All posts by Haraldur Bernharðsson

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir

Emotion words in Njáls saga and Egils saga

Construction of an Emotional Lexis

Thursday, November 18, 2021, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir

The Íslendingasögur (Sagas of Icelanders) are notorious for the apparent emotional reticence of their narrative style. As a rule, the narrative voice is externally focalised and emotional expression in the prose is mainly implicit; feelings are communicated through behaviour, physical reactions, and indirect allusions, and most often need to be inferred.

Even though scholars have often maintained that the Íslendingasögur are poor in emotional vocabulary, the emotion words in them have not been comprehensively explored. In this talk, I explain my construction of database of the words used to express feelings in two of the longest sagas, Njáls saga and Egils saga. The method used enabled the plotting of various variables, such as character, gender, social status, and speaker, against one another. This uncovered narrative patterns and formulas for action, as well as allowing the identification of anomalies. This further resulted in the production of the first lexicons of the two sagas’ emotional vocabulary.

The analysis of the emotional lexis demonstrates that, contrary to what has often been assumed, the sagas contain a wide variety of emotion words that are applied systematically, precisely, and purposefully to achieve specific narrative aims.

Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir received her doctorate in Old Norse Literature from the University of Cambridge in 2020, where she studied the emotional depiction in the Íslendingasögur. She is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, working on the collaborative project ‘The Íslendingasögur as Prosimetrum.’

The talk will be delivered in Icelandic and supported by visual material in English. All are welcome to attend (maximum seating capacity 50; masks mandatory).

Live stream: https://eu01web.zoom.us/j/62199315953

Brynja’s slides.

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Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Árni Daníel Júlíusson

Hvalrekar og hvalnýting á 13.–15. öld

Um vitnisburð skjalaheimilda og annarra heimilda um þátt hvalaafurða í afkomu Íslendinga á þessum tíma

Thursday, November 4, 2021, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Árni Daníel Júlíusson

Í þessum fyrirlestri verður fjallað um heimildir um hvalreka og rekafjörur frá 13. til 15. aldar í tengslum við rannsóknarverkefni um hvalveiðar á Íslandi sem Vicki Szabo, umhverfissagnfræðingur við Western Carolina-háskóla, stýrir og ýmsir fræðimenn úr mörgum fræðigreinum vinna að. Hvalbein frá miðöldum á Íslandi hafa verið greind í þessu rannsóknarverkefni, sem fyrirlesari tekur þátt í, og virðist sú rannsókn sýna að mikilvægasti hvalurinn á miðöldum hafi verið steypireyður. Bein af steypireyði finnast í mörgum fornum öskuhaugum, til dæmis á Siglunesi og í Þistilfirði. Lúðvík Kristjánsson lagði fram þá hugmynd um 1980 að hvalaafurðir hafi verið mikilvægari á fyrstu öldum Íslands byggðar en áður hefur almennt verið á vitorði manna. Sú hafi jafnvel verið raunin lengi fram eftir öldum.

Margvíslegt efni um hvalreka og hvalanytjar er til að mynda að finna í lagatextum, bæði Grágás og Jónsbók. Í Grágás er sérstakur þáttur um reka, Rekaþáttur. Þar er bæði fjallað um viðarreka og hvalreka, og eru þar ítarlegar reglur á þessu sviði. Þar kemur meðal annars vel fram hversu hvalaafurðir voru mikil búbót, bæði hvað varðar fitu og kjöt af hvölunum, vegna þess hversu skepnurnar voru stórar.

