University of Iceland

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Viking and Medieval Norse Studies

A two-year Nordic Master’s Programme that offers an interdisciplinary approach to Viking and Medieval Scandinavia.

Deadline for applications: February 1st

Viking and Medieval Norse Studies

Preparatory Reading List

Preparatory Reading List

The first semester in the Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme is devoted to laying the foundation for further course work and thesis research through intensive survey courses on the Old Norse-Icelandic literary corpus, the medieval history of Iceland and Scandinavia, and the Old Norse-Icelandic literary language. See Programme Structure.
 
As the Old Norse-Icelandic literary corpus is vast, it is important that incoming students get a head start by reading selected works in translation and acquainting themselves with some of the current scholarship. The preparatory reading list below is intended as a tool for incoming students preparing themselves for the Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme. It consists of two main parts: On the one hand, there are Required Preparatory Readings which incoming students are expected to have completed before starting the programme. On the other hand, are Recommended Additional Readings.
 

Required Preparatory Readings

Incoming students are expected to have read at least the following works in translation before starting in the Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme:
  • Egils saga
  • Hrafnkels saga
  • Laxdæla saga
  • Njáls saga
  • Snorri's Edda (the Prose Edda)
  • Eddic poetry: at least the poems Vǫluspá, Hávamál, and Þrymskviða
These works are accessible in several different translations into English and various other languages. See below on literature in translation.
 
A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture, edited by Rory McTurk (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007) contains 29 articles by leading scholars, covering a variety of topics that are central in the field of Old Norse-Icelandic studies. Before starting in the Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme, incoming students are expected to have read at least the following fifteen articles from this volume:
  • Ch. 5: “Eddic Poetry” by Terry Gunnell
  • Ch. 6: “Family Sagas” by Vésteinn Ólason
  • Ch. 8: “Historical Background: Iceland 870–1400” by Helgi Þorláksson
  • Ch. 10: “Language” by Michael Barnes 
  • Ch. 11: “Late Prose Fiction” by Matthew Driscoll
  • Ch. 14: “Manuscripts and Palaeography” by Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson  
  • Ch. 16: “Orality and Literacy in the Sagas of Icelanders” by Gísli Sigurðsson
  • Ch. 17: “Pagan Myth and Religion” by Peter Orton
  • Ch. 19: “Prose of Christian Instruction” by Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir
  • Ch. 21: “Romance (Translated riddarasögur)” by Jürg Glauser
  • Ch. 22: “Royal Biography” by Ármann Jakobsson
  • Ch. 24: “Sagas of Contemporary History (Sturlunga saga): Texts and Research” by Úlfar Bragason
  • Ch. 25: “Sagas of Icelandic Prehistory (fornaldarsögur)” by Torfi H. Tulinius
  • Ch. 27: “Skaldic Poetry” by Diana Whaley
  • Ch. 28: “Social Institutions” by Gunnar Karlsson 
The remaining articles are also important, and incoming students are encouraged to read as many of them as possible.
 

Recommended Additional Readings

Below are suggestions for additional preparatory reading before starting the Viking and Medieval Norse Studies programme. Most of these works will be found on the syllabus of the courses in the programme. Many of the books listed are available in affordable paperback editions that will allow students to start building their own scholarly library. Books published in Iceland can be purchased from the University of Iceland Book Store — Bóksala stúdenta  or via email at <orders@boksala.is>.
 

Literature in Translation

Even if you will read a selection of texts in Icelandic-Old Norse as a part of the course work in the program, it is necessary to get an overview of the literary corpus by reading all the major works in translation. Below are listed English translations of some key works that you should read to start with. Many of these works have also been translated into other languages.
  • The Sagas of Icelanders. A Selection. Preface by Jane Smiley. Introduction by Robert Kellogg. Penguin Books, New York, 2001. [A selection of Icelandic sagas in English translation, including Egils saga, Vatnsdœla saga, Laxdœla saga, Hrafnkels saga, Gísla saga, Gunnlaugs saga, and the Vinland sagas, with illustrations, tables, and maps, as well as a good introduction by Kellogg.]
  • Njal’s Saga. Translated with Introduction and Notes by Robert Cook. Penguin Books, London, 2002.
  • The Poetic Edda. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Carolyne Larrington. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.
  • Snorri Sturluson. Edda. Translated and edited by Anthony Faulkes. Everyman, London, 1987.
An online catalogue of saga translations is run by the National and University Library of Iceland. A variety of editions and translations have also been published by the Viking Society for Northern Research, some of which are available for free download.
 

