Friday, May 29, 2009

Musing on the One Footed

I've mentioned previously that I'm working my way slowly through the readings in E. V. Gordon's An Introduction to Old Norse. I know a few Tolkienistas occasionally check in here who are not otherwise medievalists, so I'll mention that just in case the Gordon name rings a bell that he was a friend, colleague, and collaborator with Tolkien. Gordon was tutored by Tolkien in 1920, and then followed Tolkien to Leeds where together they formed a reading group for undergrads in Old Norse at Leeds. There's more, but this is about the one-footed, so if you're curious, the best place to look is here. reading Throfinn's saga I've come to the spot where Thorvald, Erik's son is killed by a Einfoetingr, a one-footer, who shoots Thorvald with an arrow and then outruns his Viking pursuers and gets away. In a footnote, Gordon remarks on how historically there is no such being, and that the Einfoetingr are not native to Norse folklore but borrowed from Latin. The "monocoli" from Greek monokwloi, the one-legged, make an appearance in Pliny's Natural History who says, citing a Greek author Ctesias, "...he speaks also of another race of men, who are known as Monocoli, who have only one leg, but are able to leap with surprising agility. The same people are also called Sciapodæ: because they are in the habit of lying on their backs, during the time of the extreme heat, and protect themselves from the sun by the shade of their feet." Isidore of Seville takes up the tale and passes it on to the Middle Ages where these chaps live on in folklore.

Its an interesting intrusion into the Eirik Saga. It is likely that if Thorvald's death were real by arrow, that a native got him from behind a tree, and that is something that the saga writers have no difficulty reporting. I have no real answer as to why these mythical beings show up in the saga and there may be no answer.

Attentive readers will have noticed that Pliny's and Isidore's Monopods or Monocoli are the source for C. S. Lewis' Dufflepuds in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Umberto Eco in Baudolino also has a monopod character.

Anyway, there you have it, at least as far as I've gone at the moment. Narratively I can't think of how the Einfoetingr adds to the tale in any way. The other version of Thorvald's death in the Greenland Saga simply has him die in a skirmish with the Skraeling, the word used to describe the North American peoples the Vikings encounter. Here, he is killed not in a skirmish, but by being shot in the groin with an arrow by the Einfoetingr. Now, if we apply some notions of "the other" we can interpret and look at the Norse encounters with the North Americans as a series of encounters with the "monstrous" and with "outcasts". Thus, I'm told many have thought that the intrusion of the Einfoetingr into the story is a later embroidery and likely motivated by reducing the North Americans to a level with other strange and outlandish tribes and beasts who dwell in unknown, uncolonized, borderplaces. Of course, the attraction to this approach is that one need not dwell overlong on the question of historicity...did a one-legged man kill Thorvald. (Not to be confused with the One-Armed man of The Fugitive).

My thought is that coupled with the distance that they note as they chase the One-Footer (the mountains look like those of Hop, too far from their winter quarters), Thorvald's comment as he lay dieing that they've found a land of plenty that they'll never be able to utilize, seems an etiology for why they did not settle permanently in North America, the "otherness" of the One-Footer adding versimilitude to the excuse. Interesting stuff though.

Not the Post I Intended

I have another post almost ready to go, but while the two of you who read this wait with o, such bated breath for the pearls of my wisdom, I thought I'd share this gem from McSweeneys titled Norse Spirituals.

Monday, May 25, 2009


At long last catching up on some posts. This is a strange set of coincidences that only has a smidge of medieval content, but here goes anyway.

I'm reading a book recommended by Favorite Spouse, in fact she made me promise that once the diss was done and in that this was the book that I would read. Well, I did promise, though I didn't actually start any book until pretty recently, and I'm now reading this one. I'll post on it later so I can render a full review.

But the topic of the book is in part about the voyages of Captain Cook in the Pacific. The chapter I'm reading now talks about the Maori and Cook meeting the first time in New Zealand in what is now called Poverty Bay.

The first serendipity is that on Saturday just as I was beginning this chapter, Favorite Spouse found a new TV show to entertain us. On the Spike channel is a show called "Deadliest Warrior" in which some computer guy, a medic, and another guy pit two of histories warriors against each other. The categories they measure are: short, medium, and long range weapons, defense, strength etc, and they enter numbers into a computer program, and then they run 1000 simulated battles and based on the outcome of the battles, declare a winner. We viewed five episodes, Viking vs. Samurai, Spartan vs. Ninja, Pirate vs. Knight, Green Beret vs. Soviet Spetnaz, and last but not least, Maori vs. Shaolin. Those of you who recall the TV series Kung Fu will recall that Kane the hero was a Shaolin. SO I learned all about Maori weapons and psych warfare....and then picked up my book to read about Cook encountering the Maori and those very weapons. It was much easier to visualize the weapons having just seen them on TV.

The second serendipity is that I've been reading--well, ok, reading isn't the word--, uh, wrestling my way through the readings E. V. Gordon's Old Norse textbook in an effort to gain greater facility in the language. I'm on the section from Eirik the Red's saga where the saga writer details the various encounters with Native Americans: curiosity, trade, battle. It is interesting to note the similarities in the encounters between Erik and and his men with the Americans and Cook and his men with the Maori. Certainly there are differences in detail, but overall the encounters are not unlike each other and its hard not to think of Erik when reading Cook and vice versa at the moment.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Call for Papers

The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe invites submissions for our upcoming issues. In each issue, we plan to publish papers on any topic that falls approximately in the era between 300 and 1200 CE and within the general geographical region of Northwestern Europe and periods, and areas. Each issue contains:

*a general section of papers and notes that covers any topic in our range of dates and geography;
*a themed section of papers on an announced topic;
*a Forum section of review essays, special topics, and the like;
*a number of columns dealing with aspects of Early Medieval scholarship and research

Thus, The Heroic Age publishes the following types of materials:
*Feature Articles;
*Review Essays;
*Editions and Translations;
*History by Biography;*Book Reviews;
*Film and Television Reviews.

The following special sections are planned for future issues:

Issue 15: Ten Year Anniversary Issue: The World of Late Antique Britain.
For our ten-year anniversary, The Heroic Age is planning to revisit the topic of its first issue, the Matter of Arthur. Issue 15 will have three sections. The first will be historical, examining the world of Late Antique Britain, connections with the rest of the continent in Late Antiquity, and new views of the Adventus Saxonum. The second section will examine Arthur and Arthurian literature. The third section will include studies of "understudied" early medieval authors. Deadline for submissions is November 2009.

Issue 16: Alcuin and His Impact
Alcuin spans the Anglo-Saxon and Continental worlds and his influence is felt far beyond his own period and place. This issue seeks to explore the man, his times, and his influence on his contemporaries and on subsequent generations.The Heroic Age

Issue 17: Carolingian Border-Lands.
This issue seeks to explore the lands and peoples surrounding the Carolingian kingdom(s) and their impact on the Carolingians.

Future planned issues include themed sections on Old French/Provencal/Occitan studies, Charlemagne, Rise of the Normans, and Study of the Bible in Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Europe.

Articles should be 7000 words including bibliography and endnotes, and conform to The Heroic Age's in-house style. Instructions may be found under Submission Instructions. All submissions will be reviewed by two readers according to a double-blind policy. All submission should be sent to Larry Swain at

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Its that time....

Ah, April's showers have given way to the darling buds of May, and the annual medievalization of thousands of conference goers occurs, wending their winding ways to Kalamazoo. For the first time since I began attending 12 years ago, I will not be going this year. So I wish all those who are a very safe journey and a terrific conference. Color me green with envy.