Postgraduate Course: Old Norse Literature and Society (ELCS11013)
|School||School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||This course provides an overview of societal, cultural and literary developments in the North Atlantic island of Iceland, from its settlement in the late 9th Century through the end of its Commonwealth Period in the later part of the 13th Century. The main focus of the course is the rich literary heritage of medieval Iceland. Students will engage with a representative selection of texts, covering a range of genres and topics. By undertaking guided readings and analysis against a background of pertinent historical, and cultural developments, the course will review the value of these texts as literary artefacts and historical source materials.
Old Norse Literature & Society begins with an overview of the discovery and settlement of Iceland in the 9th century AD, highlighting the cultural background and worldview of the colonists, and serving as an introduction to the society they established. The focus then turns to the state Conversion of Iceland to Christianity at the end of the first millennium, and the wider significance of the associated process of 'literisation'. We will consider how the art and tradition of writing was used by both the Christian Church and secular elite to promote and safeguard their interests, before moving on to discuss the origins and significance of more specifically literary genres, as defined in recent scholarship.
Topics to be covered will typically include early historiography, poetry and paganism, bloodfeud and balance in the Family Sagas, the format and features of Icelandic 'Romance', ¿Royal Biography¿, and the societal importance of ¿the gift¿. The individual texts and extracts studied will include appropriate illustrative examples of history-writing, skaldic and eddic verse, sagas from several different genres, and þættir. All texts will be studied in translation into modern English.
While the aesthetic qualities of these texts will be examined, the main focus of our reading will be the contextualised analysis of themes, tropes and content. By considering the historical, cultural, and political context within which the material was written, we will explore the extent to which it can be used to understand the beliefs and societal concerns of the authors, and in some cases, their ancestors.
Students enrolled on the PG variant of this course will participate in five additional tutorials to help broaden and deepen their understanding of the topics under consideration.
Breakdown of Learning & Teaching Activities:
Students will begin each week by watching some short videos as an introduction to the specific themes to be studied [Asynchronous]. The videos are linked to further resources and core reading materials, available via the course Learn page [Asynchronous]. Engaging with these materials is essential for participation in the weekly seminars.
Depending on class size, students will also be assigned to small autonomous learning groups for the purpose of preparing for the synchronous weekly seminars, focusing on several questions relating to the week's specified themes, and taking turns to act as the Discussion Group Leader. The weekly Discussion Group Leader(s) will then lead the whole-class discussion in the seminar that follows [Synchronous].
NB: PG students will also give a presentation on an assigned topic at one of the five additional PG-only Tutorials [Synchronous].
Following each week¿s learning and teaching activities, students will complete a computer-marked Multiple-Choice Quiz via Learn [Asynchronous]. The Quiz will test whether they have absorbed and understood the factual underpinning of a named theme from the required readings. Each week's Quiz will have to be completed before 5pm on Friday of the relevant teaching week.
Over the first 5 weeks of the course, all students will also formulate draft essay proposals, in which they identify and develop a viable topic for a discursive essay. This will be submitted in Week 5, with formative feedback provided within the following week. Students will submit their final essay proposal for grading and feedback by the end of the following week.
The deadline for submitting course essays will be in the exam weeks which follow the end of the course.
Potentially Re-Traumatising Content:
In this course, we will be discussing content that may be re-traumatising to some students. Some of the themes covered may touch upon issues which are misogynistic, homophobic or foreground physical violence. We believe in the importance of engaging with this material, so please rest assured that we will work with you to ensure you can participate fully and demonstrate your achievement of the learning outcomes of the course, without compromising your wellbeing or your academic development. If you have concerns at any point, we invite you to approach the course organiser Alan.Macniven@ed.ac.uk to discuss how we can best support you in your work on this course. We affirm that you will be treated with dignity and respect in all discussions and at every stage of the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
|Additional Costs|| Students will be encouraged to acquire their own copies of some of the primary texts.
Information for Visiting Students
|Pre-requisites||Visiting students must have successfully completed at least two years of UG study.
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2021/22, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
Leading and Participating in Discussion Group (Formative).
20%: Essay Proposal 600 words
20%: 10 x Weekly Quiz
60%: Course Essay 2400 words
||Students will receive formative feedback following submission of their draft essay proposal; and further summative and formative feedback following the submission of their formal essay proposals. Students will be able to use this feedback to help shape their final, assessed essay, to be submitted after the end of the course
|No Exam Information
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Demonstrate a broad understanding of the major societal developments in Iceland from the 9th to the 13th Century, and the range and characteristics of the literary output they frame.
- Critically appraise a wide range of Old Icelandic literature in translation into English, using a sophisticated combination of approaches and methods of interpretation, showing a nuanced understanding of the connection between societal concerns and literary expression.
- Identify and develop a suitable topic for a discursive essay, exploring a relevant aspect of medieval Icelandic literature or society, supported by sufficient, relevant source materials.
- Produce clear and coherent written work, which develops arguments both critically and systematically, with the use of relevant emphases, subsidiary points, and examples, and with suitable reference to the ongoing academic debate.
