Damnation and Salvation in Old Norse Literature

July 2018
272 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Studies in Old Norse Literature
ISBN: 9781843845072
Format: Hardback

Damnation and Salvation in Old Norse Literature

Haki Antonsson

A full survey of the "Last Things" as treated in a wide range of Old Norse literature.
The hope of salvation and the fear of damnation were fundamental in the Middle Ages. Surprisingly, however, this topic, as reflected in Old Norse literature, has received limited critical attention.This book addresses this lacuna in the scholarship, from two major perspectives. Firstly, it examines how the twin themes of damnation and salvation interact with other more familiar and better explored topoi, such as the life-cycle, the moment of death, and the material world. Secondly, it looks at how issues relating to damnation and salvation influence the structure of texts, with regard both to individual scenes and poems and sagas as a whole. The author argues that comparable features and patterns reoccur throughout the corpus, albeit with individual variations contingent on the relevant historical and literary context. A broad range of the literature is considered, including Sagas of Icelanders, Kings' sagas, Contemporary Sagas, Legendary sagas and poems of Christian instruction.

Haki Antonsson is Senior Lecturer in Medieval Scandinavian Studies, University College London.

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Table of Contents

Confession and Penance
Life's Journey Towards Salvation: Salvation and the Biographical Pattern
Outlaws and Marginal Figures
Salvation, Damnation and the Visible World
The Hour of Death
Last Things and Judgement Day


In his examination of an understudied theme, that of salvation and damnation in Old Norse Literature, Haki Antonsson considers how sub-themes found in a variety of literary genres - sagas of Icelanders, kings' sagas, and religious poetry - reflect basic Christian concerns with the fate of their protagonists in the next world. Although Christian authorship of, and influence on, the sagas has been assumed in scholarship for several decades, its full implications have seldom been realized, and the focus has usually been on individual sagas and episodes in which Christian themes are thought to imply sanctity. In this volume Antonsson demonstrates through meticulous textual analyses how death scenes, biographical patterns, and themes such as betrayal and violent death suggest not that individuals are saints, but that their eventual places in heaven are guaranteed - or prohibited. The volume serves as a welcome and pointed reminder that such issues were just as important for thirteenth-century Icelanders as they were elsewhere in Europe.-Margaret Cormack, Professor Emerita in the Department of Religious Studies at College of Charleston

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