Matheson Laura E., Madness and deception in Irish and Norse-Icelandic sagas

Matheson Laura E., Madness and deception in Irish and Norse-Icelandic sagas, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2015 (University of Aberdeen)

Résumé/abstract :

This thesis explores the representation of mental illness and mental incapacity in medieval Irish and Norse-Icelandic saga literature, with a particular focus on the theme of deception in representations of madness. These texts are compared using the methods of literary close reading. It begins (Chapters 1 and 2) with an overview of concepts of madness found in the two bodies of literature (drawing on law texts and poetry as well as the sagas) and the different narrative uses to which these concepts are put. Some general parallels and contrasts are drawn, and the cross-cultural transmission of the concept of the geilt is discussed in this context. Chapter 3 lays the ground for the thesis’s analysis of deception in madness narratives by comparing two Irish and Norse-Icelandic narratives about fools and discussing links between the language of mental impairment and the notion of deception. Chapters 4 and 5 explore narrative representations of how deception is used with the aim of rehabilitating the mad person and reconnecting them with society, focusing in particular on the late Middle Irish saga Buile Shuibhne and an episode in the Icelandic family saga Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar. Chapter 5 concludes with an extended discussion of the role of poetry and memory in representations of mental illness as seen in these two texts. Chapter 6 explores narratives in which deception is used with the purpose of destroying or humiliating the person of unsound mind, here focusing on the late Middle Irish saga Aided Muirchertaig meic Erca and an episode in the Norwegian king’s saga Ágrip.

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