Þá verður gerð nokkur grein fyrir rannsóknum á fornleifum. Miklar heimildir um hvalreka er að finna í Íslensku fornbréfasafni. Þessar heimildir eru bæði frá bændum, til dæmis í Hornafirði og á Rosmhvalanesi, og einnig frá kaþólsku kirkjunni. Mjög umfangsmiklar heimildir eru til frá því um 1270 og fram um 1400 um réttindi og eignir kaþólsku kirkjunnar hvað þetta varðar, mjög víða um land. Eftir 1400 sneyðist mjög um heimildir á þessu sviði, en þó er eitthvað til. Heimildirnar frá Rosmhvalanesi og úr Hornafirði eru afar merkar og veita sjaldgæfa innsýn í samfélagsskipan fyrir tíma stórra jarðeigenda. Heimildirnar frá kaþólsku kirkjunni eru ekki síður merkar því að þær eru fyrstu stóru og umfangsmiklu heimildir um rekstur og eignir kirkjunnar eftir að hún náði verulegri fótfestu í samfélaginu sem sjálfstæð stofnun. Í þessum kirkjulegu heimildum er meðal annars að finna heimildir um nýtingu rekafjöru á Melrakkasléttu, Tröllaskaga, Skaga og á Ströndum. Í báðum þessum heimildaflokkum, hvalreka bænda og hvalreka kirkju, er að finna bæjarnafnaskrár sem oft eru fyrstu ritheimildir um viðkomandi jarðir. Rannsóknir á þessum heimildum eru skammt á veg komnar og verður gerð grein fyrir ýmsum vandamálum sem tengjast slíkum rannsóknum.

Árni Daníel Júlíusson er sagnfræðingur við Háskóla Íslands. Hann lauk doktorsprófi frá Kaupmannahafnarháskóla árið 1997 og hefur sinnt margvíslegum rannsóknum, kennslu og ritstörfum, aðallega á Íslandssögu tímabilsins 1300 til 1800.

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

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Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Natalie Van Deusen

“Alheil(l)”

On Miracle Narratives as Sources for the Construction of Disability in Medieval Iceland

Thursday, October 21, 2021, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Natalie Van Deusen
Natalie Van Deusen

This paper discusses the importance of Old Norse-Icelandic miracle narratives, which contain a plethora of examples of impairment of varying degrees of visibility and severity, as sources for understanding of how impairment and disability were constructed in medieval Iceland. Echoing the fundamental biblical miracles performed by Jesus, saints channeled the power of God to cure the blind, deaf, leprous, physically impaired, and mentally troubled. Such examples, whose primary purpose was to demonstrate the sanctity of certain individuals, lend important incidental insight into the lives and experiences of individuals with visible and invisible impairments. Equally illuminating in terms of constructing disability is viewing the material from the perspective of why people call upon the aid of saints. While presented as maladies to be cured, and in this way presenting these individuals as impaired and/or disabled, these miracles sometimes show the great love and care given to disabled individuals–especially children. In either presentation, such examples provide a window into how visible and invisible impairments were experienced, understood, and treated in medieval Iceland.

This discussion builds upon the important research and conclusions from the Disability Before Disability research project at the University of Iceland, which ran from 2017-2020, and argues for the importance of hagiographic literature and miracle narratives in particular as important sources for our understanding of how disability and impairment were constructed in medieval Iceland.

Natalie Van Deusen (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012) is Henry Cabot and Linnea Lodge Professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include Old Norse and Early Modern Icelandic paleography and philology, manuscript culture, hagiography, disability studies, and gender studies.

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

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Lars Lönnroth

The border of reality

The Gautelfur area as “liminal space” in the sagas

Wednesday, September 22, 2021, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Lars Lönnroth

The expression “liminal space” refers not only to the fact that the Gautelfur area in the Middle Ages constituted the border (landamæri] between Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but also to the fact that this border area was often thought of in the sagas as a mysterious space where unusual things could happen (the meeting of kings, Viking attacks, amorous meetings with royal women, et cetera). I will also report on the latest archeological findings at the old border town of Konungahella, suggesting that this place is much older than historians have believed. The stories told in Iceland about Konungahella and the landamæri may also be older than scholars have thought until now.

Lars Lönnroth started his career in Uppsala, Sweden. HIs doctoral dissertation, European Sources of Icelandic Saga-Writing, was published in 1965. He was a teacher of Scandinavian literature at the University of California, Berkeley, between 1965 and 1974, when he became a professor at the University of Aalborg in Denmark. In 1982, he returned to Sweden and served as professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Gothenburg until 2000. His best-known books about Icelandic literature are Njáls Saga: A Critical Introduction (1976), Skaldemjödet I berget: Essayer om fornisländsk ordkonst och dess återanvändning i nutiden (1996), and The Academy of Odin: Selected Papers on Old Norse Literature (2011). He has also published his autobiography, Dörrar till främmande rum: Minnesfragment (2009). — On Thursday, September 23, at 15.00, Professor Lars Lönnroth will be awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies of the University of Iceland in recognition of his important work on medieval Icelandic literature.

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

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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.