Icelandic Myth and Saga

Course Code SL12
Tutor Ben Pestell
Fridays, for 11 week
10.30-12.30
Full fee £80, Conc fee £35

Warriors or poets? Christians or Pagans? Who were the medieval Icelanders who gave us the tales of Viking sagas and such unruly gods as Odin, Thor, and Loki? In this course we will explore the early literature of Iceland and uncover a world of violence and tenderness, cunning and stupidity, capricious gods and formidable women, preposterous tales and rich poetry.

We will witness the settlement of Iceland, and consider the Viking ethos. We will read tales from Norse mythology, including the violent creation myth, and more playful tales of gods, dwarves and giants. We will also discuss sagas of warrior-poets, and the great family sagas which give a vivid insight into the complex lives, folk beliefs, and rich culture of a time which continues to excite the imagination.

Who is this course for?

Anyone with an interest in the tales and myths of northern Europe. No prior knowledge required.

 What does this course cover

This course focuses on the stories of the Viking age: both fantastical mythical tales, and historically-grounded sagas. Students will be given some essential historical information to enhance their understanding of, and pleasure in reading, these marvellous stories. We will read myths of the world’s creation, and the unique cosmology of the nine realms; of the exploits of such gods as Odin the All-father, Thor the thunderer, and the trickster Loki; and of the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarök. We will also discover the broad cast of characters in Icelandic saga, from the warrior-poet Egil, unwanted berserkers, and irritating ghosts, to the beardless lawyer Njal, and the matriarchal figure of Gudrun.

By the end of the course you should be able to:

  • understand the historical, political, and religious context of early Icelandic literature
  • demonstrate knowledge of entertaining stories of Norse mythology and Icelandic saga
  • identify typical mythological and literary themes in the texts

What will it be like?

Teaching methods include tutor presentations, with handouts and PowerPoint slides; close reading; and class discussion topics. Students will be assessed by individual learning plans and class participation.

What else do you need to buy or do

Extracts from the essential texts will be supplied. You will be encouraged to read as widely as you wish, using local libraries and the Internet, guided by a supplied list of recommended texts. You may wish to bring a pad and pen for note-taking.

What this course could lead to.

Other Humanities courses at Mary Ward Centre or elsewhere.