Who were the Vikings, and why is the twenty-first century so fascinated with them? (Is “Viking” an ethnic adjective or a job description? Did they call themselves Vikings?) Were they as fierce and bloodthirsty as the movies sometimes show? Why did they act as they did? What language did they speak? What did they wear? What did they eat? What kinds of weapons and tools did they use?What were the women among them like? What are runes? What are the Eddas? What are the Sagas? What were Viking-age politics and social constructs like? What about Viking technology, religion, and art? (What is Ásatrú? Would the Vikings have known the term?) What are the (complex!) political implications of Vikings, and Viking-age religion and culture, in today’s Europe? If you are interested in any of these questions, you have come to the right place!
1. A History of the Vikings, Gwyn Jones (Oxford University Press)
(Below called JONES)
2. Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas, Gwyn Jones (Oxford University Press)
(Below called EIRIK)
3. Chronicles of the Vikings, R. I. Page (University of Toronto Press)
(Below called PAGE)
4. The Poetic Edda: A New Translation by Carolyne Larrington (Oxford)
(Below called EDDA)
5. The Sagas of Icelanders ed. Robert Kellogg (Penguin)
(Below called SAGAS)
Optional – for those with linguistic interests:
Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern, ed. Gustav Neckel & Hans Kuhn (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1983)
(Don’t worry about the German foreword if you can’t handle German. The poem texts are transcribed straight from the MSS. – mostly the 13th-c. Icelandic Codex Regius [designated as R in the book]. What you have here is the closest thing available to the Real Thing, when it comes to Eddic poetry)
Glossary to the Poetic Edda, Beatrice LaFarge and John Tucker (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1992)
(The glossary made to match the above edition. Two cautions: Remember that definitions incorporate interpretations; and remember that Old Norse / Old Icelandic was a highly inflected language: simply translating word by word may not get you where you want to go. If you’re serious about this, get a copy of E. V. Gordon’s Introduction to Old Norse [Oxford], which has a grammatical summary in the back)
Recommended Basic Books on Nordic Myth:
(Note: Check other books with me. There are many popular-press books on this topic which can be fun, but are not academically rigorous)
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, by H. R. E. Davidson (Penguin, 1964+)
Nordic Religions in the Viking Age, by Thomas A. DuBois (U. of Penn., 1999)
Dictionary of Northern Mythology, by Rudolf Simek (Brewer, 1993)
Myth and Religion of the North, by Gabriel Turville-Petre (Holt, 1964)
Since this is a Writing Flag course, there will be three papers of five to six pages, all of which may be rewritten at least once; plus two in-class writing assignments.
Course grade will be calculated as follows:
- Quizzes on Reading (on most days when readings are due): 10 %
- Two six-page reaction papers or position papers, 15% each: 30 %
- In-class peer review activities on these papers: 10 %
- Reading Journals (turned in every other Friday) : 15 %
- One three- to five-page group project (groups of 3-4): 15 %
- One six-page research paper: 20 %
The three papers are to be mini-research papers with a minimum of three outside sources. (Use academic books [or journal articles – from historical, archaeological, or literary journals, for instance] rather than popular ones. UT Library has a magnificent Scandinavian collection; please be considerate of your classmates in sharing resources for this course. The Internet, on the other hand, contains much non-academic material on the Vikings, of very uneven quality. If there is an Internet source you feel you must use, send me the link plenty of time in advance so that I can vet it.
The two in-class writing assignments will be spontaneously generated responses to a question or questions designed to get you thinking about a synthesis of course material. (I don’t have to agree with your conclusions: simply make your argument well.)
Obvious discrepancies in your writing style between the three papers and the two writing assignments will raise the issues outlines in the next paragraph. You have been warned.