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Last modified: 26 Feb 2018 16:59

Course Overview

This course explores and compares the legendary saga-narratives written in medieval Ireland and Iceland which dramatize the great deeds and even greater misdeeds of Celtic and Scandinavian ‘heroes’. Characters studied range from the frenzied Ulster warrior Cu Chulainn to the tragic and troll-like Icelander Grettir the Strong and the mythic dragon-slayer Sigurdr the Volsung, made famous by Wagner but much wilder in the original. Stories studied will include cattle-raids, bloodfeuds, Otherworld quests and fights with zombies. By the end of the course, students will know how to go berserk in an informed and critically aware manner.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 4
Session First Sub Session Credit Points 30 credits (15 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Professor Ralph O'Connor

Qualification Prerequisites


What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • Either Programme Level 4 or Programme Level 5

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?

  • CE3088 Tales of Vengeance & Enchantment:The Heroic Age in Saga Literature A (Studied)
  • (Studied)
  • (Studied)

Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

Medieval Irish and Icelandic sagas represent the largest and most varied, and certainly the most entertaining, body of vernacular prose narrative in existence in early mediaeval Europe. Although not widely known beyond their countries of origin, they contain some of the North's most distinctive and impressive contributions to world literature. Drawing on common oral and literary traditions from the North Atlantic cultural zone, these tales dramatize the legendary past by populating it with larger-than-life heroes whose deeds and misdeeds were felt to define the meaning of that past for mediaeval audiences. These two bodies of northern literature are usually studied in isolation, but this course will place them side by side. It will explore narratives ranging from heroic tales of cattle-raids and bloodfeuds to stories about the living dead and quests to the otherworlds of the Western and Arctic oceans. The tales will be analysed (in translation) from literary and historical perspectives. The course falls into two halves. It will first explore the kinds of stories these sagas tell and similarities and differences between their 'narrative worlds'. It will then turn to the questions of how, when and why this literature was produced, and how we can best appreciate it, especially in regard to what kinds of 'heroes' its protagonists are.

Further Information & Notes

This course will be available in 2017/18, and is available to Level 4 students in any degree programme.

This course may not be taken as part of a graduating curriculum alongside its Level 3 equivalent of the same title.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown


More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

1st Attempt

  • 2-hour written examination (60%)
  • 3500-word essay (30%)
  • Seminar participation (10%)



  • One 3500-word essay (this word count includes references but excludes bibliography) (100%)

Formative Assessment

Students are formatively assessed on their seminar performance according to criteria clearly explained at the beginning of the course.


Students are given feedback weekly in the form of written corrections to submitted work and advice delivered verbally in class, both to individuals and to the whole class.

Course Learning Outcomes


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