Saga Brief 22: Drinking in the Viking Age and the Sagas of Icelanders (Part I: What Were They Drinking?)

In this long overdue Saga Brief, we discuss drinking in the Viking Age and the Sagas of Icelanders. This first part looks at what they were drinking and how it was perceived culturally. In the second part, coming soon, we’ll look into the culture of drinking as we explore where and how they drank.

Here is a short bibliography of the texts and studies referred to, either directly or indirectly, in this episode:

Etting, Vivian. The Story of the Drinking Horn: Drinking Culture in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages. Publications of the National Museum of Denmark v.21, 2013.

Dineley, Graham, and Merryn Dineley. “Where Were the Viking Brew Houses?” EXARC 2013/2 (2013). https://exarc.net/ark:/88735/10117

Hallgerður Gisladottir, ‘The Use of Whey in Icelandic Households’, in Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Ethnological Food Research, Ireland. J992, ed. Patricia Lysaght (Canongate Academic, 1994), pp. 123-29.

Mark, Joshua J. “Norse Alcohol and the Mead of Poetry.” World History Encyclopedia. Published January 7, 2019. https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1307/norse-alcohol–the-mead-of-poetry/ .

Riseley, Charles. Ceremonial Drinking in the Viking Age. MA Thesis. University of Oslo, 2014.

Rodriguez, Jesús Fernando Guerrero. Old Norse Drinking Culture. PhD Dissertation. University of York, 2007.

Rood, Joshua. Drinking with Óðinn: Alcohol and Religion in Heathen Scandinavia. Háskoli Íslands, 2014.

Vuorisalo, Timo, et al. “High Lactose Tolerance in North Europeans: A Result of Migration, not In Situ Milk Consumption.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 55:2 (2012), 163-174.

Winroth, Anders. The Age of the Vikings. Princeton UP, 2016.

Music Credits

Opening song – Icelandic Folk Music: Tröllaslagur

Poetry music – Midnight Tale by Kevin MacLeod
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Outro – Ólafur Liljurós

Episode 34c – The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (Judgments)

It’s time to put The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup on trial! And as much fun as it is to say Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls, it’s not one of medieval Iceland’s better literary artifacts. We finally get to say what we’ve been thinking in our Final Ratings. But that’s not all! Listen in and find out who wins Best Bloodshed, Notable Witticisms, and a hotly contested Nicknames. Speaking of hotly contested, you won’t want to miss a rare Saga Thing argument that develops over who is most deserving of Outlawry. Never fear, it all ends happily when John and Andy both get the Thingmen they were hoping for.

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about the Body Count. This time around we get some help from a listener in rounding out the body count. We also wrestle once again with the blámaðr and the all important question of whether trolls should be included in the body count.

This is the last saga before our third quarter court. It’s been a long time coming.

Music Credits

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4421-stormfront
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Episode 34b – The Saga of Gunnar of Keldugnup (chapters 6-11)

When last we left you, Gunnar had just killed a troll woman and a seemingly intelligent bear in an unknown frozen land (check out Jacob’s great illustration of this and more of his work on his Instagram page). The troll woman’s sister seemed kind enough and even warned Gunnar that there were more trolls about. In this episode, we find out how Gunnar does against a family of trolls and what kind of impression he makes on Fala’s father. From there, we’ll follow Gunnar to the court of Hákon Sigurðarson, the Jarl of Lade (Hlaðir). We’ve met Hákon before in the Saga of Finnbogi the Mighty. Things go pretty much the same for Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup as they did for Finnbogi. Whether he survives the encounter or not, this saga’s coming to a close pretty quickly. Listen and find out if Gunnar can impress the jarl with his wrestling skills or if he succumbs to the jarl’s ill-temper. This is a strange but fun one.

Music Credits

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4421-stormfront
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Episode 34a – The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (chapters 1-5)

In this episode, we dive way down deep into the bag of Sagas of Icelanders to pull out a story that is rarely discussed or even read by experts much less casual fans of medieval Icelandic literature. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad saga, even if it’s a little rough around the narrative edges. This one’s got a lot of the fan favorites, including wrestling, surprise killings, a secret love affair, storms at sea, trolls, and a bear who understands Old Norse! Join us as we begin our journey through The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (Gunnars saga Keldugnúpsfífls).

As you can see from the illustration by Jacob Foust (aka skarphedin_illustrator), Gunnar is a real charmer!

Music Credits

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4421-stormfront
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

’Twas the Night Before Christmas – A Visit from Glam

In this special Christmas episode of Saga Thing, John and Andy share a curious discovery from a very old journal. Few people know this, but ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (aka A Visit from St Nicholas) by Clement C. Moore was originally inspired by a famous Viking saga about a grumpy outlaw tangling with a supernatural monster. We discuss this exciting revelation and share the story in an effort to brighten your holiday season. Enjoy!

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod (now with sleigh bells)
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Outro Music –  Sleðaferð by Skapti Ólafsson

Saga Short 10 – The Tales of Thormod and Thorarin the Overbearing

If you thought we were done with The Saga of the Sworn Brothers, you were mostly correct. In this episode, we fill in a few gaps in the story of what happened around Thorgeir Havarsson’s death. We start with Thormod’s þáttr, a tale about Thormod’s visit to the court of King Cnut and his first meeting with his future BFF, King Olaf of Norway. We follow that up with Thorarin the Overbearing’s þáttr, which tells of Thorarin’s activities following his ambush on Thorgeir.

