Your Semi-Medieval Humour for Today is…

> REYKJAVIK (AP) — Snorri Sturluson, a 12th-century Icelandic poet,
> today filed suit against J.R.R. Tolkien for plagiarizing dwarf-names
> from his work, The Prose Edda.

> Mr. Sturluson, who emerged from a volcano in western Iceland where
> he has been hibernating for 800 years, said that he had only recently
> learned of the similarities between his work and Prof. Tolkien’s The
> Hobbit.

> “Just look at it,” said Mr. Sturluson when interviewed today. “I’ve
> got a Thorin; he’s got a Thorin. I’ve got a Gandalf; he’s got a
> Gandalf. I’ve got Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, and Ori: so has
> he. Coincidence? I think not!”

Full report at calimac’s livejournal.


Don’t Mess with Norse Women

Humourous Hagiography will be late this week- I’ve packed up Skeat in preparation for trundling off to Awesome’s place to cat-sit for a few weeks.

Instead, have a cross-dressing Norse tale, courtesy of the Goblin:

I have read about sorceresses, and shape-shifters. I learned about preterite-present verbs and how to hate them. I have read of women who murder their children in order to avenge their brothers and women who sleep with their brothers in order to avenge their fathers and (other) brothers.

I have learned not to mess with Icelandic women. Hoo boy.

Guðrun Osvifursdottir, the protagonist of Laxdœla saga, is my very favourite example of this. She has four husbands over the course of the narrative, becomes the first nun of Iceland and achieves great literary fame. She is also a stone-cold bitch when she has to be, even if she is not on the same scale as the other figures named Guðrun in Icelandic sagas.3 The story I want to show is that of her second husband, Thord Ingunnarson. Guðrun gained Thord after she divorced her first husband -using Thord’s advice- and he divorced his wife on Guðrun’s. Thord’s wife Aud does not take kindly to losing her husband.4

The manner in which this is laid out is very amusing. The story should of course be read in context to be fully appreciated, but we shall start with Guðrun’s first husband, Thorvald. Following rumours that Guðrun is having an affair with Thord, Thorvald slaps Guðrun during a fight. After responding that he has given her what every woman wants- good colouring, Thord arrives. She asks him how to respond to the insulting slap:

Thord smiled and said, “I have a good solution for this. Make him a shirt with such a wide neck opening that by wearing it he gives you grounds for divorcing him.

Cross-dressing was illegal in early Icelandic law, and was grounds for divorce. A wide-opened shirt was for exposing…well. You’ve all seen bad fantasy movies. You get the idea.

Of course, poor Thorvald has to wear a shirt his wife made for him, and winds up divorced. One can’t help but think he is better off; Guðrun might be beautiful, but she never liked him.

Later on, Guðrun opens a conversation with Thord along similar lines:

“Is it true, Thord, that your wife Aud always wears breeches with gores in the crutch, like a man’s, and cross-garters almost down to her shoes?

He said he had not noticed it.

“There can’t be much truth to the story, then,” said Guðrun, “if you hadn’t noticed it. But why, then, is she known as Breeches-Aud?”

We can see where Guðrun is headed here. Soon enough:

One day Thord Ingunnarson asked Guðrun what the penalty was for a woman who always wore breeches like a man’s.

Guðrun replied, “The same penalty applies to women in a case like that as to a man who wears a neck-opening so wide that his nipples are exposed: both are grounds of divorce.”

Oh, Guðrun.

Of course, Thord divorces Aud then and there, and Guðrun and he go off and get married. Their marriage is very happy, apparently.