Old Norse–Icelandic Literature, History, Religion, and Archeology

Below are books that provide a solid introduction to a wide range of themes relating to the Old Norse world, such as literary history, history, religion, and archeology. Brink and Price (2008) and Fitzhugh and Ward (2000) are collections of papers on a variety of subjects. The other books are more specialized. Nearly all are available in paperback editions.
  • Abram, Christopher. 2011. Myths of the Pagan North. The Gods of the Norsemen. Continuum, New York.
  • Ármann Jakobsson. 2013. Nine Saga Studies: The Critical Interpretation of the Icelandic Sagas. University of Iceland Press, Reykjavík.
  • Ármann Jakobsson and Sverrir Jakobsson (eds.). 2017. The Routledge Research Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas. Routledge, London and New York.
  • Brink, Stefan and Neil Price (eds.). 2008. The Viking World. Routledge, New York.
  • Byock, Jesse L. 2001. Viking Age Iceland. Penguin Books, London.
  • Clunies Ross, Margaret. 2010. The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Fitzhugh, William F. and Elisabeth Ward (eds.). 2000. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Smithsonian Books, Washington.
  • Gísli Sigurðsson. 2004. The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition: A discourse on Method. Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass.
  • Guðrún Nordal. 2001. Tools of Literacy: The Role of Skaldic Verse in Icelandic Textual Culture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
  • Lindow, John. 2001. Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Miller, William Ian. 1990. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking. Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 
  • Roesdahl, Else. 1991. The Vikings. Second edition. Penguin, London.
  • Torfi Tulinius. 2014. The Enigma of Egill. The Saga, the Viking Poet, and Snorri Sturluson. Cornell University Library, Ithaca.
  • Vésteinn Ólason. 1998. Dialogues with the Viking Age. Narration and Representation in the Sagas of the Icelanders. Heimskringla, Reykjavík.
 

The Icelandic Language

Even if knowledge of Icelandic is not an entry requirement in the program, it is a good idea to get a head start on the language before the fall semester. Skills in reading Old Norse-Icelandic primary sources—such as the sagas and the eddas—in the original language are of enormous importance and consequently great emphasis is placed on the language in the program. Accordingly, the focus will be on the earlier varieties of Icelandic (Old Icelandic/Old Norse), but the structural difference between Old Icelandic and Modern Icelandic is sufficiently small to provide access to the modern language as well. Also, for reading out loud the Modern Icelandic pronunciation will be used (rather than a reconstructed pronunciation), a practice that will facilitate understanding and speaking the modern language.
 

Learning Modern Icelandic

Icelandic Online is a free online beginner’s course in Modern Icelandic designed and run by the Centre for Research in the Humanities and The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute for Foreign Languages at the University of Iceland and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. It consists of five free online self-study courses. In addition, it includes two distance learning courses with the aid of an instructor (for a moderate fee). All incoming students in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies are strongly encouraged to complete at least Icelandic Online 1 and 2 before enrolling.
 
There are also several textbooks available for studying Modern Icelandic, including:
  • Auður Einarsdóttir, Guðrún Theódórsdóttir, María Garðarsdóttir and Sigríður Þorvaldsdóttir. 2002. Learning Icelandic. Mál og menning, Reykjavík. [Textbook + exercises with a CD.]
  • Helga Hilmisdóttir and Jacek Kozlowski. 2009. Beginner’s Icelandic. With 2 Audio CDs. Hippocrene Books.
  • Hildur Jónsdóttir. 2010. Complete Icelandic With Two Audio CDs: A Teach Yourself Guide. McGraw-Hill.
  • Neijmann, Daisy. 2001. Colloquial Icelandic: The Complete Course for Beginners. Routledge, New York.
  • Stefán Einarsson. 1945. Icelandic. Grammar, Texts, Glossary. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. [Reprinted several times.]

Learning Old Icelandic

There are also several textbooks focusing on Old Icelandic; most notably:
  • Barnes, Michael, and Anthony Faulkes. 2004–2005. A New Introduction to Old Norse 1–3. Viking Society for Northern Research, University College, London (http://www.vsnr.org/). – This is a very useful three-volume set containing 1. Grammar, 2. Reader, and 3. Glossary. Not very expensive, but can also be downloaded free from the Viking Society website: http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/ (look for the heading: A NEW INTRODUCTION TO OLD NORSE).
  • Byock, Jesse L. 2013–2014. Viking Language 1–2. Jules William Press. See: http://www. vikingnorse.com.
  • Gordon, E.V. 1957. An Introduction to Old Norse. Second edition revised by A.R. Taylor. Oxford University Press. – Texts, notes, grammar, and a glossary in a single volume; very useful. Reprinted several times, but still somewhat expensive. It might be a good idea to get a used copy (on Amazon.com or elsewhere).

Dictionaries

  • Cleasby, Richard og Gudbrand Vigfusson. 1874. An Icelandic–English Dictionary. Clarendon, Oxford. – Reprinted 1957; quite expensive. A free online edition is at http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~kurisuto/germanic/oi_cleasbyvigfusson_about.html
  • Geir T. Zoëga. 1910. A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic. Clarendon, Oxford. – Reprinted several times; most recently in a paperback in 2004; not very expensive. Absolutely indispensable: All incoming students in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies should get their own copy. 
  • Icelandic Online Dictionary and Readings in the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections: https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/IcelOnline/. — Contains among other things the Concise Icelandic–English Dictionary by Sverrir Hólmarsson, Christopher Sanders, and John Tucker (Reykjavík 1989).
The dictionary by Cleasby and Vigfusson still is the most comprehensive Old Icelandic–English dictionary. It is expensive, but the free online edition is very useful. Zoëga’s dictionary, which is based on Cleasby and Vigfusson’s dictionary, is strongly recommended as it is available in an affordable paperback reprint. 
 

Other sources

Beygingarlýsing íslensks nútímamáls is an online guide to Modern Icelandic inflections and conjugations courtesy of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies (with an interface in Icelandic). Also check out the web site of The Viking Society for Northern Research. There you will find a list of their publications, many of which are available for free download.
 
 
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