Along the way, we talk about the messy manuscript traditions associated with each tale, the characterization of King Cnut in the tales and sagas of Icelanders, the wonders of quantum cake, and our vague memories of George Burns’ Oh, God! trilogy. We conclude the episode with a bit of fan fiction as we speculate on how the fragmentary tale of Thorarin the Overbearing might end and how it could tie into what we know from Fóstbrœðra saga.

Thanks to Jacob Foust for another great original illustration inspired by the stories of medieval Iceland. Follow him on Instagram where he’s @skarphedin_illustrator.

Music Credits:

Intro: from “Death Awaits” by Billy Malmstrom

Poetry Music: “Death Awaits” by Billy Malmstrom

Outro: From “Óðinn” by Krauka

Episode 33g – The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Judgments)

The time has come to put Fóstbrœðra saga (The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) on trial. In this episode, we review the whole saga as we run through our favorite judgment categories: Best Bloodshed, Body Count, Nicknames, Notable Witticisms, Outlawry, Thingmen, and Final Ratings. Making this even harder than usual is the fact that Fóstbrœðra saga featured some pretty fantastic examples of the combined Bloodshed/Witticism (bloodicism? wittished?). And as tough as those categories are this time around, we’ve got an even bigger problem when it comes to Outlawry and Thingmen. Will both Thorgeir and Thormod make it through the Outlawry section and be chosen as thingmen? Do John and Andy have a preference for one over the other? And will Fóstbrœðra saga rate as high as some of the greatest works of medieval Iceland? There’s only one way to find out!

Thanks as always to our buddy Jacob Foust for sharing his talents with us once again and producing a series of original illustrations for this saga. Check out more of his work on Instagram – @skarphedin_illustrator.

For those of you interested in digging into some of the sources that John mentioned on parasites in the Middle Ages or the story of how seals keep their testes cool, here you go:

Harvey, Katherine. “Medieval Parasites.” Aeon, 9 April 2019, https://aeon.co/essays/medieval-people-were-surprisingly-clean-apart-from-the-clergy

Rommel, Sentiel A., D. Ann Pabst, and William A McLellan. “Reproductive Thermoregulation in Marine Mammals.” American Scientist vol. 86, no. 5, 1998, pp. 440-448.

Music Credits

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4421-stormfront
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Episode 33f – The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (chapters 23-24)

In the final episode of our epic journey through Fóstbrœðra saga (The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) Thormod wraps up his business in Greenland and heads back to Norway and the loving companionship of his new BFF King Olaf. Unfortunately for Thormod and Olaf, there’s another would-be king of Norway lurking out there with plans to seize the throne. Will Olaf and Thormod link arms and defeat the aggressor? Or will the loyal warrior-poet follow his king in death? There’s only one way to find out!

Stick around for the end of the episode where we answer a question from the Runesack and talk about our favorite translations of Beowulf.

Our illustration for this episode is Grima’s vision of doom for Thormod and his friends. How will he get out of this mess? Thanks to Jacob Foust, aka @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram, for his work on this one.

Music Credits

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Review Music “The Royal Vagabond Medley” by Jocker’s Dance Orchestra

Poetry Music – “Teller of Tales” by Kevin MacLeod

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4421-stormfront
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Episode 33f – The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Chapters 23-24)

Foust_-_Sworn_Brothers_-_Grima_s_Vision_10-9-...

In the final episode of our epic journey through Fóstbrœðra saga (The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) Thormod wraps up his business in Greenland and heads back to Norway and the loving companionship of his new BFF King Olaf. Unfortunately for Thormod and Olaf, there’s another would-be king of Norway lurking out there with plans to seize the throne. Will Olaf and Thormod link arms and defeat the aggressor? Or will the loyal warrior-poet follow his king in death? There’s only one way to find out!

Stick around for the end of the episode where answer a question from the Runesack and talk about our favorite translations of Beowulf.

Here we see Grima’s vision of doom for Thormod and his friends. How will he get out of this one? Thanks to Jacob Foust, aka @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram, for his work on this one.

Music Credits

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Review Music “The Royal Vagabond Medley” by Jocker’s Dance Orchestra

Poetry Music – “Teller of Tales” by Kevin MacLeod

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4421-stormfront
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Episode 33e – The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (chapters 18-23)

In this episode, Thormod Kolbrun’s-Poet sets out to avenge his sworn brother Thorgeir. But Thormod’s in no hurry. First, he stops in Norway to bond with King Olaf. Then he travels to Greenland with a mysterious man called Gest to track down Thorgrim the Troll, one of Thorgeir’s killers. Along the way, Thormod gets distracted by an attractive woman and things get a little messy. Eventually things get back on track and Thormod gets down to business in a most fantastic way.

This one may start a little slow but it finishes really strong with a dramatic fight on a cliff and one of the more hilarious poems we’ve seen since Egil’s Saga. You won’t want to miss it.

For the runesack, we share a comment about angelica (wild celery) and its role in the life of King Olaf Tryggvason (not the same King Olaf from The Saga of the Sworn Brothers). We also respond to a question from Sam about the recent film adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Thanks to @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram for capturing the final scene of this episode so brilliantly for us. This one was a special request made right after recording and Jacob came through!

Music Credits

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4236-prelude-and-action
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Review Music “The Royal Vagabond Medley” by Jocker’s Dance Orchestra

Poetry Music – “Floki’s Last Journey” by Danheim

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4421-stormfront
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license