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Last modified: 31 May 2022 13:05

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 3
Session First Sub Session Credit Points 30 credits (15 ECTS credits)
Campus Aberdeen Sustained Study No
  • Professor Ralph J. O'connor

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

  • Programme Level 3
  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?

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.

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

First Attempt

1 x 3,000 word essay (80%)
1 x Seminar Assessment Mark (20%)

Formative Assessment

There are no assessments for this course.

Course Learning Outcomes

Knowledge LevelThinking SkillOutcome
FactualRememberILO’s for this course are available in the course guide.

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