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.