Book Series Medieval Identities: Socio-Cultural Spaces, vol. 6

Conceptualizing the Enemy in Early Northwest Europe

Metaphors of Conflict and Alterity in Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Early Irish Poetry

Karin Olsen

  • Pages: 252 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2017

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55227-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-56093-9
  • E-book
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“There is much in this volume to stimulate further discussion, in particular regarding methodological approaches that Olsen uses, but also in terms of her textual selections (…) the approach is worthy of scholarly attention and anticipates future debate on methodologies for critical analysis of medieval texts.” (Roderick McDonald, in Parergon, 34/2, 2017 p. 245)

“Finally, I must remark upon the timeliness of Olsen’s study, particularly in light of the present political climate in the United States. In a time when nativist and tribalist impulses have resurfaced with renewed boldness, scholars of the early Middle Ages have seen, once again, the co-opting of Anglo-Scandinavian culture to prop up certain nationalist ideologies. Olsen’s study of how dominant in-groups use language to stigmatize out-groups serves as a pungently relevant reminder of the anxieties that undergird certain cultural modes of categorization.” (Matthew R. Bardowell, in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 118/3, 2019, p. 412)


Despite the prominence of conflicts in all mythological and heroic literature, perceptions of these conflicts and their participants are shaped by different cultural influences. Socio-economic, political, and religious factors all influence how conflict is perceived and depicted in literary form. This volume provides the first comparative analysis to explore conceptions of conflict and otherness in the literary and cultural contexts of the early North Sea world by investigating the use of metaphor in Old English, Old Norse, and Early Irish poetry. Applying Conceptual Metaphor Theory together with literary and anthropological analysis, the study examines metaphors of conflict and alterity in a range of (pseudo-)mythological, heroic, and occasional poetry, including Beowulf, Old Norse skaldic and eddic verse, and poems from the celebrated ‘Ulster Cycle’. This unique approach not only sheds new light on a wide spectrum of metaphorical techniques, but also draws important conclusions concerning the common cultural heritage behind these three poetic corpora.


Chapter 1: Metaphor, Alterity, and the Early Poetry of Northwest Europe

Chapter 2: Heathen Gods and their Enemies in Old English, Old Norse, and Early Irish Poetry

Chapter 3: Marginalizing the Enemy in the Heroic Poetry of Early Northwest Europe

Chapter 4: Defaming the Enemy in the Occasional Poetry of Early Northwest Europe