Rognvald, the Jarl of the Orkneys had written about himself that he knows nine skills: playing ‘table’, the knowledge of the runes, reading, smith-crafting, skiing, bowing, rowing, poem-writing, and harping. In my paper, I would like to talk about poetry as a pleasure activity of mediaeval Scandinavia and Iceland. The focusing points of my paper will be the early Scandinavian scaldic and eddic poetry and the Icelandic sagas as a special story-telling form.
This paper will explore expressions of pleasure and pastime in medieval Scandinavian runic inscriptions. Some 2,600 medieval runic inscriptions are known from different parts of Scandinavia, dating roughly from the period 1050/1100–1500. More than half of this material consists of loose finds on small pieces of wood, bone and metal as well as on different everyday items and tools, recovered to a great degree as archaeological finds from medieval towns. These runic objects have gained most attention as evidence of the practice of urban literacy, the extent of which is really unknown. Containing mostly short personal notes and messages, this material also reveals individual experiences of pleasure, humour, and fun – an aspect worthy of further study.
The Kievan Chronicle describing the 12th-century principalities of Rus’ is a multi-layered work that includes information on the princes of Rus’, their internal affairs, their relationship with the Church, and their foreign affairs. The historical tale is interspersed with panegyric passages that resemble hagiographic literature and that present the princes of Kiev as sublime men, endowed with handsome features, excellent mental faculties, and righteousness. This paper will examine the shaping of information regarding the prince as an object of pleasure (divine and earthly) through physical descriptions of the prince during his reign and, in particular, at his death when often the grotesque descriptions of the suffering prince are interspersed with beauteous images of his spiritual beauty.