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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Death, Narrative and Understanding the Viking Mind

We think we understand the Vikings and their ways as a culture of warriors and pirates. The Vikings plagued the coast of early medieval Britain, robbing from monastic and secular sites until they finally set up permanent residence in the Danelaw.

In reality, however, the Vikings inhabited a nebulous dichotomy between violent warrior and peaceful merchant.

Yet these views of the Norsemen originate from sources outside Viking culture, they originate from the victims, such as the monasteries that were attacked. As a result, our view of the Viking world is rarely from the perspective of people who were part of it. In a series of lectures to Cornell University, delivered in September 2012, Professor Neil Price of Aberdeen University attempts to bridge this gap and get inside the Viking mind.

Professor Price puts forward the argument that stories are at the heart of the Viking consciousness and that the Vikings perceived the world as a series of interconnected stories passed orally and lived out day to day. What modern scholars interpret as “Norse myths”, i.e. tales of the gods collected in what we call the Prose and Poetic Edda, were not only stories to entertain on the long Scandinavian nights, they were also a very real part of the nature of the world.

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