Old Norse Heroic Poetry
with Dr Heather O’Donoghue (University of Oxford)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 21st June 2014.


The above scenes are understood as follows:

1. Sigurd stabs the dragon Fafnir with the sword Gram.
2. Sigurd cooks the dragon’s heart in Regin’s smithy and burns his thumb.
3. When he tastes the dragon’s blood, he can understand the birds’ song. The birds say that Regin plans to kill Sigurd and take the treasure.
4. Sigurd beheads Regin.
5. Regin’s horse is laden with the dragon’s treasure.

Old Norse-Icelandic poets turned the stories of the Germanic heroic age – about such figures as Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer, Attila the Hun, Brynhildr the Valkyrie or Ermanaric the Goth – into powerfully dramatic verse. This study day will focus on these remarkable and influential poems.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival
10.15 – 11.15:                Dragon-slaying and shape-shifting: the story of the Volsungs
11.15 – 11.45:                Coffee break
11.45 – 12.45:                Vengeance and Violence: The Lay of Hamdir and The Lay of Atli
12.45 – 14.00:                Lunch break
14.00 – 15.00:                Völundr or Wéland? Poetry and Sculpture
15.00 – 15.20:               Tea break
15.20 – 16.20:                Afterlife and influence: from Beowulf to Wagner, and beyond
c.16.20:                         Thanks and Close

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading
(not essential but may be of interest for some)

Bengtsson, Frans G., The Long Ships, trans. M.Meyer (London 1954, 1956; New York 2010).
Faulkes, Anthony (trans.), Snorri Sturluson: Edda (Everyman Classics, 1987)
Larrington, Carolyne, The Poetic Edda (Oxford World’s Classics, 1996)
O’Donoghue, Heather, Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Short Introduction (Blackwell, 2004)
O’Donoghue, H., From Asgard to Valhalla (I.B.Tauris2007).
Orchard, A., Cassell’s Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend (London 1997).
Orchard, Andy, The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore (Penguin Classics, 2011)
Page, R.I., Chronicles of the Vikings: Records, Memorials and Myths (British Museum Press, 2000)
Turville-Petre, E.O.G., Myth and Religion of the North (New York 1964).
Williams, G., P.Pentz, & M.Wemhoff (eds), Vikings: Life and Legend (British Museum 2014)

About Dr Heather O’Donoghue

Heather O’Donoghue is Vigfusson Rausing Reader in Old Norse-Icelandic literature at the University of Oxford, and a Professorial Fellow of Linacre College. Her primary field of research is Old Norse-Icelandic literature, that is, the poetry and prose of medieval Iceland and Norway. Recent publications include Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: a short introduction (Blackwell 2004); Skaldic Verse and the Poetics of Saga Narrative (Oxford University Press 2005) and From Asgard to Valhalla (IB Tauris 2007); and a number of articles on the influence of Old Norse myth on poets including William Blake, Hugh MacDiarmid, W.H.Auden and Seamus Heaney.

Participant Feedback:

At previous Study days given by Heather, when asked ‘What was best’ people commented

  • Heather’s enthusiasm and ability to bring the subject to life.
  • Erodite explanation and exploration of Norse Myths and most entertaining
  • Heather’s knowledge and enthusiasm
  • Whole day enjoyable
  • Fantastic education
  • Quality of lecturer.  Very good lunch