HDAK00256U  History and Fiction in Viking sagas

Volume 2016/2017

Long long ago, Ragnar Lothbrok set out from the cold shores of Norway and, with a piece of groundbreaking technology known as a sunstone, did what no Viking before him had done: discovered the British Isles!

Or did he? Long before the TV series “Vikings” Scandinavians looked back at their piratical past and imagined what had happened. At times they used sources, at others they freestyled. The texts they produced, including many legendary sagas, veer between what readers might consider history books to all-out historical fiction (of the Games of Thrones variety).

This course will look at a number of stories written in the medieval period in Scandinavia (including Ragnars saga). Moreover, we will have the chance to look at some of the original sources as Copenhagen University is home to one of the world's most important collections of medieval Scandinavian manuscripts. Thus using our reading as a lens, we will consider many questions which have relevance for all areas of cultural analysis. Why are we so obsessed with writing history? How has the Viking past been coopted and appropriated throughout time? Is it more important that history is true or useful? Can you write a true story about trolls and dragons? Was literary fiction a radical new development in Medieval Scandinavia? Can enjoying and laughing at the past be a subversive act? How do contemporary approaches to studying texts as artfacts allow us to get closer to what audiences in the past were thinking when they read?

Kurset henvender sig i første omgang til alle litterært og historisk interesserede studerende på Dansk KA, men det vil også uden problemer kunne følges af KA-studerende på Historie og Litteraturvidenskab. Desuden er der mulighed for (med kortere pensum) at tage kurset som et BA-Tilvalg. Forløbet ledes af Gottskálk Jensson, Katarzyna Anna Kapitan, Annette Lassen, Philip Lavender, Sheryl McDonald Werronen og Beeke Stegmann postdocs (NFI).

Learning Outcome
  • describe the texts which are considered to fall under the category of legendary sagas and the key generic features of such texts.
  • show knowledge of where such texts are preserved and be capable of finding good quality editions and translations (using websites such as handrit.is and the online fornaldarsögur bibliography).

  • discuss the reception of such texts and the ways in which viking legends have been used (and abused) in learned, political and popular culture.

  • define the terms history and fiction and give a general overview of literary critical debates surrounding history and fiction (in particular the birth of fiction in the medieval period, and the potential for fantastic texts to be used as history).

  • say what the original language of the texts is (Old Norse, Latin) and know how to access and utilise resources, should they wish to work with these texts in the original language.

  • express their own opinions on such texts using appropriate academic style and writing techniques (including citing sources and references).


Curricula (in Danish):

DAN KA-2008:


DAN KA-2015:





Type of assessment
Written examination
Free take home assignment
Censorship form
External censorship
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 42
  • Course Preparation
  • 210
  • Exam Preparation
  • 160,5
  • Total
  • 412,5