Blaney, Benjamin. The Berserkr: His Origin and Development in Old Norse Literature
- Author: Blaney, Benjamin
- Title: The Berserkr: His Origin and Development in Old Norse literature. Ph.D. Dissertation
- Place, Publisher: Boulder: s.n.
- Year: 1972
- Reference: Blaney, Benjamin. The Berserkr: His Origin and Development in Old Norse literature. Ph.D. Dis. University of Colorado. Boulder: s.n., 1972.
- Key words:
Blaney explores the etymology and meaning of berserkr and ulfhéðinn using previous studies, Old Norse literature and archaeological finds. He observes the terms hamramr, eigi einhamr and hamask, which originally indicated berserkers’ frenzy and physical change of shape, but in the later sagas the meaning and intensity of these terms weakened to portray excessive strength and rage. This weakening of the terms is also reflected in the families of shape-shifters, since berserksgangr was hereditary, but with ever-decreasing abilities. Blaney takes Egils saga as a prime example of this, as it is the only saga of Icelanders in which all three terms appear. An analysis of the werewolf/berserk motif in this saga reveals the gradual change of meaning in these terms. Kveldulf was a werewolf, he was hamramr and could run berserk (hamask). His son Grim could also run berserk (hamask) and possessed supernatural strength after dark, but he could not actually become an animal. Egil, on the other hand, could only be reiðr, and although he showed several traits of a shape-shifter and berserk, the author carefully avoided calling him either one.
Blaney rannsakar orðsifjafræði og merkingu fyrirbæranna berserkr og ulfhéðinn í norrænum heimildum, fornleifum, og einnig fyrri rannsóknum. Hann skoðar einnig hugtökin hamramr, eigi einhamr og hamask sem upphaflega bentu á berserksgang og hamhleypur. Í yngri sögunum veikst hins vegar upprunaleg merking þessara hugtaka og þau fara að merkja bara óhóflegan styrk og reiði. Þessi veiking hugtakanna endurspeglast einnig í fjölskyldum hamhleypnanna, þar sem berserkseðlið var arfgengt en það dregur úr því með hverri nýrri kynslóð. Blaney tekur Egils sögu sem fullkomið dæmi þessa. Egla er eina Íslendingasagan þar sem öll þrjú hugtökin birtast. Greining á varúlfs/berserks-minninu í þessari sögu leiðir í ljós hvernig merkingin breytist smátt saman. Kveld-Úlfur var beinlínis varúlfur, hann var hamramr og gekk berserksgang (hamaðist). Skalla-Grímur sonur hans gat einnig gengið berserksgang og fékk yfirnáttúrulega krafta á kvöldin en hann gat ekki breyst í dýr. Egill hins vegar gat bara orðið reiðr, og þó í ljós komi að sjálfur er hann einhvers konar berserkur, er ekki sagt beinum orðum að Egill hamist eða gangi berserksgang.
Chapter 1: dóttur Úlfs hins óarga: „In chapter one we learn that Egil’s grandfather Ulf lied in Norway and was the son of Bjalfi, whose name means wolf’s hide, and Hallbera. She was the sister of Hallbjörn hálftröll and the daughter of Ulf enn óargi („the fearless“). It is most interesting that names of both brother and sister contain the same word elements, differing only in the masculine and feminine forms for „bear“. The name hálftröll would seem to indicate that one of his parents was a troll or giant. Both trolls and giants were known to be capable shape-shifters“ (p. 58).
Chapter 27: þá hamaðist hann: „Here the hamramir men are equated with those affected by berserksgangr. […] It is perfectly clear that there is no physical shape-shifting going on here. Hamramr simply describes the mental state of the berserk fury” (p. 42).
Chapter 67: Egill greyfðist að niður: „One other passage indicates the wolf in Egil. [...] The motif of biting through an opponent’s throat has been previously discussed. There only remains to be said that this is also the method of attack for werewolves.“ (pp. 62-63).
- Written by: Isidora Glisic
- English translation: Isidora Glisic