Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Saga of the Faroe Islanders

I'm wrapping up reading an English translation of this Old Norse saga. It has been an intriguing read as I've explored the values and lifestyle of this rather foreign culture. What's really interesting is discerning the morays, ethics, and norms of the people who wrote the saga. The hero Sigmund, for example, is a great pirate and converts the Faroe Islanders to Christianity literally at swordpoint. He rises from poverty and slavery to become a great leader and conqueror. Some of these traits a modern American reader would find noble, but others would be considered unacceptable.

Yet I've found that sheer age alone does not necessarily make an ancient work alien. Back in college, I read both Beowulf and Le Morte D'Arthur, and found the latter to far more culturally confusing than the former, though Malory wrote only a few centuries ago.

Pre-modern literature can generally be a tough read because of differing literary and cultural norms, but it can be an informative exercise.

Other than the Bible, what works of pre-modern (let's say pre-Renaissance) literature have you read and enjoyed?


rocksalive777 said...

The Epic of Gilgamesh and Hesiod's Works and Days were both interesting, as well as 1 Enoch's Book of the Watchers.

I did a paper on the Nephilim and Watchers in mythological context, so anything from the near east that deals with giants, floods, and fallen divine beings cast into pits really strikes my fancy.

BruceA said...

Does Lord of the Rings count as pre-modern?

bob said...

I enjoyed Homer's Illiad and Odessey, I think Margret Hamilton and her book on mythology fueled much of my interest in reading.

John said...

I think that one could make a strong case that LOTR is pre-modern -- just written about a millenia after one would have expected it to first appear.

I read a bit of Homer in high school, but never a complete work. The Epic of Gilgamesh is good, although it always makes me think of that Star Trek episode.

larry said...

I took a course in college called "The Ancient Novel" in which we read a variety of kind of novella-length works, mostly satirical and kind of ancient harlequin stories - pirates and lust and escapes from improbable scenarios and magic . . . While I found many of them interesting and enjoyable, the best was certainly "The Golden Ass" by Apuleius.

In my time in college studying classical as well as koine Greek, I also enjoyed a second century satirist, Lucian - his work "The Passing of Peregrinus" is good, as well as his mocking work entitled "Symposium," which is a much more enjoyable read than Plato's work of the same name . . . last, but not least, I also enjoyed the humor of the Athenian comedic playwright Aristophanes. The serious material doesn't do much for me, but material that was funny then can stand the test of time.

Divers and Sundry said...

I used to love this stuff. I only read in English, though.

Does the Bible count?
Travels of Ibn Battuta
some of the Icelandic Eddas and Sagas
The Book of Margery Kempe
The Cloud of Unknowing
Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
The Quest of the Holy Grail
Le Morte d'Arthur
The Mabinogion
The Divine Comedy
Golden Legend of the Saints
Consolation of Philosophy
can we count The Arabian Nights?

rocksalive777 said...

Larry -- Aristophanes' Wealth may be the funniest play I've ever read.

D&S -- I've always classified The Divine Comedy as Renaissance. Sure, it was written during the medieval period, but it has more features of a Renaissance piece than a medieval one.

Anonymous said...

Ovid's Metamorphoses is worth a look. It's not organized at all like anything else I can think of. If they had movies in classical Rome...? There's an alternate history scenario for you.