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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Figuring Futures Seminar - When the Future Came to the North: The Visionary Poems Voluspá and Draumkvedet as Sources for Norse Ideas of the Future

8th March 2011, 17:30 to 18:30, Professor Gro Steinsland (University of Oslo)

Professor Steinsland will present two poems from Nordic culture dealing with apocalypse and future. First the eddaic poem Voluspá (The Prophesy of the volva) with its great vision of cosmic history, the creation of the powers, gods and mankind, the struggles between the powers and the last disaster of the world, which ends in Ragnarok. The last part of the poem reveals a new kind of myth in the Norse mental universe: a myth of future, a vision of a better world to come, after the destruction of the actual one. The myth of future presents a quite new, cosmic order.

Compared and contrasted to Voluspá, a ballade written down from oral transmitters in the region of Telemark, Norway, in the nineteenth century, will be presented as the second poem. Draumkvedet is a visionary poem telling about the dream-journey of the layman Olav Åsteson who fell to sleep at Christmas and slept day and night until 6th January, the day of Epiphany. Awakening at last, he tells about the great experiences he has had through his journey in the other world. In contrast to the cosmic Voluspá, this poem, though cosmic in outlook with its visions of Hell and Heaven, is rather concerned about the fate and future of the individual man, as an after death-experience, opening up for Christians the mysteries of salvation and perdition.

Though both are visionary and both probably belong to a medieval tradition, the two poems indicate quite different ideas about apocalypse and future.

A particular focus of these seminars is the intersection of classical and Christian ideas concerning the future and the ordering of the world, and their development across the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Recurrent themes are divinity and divination, Apocalypticism, Fortune, astrology and prophecy. A key emphasis is the political power of prophecy and the desire of rulers to control such knowledge or to influence prediction. The prophet or prophetess is a compelling yet marginalized and sometimes shameful figure. Papers treat ideas of apocalypse and nature, portent and prophecy, exegesis and politics, and visionary writing.

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