Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Natalie Van Deusen

“Alheil(l)”

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

Fimmtudaginn 21. október 2021 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 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.

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Lars Lönnroth

The border of reality

The Gautelfur area as “liminal space” in the sagas

Miðvikudaginn 22. september 2021 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 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.

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Merrill Kaplan

A leek with a grain of salt: Laukr in Vǫlsa þáttr and elsewhere

Fimmtudaginn 12. mars 2020 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 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.

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Mikael Males

Fóstbrœðra saga: A Missing Link?

Fimmtudaginn 5. mars 2020 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 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).

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—o—

Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Yoav Tirosh & Michael MacPherson

On Ljósvetninga saga’s Redactions and What They Teach Us About Reading the Íslendingasögur

Fimmtudaginn 20. febrúar 2020 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 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.

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Rebecca Merkelbach

Alternative Histories of the Settlement?

Story-Worlds and the Fictionality of the ‘Post-Classical’ Sagas of Icelanders

Fimmtudaginn 6. febrúar 2020 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 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

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Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

—o—

Luke John Murphy

An Anatomy of the Blood Eagle

The Anatomical and Sociocultural Limits of Viking Torture

Fimmtudaginn 23. janúar 2020 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 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.

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Landnám Íslands

Landnám Íslands

Úr fyrirlestraröð Miðaldastofu Háskóla Íslands 2014-2015

ÚTGÁFUHÓF

Fagnið með okkur útgáfu bókarinnar
fimmtudaginn 5. desember kl. 16.00
í ljósmyndasal Þjóðminjasafns Íslands
Allir velkomnir!

Út er komið hjá Miðaldastofu Háskóla Íslands og Háskólaútgáfunni greinasafnið Landnám Íslands: úr fyrirlestraröð Miðaldastofu Háskóla Íslands 2014-2015. Landnámið er spennandi rannsóknarefni enda gefst þar einstakt tækifæri til að afla vitneskju um hvernig samfélag manna verður til í ósnortnu landi. Rannsóknarsaga landnámsins er löng. Framan af voru ritheimildir á borð við Landnámabók, Íslendingabók Ara fróða og Íslendingasögur í öndvegi en á undanförnum áratugum hafa rannsóknir á fornleifum skipað æ stærri sess og notið stuðnings af rannsóknum á gjóskulögum og mannabeinum og af geislakolsmælingum. Þá hafa mikilsverðar upplýsingar fengist úr rannsóknum í erfðafræði og vistfræði og öðrum greinum. Á þessari bók birtast fjórtán greinar byggðar á fyrirlestrunum þar sem innlendir og erlendir fræðimenn segja frá rannsóknum sínum á landnámi Íslands frá ólíkum hliðum og sjónarhóli ólíkra fræðigreina, svo sem sagnfræði, siglingafræði, vistfræði, málsögu, menningarfræði og bókmenntafræði.

Efni

  • Gunnar Karlsson: Ágrip af landnámsrannsóknarsögu
  • Þorsteinn Vilhjálmsson: Landnám, skip og siglingar
  • Árni Einarsson: Garðlög fornaldar og vistfræði landnáms
  • Kristján Árnason: Tunga nemur land
  • Pernille Hermann: The Landnám: Narratives of New Beginnings, the Weather and Myths
  • Elisabeth Ida Ward: The Embodied Practice of Emplacement in Landnám
  • Sveinbjörn Rafnsson: Að trúa Landnámu
  • Auður Ingvarsdóttir: Forn fræði og ættartölur: Hugmyndir um samsetningu og innihald Landnámabókar
  • Helgi Þorláksson: Fimmtíu ár forgefins? Um undirtektir við fræðilegri gagnrýni á heimildargildi Landnámu
  • Torfi H. Tulinius: Skrásetning og stjórnun lands og lýðs: Um Landnámuritun og goðamenningu
  • Ármann Jakobsson: Þörfin fyrir sanna sögu: Hvaða máli skiptir sannleiksgildi fornrita á borð við Landnámabók fyrir tuttugustu aldar fræðastarf?
  • Ólína Kjerúlf Þorvarðardóttir: Misfarir eða missagnir? Staðfræði tveggja fornra frásagna
  • Marion Lerner: Pólitísk goðsögn, rými og staðir: Íslensk ferðafélög og landnám þeirra á fyrri hluta tuttugustu aldar
  • Helgi Þorláksson: Endursýn landnáms að leiðarlokum

Fyrirlestrar Miðaldastofu

Timothy Bourns

Driftwood and the Divine: Ecocritical Readings of trémenn

Fimmtudaginn 28. nóvember 2019 kl. 16.30
Lögbergi 101

Timothy Bourns

This presentation will examine trémenn and the ways in which the categories of human and wood intersect in Old Norse literature, both metaphorically and metaphysically, thus blurring the lines between human and non-human, sentient and non-sentient, mind and matter.

Þorleifs þáttr jarlaskálds—the tale of Þorleifr, the earl’s poet—provides an introductory case study, telling of a Norwegian king who calls upon his tutelary goddesses, the sisters Þorgerðr Hǫrgabrúðr and Irpa, to help him construct a trémaðr assassin out of a piece of driftwood and a human heart, which he sends to Iceland to kill the poet who shamed him. This wooden character is named—Þorgarðr—given clothes, and is able to walk and talk.

Drawing on wide-ranging examples, I will explore the ways in which this type of pre-Christian figure was imagined in post-conversion Iceland (e.g., the wooden idols of Freyr in Gunnars þáttr helmings and Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta); how trémenn are imbued with emotional interiority and selfhood (e.g., the ashamed trémenn in Hávamál and the tearful trémaðr in Ragnars saga loðbrókar); and how bark acts as both metaphorical and literal clothing (e.g. the Birkibeinar in Sverris saga and the Næframaðr in Örvar-Odds saga). Evidence from Sonatorrek and other skaldic verse provides parallel evidence, with a diverse range of kennings figuratively linking people with trees.

I will also analyse why driftwood in particular is used as a building material for human-tree hybrids (e.g., Askr and Embla in Gylfaginning); the symbolic connection between driftwood and fate (e.g., Ingólfr’s high-seat pillars in Landnámabók); how natural objects can be granted vitality and narrative agency (e.g., Þuríðr’s cursed driftwood in Grettis saga); and how this might relate to medieval Icelandic thinking about wood, trees, and a changing environment with limited natural resources.

I will thus argue for the merits of a more expansive, post-humanist, object-oriented, material ecocriticism to provide new readings of the Old Norse-Icelandic literary environment.

Timothy Bourns is graduate of the Medieval Icelandic Studies Master’s program. He wrote his doctoral thesis about animals in Old Norse literature at the University of Oxford, and now he is a postdoctoral researcher on the international project ‘Emotion and the Medieval Self in Northern Europe’ based at the University of Iceland.

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