Archive for October, 2008

More on the Vikings and Icelandic Entrepreneurship

Further to our recent discussion of comparisons between the ‘New Vikings’ of the Icelandic economic boom and their medieval counterparts, I discovered that the Reykjavík Grapevine has published — entirely mischievously — the text of a speech given by former president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson in 2005. Ólafur comes right out and attributes some of the Icelanders’ success in business to their Viking character:

Eighth on my list [of factors explaining this success] is the heritage of discovery and exploration, fostered by the medieval Viking sagas that have been told and retold to every Icelandic child. This is a tradition that gives honour to those who venture into unknown lands, who dare to journey to foreign fields, interpreting modern business ventures as an extension of the Viking spirit, applauding the successful entrepreneurs as heirs of this proud tradition.

Ninth is the importance of personal reputation. This is partly rooted in the medieval Edda poems which emphasise that our wealth might wither away but our reputation will stay with us forever. Every Icelandic entrepreneur knows that success or failure will reflect not only on his or her own reputation but also on the reputation of the nation. They therefore see themselves as representatives of a proud people and know that their performance will determine their reputation for decades or centuries to come.

It’s easy to be wise after the fact, but in the light of recent events one wishes that somebody in Iceland had had the prescience of Njáll in these matters: when Ólafur Ragnar concluded by saying ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’, he clearly hadn’t. Perhaps Hávamál 75 is the verse we should remember in the current climate:

Even a man who knows nothing
Knows that many are fooled by money;
One man is rich, another is not rich,
He should not be blamed for that.

Or, even better, the second half of stanza 78:

Wealth is like the twinkling of an eye,
It is the most unreliable of friends.

(Translations: Larrington)

Modes of Authorship in the Middle Ages

The second week in November looks like being a busy one in the Old Norse world. The Århus myth conference takes place then, as does the Viking Society meeting in London, where Matthew Driscoll is giving a lecture. Then, on the 17-19 November, the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Bergen is holding a conference entitled Tradition and the Individual Talent: Modes of Authorship in the Middle Ages. Not all the papers are on Scandinavian topics, but several are, and the speakers include Else Mundal, Jonas Wellendorf, Gísli Sigurðsson, Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, Bernt Øyvind Thorvaldsen, Åslaug Ommundsen, Emily Lethbridge and Kristel Zilmer. The full programme is available by clicking the following link: Bergen Authorship Conference Programme. The CMS at Bergen is a fantastic place to visit, and I wish I could go (teaching commitments are going to get in the way of this one for me). Old Norse News will try to get a full report.

Journal Round-Up, October 2008 (Part 2)

October’s Journal Round-Up concludes with Saga-Book, Northern Studies, and the latest number of JEGP.

The new edition of the Viking Society‘s Saga-Book has just been sent out to members. (If you’re not a member, might I urge you to consider joining?) Volume 32 contains three articles and no fewer than 17 reviews:
Read more »

Journal Round-Up, October 2008 (Part 1)

After a slightly longer delay than planned, here is the second of our surveys of what is going on in recent periodical literature in the field of Medieval Scandinavian Studies. There’s something of a historical slant to today’s selection, which includes no fewer than three historiske tidsskrifter and the Norwegian journal Collegium Medievale. Finally, we have a recent edition of Skírnir from Iceland. In a second post we’ll have details — hot off the press — of the 2008 numbers of Saga-Book from the Viking Society for Northern Research and its Scottish equivalent, Northern Studies. Don’t forget that these journals are listed with their web addresses and publication details on our links > journals page.

Norse and Newsworthy

(An occasional feature devoted to our subject’s appearances in the mainstream media, and what becomes of it out in the wider world…)

Iceland has been in the news plenty recently, but only for rather gloomy reasons. You can revisit the old clichés (perpetuated by the new Icelanders themselves, it has to be said) about Icelandic entrepreneurs being the embodiment of the ‘Viking spirit’ in this BBC article from 2006: The Vikings are coming. Or you can wonder, as you read an article like The party’s over for Iceland, the island that tried to buy the world (Guardian), whether the methods of the original Vikings (unsubtle though they seemed to some) weren’t preferable to the activities of some of their descendants. The hedge-fund has turned out to be a less effective weapon than fire and the sword for subjugating the rest of Europe.

That digression into macro-economics put swiftly aside, it was rather nice to see, also on the Guardian’s site, an article asking whether the Sagas of Icelanders are not Europe’s most important book. The use of the singular in the title seems odd, but the author, Ben Myers, seems to think that we may view the whole corpus as a single unified literary entity. It’s a position I think I’d have trouble defending, but it’s good to see the sagas even being discussed in such a forum.

If you’ve been frustrated by the meagre results that you get when you type “Egill Skallagrímsson” + “Eminem” into Google, help is at hand. The March 2008 issue of The Journal of Popular Culture (not something that I’d normally include in our Journal Round-Ups, necessarily) has an article by Brian Anse Patrick of the University of Michigan, which rejoices in the title ‘Vikings and Rappers: The Icelandic Sagas Hip-Hop across 8 Mile’ (subscription possibly needed to read the whole thing). I just thought you might like to know.

The North in the Old English Orosius

Irmeli Valtonen sends details of her new book, The North in the Old English Orosius: A Geographical Narrative in Context, which has been published in the series Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki.

The description of the North in the Old English Orosius in the form of the travel accounts by Ohthere and Wulfstan and a catalogue of northern people are examined in this study in the context of ancient and medieval textual descriptions of the North, with special emphasis on Anglo-Saxon sources and the reign of King Alfred. This is the first time that these sources, an interdisciplinary approach and second literature, also from Scandinavia and Finland, have been brought together.

Please click the following link for full details of this important and most welcome contribution to the field: The North in the Old English Orosius.