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Date(s) - 24 Jan 2013
4:30 PM - 5:45 PM

University of Pennsylvania


Mikael Males, University of Oslo:   “Language, Faith, and Truth in Iceland in the Middle of the Fourteenth Century”
The talk will take place 4.30 on Thursday, January 24.  Room: McNeil Building [ON LOCUST WALK] room 169     [*NOT* the McNeil Center on Walnut and 34th]

Codex Wormianus is the largest compilation of grammatical literature in Old Norse. It contains the most influential treatise on Old Norse poetry – Snorri’s Edda – as well as translations and adaptations of Priscian, Donatus, Alexander of Villa Dei, and Eberhard of Béthune. The manuscript also exhibits additions and interpolations that are not found in other witnesses to these texts. The additions are largely focused on the connection between linguistic unity, monotheism, and truth, as opposed to plurality, polytheism, and confusion and falsehood. The additions clearly originate with a single individual who was also the redactor of Wormianus, and their content, previously dismissed as “banal monastic musings”, merit a closer look.

The additions constitute an intriguing development of a pan-European locus of linguistic and semantic discourse; the story of the Tower of Babel and the division of tongues. The Babel narrative is here given in the introduction to the Edda, a work which mostly deals with semantic obscurity in poetic language. An addition further on in the manuscript equates the idea of a universal phonology with the inherent truth of the Hebrew language that preceded the Tower. These thoughts bear comparison with the work of contemporary benedictine poets, who proclaim that they will not follow the rules of the Edda, but rather a program of semantic clarity. Taken together, the additions to Wormianus and the references to the Edda in contemporary poetry bear witness to a discussion of semantics where Latinate topoi were used to question the authority of traditional poetic diction.

On Friday, January 25, Dr. Males will also be offering a workshop on Old Norse literature *for beginners*–no knowledge of the language required (though if you know Old Norse, all the merrier).  The workshop is planned for late morning through early afternoon, lunch provided.