Aud takes her abandonment…bitterly, singing a brief poem. But she does not sit on her hands, because one does not mess with Icelandic womenfolk. She sends a shepherd boy to find out how many men are at Thord’s farm- upon disovering that it is only Thord and Guðrun’s father Osvif, she goes after her ex-husband:

…a little before sunset Aud mounted her horse, and she was certainly wearing breeches then. The shepherd rode the other horse and could scarcely keep up with her, so furiously did she spur her horse. […] She went into the living-room and over to the bed-closet in which Thord lay sleeping. […] She went into the bed-closet; Thord lay on his back, sound asleep. She woke him up, and he turned on his side when he saw that a man had come in; Aud drew a short-sword and lunged at him with it, wounding him severely; the sword caught his right arm and gashed him across both nipples. So fierce was the thrust that the sword stuck fast in the bed boards.

Osvif offers to go after her, as Thord is too weakened by loss of blood. However:

Thord would not hear of it on any account, saying that she had only done what she had to do.

She had only done what she had to do. Thord knew that which we should all learn: do not mess with Icelandic women. They will cut you.===

3: You should all read the poem Atlakviða and the Völsunga saga. Guðrun Gjukadottir is amazing.
4: All quotes are from Laxdœla Saga, translated by Magnus Magnusson and Herman Palsson. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1969. The chapters in question are 34-35, pp. 124-128.

Hum. And now, I shall trundle off to the library at this late hour, to take back overdue interlibrary loans…

Humourous Hagiography: Now a Weekly Feature

Well, I enjoyed St Eadmund so much that I think it deserves to be a weekly feature. Humourous Hagiography will be published on the Naked Philologist on Wednesdays or Thursdays for the next month or so, and next semester will be published likewise on the day of or the day after my AS class for the week.

Next week: St AEthelthryth- a lesson in the power of NO.

In the meantime, some interesting side facts about St Eadmund:

  • Ari, the author of the Islendingabok, and scrupulous collector of historical materials, dates the settlement of Iceland by the year in which Edmund died. He gets the year wrong, which we know by comparision with the other date he gives, the reign of Harold the Fair Haired in Norway, but it’s by Ari’s testimony that we know Hinguar was Ivarr, son of Ragnar Lothborok. What source Ari had for his information on Edmund is an interesting question- there was a Latin life circulating, by Abbo of Fleury, and upon which AElfric based this tale which I have just bastardised. However- and I only have the word of the Bocera on this- there have been found Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in Iceland, particularly saints lives, and it’s not impossible that the Norse, great lovers of etymology, could translate if not read directly from the Anglo-Saxon.
  • Moving on a handful of centuries, pause for a second over C.S. Lewis. Medievalist and devout Anglican, don’t think he picked the name for his sacrificial character, later ruling as “the Just”, simply because he liked the sound of “Edmund”. The story is far from parrallel- in fact, in places it’s a complete inversion. Lewis must have known he was doing it, though. The Bocera, who accuses me of ‘not paying enough attention to etymology’ (by which you can tell that he really loves etymology), points out that ‘Eadmund’ means ‘noble mouth’- Our Eadmund lives up to his name, but there might be a deliberate irony there in the case of young Edmund Pevensie.

In Parentheses: Resources for Literature and Language studies

Courtesy of Dr Nokes, I just discovered In Parentheses, a collection of resources hosted by the University of York, Canada. There, you can find collections of (mostly translated) works in Old and Middle English, Chinese Drama, Ethiopian, Old French, Peruvian, Malayan, Old Norse, Medieval Italian, Medieval Russion, Restoration Drama, and a whole host of other languages.

Furthermore, they offer a volume of Papers In Medieval Studies, in PDF form, and a Linguistics Series, which it seems to me would be better titled ‘Language Learning Series’. They have three sets of wordlists (Irish- German, English to Old Norse, and Romanian-English), plus flash cards for such languages as diverse as Classical Armenian, Old Norse, Old Occitan, Esperanto and Norwegian.
Their Old English flashcards come in two versions: basic, and ‘tenth century script’. The tenth century script one looks simply like this font1, but for those who (like me) have both poor word retention AND a distaste for paelography, it could be a good way to memorise both words and letter-forms.

Happy language-learning, everyone 🙂


1. The font is actually quite good, and the creator is a very nice man if you email him and ask for it.