Skip to main content

IMC 2016: Sessions

Session 1023: Feasting, Power, and Identity in Germanic Literature

Wednesday 6 July 2016, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:Hana Videen, Department of English, King's College London
Paper 1023-aFeasting on the Body Politic: Hunger for Power in Beowulf
(Language: English)
Henning Bahr, Independent Scholar, Berlin
Index terms: Anthropology, Language and Literature - Old English, Mentalities, Political Thought
Paper 1023-bThe Last Meal of the Nibelungs
(Language: English)
Nadine Hufnagel, Lehrstuhl für Ältere Deutsche Philologie, Universität Bayreuth
Index terms: Language and Literature - German, Medievalism and Antiquarianism
Paper 1023-cGood Feasting and Bad Feasting: Symbolic and Ritual Meals in Ottonian Narratives
(Language: English)
Laura Wangerin, Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Index terms: Political Thought, Politics and Diplomacy

Paper -a:
Both the institution of the feast and the idea of the body politic play an important part in the literary Anglo-Saxon imagination of community. This paper traces the represenation of political entities in terms of organs and bodily functions in Beowulf, suggesting that the man-eater Grendel's 'feast' in the hall of the Danish kings can be perceived as a symbolic dismembering of political order. The paper argues that, as such, it forms an important literary motif of the poem, which also serves as a backdrop for the symbolic negotiation of power relationships within the poem's narrative world.

Paper -b:
Although the Nibelungenlied ends in death and mourning, the catastrophe does not happen on a battlefield: before slaughtering each other, everybody sits down to drink and eat together. I will show how by placing the battle at a feast the text emphasizes the horror of the events and shows the successive switching from courtly to heroic behaviour. Moreover, eating and drinking are important markers of religious, social, ethnical, or gender affiliation. Therefore, the feast is a key-scene regarding the narrative constitution of the characters's identities. I will also analyse how different adaptations of the Nibelungenlied have dealt with this scene.

Paper -c:
The significance of symbolic ritual in the Middle Ages has been identified as an important means of communication in conflict resolution in the public arenas of politics and feud by scholars such as Geoffrey Koziol and Gerd Althoff. One such public arena where political dramas unfolded through the medium of ritual was the feast. This paper will examine descriptions of feasting in the primary narrative sources for the Ottonian dynasty: Widukind of Corvey’s Res Gestae Saxonicae; Liudprand of Cremona’s works, including Antapodosis; and Thietmar of Merseburg’s Chronicon. By looking at the descriptions of good feasting and bad feasting in these narratives, this paper seeks to further our understanding of some of the symbolic nuances associated with feasting in 10th-century Germany.