Innnesjum og það landnámsmynstur sem lesa má út frá heitunum. Í þessum efnum eru Íslendingar vel staddir því að merkilegar fornar ritaðar heimildir styðja tilurð fjölmargra heitanna og má þá sérstaklega nefna Landnámu. Hún er okkur bjart leiðarljós og vísbending um upprunann. Nafnamynstrið skýrir að nokkru hvernig landnáms-menn tóku á vandanum og ögruninni í ónumdu landi. Nefna má nýtingu landgæða, bústaðaval og leiðakerfi.

Stuðst verður við loftmyndir, kort og ljósmyndir sem höfundur hefur safnað og unnið með við rannsóknir á kennimerkjum á Innnesjasvæðinu. Reynt verður að nýta rannsóknir á fjölmörgum fræðisviðum til þess að fá skýrari mynd af viðfangsefninu. Sagnfræði, jarðfræði, fornleifafræði og veðurfræði koma að góðum notum í þessum efnum.

Örnefnin segja margt um uppruna frumbyggjanna sem gáfu kennileitunum nafn á sinni tungu. Hugsunaháttur og lífssýn landnámsmannanna á Innnesjum skýrist fyrir okkur þegar við reynum að setja okkur í spor þeirra. Það sem veitir okkur Íslendingum sérstöðu er að við tölum að mestu sömu tungu og þeir sem gáfu kennimerkjunum heiti. Samhengið er órofið milli aldanna.

Guðlaugur Rúnar Guðmundsson er sjálfstætt starfandi sagnfræðingur. Rannsóknir hans lúta einkum að skólasögu fyrri alda á Íslandi og nafnfræði höfuðborgarsvæðisins.

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Elisabeth Ida Ward

Landkunnátta: Place versus space

Fimmtudaginn 20. nóvember 2014 kl. 16.30
Odda 101

elisabeth-ward-090-9-10-13 copy
Elisabeth Ida Ward

In Ari inn fróði’s account of the settlement of Iceland, the impression is given that the top priority of the landnámsmenn is to fix Iceland within contemporary European intellectual constructs — legal, chronological, and spatial. Although logically compelling, this narrative of creating order out of chaos suggests an objective attitude of the settlers towards the Icelandic landscape, a desire to impose structures from without. However, such an attitude would be anomalous within a late-9th century context, when the supposed origin-culture—Viking Age Scandinavia—was exhibiting a strong preference for subjective, intimate, experiential respect for landscape as place. The question therefore emerges if traces of a phenomenological, place-based mindset can be uncovered for the early settlers in Iceland. This presentation summarizes the author’s efforts and methods to uncover such evidence in the Icelandic archeological record and in saga accounts. The archaeological project analyzed native stones found in pagan burial contexts, and the literary project looked at phenomenological representations of landscape in a selection of saga accounts. Other recent archaeological findings in Iceland, and tales from Landnámabók, are combined with these projects to suggest that the landnámsmenn fostered a significant sense of subjective place. Although an orientation toward the landscape as place does not necessarily exclude efforts to fix landscape into external spatial categories, it is important to recognize the phenomenological predilections in the landnámsmenn in order to better analyze the choices they made during the settlement process and later.

Elisabeth Ida Ward is Director of the Scandinavian Cultural Center at Pacific Lutheran University. She works at the intersection between archaeology, anthropology, and saga studies, first as the Assistant Curator for the Smithsonian’s Viking exhibition in 2000, and more recently for her dissertation from UC Berkeley on Þórðar saga hreðu.

Strengleikar

Arngrímur Vídalín

Skal ek fásk við blámann yðvarn

The meaning of the word blámaðr ‘(dark) blue/black man’ and the literary manifestation of blámaðr from the earliest sources down to the 19th century

Thursday November 13, 2014, at 16.30
Árnagarði 422

Arngrímur Vídalín
Arngrímur Vídalín

Medieval Icelandic literature contains numerous references to blámaðr, plur. blámenn ‘(dark) blue/black man’. Some of the stories share the same motif even they are several centuries apart, but others refer to blámenn only as a vague and unidentifiable group of people. Then there is yet another category of examples, many of which can be traced back to European learned literature, such as the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville.

The common opinion has been that blámaðr always had the same meaning: ‘a black man’, ‘a man from Africa’. A closer examination of the attestations of the word reveals a much more complicated picture. In many cases, the word blámaðr shares many semantic properties with the word trǫll ‘troll’, even if trǫll is even more vague and indeterminate than blámaðr. Despite widely held belief to the contrary, the blámaðr of the medieval literature can be defined neither by the color of his skin nor by a particular homeland; such definition belongs to a much later date. On the contrary, the blámaðr in the medieval Icelandic literature is of quite an indeterminate character.

In the talk, numerous instances of blámaðr in the medieval literature, encyclopedic literature and folklore will be discussed in an order to shed light the different meanings of the word depending on context. In addition, comparison European sources will be provided where possible.

Arngrímur Vídalín holds a Cand. Mag. degree in Scandinavian Studies from Aarhus University, Denmark. He is currently a Ph.D. student in medieval Icelandic literature at the University of Iceland. His doctoral research deals with learned ideas about monsters in the Icelandic world view from the beginning of the literary period down to the Reformation.

The lecture will be delivered in Icelandic, but an English rendering of the slides will be made available.

Strengleikar

Natalie Van Deusen

Remnants of Catholicism

The Saints in Early Modern Icelandic Poetry

Tuesday November 11, 2014, at 16.30
Árnagarði 422

Natalie Van Deusen copy
Natalie Van Deusen

The past few decades have witnessed a veritable renaissance of academic interest in Old Norse-Icelandic hagiography, or saints’ lives from medieval Iceland. However, the Old Norse-Icelandic saints’ lives treated in recent scholarship are almost exclusively prose ones, and medieval Icelandic hagiographic poetry—which constitute a much larger corpus of Icelandic hagiographic texts overall—has remained virtually untouched, as have the hundreds of extant poems about saints from early modern Iceland. Indeed, the little that exists of secondary and reference literature on medieval and early modern Icelandic religious poetry is outdated (mostly from the first half of the twentieth century), and in desperate need of revision to meet the needs of students and scholars today.

The Legends of the Saints in Old Norse and Early Modern Icelandic Poetry, which I am co-writing with Professor Kirsten Wolf (University of Wisconsin-Madison), seeks to renew scholarly interest in this genre of Icelandic literature by providing a thorough guide to all Old Norse and early modern Icelandic poetic saints’ lives in a bibliographic format. The book is intended as a sequel to Wolf’s recently published guide to Old Norse-Icelandic prose saints’ lives (The Legends of the Saints in Old Norse-Icelandic Prose, University of Toronto Press, 2013).

This paper, which is based on this larger project, focuses on the composition and dissemination of poems about saints in early modern Iceland. It examines the continued (and in some cases, increased) popularity of stories about holy men and women in Iceland during the centuries after the Reformation, and using the poems as a cultural mirrors, considers what they can tell us about the continued relevance of Catholic saints in Protestant Iceland.

Natalie Van Deusen is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta, where she teaches courses on Scandinavian language, literature, and culture from the Middle Ages to the present day. Her areas of research specialization include Old Norse-Icelandic philology, hagiography (poetry and prose), and gender studies. She is currently co-writing a book on saints in medieval and early modern Icelandic poetry with Dr. Kirsten Wolf (University of Wisconsin-Madison).