Giants and Dwarves Wear the Great Woolly Jumper of Interdisciplinary Make-Over

Interpreting Eddic Poetry Workshop
4th – 6th July,  St. John’s College Oxford

It turns out that Norse-themed conferences offer amazing free sandwiches. Pesto and goats’ cheese nestled themselves snuggly between the bready layers of wholegrain goodness, whilst the falafel rocked out solo within a delightfully tahinified layer of hummus-ey wonder. But this is perhaps only of secondary importance – a side order, or apperitif if you will. What’s important is, of course, the workshop itself.

Interpreting Eddic Poetry was an interesting and intellectually stimulating two-day workshop held at St. John’s College, Oxford (4th-6th July). The workshop successfully pulled together the various strands of eddic scholarship, weaving them into a cosy interdisciplinary jumper with distinctly Norse-themed trimmings. For those unacquainted with the 13th-century Icelandic poems, ‘eddic poetry’ is in fact a modern term used to cover the anonymous alliterative verse from Norway and Iceland (and a term with so many connations, in fact, that one scholar scoffed that we should dismiss the term entirely).

Although in their medieval manuscript context they take the form of poetry, these sneaky verses hold the interpretive key (although sometimes a rusty key with a padlock that won’t quite open) for many questions regarding religious, mythological and social thought not only in Iceland but the wider context of pre-Christian Scandinavia. As a result, these poems have been prodded and poked from the perspective of archaeology, anthropology, textual criticism, fokllore, gender issues, philology and performance amongst many others.

So, what happens when you shove a bunch of eddic-obssessed academics in a room for two days and shout, GO? Well, although I like to think you get a Lord Of the Flies-esque rampage of wode-painted loin-clothed gentlemen flinging obscure quotes at one another, what you actually get is a nice (though not necessarily more civilised….) pulling together of scholarly consensus, alongside the opening up of new ideas and innovations within the field. John Lindow, for instance, argued that the so-called boundary between mythological and heroic poems within the eddic corpus is so blurred that it should be dissolved altogether. Others, such as Terry Gunnell and Lars Lönnroth, called for more attention to be paid to the performative element of the poems, an exciting avenue for which only a little solid research has been properly done.

The Interpreting Eddic Poetry Workshop signals the start of what hopes to be a much larger research project concerned with innovative, interdisciplinary approaches towards eddic poetry. Steered by Judy Quinn, Carolyne Larrington and Brittany Schorn, the project is already gaining momentum: Brittany Schorn has been awarded the position of Research Associate in cooperation with the project, and next year’s workshop is already in the pipelines. It is always great to get people together who are passionate about poetry but come at it from different angles. With a bit of luck then, the workshop  is only the beginning of what promises to be an exciting eddic journey (if we can use the term ‘eddic’ at all). So, stay tuned for more exciting events to come……hopefully with a side-order of delicious sandwiches. Om nom.

About nenna

if i was a bird i'd be a magpie
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