freshman seminar death revenge madness in icelandic literature and culture
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Freshman Seminar - Death, Revenge & Madness in Icelandic literature and culture. Welcome to class #2 !. 2. Freshman Seminar - wk 2 What IS Iceland??. Iceland , officially the Republic of Iceland ( Icelandic : Ís land or Lýðveldið Ís land ) is an island nation , a volcanic island in the

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freshman seminar death revenge madness in icelandic literature and culture

Freshman Seminar - Death, Revenge & Madness in Icelandic literature and culture

Welcome to class #2 !

freshman seminar wk 2 what is iceland


Freshman Seminar - wk 2What IS Iceland??

Iceland, officially the Republic of Iceland (Icelandic: Ísland

or Lýðveldið Ísland) is an island nation, a volcanic island in the

northern Atlantic Ocean between Greenland,

Norway, Ireland, Scotland (Great Britain), and the Faroe Islands.

freshman seminar wk 2 facts about the country


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Facts about the country


▪ Whole country: 39,768.5 sq. m. (103,000ハkm²)

▪ Vegetation: 9,191 square miles (23,805ハkm²)

▪ Lakes: 1,064 square miles (2,757ハkm²)

▪ Glaciers: 4,603 square miles (11,922ハkm²)

▪ Wasteland: 24,918 square miles (64,538ハkm²)

freshman seminar wk 2 facts about the country comparison


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Facts about the country - Comparison


Total 9,631,418km²

Water 3,718,711mi² 4.87%

Populationハ- 2006 est. 298,290,000

2000 census ハ- 282 mill.

Density30/km² 3/mi²

freshman seminar wk 2 facts about the country cont


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Facts about the country - Cont.
  • Second largest island in Europe
  • By plane: 3 hrs to mainland Europe, 6 to US

Population: about 300.000

180.000 in Reykjavík

Climate: subartic _ Gulf Stream

Average temp. in July 56ºF

In January: 32ºF

Precipitation: 32 inches

Midnight sun in June

4 hrs a day of daylight in Dec.

freshman seminar wk 2 facts about the country cont6


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Facts about the country - Cont.
  • Government: parliamentary democracy

Fully independent since 1944

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

Language: Icelandic, the Norwegian of

1000 years ago. Fundamental part of cultural

Identity - fiercely defended by purists,

Conservative tongue…

Currency: Icelandic krona (about 70 kr - 1 USD)

Religion: Lutheran is the state religion of

Iceland. Icelandic children receive mandatory

religious training in public schools, and priests

are state employees.

freshman seminar wk 2 facts about the country geology


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Facts about the country - Geology
  • A young country: about 17 million years
  • Compared to its neighbours:
    • Scotland and parts of continental Scandinavia
    • are 500 million years
    • * The Earth as a whole is 4600 million years

The origin of Iceland has to do with Plate Tectonics: the

theory that maintains that the earth\'s crust is composed of

plates that float around slowly on the earth\'s molten interior.

The heat and stresses created and released when these plates

run into, slide past, slide under or over one another account

for most if not all of the earth\'s earthquakes and volcanic activity

freshman seminar wk 2 dynamics of plate tectonic iceland


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Dynamics of plate tectonic - Iceland

* An island over a hot spot AND on the mid Atlantic ridge

freshman seminar wk 2 the positive side geothermal energy


Freshman Seminar - wk 2The positive side - geothermal energy

1 Mineral water

2 water under 70C

3 water 70-100 C

4 150 C at 1000 m

freshman seminar wk 2 why are there no trees


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Why are there no trees?
  • 2500 ago 1/2 the country wooded
  • 900 CE 1/4 of the country
  • Ari Thorgilsson (XII century)
  • says the country was covered in forests
  • Now: 1/100 of the surface
  • Causes: wind and erosion
  • Ash and pumice close to volcanoes
  • Goats, cows and horses
  • Worsening climate
freshman seminar wk 2 history23


Freshman Seminar - wk 2History
  • Germanic migrations from northern Germany,
  • Southern Scandinavia 4th, 5th century AD
  • Germanic origins - mysterious? Possibly related and
  • derived from Celtic (both language families are IE)
  • *Many of the literary motifs are common to all Gmc.
  • Peoples - they pre-date the Völkerwanderungen.
  • - the deities of the Northern pantheon
  • - The Sigfried myth / the dragon
  • - The valkyrie-type of woman tricked into marrying
  • below her status (part of Sigfried myth)
  • *Reason for migration? Possibly climate changes
  • *Important consequences - Fall of the Roman Empire
  • *Britain becomes Anglo-Saxon
freshman seminar wk 2 characteristics of the germanic peoples


