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IMC 2009: Sessions

Session 1204: Old Norse History and Culture

Wednesday 15 July 2009, 14.15-15.45

Sponsor:Viking Society for Northern Research
Organiser:Alison Finlay, Department of English & Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London
Moderator/Chair:Alison Finlay, Department of English & Humanities, Birkbeck, University of London
Paper 1204-aSnorri and the Conversion of the Norse: What Happened to the Upplanders and the Icelanders?
(Language: English)
Sarah Baccianti, Lincoln College, University of Oxford
Index terms: Language and Literature - Scandinavian
Paper 1204-bThe Representation of Ireland and the Irish in Heimskringla
(Language: English)
Edel Porter, Departamento de Filología Moderna, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Ciudad Real
Index terms: Language and Literature - Scandinavian
Paper 1204-cDealing with the Past: A Christian View of Paganism in Norna-gests þáttr
(Language: English)
Sheryl McDonald Werronen, School of English, University of Leeds

Paper -a:
This paper will focus on the conversion of the Upplanders and the Icelanders, who, unlike the rest of Scandinavia, took a longer time to accept the conversion. They maintained for a long time pagan rituals, and did not easily adapt to the new faith, showing resistance towards their king and religious figures. I will look at passages in Heimskringla, some Sagas of Icelanders, as well as Íslendingabók, focusing on a possible political agenda that the saga author had in mind.

Paper -b:
A great deal has been written about the cultural contacts between the Irish and the Nordic peoples during the medieval period. Within the field of Old Norse studies, research on this topic has been chiefly concerned with questioning the Irish influence on the literature and culture of Iceland and has focused mainly on the Sagas of Icelanders, the fornaldursögur, and skaldic, and eddic poetry. This paper will take a slightly different approach by analysing the representation of Ireland and the Irish in Heimskringla, a source which has been mostly overlooked in this respect.

After having been granted the ability to choose when he will die, Norna-Gestr, the eponymous character of one of the short tales inserted in Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar, chooses to delay his death for three hundred years, until he encounters King Óláfr and becomes one of his men. By choosing to die in the presence of Óláfr, Norna-gestr chooses a Christian rather than a pagan
death. His story symbolises the death of the pagan past, which can only live 'a short while from now on, if God would will it', once a Christian present that will live on into the future has been established. By analysing this short piece of Old Icelandic literature, my paper will consider themes of contact between the pre-Christian world of traditional, 'pagan', and heroic beliefs, and the newly imported worldview of Christianity, as perceived and recorded by the tale's medieval Scandinavian author. Specifically, this paper will explore the idea that Norna-gestr not only chooses freely to die once he settles in Óláfr’s court, but also that, as a remnant from
the heroic pagan past, out of place among Óláfr and his men, Norna-gestr cannot live on and so must die once receiving baptism. In the death of Norna-gestr is also the freedom of Óláfr and his people—their release from their pagan heritage.