SCANDINAVIAN 220: Early Scandinavian Literature: Grief, Mourning, and Memory in Old Norse Poetry

Th 1-4 , 6415 Dwinelle. Instructor: Kate Heslop

Units: 4

Death, grief, mourning and memory are central themes in Old Norse poetry. In this course we will read a selection of eddic and skaldic poems for and about the dead, alongside other Norse ‘memory media’ such as graves, runestones, and funerary ritual. We will also consider some mythological models for remembering – and forgetting – the dead, and the Christian memory-work of the cult of saints. Methodologically, the course is interested in the potential of a ‘history of emotions’ approach (as adumbrated by Barbara Rosenwein, William Reddy, and others) to these texts. Do studies of emotion and memory have to obey Jameson’s injunction to ‘always historicize’, or can we draw on the neurological and psychological commonalities of human experience? What is the relationship between emotions in the text, and those of its audience? How are the poetic texts embedded in extra-textual commemorative spaces and practices? The course will explore various ‘emotional regimes’ (for instance, gendered, pre-Christian, Christian), and enquire into the place of emotions in the Old Norse world and the role of memory and emotion in narrative.


Texts include the skaldic poems Ynglingatal, Eiríksmál, Sonatorrek, Glælognskviða, Geisli, and occasional verses by Sigvatr Þórðarson; heroic poetry from the Poetic Edda; and passages from Snorri’s Edda.

Texts will be supplied in a Reader and/or on bcourses.

Prerequisites: At least one semester of Old Norse language, or consent of instructor.

Workload: each session will include a short informal presentation of class material by one or more course participants.

20-minute formal oral presentation in second half of semester.

Final research paper (20-25 pg.), due at end of semester.