SCANDINAVIAN 60: Heroic Legends of the North

TuTh 9:30-11 , 88 Dwinelle. Instructor: Kate Heslop

Units: 4

Scandinavian 60 is a requirement for the five major concentrations in Scandinavian.

L&S Breadth: Arts & Literature

What is a hero? What use were stories about heroes to the societies that produced them? What is the relationship between heroes and gods (pagan and Christian)? Does heroic narrative preserve memories of historical events? Can monsters or women be heroes? How do heroes die, and why do their stories enjoy such a long – if not altogether blameless – afterlife?

Such questions guide our engagement in this course with the heroic narratives of the Northern Middle Ages. The course has a double focus: on the hero and heroic ethos in a period of radical cultural, social and religious change; and on a particular body of literature, the Scandinavian versions of Germanic heroic narrative. It centers on the Poetic Edda, a unique medieval collection of mythological and heroic poetry whose roots reach back into the Viking Age, and perhaps still further back. But we will also explore other manifestations of the northern fascination with heroes, covering topics such as the oral transmission of heroic narrative; heroes in visual culture (runestones, sculptures, jewellery); Latin-speaking Norse heroes in Saxo grammaticus’ Gesta danorum (History of the Danes); how the heroic ethos plays out in more realistic saga genres, such as the lives of the Norwegian kings; and the late medieval flowering of heroic narrative in the Old Norse romances. A look at the post-medieval reception of heroic legend in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle and in contemporary media (e.g. Game of Thrones, the History Channel series Vikings, video games, popular music) rounds off the course.


The Poetic Edda, trans. by Carolyne Larrington, revised edition (OUP: 2014).
Seven Viking Romances, trans. by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards (Penguin: 1985).
The Saga of the Völsungs, trans. by Jesse Byock (Penguin: 2000).
The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok, trans. by Ben Waggoner (Troth: 2009).

Additional texts will be made available in a Course Reader.

Prerequisites: none. The course and readings are in English.