Njáls saga on Horseback

An intriguing idea for your summer holidays…

Njáls Saga on horseback

Are you interested in travelling on horseback through the setting of Iceland’s most dramatic and popular Saga? In late June Jón Karl Helgason, assistant professor at the University of Iceland and the author of The Rewriting of Njáls Saga (1999), will be co-guiding a four day tour (3 riding days) through the setting of Njáls Saga.
Read more »

New Year, New Books: Cambridge Introduction to the Sagas

Alas, our Christmas Book Flood wasn’t more than a trickle, and my list of interesting new books will have to spill over into the new year.

Next to reach the top of the pile is a volume I’m quite excited about, as there still are relatively few good general textbooks on Old Norse that are readily available for English-speaking students (Heather’s book is an honourable exception, of course). The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga, from the pen of the ever-productive Margaret Clunies Ross, will no doubt find its way onto syllabuses wherever Old Norse literature is taught.

This is what the blurb says about it:

The medieval Norse-Icelandic saga is one of the most important European vernacular literary genres of the Middle Ages. This Introduction to the saga genre outlines its origins and development, its literary character, its material existence in manuscripts and printed editions, and its changing reception from the Middle Ages to the present time. Its multiple sub-genres – including family sagas, mythical-heroic sagas and sagas of knights – are described and discussed in detail, and the world of medieval Icelanders is powerfully evoked. The first general study of the Old Norse-Icelandic saga to be written in English for some decades, the Introduction is based on up-to-date scholarship and engages with current debates in the field. With suggestions for further reading, detailed information about the Icelandic literary canon, and a map of medieval Iceland, this book is aimed at students of medieval literature and assumes no prior knowledge of Scandinavian languages.

I’ve had my copy for a few weeks now, and it is excellent, just as you’d expect. I’m requesting our library orders multiple copies and will be putting it on reading lists for all levels of classes next year.

P.S. Sorry about the inelegant picture placement–either WordPress has changed its coding or else I’ve forgotten how to do it with lack of practice!

Jólabókaflóðið, Part I: Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages

I have rather a backlog of recent books to announce. Many thanks to everybody who’s sent notices of publications to me (and, in a couple of cases, even actual books!), and apologies for the tardiness.

In the run up to Christmas I shall try to tell you about as many of these new books as possible–who knows, it might not be too late to buy one for a family member or co-worker! (If you click on the links here and then subsequently purchase the volume at Amazon, a tiny percentage is returned to me, which I put towards the costs of hosting ONN.)

Anyway, the first latest book is:

Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages, by Stephen A. Mitchell

Stephen A. Mitchell here offers the fullest examination available of witchcraft in late medieval Scandinavia. He focuses on those people believed to be able-and who in some instances thought themselves able-to manipulate the world around them through magical practices, and on the responses to these beliefs in the legal, literary, and popular cultures of the Nordic Middle Ages. His sources range from the Icelandic sagas to cultural monuments much less familiar to the nonspecialist, including legal cases, church art, law codes, ecclesiastical records, and runic spells. Mitchell’s starting point is the year 1100, by which time Christianity was well established in elite circles throughout Scandinavia, even as some pre-Christian practices and beliefs persisted in various forms. The book’s endpoint coincides with the coming of the Reformation and the onset of the early modern Scandinavian witch hunts. The terrain covered is complex, home to the Germanic Scandinavians as well as their non-Indo-European neighbors, the Sami and Finns, and it encompasses such diverse areas as the important trade cities of Copenhagen, Bergen, and Stockholm, with their large foreign populations; the rural hinterlands; and the insular outposts of Iceland and Greenland. By examining witches, wizards, and seeresses in literature, lore, and law, as well as surviving charm magic directed toward love, prophecy, health, and weather, Mitchell provides a portrait of both the practitioners of medieval Nordic magic and its performance. With an understanding of mythology as a living system of cultural signs (not just ancient sacred narratives), this study also focuses on such powerful evolving myths as those of “the milk-stealing witch,” the diabolical pact, and the witches’ journey to Blakulla. Court cases involving witchcraft, charm magic, and apostasy demonstrate that witchcraft ideologies played a key role in conceptualizing gender and were themselves an important means of exercising social control.

Proverb Conference in Saskatoon

Richard Harris writes to let us know of a conference to be held next year on the theme of Proverbia Septentrionalia. The Uses of the Proverb in the Medieval Cultures of Northern Europe.

