View Full Version : Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographic Sagas

Saturday, March 12th, 2005, 04:53 AM
One of the peculiar features of the religious works translated from Latin into Old Norse is the way in which the Nordic divinities replace the Roman ones in exotic contexts. As scholars have pointed out, it is sometimes difficult to find a pattern in this process of substitution. In this paper I have tried to look anew at the corpus of occurrences of Nordic and Roman gods and goddesses in the hagiographical translations, in particular in Unger’s editions of Postola sögur and Heilagra manna sögur.

On the basis of a systematic analysis and comparison of these occurrences with their Latin parallels it is possible to draw conclusions as to the different tendencies in this process of re-contextualization, which sometimes seems to imply a redefinition of the mutual relations between the different divinities.

In these hagiographical texts, only the “official” divinities in one of the pantheons have a counterpart in the other. The gods and goddesses extraneous to both pantheons are kept in their original form and not adapted to the known frame of reference. In the same way the demons and evil spirits from exotic lands are quoted with the names they have in the Latin sources. Obviously no need was felt to make them familiar to the Scandinavian audience.

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