Freshman Seminar - wk 2Characteristics of the Germanic peoples
  • Tribes whose social structure was based on the Sippe,
  • the extended family.
  • The Germani develop a warrior culture based on the
  • comitatus - a group of warriors who voluntarily swear
  • an oath of allegiance to a leader.
  • *the warriors protect the leader/king and in turn
  • the king rewards the individual with protection
  • (through the comitatus) and with wealth (gifts/
  • land)
  • Tribal economy based on reciprocity rather than trade:
  • Goods/services distributed as gifts and mutual obligation
  • Between members of the group
  • *essentially oral culture - runes

freshman seminar wk 2 history populating iceland


Freshman Seminar - wk 2History - Populating Iceland
  • Further waves of Germanic migrations in the 8th
  • century bring about the settlement of Normandy
  • (886, 911 ratified by Charles the Simple and Rollo)
  • Repeated attacks to Celtic monasteries in the
  • British Isles (Lindisfarne 789, 793 Jarrow 794 etc.)
  • Establishment of the Danelaw 886
  • Settlement of Scandinavian peoples in Ireland and the
  • Hebrides
  • Settlement of Iceland 870-930 CE
        • Documented in the Book of the Settlement
  • Mostly Norwegian, some Danish, occasional Swede
  • and Scandinavian people previously settled in the
  • British Isles
freshman seminar wk 2 history reasons for later migration


Freshman Seminar - wk 2History - Reasons for later migration
  • Complex factors:
  • Climate worsening and agricultural consequences
  • Demographic increase - the land could not sustain
  • everyone
  • *Political reasons - a few regional political &military
  • leaders were concentrating power in their hands
  • *Ship-building techniques improved
freshman seminar wk 2 history settlement of iceland


Freshman Seminar - wk 2History - Settlement of Iceland
  • Norsemen that came to Ice. were not a planned migration
  • Various waves over that period of 60 years
  • 10.000-20.000 people settle in Iceland during that time
  • *No leaders - a new land, empty for the most part, limited
  • habitable area
  • *The new society’s development was dictated by
  • competition among succeeding generations for the land’s
  • limited resources

Byock, Jesse. 1988. Medieval Iceland. Berkeley:UCP

freshman seminar wk 2 history settlement of iceland ctd


Freshman Seminar - wk 2History - Settlement of Iceland ctd.
  • Practices of land-taking (landnáma): both men and
  • women
  • No religious or political figure more powerful than others
  • Local parliaments with representatives
  • Some settlers were Christian, others (majority) pagan
  • 930 establishment of the althing, the nation-wide
  • assembly of representative.
  • *It meets for two weeks at the end of June at Thingvellir,
  • ‘Parliament plains’
  • *The representatives are regional leaders to whom local
  • farmers plead allegiance and in exchange get protection,
  • legal representation at the althing and support in
  • legal disputes
freshman seminar wk 2 history settlement of iceland ctd30


Freshman Seminar - wk 2History - Settlement of Iceland ctd.
  • For the establishment of the Althing in 930, a code of
  • laws is collected in various parts of Norway, on which
  • Icelandic laws are based.
  • Insistence on respect of laws (see Njál’s saga)
  • The President of the assembly was the Law Speaker,
  • who recited one third of the legal code by heart each year
  • (his term lasted 3 years, in fact)
  • The Althing was the place where laws were made,
  • modified, the Supreme court convened and judged cases
  • that could not be solved in the local tribunals - but it was
  • also much more: county fair, trade, news, marriages,
  • social and cultural point
althing at thingvellir


Althing at Thingvellir
  • Importance of parliament:
  • Conversion to Christianity 1000 CE
  • Surrendering sovereignty to Norway in 1264
  • following what can be considered a civil war lasting
  • about 50 years
  • - That sovereignty will not be recovered until 1944
parliament and the legal system


Parliament and the legal system
  • No death penalty during the commonwealth
  • Problems: apart from limited natural resources
    • Two powers: legislative & judicial
    • And the executive function? Who makes people respect the laws?
    • In the hand of the wronged party - or his/her family
    • compensation (weregild) or revenge
    • Sometimes both
cultural development


Cultural development
  • Poems from a common Gmc. era:
    • Alliteration, common deities, common motifs
    • Natural references to lands with a different geography or vegetation from Iceland (Völuspá The Seeress’s Prophecy) - reindeer in the Sayings of the High One
    • The version we have are probably from the 10th century (MS XIV)
    • Attila - historical figure 406-453
the problem of sources


The problem of sources
  • Historical writings in XII
    • Lándnámabók and Íslendingabók
    • Genealogies, church documents
    • Very concise, often based on oral accounts
    • Writing about the settlement over two centuries later
the sagas


The Sagas
  • Sagas of Icelanders or Family Sagas - Prototypical novels…
  • Tales in prose, often extending 100s of pages, about the history of the people that settled in Iceland during the time of the Settlement (870-930)
  • Historical sources?
  • Written in XIII-XIV centuries

Sagas online -