From Iceland to the Americas, an anthology of thirteen original critical essays, is an exercise in the reception of a small historical fact with wide-ranging social, cultural, and imaginative consequences. Medieval records claim that around the year 1000 Leif Eiriksson and other Nordic explorers sailed westwards from Iceland and Greenland to a place they called Vinland. Archaeological evidence has in fact verified this claim, though primarily by way of one small, short-lived Norse settlement in Newfoundland, which may not even have been Leif’s. Whether or not this settlement was his, however, the contact associated with him has had an outsized impact on cultural imagination in and of the Americas. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, indeed, novels, poetry, history, politics, arts and crafts, comics, films and video games have all reflected a rising interest in the medieval Norse and their North American presence. Uniquely in reception studies, From Iceland to the Americas approaches this dynamic between Nordic history and its reception by bringing together international authorities on mythology, language, film, and cultural studies, as well as on the literature that has dominated critical reception. Collectively, the essays not only explore the connections among medieval Iceland and the modern Americas, but also probe why medieval contact has become a modern cultural touchstone.
experience, memories produced by language and literature worked toward this same end. Lacking the mythology of the PoeticEdda and Prose Edda , as well as the sagas’ detailed descriptions of daily life in the Middle Ages, English readers could find in Norse literature reasons to believe there had been comparable material in English literary history and that what Norse literature described equally might have been said about the English experience. By a parallel interpretative gesture, similarities between Old English and Old Norse could be understood to affirm the
of medievalist cultural
memory often carries a contemporary urgency.
The medieval may be open and relational, but it is always
located at intersections of competing ideological interests. Bergvall
weaves a number of medieval histories and narratives of North
Atlantic journeys through Drift, including the Vinland Sagas, the
PoeticEdda, the Voyage of St Brendan and the voyages of Ohthere
and Wulfstan. Perhaps the most famous medieval migrants, however, are Hengist and Horsa, the brothers who supposedly led
the Germanic tribes to Britain in the fifth century. Their
notion of an ‘Aryan race’ identified an ethnic and racial entity that united the Germanic peoples, including those living in Scandinavia, against an array of hostile forces, much as in the PoeticEdda the gods of Asgard had united against the giants or Gunnar Gjukason had marshalled Burgundian resistance to the Huns. Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS and one of the architects of the Holocaust, actively embraced the heroic and noble ideals that the historian Tacitus said had been lost among his fellow Roman citizens but remained as characteristically Germanic
thesis, Miami University, 2003).
66 Philip N. Anderson, ‘ Form and content in Lokasenna : a re-evaluation ’, in Carolyne Larrington and Paul Acker (eds), The PoeticEdda : Essays on Old Norse Mythology (New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 139–57 (151).
67 Heinz Klingenberg argues that ‘a banquet of the gods … was capable of development into a judicial assembly’: Heinz Klingenberg, ‘ Types of Eddic mythological poetry ’, in Haraldur Bessason and Robert J. Glendinning (eds), Edda: A Collection of Essays (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1983), pp. 134
The mythology of emigration in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
to do with Lamech ?’ Medium Ævum , LXXII (2003), 82–107.
31 The PoeticEdda , ed. and trans. Carolyne Larrington, rev. edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 288, fn. 54.
32 ‘Vafþrúðnismál’, in Eddukvæði , ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 2014), vol. 1, pp. 356–66 (365, stanza 54). Original Old Norse: ‘hvat mælti Óðinn, / áðr á bál stigi, / sjálfr í eyra syni?’
33 ‘Vafþrúðnismál’, in Eddukvæði , p. 356 (stanza 3 et passim ). Original Old Norse: ‘Fjölð ek fór / fjölð ek freistaði
riddle form, in conjunction with its use for the training of memory, was employed in ancient and medieval didactic dialogues composed as sets of questions and answers. Such dialogues, competitive exchanges of often enigmatic questions and answers, were widespread in the literatures of the early medieval Europe, and include the Solomon and Saturn dialogues, 3 the didactic disputation between Alcuin and Pippin, Charlemagne’s son, 4 and the contests of wits in the PoeticEdda 5 and Hervarar saga , 6 from Old English, Latin and Old Norse traditions respectively
ethnicity. Depicted in both the Prose and PoeticEdda as the powerful if capricious god of battle and poetry, Odin, in Vǫluspá (The Sybil’s Prophecy), is the god who, on behalf of one group of gods (the Æsir), begins the first war by hurling a spear over another group of gods (the Vanir); in Hávamál (Sayings of the High One) the god who hangs himself on the world-tree Yggdrasil in order to acquire the runes; and in Vafþrúðnismál (The Lay of Vafthrudnir) the one who wagers his head with a giant in a riddle contest. A frightening and mysterious mythological
–41, 247–8, 255–9; P. Pieper, ‘Die Runenstempel von Spong Hill: Pseudo-Runen oder Runenformel?’, Neue Ausgräbungen und Forschungen in Niedersachsen , 17, 181–200 (181–6). On Old Scandinavian alu (‘fortune’) and skorin (‘cut’) on the Eggjum stone, see M. Olsen and A. Liestøl, Norges innskrifter med de yngre runer (Oslo: Kjeldeskriftfondet, 1924) I, pp. 225–32 (p. 227).
39 R. North, ‘“Wyrd” and “wearð ealuscerwen” in Beowulf ’, Leeds Studies in English , N.S., 25 (1994), 69–82 (74–5).
40 The PoeticEdda: Volume II: Mythological Poems , ed. and trans. U
Anglo-Scandinavian northern England’, in James Graham-Campbell, Richard Hall, Judith Jesch, and David N. Parsons (eds), Vikings and the Danelaw: Select Papers from the Proceedings of the Thirteenth Viking Congress (Oxford: Oxbow, 2001), pp. 327–44. Also see Ursula Dronke (ed.), The PoeticEdda, Volume II, The Mythological Poems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 276–80.
12 Einar Haugen, The Scandinavian Languages: An Introduction to Their History , (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), pp. 180–244; David N. Parsons, ‘How long did the