Archive for August, 2008

Website Watch: The Icelandic Saga Database

Another on-line text database this week. As I’ve trawled the net looking to build up a comprehensive list of the Norse texts that are available in digital formats, it’s struck me how few are ‘official’ projects: largely unfunded, and without the backing of any academic institution, people are taking the initiative to make this stuff available for the love of it. Another example of an amateur — though very far from amateurish — effort in publishing medieval Scandinavian texts on the web is the Icelandic Saga Database. This site is dedicated to the Íslendingasögur, and forms a comprehensive collection of Modern Icelandic orthography versions. It also has many translations into various other languages, and some of the original Old Norse. It’s really easy to use, and the texts are well presented: they can also be downloaded in .pdf format. It’s just a shame that the editors aren’t identified: I wonder if the Icelandic versions are the same as on Netútgafun?

Coming soon to Old Norse News: While I’m on the subject of online editions, I shall advertise our plan to publish a directory of all Old Norse texts available on the Web (to make sure that I do it!). So, if you’re away from libraries, but still online, and you need to find a text of Lúcíu saga, for example, you’ll be just a couple of clicks away. I think I’ve gathered most of the data, and just need to turn it into a usable format. Watch this space!

Myth and Memory in Old Norse Culture

This year’s Aarhus conference on matters mythological will take place on 20-21 November, with the theme ‘Myth and Memory in Old Norse Culture’. The programme looks excellent, with the likes of Stefan Brink, John McKinnell, Gísli Sigurðsson, Stephen Mitchell, and Jürg Glauser alongside some of the most up-and-coming younger mythologians. Click on the picture above for details and registration information. Old Norse News certainly plans to send its correspondents to provide a full report!

Snorri Sturluson Fellowships 2009

The Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum has invited applications for next year’s Snorri Sturluson Icelandic Fellowships. I had the great good fortune to receive one of these this year (indeed I’m still in Reykjavík at the time of writing), and I can’t speak highly enough of the support that they offer. So, if you’d like to spend three months working on an Icelandic project in situ, you really should consider applying.

The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies invites applications for the Snorri Sturluson Icelandic Fellowships for 2009. The Fellowships are granted to writers, translators and scholars (not students) from outside Iceland, to enable them to stay in Iceland for a period of at least three months, in order to improve their knowledge of the Icelandic language, culture and society. Read more »

Snorri Sturluson and the Edda

A new–and I think rather important–volume in the Toronto Old Norse-Icelandic Studies series is out now (at least in Canada: it might take a while longer to be distributed elsewhere). Kevin J. Wanner’s Snorri Sturluson and the Edda: The Conversion of Cultural Capital in Medieval Scandinavia revitalises author-centred criticism of Snorra Edda, and makes a persuasive case for its unity and purpose within the context of what we know about Snorri’s life, career, and interests. As the publisher’s blurb describes it:

Why would Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), the most powerful and rapacious Icelander of his generation, dedicate so much time and effort to producing the “Edda”, a text that is widely recognized as the most significant medieval source for pre-Christian Norse myth and poetics? Kevin J. Wanner brings us a new account of the interests that motivated the production of this text, and resolves the mystery of its genesis by demonstrating the intersection of Snorri’s political and cultural concerns and practices.The author argues that the “Edda” is best understood not as an antiquarian labour of cultural conservation, but as a present-centered effort to preserve skaldic poetry’s capacity for conversion into material and symbolic benefits in exchanges between elite Icelanders and the Norwegian court. Employing Pierre Bourdieu’s economic theory of practice, Wanner shows how modern sociological theory can be used to illuminate the cultural practices of the European Middle Ages. In doing so, he provides the most detailed analysis to-date of how the “Edda” relates to Snorri’s biography, while shedding light on the arenas of social interaction and competition that he negotiated.A fascinating look at the intersections of political interest and cultural production, “Snorri Sturluson and the Edda” is a detailed portrait of both an important man and the society of his times.

I had the good fortune to read a pre-publication copy, and I found the book enormously interesting, even if I didn’t agree with all its arguments. I think it certainly provides the best biography of Snorri presently available in English, and it’s very well written indeed. Something to recommend your local library to purchase?

Norse Studies at the University of Melbourne: an Elegy

I came across an interesting article by John Stanley Martin in Nordic Notes, a publication of the Centre for Scandinavian Studies at Flinders University, Australia. John traces the long and distinguished history of the teaching of Old Norse/Icelandic and related subjects at the University of Melbourne (where Old Icelandic was the sixth language to be introduced to the university’s curriculum!)

Unfortunately, the article ends on a melancholy note, since the Viking Studies programme at Melbourne was shut down last year, ending more than half a century’s tradition and achievement. It’s an all-too-familiar story: despite Viking Studies apparently pressing many of the correct buttons for modern university administrators — interdisciplinarity, cross-cultural approaches, collaborative teaching and healthy and growing enrollments — internal politics and budget restrictions appear to have sealed its fate. A great shame.

Old Norse grammar – on a single page!

Alaric's Magic Sheet

It seems impossible: the fundamentals of Old Norse grammar on one sheet of A4 paper. But that’s what Alaric Hall of the University of Leeds has produced in the form of his ‘magic sheet’ of basic paradigms!1 It’s an ideal supplement and reference aid to one of the standard grammar books, and I’m going to be using it (with Alaric’s permission) in my introductory classes this autumn.

Alaric makes this resource available freely, and he says he’d be delighted for anybody to download it, print it, and share it. He’d appreciate it if you’d drop him a line though to let him know if you choose to use it, though.

(Oh, and he apologises that he couldn’t fit the ‘middle’ verbal voice on the sheet: he might produce a second page at a later date…)

Anything that makes Old Norse grammar more user-friendly (which is where Michael Barnes’s generally excellent introduction falls down, in my opinion) is much to be welcomed. Thanks to Alaric for sharing it with us.

Website Watch: Heimskringla.no

Heimskringla logo

Like Septentrionalia, which we featured last week, Heimskringla (“Norrøne Tekster og Kvad” (Old Norse Prose and Poetry)) is a major private initiative that aims to make a wide selection of texts and relevant scholarly material available, free of charge, on the internet. As the site itself says:

The purpose of the project “Norrøne Tekster og Kvad” (Old Norse Prose and Poetry) is to make Old Norse literature freely accessible on the internet. In addition to source texts in the original language readers will find several texts translated into the later Scandinavian languages, classical scholarly works and other background material, in particular from before 1900. Read more »