Now Online! | Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives

As part of an initiative to make more widely available research from the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, the CHS is pleased to announce the online publication of Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives, edited by Pernille Hermann, Stephen A. Mitchell, and Jens Peter Schjødt, with Amber J. Rose. The complete Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature series is now available on the CHS website.

From the series foreword

[…]Harvard’s engagement with the study of Scandinavian history, culture, and literature has deep roots, a fact one can infer from its acquisition on January 14, 1766, soon after the destructive fire of the college library in 1764, of A Compendious History of the Goths, Svvedes & Vandals, and Other Northern Nations, the 1658 English translation of Olaus Magnus’ 1555 ethnography of the Nordic world. And Harvard was one of the first, if not the first, institution in the New World to offer instruction in Old Norse—it is said that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow taught it in University Hall shortly after his 1835–1836 stay in Copenhagen and Stockholm. Of her visit to the Harvard College library in December of 1849, the famous Swedish writer, and feminist activist, Fredrika Bremer commented,

I one day lately visited the several buildings of the university and the library. In the latter I was surprised to find one portion of the Swedish literature not badly represented here. This is owing to the poet, Professor Longfellow, who having himself traveled in Sweden, sent hither these books. He has also written about Sweden, and has translated several of Tegnér’s poems. I found also the Eddas among the Swedish books.

To which she adds—wryly and much bemused by the intensity of the young men’s interest, one senses—speaking about her childhood friend and visiting legal scholar, Professor Pehr Bergfalk,

Bergfalk laid his hands on the Westgötha laws, which he treated as an old friend, and in which he showed some of the gentlemen who accompanied us an example of that alliteration which was so much in vogue in the writings of our forefathers, and about which the gentlemen found much to say.[1]

A half-century later, massively supplementing Harvard’s growing Nordic collection, the perspicacious acquisition of the personal library of the German scholar, Konrad von Maurer, took place, a purchase that brought some 10,000 titles to the library, as well as, to paraphrase the bill of lading, a trunkful of Icelandic manuscripts.[2] The university’s continuing commitment to Scandinavian as a vital area of humanities research has not wavered greatly over the decades; indeed, the essays in the current volume, Comparative Perspectives on Old Norse Mythology, are an indication of this ongoing dedication, as most of them were presented at the Aarhus Old Norse Mythology Conference held at Harvard University in the autumn of 2013.

David Elmer, Casey Dué, Gregory Nagy and Stephen Mitchell

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[1] Fredrika Bremer, The Homes of the New World: Impressions of America. Transl. by Mary Howitt of Hemmen i den Nya verlden. New York: 1853. I: 134.
[2] Some of these manuscripts formed part of the exhibit of Icelandic manuscripts at Harvard’s Houghton Library, curated by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Marie Curie Research Fellow at Harvard University and The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavík, held in conjunction with the conference, Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives, in 2013.