E 322 • The Vikings and their Literature
9:00 AM-10:00 AM
Vikings: the very word conjures up images of violence and bravery: lightning raids on defenseless farms, the sacking of great cities, long voyages across cold and uncharted seas, the discovery of new worlds. It is a tale of terror and brute force, tinged with mythology and melancholy. But these Vikings evolved a complex and stable culture, shaped a richly detailed religion, created beautiful art, expanded horizons of the known world, and, most importantly, left behind a body of great literature.
The course will survey Scandinavian literature from the Germanic heroes of the Edda to the great Vikings in the Icelandic family sagas. We will begin with the earliest epics from the Edda which treat the legends about the Goths, Huns, and Burgundians. Then on to the Siegfried-Brünnhilde tale as told in several Eddic lays, the Icelandic Saga of the Volsungs and the Nibelungenlied. Beowulf, the Saga of King Hrolf, and Saxo Grammaticus will illustrate pre-Viking Danish and Swedish-Gautish history. Then Norse mythology with its Odin, Freyja, Thor, giants and trolls will be examined in detail as well as Wagner's use of the mythology to create his Ring. After a brief look at skaldic poetry, the Viking journeys to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland (North America) will be considered. We will conclude with the reading of some of the classic Icelandic sagas.
Three essays (one of which can be revised) totaling at least 16 pages (60%)
Essays turned in during the final week of class will only be graded.
Mid-term exam, on-line: (10%)
Final exam, on-line: (20%)
Classroom participation: (10%)
Beowulf, Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas, Poems of the Elder Edda, The Saga of the Volsungs, King Harald's Saga
The Nibelungenlied, Snorri Sturluson's The Prose Edda
The Vinland Sagas, Grettis Saga, Njáls Saga
Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung