contributor.author: Asdis Egilsdottir

title.none: Hermann, Schødt, and Kristensen, eds., Reflections on Old Norse Myths (Asdis Egilsdottir)

identifier.other: baj9928.0810.010 08.10.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Asdis Egilsdottir, University of Iceland, asd@hi.is

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Hermann, Pernille, Jens Peter Schødt, and Rasmus Tranum Kristensen, eds. Reflections on Old Norse Myths. Studies in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xiii, 176. $75 978-2-503-52614-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.10.10

Hermann, Pernille, Jens Peter Schødt, and Rasmus Tranum Kristensen, eds. Reflections on Old Norse Myths. Studies in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xiii, 176. $75 978-2-503-52614-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Asdis Egilsdottir
University of Iceland
asd@hi.is

Reflections on Old Norse Myths is a collection of eight articles and an introductory chapter by the some of the most prominent scholars of Old Norse Mythology. The volume is the result of a symposium held at the University of Aarhus, Denmark in 2005, supplemented by three new articles. The contributors are all established scholars and hold academic positions in Denmark, UK, and USA. The contents of each chapter are neatly summarized by Pernille Hermann in her preface.

All scholars and students of Old Norse mythology have to deal with the fact that our sources were written down in the thirteenth century. The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson is the work of a Christian writer who was a member of a universally Christian society. When looking for genuine heathen ideas, scholars have turned to three or perhaps four types of source: mythological Eddic poems, skaldic verse, picture stones and available contemporary Christian views of Old Norse heathenism. Jens Peter Schjødt ("Ibn Fadlan's Account of a Rus Funeral") examines whether Ibn Fadlan's account genuinely reflects Old Norse myths and argues that the ideological framework behind the account can be regarded as a reliable source. Most scholars find the evidence of Eddic poetry most useful, but all types of sources must be combined. The fornaldarsögur have not been valued highly as sources for heathen religion, but both Rory McTurk ("Male or Female Initiation? The Strange Case of Ragnars saga") and Catharina Raudvere ("Myth, Genealogy, and Narration: Some Motifs in the Volsunga saga from the Perspective of the History of Religions") discuss and analyse fornaldarsögur in their contributions. Raudvere shows how ritual fragments and mythical motifs are used in the Völsunga saga. Ritual is also the topic of McTurk's chapter, where he investigates whether Ragnars saga lo?brókar reflects pre-Christian initiation practises. Pernille Hermann discusses Íslendingabók as a foundation myth ("Íslendingabók and History") and the text's role in constructing the past. Stephen A. Mitchell examines Skrnisml and magical charms ("Skrnisml and Nordic Charm Magic"). He shows how the charms attack the fertility of individuals and thereby diminish their value within society. The valkyrie as a mythical figure operating between the world of men and gods is the subject of Judy Quinn's "'Hildr Prepares a Bed for Most Helmet-Damagers': Snorri's Treatment of a Traditional Poetic Motif in his Edda". The valkyrie is frequently presented as seducing the warriors into death, whereby death was pictured as comfort. Quinn suggest that medieval Icelanders tolerated and used this pre-Christian element which offered a comforting poetic motif. Rasmus Tranum Kristensen ("Why was Ó?inn Killed by Fenrir? A Structural Analysis of Kinship Structures in Old Norse Myths of Creation and Eschatology") analyses the cosmogonical and eschatological myths of pre-Christian Scandinavia. John McKinnell (Why Did Christians Continue to Find Pagan Myths Useful?") explains why Christian writers in Iceland described pagan mythology. The preservation of myth was necessary to understand and compose traditional poetry, and knowledge of mythology was also considered useful by medieval Icelandic aristocrats.

Each chapter is a fine addition to our knowledge and understanding of Old Norse myth, but that of Jens Peter Schjødt is of special value. His introductory chapter, "Contemporary Research into Old Norse Mythology," is a chronological survey of the different aspects of the scholarship on Old Norse mythology that have appeared over the last ten to fifteen years. Old Norse mythology is an interdisciplinary field which attracts archeologists, historians, literary historians, historians of religion, art historians and philologists. Different academic principles have brought forth different methodological aspects and new viewpoints to its study. Schjødt's introduction is a critical reading of several works which have appeared during the last ten or fifteen years, including works which do not deal primarily with mythology, but rather with pagan religion in general. The starting point is volume 1 of Prolonged Echoes by Margaret Clunies Ross (1994) which provided completely new readings of Old Norse mythical texts and innovative methodology. Other scholarly works discussed by Schjødt are: Terry Gunnell, The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia (1995); Lotte Motz, The King, the Champion, and the Sorcerer; Lotte Hedeager, Skygger af en anden virkelighed (1997); Neil Price, The Viking Way (2002); Thomas A DuBois, Nordic Religions in the Viking Age (1999); John Lindow, Murder and Vengeance among the Gods (1997); several titles by the Swedish historian of religions Britt-Mari Näsström (1995-2003); three books by the Norwegian historian of religion Gro Steinsland (1997-2005); Kris Kershaw, The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbnde; Olof Sundquist, Freyr's Offspring (2002); Sundquist and Anders Kaliff, Oden och Mithraskulten: Religiös acculturation under romersk järnälder och folkvandringstid (2004); Andreas Nordberg, Krigarna i Odins sal (2003); Maths Bertell, Tor och den nordiska äskan (2003); Catharina Raudvere, Kunskap och insikt i norrön tradition: Mytologi, ritualer och trolldomsanklagelser (2003); Rudolf Simek, Religion und Mythologie der Germanen (2003); Annette Lassen, Ojet og blindheden i norrön litteratur og mytologi (2003); John McKinnell, Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend (2005). The list of publications indicates that the study of myth is flourishing in the Nordic countries, especially Sweden. There has not been much interest in Old Norse myth and mythology in Iceland, with the exception of Terry Gunnell. However, Gu?rún Nordal's and Sverrir Tómasson's publications on skaldic poetry, Snorra-Edda and the reception of myth in later medieval texts could be mentioned. Schjødt's thorough and knowledgeable survey is extremely helpful and inspiring to students and scholars of Old Norse mythology. For future research, Schjødt encourages interdisciplinary work but accentuates that sound historical and philological background is necessary for gaining new insight into this rich but complicated field of research. The volume indicates that there is a revival in the popularity of the subject of Old Norse mythology. It is well designed and bears witness to fine editorial work.