- Participate meaningfully in discussion of selected themes, demonstrating finely honed communication, presentation and interaction skills across a range of media and circumstances
|There is a large volume of academic material covering the settlement, discovery and early society of Iceland, as well as its place in the wider Scandinavian world. This includes edited volumes, peer-reviewed chapters and articles, and monographs an increasing number of which are now available online. Please feel free to explore what is out there and to make your own discoveries. As always, when it comes to more exotic and emotive subject matter, however, there is also a vast body of less well-considered work to navigate. Students need to be wary of investing too much time in unsubstantiated or outdated ideas. As a rule of thumb, websites, blogs, magazines, and TV documentaries should be avoided. Looking at Wikipedia is fine - as a starting point, provided this is followed up by reviewing primary sources and secondary works on which it is based. Your preferred materials should always be peer-reviewed academic work. But for views on the more abstract aspects of the Old Norse world, and especially perspectives on Old Norse ¿religion¿, it makes sense to restrict your initial readings to material written in the 1990s or later, unless you see earlier works recommended in more recent volumes. The accepted wisdom on some topics has changed radically. |
A broad and accessible introduction is provided by:
Byock, J.L. (2001) Viking Age Iceland. London: Penguin Books. (Further)
A more detailed historical introduction can be found in texts such as:
Þorláksson, H. (2007) ¿Historical Background: Iceland 870-1400, In McTurk, R. (ed.) (2007) A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing; pp. 136-154. (Essential)
Karlsson, G. (2000) Iceland¿s 1100 Years: The History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst & Co. (Recommended)
An overview of the early medieval Scandinavian world and Iceland's place in it can be gleaned from the following:
Brink, S. & Price, N. (eds.) (2008) The Viking World. Abingdon: Routledge. (Recommended)
Jesch, J. (2015) The Viking Diaspora. London: Routledge. (Further)
For background reading on 'Literisation', and a variety of different aspects of medieval Icelandic Literature, see the following (both available via DiscoverEd):
McTurk, R. (ed.) (2007) A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell. (Recommended)
Clover, C. J. & Lindow, J. (eds.) (2005) Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. (Further)
For those keen to move on, you will also find a wealth of academic material in the journal of the Viking Society for Northern Research, The Saga Book, available along with a large number of the Society¿s other publications, here: http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk Other journals worth checking include Scandinavian Studies, and Viking and Medieval Scandinavia.
ESSENTIAL READING FOR ALL STUDENTS
All required reading for this course will be in translation into English. While there have been numerous editions of the better-known texts over the past 200 years, students are asked to begin with the versions listed below. Those which are not freely available on the internet or via DiscoverEd, can be obtained relatively cheaply and / or second-hand in paperback format from the bigger online retailers. The list below is indicative and may vary. Students are asked to check with the course organiser. NB: The most relevant secondary reading for each topic will be listed on the course Learn page.
Íslendingabók (Libellus Islandorum) (Essential)
Grønlie, S. (transl.) (2006) Íslendingabók Kristni saga: The Book of the Icelanders ¿ The Story of the Conversion. London: The Viking Society for Northern Research; pp. vii-xxix & 3-34.
Edda (Extract) (Essential)
Faulkes, A. (1987) Snorri Sturluson: Edda. London: Everyman; pp. vii-xx, 1-5, 6-58.
Both in: Larrington, C. (2009) The Poetic Edda. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford World Classics.
See also Pálsson, H. (1996) Vo¿luspa¿: the Sibyl's prophecy. Edinburgh: Lockharton Press; Pálsson, H. & Edwards, P. (1998) The Words of Odin: Hávamál. Edinburgh: Lockharton Press.
Hrafnkels saga Freysgóða (Essential)
Auðunar saga Vestfirzka (Essential)
Both in: Pálsson, H. (1971) Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories. London: Penguin Books,; pp. 7-33, 35-71 & 121-128.
Brennu Njáls saga (Extracts) (Essential)
Cook, R. (transl.) (2006) Njal¿s Saga. London: Penguin Classics; pp. 1-132 & 211-227.
See also: Magnusson, M. & Pálsson, H. (1959) Njál¿s Saga. London: Penguin Classics).
Örvar Odds Saga (Essential)
Arrow-Odd, In Pálsson, H. & Edwards, P. (transl. & intro.) (1985) Seven Viking Romances. London: Penguin; pp. 7-23, 25-137 & 282-8.
Magnúss saga berfætts (Essential)
Findlay, A. & Faulkes, A. (transl.) (2015) Snorri Sturlusson: Heimskringla: Volume III: Magnús Óláfsson to Magnús Erlingsson. London: The Viking Society for Northern Research; pp. 127-144.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Keywords||Old Norse,Old Icelandic,Iceland,Scandinavia,Scandinavian,Nordic,Saga,Edda,Skaldic,Medieval
|Course organiser||Dr Alan MacNiven
Tel: (0131 6)50 3279
|Course secretary||Miss Gillian Paterson
Tel: (0131 6)50 3646