Book Series Medieval Identities: Socio-Cultural Spaces, vol. 3

The Performance of Christian and Pagan Storyworlds

Non-Canonical Chapters of the History of Nordic Medieval Literature

Lars Boje Mortensen, Tuomas M.S. Lehtonen (eds)

  • Pages: 448 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:20 b/w
  • Language(s):English, Latin
  • Publication Year:2013

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-54236-2
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-54261-4
  • E-book
  • Available

The present volume deals with Nordic medieval texts that are overlooked in traditional, language-based narratives and capitalize on the performance turn in cultural studies.


"I found this to be a very insightful and groundbreaking book. Examining the lesser-known literatures of Old Norse, (...)  along with various social and cultural influences has provided the foundation for more research in this area in the future. I found the extensive framing of the research within the book by the editors in the introduction quite refreshing and illuminating. A must-read for anyone whose scholarship touches on the medieval North and its influences and sources." (Bradford Lee Eden, in: The Medieval Review 14.11.07)



The present collection explores a hitherto understudied body of Nordic medieval literature which, although overlooked in traditional, language-based narratives, was in fact crucial in shaping social and religious identities.

By drawing on the ‘performance turn’ in cultural studies, the volume identifies a number of minor and peripheral literary forms and texts that had a vital connection to ritual and ritualized speech. These neglected traditions therefore offer an alternative insight into Nordic literary life and the sets of cultural expression, or storyworlds, underlying Nordic culture.

The collected studies explore different aspects of verbal performances as a primary vehicle for the Nordic storyworlds, with a preference for the Christian over the pagan traditions. Emphasis is placed on Latin, Old Norse, and Finnish traditions that were retold and reproduced over time. These ‘living’ literary forms highlight the importance of non-canonical texts for the interpretation of contact between the peripheries and centres of Nordic culture. Through the focus on the interaction between Latin and the vernacular, between eastern Baltic and western Latin influences, and between ritual and speech in religious practice, this collection demonstrates the importance of ‘minor’ texts for the re-construction of medieval Nordic culture and history.  


Introduction: What Is Nordic Medieval Literature? — LARS BOJE MORTENSEN AND TUOMAS M. S. LEHTONEN

Part I. The Impact of Latin Song, Book, and Service

The Word of God and the Stories of Saints: Medieval Liturgy and its Reception in Norway — ÅSLAUG OMMUNDSEN

The Arrival and Development of Latin Literacy on the Edge of Europe: The Case of Medieval Finland — TUOMAS HEIKKILÄ

Spoken, Written, and Performed in Latin and Vernacular Cultures from the Middle Ages to the Early Seventeenth Century: Ramus virens oliuarum — TUOMAS M. S. LEHTONEN

Part II. Christian Discourse Framing Pagan Stories

Zoroaster, Saturn, and Óðinn: The Loss of Language and the Rise of Idolatry — JONAS WELLENDORF

Edda and ‘Oral Christianity’: Apocryphal Leaves of the Early Medieval Storyworld of the North — HENRIK JANSON

Ethnocultural Knowledge and Mythical Models: The Making of St Olaf, the God of Thunder, and St Elijah during the First Centuries of the Christian Era in the Scandinavian and Baltic Regions — LAURI HARVILAHTI

Part III . Educating and Disciplining the Community

The Performative Texts of the Stave Church Homily — AIDAN CONTI

The Performative Non-Canonicity of the Canonical: Islendingasǫgur and their Traditional Referentiality — SLAVICA RANKOVIĆ

Provider of Prosperity: The Image of St Anne in Finnish and Karelian Folklore — IRMA-RIITTA JÄRVINEN

(Re)Performing the Past: Crusading, History Writing, and Rituals in the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia — LINDA KALJUNDI

Part IV. Oral Poetics through the Social Spectrum

Two Medieval Ballads on Betrayal and Deception: Interpreting the Story of the First Christian Bishop in Finland through the Story of Judas Iscariot — PERTTI ANTTONEN

Female Mourning Songs and Other Lost Oral Poetry in Pre-Christian Nordic Culture — ELSE MUNDAL

‘She was fulfilled, she was filled by it…’: A Karelian Popular Song of St Mary and the Conception of Christ — SENNI TIMONEN