What is this course even about?
This course examines mythic and legendary texts concerning the old gods and heroes of Scandinavia, which were valued by medieval Norse pagans and Christians alike. Through varying degrees of contact, medieval Norse peoples influenced—and were influenced by—a large number of communities across the North Atlantic, Europe, and the Near East. This course emphasizes these processes of intercultural exchange in shaping the body of Christian-written literature commonly referred to today as Norse Mythology, and offers tools for dismantling the illusion of homogeneity and continuity across pre-Christian Scandinavian religious traditions.
What will you learn?
First and foremost, the goal of this course is to explore what myth is and how it functioned in medieval Norse society. This course takes a culturally-specific view of myth and, like any cultural study, will model an attitude of respectful inquiry into the value systems of medieval Norse peoples.
This course will complicate your experience of reading historical texts and give you strategies for reading sources critically. What questions can historical texts really answer? How do we reconcile what our textual sources say with other kinds of evidences, like archaeological evidence? To what extent is reconstructing Viking Age mythology possible, and what are our own motivations for trying?
This course will also apply this same mode of thinking to the medieval writers who produced the texts we will read. How did these medieval writers represent their motivations? Where does their authority come from? This course will help you better understand how medieval Norse people valued storytelling and used it to make meaning of their lives.
By the end of this course, you will be able to speak against the popular idea of a “pure,” “uniform,” or “ideal” Norse belief system and instead see a glimpse of the considerable diversity of belief across medieval Scandinavia, both pre- and post-Christianization. You will also be able to identify certain continuities in belief and practice.