“To Explain the Present and Promote its Values”
Evolving Strategies of Elite Legitimisation in the Variants of the Frá Fornjóti Origin Myth
Fimmtudaginn 24. mars, 2022, kl. 16.30
The origin myth Frá Fornjóti ok hans ættmönnum survives in two variants, Fundinn Noregr and Hversu Noregr byggðist, both of which are preserved in Flateyjarbók. Both variants describe the descent from a primordial being named Fornjótr to the siblings Nórr, Górr, and Gói and the brother’s quest to find their sister after she is abducted. Along the way, Nórr conquers the mainland of northwestern Scandinavia and creates the kingdom of Norway, which he bequeaths to his sons. Górr conquers Norway’s coastal islands, becoming a sækonungr ‘sea-king.’ Despite this shared narrative core, significant differences in detail between the two variants attest to their differing histories. Fundinn Noregr survives as the preface to Orkneyinga saga, and is thus dated to, at the latest, that saga’s second production phase in the 1220s or 30s. Hversu Noregr byggðist is attested much later, and in the form preserved in Flateyjarbók shows signs of extensive expansion in the fourteenth century.
Each stage and variant of the Frá Fornjóti myth introduces new themes and political dimensions into the tradition; Fundinn Noregr provides an origin for the jarls of Orkney, who are positioned as the descendants of Górr. The core of Hversu Noregr byggðist explores the dissemination of the regional dynasties of Norway and anticipates the kingdom’s supposed reunification by Haraldr hárfagri; the expansion phase emphasises the importance of female dynasts in connecting the primordial dynasty of Nórr to prominent Icelandic and Norwegian progenitors.
This talk outlines the history of the Frá Fornjóti tradition from the early thirteenth to late fourteenth centuries, summarising and updating previous scholarly interpretations of the tradition. It explores the tradition’s evolving themes and the various interests—Norwegian, Orcadian, and Icelandic—that they served. Medieval origin myths served as a tool by which members of different medieval elites (spiritual, intellectual, political) aimed to legitimise their present social role by marrying their ancestry (sometimes literally) into the origins of the communities they sought to rule. As the late Susan Reynold’s wrote, the primary purpose of such myths was “to explain the present and promote its values.” These words serve as a mantra for my own endeavour to understand and interpret the shifting themes and forms of the Frá Fornjóti myth.
Ben Allport is a researcher on the ELITES-project at the University of Oslo. He was among the first cohort to study the Viking and Medieval Norse MA at the University of Iceland and University of Oslo and received his Ph.D. from Cambridge in 2018. His research focuses on the creation of community in medieval narrative sources
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