It will be held at St Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Canada, on 11-13 November 2011. A Call for Papers has just been issued (click the link above). Here’s what the conference website says about its aims:

At this conference we will examine the uses of the proverb in the medieval cultures of northern Europe, in particular how such phrases are employed in literature and in non-fictional writings.  The discipline of paroemiology, or the study of proverbs, recognizes their origins as often preceding the literate stage of societies.  In fact, they must have made up a significant element in that formulaic framework by which knowledge and wisdom were fixed and transmitted generationally in the communities of pre-literate humanity.  The still unmapped syntactic structure of the paroemial form lent itself both to mnemonic efficiency and to rhetorical persuasion—even today, there are cultures in Africa where litigation and governmental advice are expressed proverbially, and the conduct of law in our own societies still employs proverbial material occasionally, just as do our politicians.

Aristotle was of the view that proverbs constituted the remains of man’s early philosophy which survived through their brevity and cleverness, and whole books of sacred texts are devoted to these formulaic dictums upon just and wise behaviour.  In this context, the entertainment of The Fables of Aesop is surely subordinate to their grounding in the wisdom often encapsulated at their close with a sentence of proverbial nature.  The fact of proverbs arising from the oral heritage of a culture has led some to opine, with Francis Bacon, that “The genius, wit and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs,” but whether such pursuits are productive is doubtful.  Of greater use to the discipline is the acknowledgement that proverb texts have, and indeed may be defined by, their own generative structure, a structure to which Archer Taylor referred, if unconsciously, when he observed, “An incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not.”

The presence of this structure in texts incorporated in poems and stories marks such passages not merely as instructive in themselves, but also as resonating with accepted communal wisdom in ways that can help us understand the works in which they occur.  Papers are welcome at this conference on any aspect of proverbial material in north European medieval literature and culture.

Two actual academic jobs in Old Norse

It’s rare to find much to be cheerful about in the current climate surrounding Higher Education, but I was very pleased to see that at least two North American colleges are trying to recruit Old Norse specialists this year.

First, Berkeley is looking for an Assistant/Associate Professor of Old Norse in the Scandinavian Department:

[They] seek candidates with expertise in the field of Old Norse literature, broadly defined.  As the members of the Scandinavian Department all work across disciplines, we require that candidates for this position also exhibit expertise in a secondary field.  Historically, secondary fields among our faculty have included Folklore, Film, and 18th- and 19th-century Nordic literature; we would also welcome such fields as Art History, Cultural Studies, and Comparative Literature, to offer some examples.  Strong ability in a modern mainland Nordic language (Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, or Swedish) is required; ability in modern Icelandic would be a welcome plus.  The candidate is expected to contribute courses to the undergraduate and graduate programs in Scandinavian that will also appeal to students working in other academic fields. Demonstrated research excellence and teaching ability are required.  Ph.D. is expected to be completed by spring of 2011.

Also on the West Coast, the University of Oregon is looking for an Old English expert, but Old Norse is specified as a desideratum:

The University of Oregon Department of English seeks an Assistant Professor (tenure-track) in Old English Literature.  We expect the candidate to be able to teach Middle English literature; knowledge of Old Norse language and literature is also desirable. We particularly encourage candidates whose research engages issues that intersect with the interests of colleagues in other literary periods and fields; these issues include, but are not limited to, race, community and nationhood; gender and sexuality, literature and the environment.

Minimum Requirements: Ph.D. in English or related field in hand by time of appointment. Salary is competitive.

The best of luck to any readers of ONN who decide to apply. Please let us know if you hear of any similar openings in the autumn hiring season.

Recordings of Reconstructed Old Norse

Kendra Willson writes (in a comment to another post, but I thought it would be better to move it to the front, so more people might see it):

Where can I find recordings of Old Norse texts with reconstructed pronunciation?

I have pointed out Raven of Denmark’s performance of part of Atlakviða
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xagMYiZ2NP0) to my students and to an actor who planned to make an audition video in Old Norse in hopes of getting a part in Mel Gibson’s film with Leonardo DiCaprio (I live in Los Angeles) before that project was suspended due to Gibson’s latest scandal. The only other recording with reconstructed pronunciation I have found online is a recitation of part of Völuspá recorded for Librivox (http://librivox.org/multilingual-poetry-collection-001/ – scroll down to Old Icelandic) by one Julian Jamison, an economist in Pacific Palisades. Are there more out there? Thanks for any tips.

Can anybody offer Kendra suggestions?

Call for Papers: Inaugural St Magnus Conference, Orkney

From Alexandra Sanmark:

The Centre for Nordic Studies UHI invites you and your colleagues to
submit abstracts for the Inaugural St Magnus Conference, Orkney 2011 at the Centre for Nordic Studies, UHI Millennium Institute, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, 14-15th April, 2011.

The 2-day international conference will feature presentations on cultural and geographical connections between Scotland and the Nordic World, fostering dialogue and knowledge exchange between academia, government and the public. The theme of this event concerns cultural, geographical and historical links between Scotland and the Nordic World. However, we welcome talks on all Nordic and maritime topics, particularly comparative studies. Abstracts are due by 30/11/10. Read more »

« Previous PageNext Page »