Love and Eroticism in Medieval Norwegian Runic Inscriptions
By James E. Knirk
Die Faszination des Verborgenen und seine Entschlüsselung – Rāđi sa¿ kunni: Beiträge zur Runologie, skandinavistischen Mediävistik und germanischen Sprachwissenschaft, eds. Jana Krüger, Vivian Busch, Katharina Seidel, Christiane Zimmermann, Ute Zimmermann (De Gruyter, 2017)
Abstract: The emotion most often expressed in runic inscriptions particularly on sticks and bones from the medieval towns of Norway, which often have graffiti-like texts, is love, at times more specifically erotic interest. The collection of such expressions from medieval Norway is here introduced and categorized. The texts are initially grouped according to form, i. e. prose or poetry.
Those in prose are subdivided by content (love versus eroticism), whereas the poetic ones are arranged according to the type of meter (Eddic, skaldic, ballad-like) and include some examples with lyrical content but no obvious metrical structure. An appendix presents the entire material.
Introduction: Emotions can be sensed in many of the Viking Age runic inscriptions from Norway, for example, on the silver neck-ring from Senja, where one reads the elated verse by a victorious Viking warrior (N540): Fórum drengja / Fríslands á vit, / ok vígs fǫtum / vér skiptum, ‘We travelled to a visit (= battle) with the warriors of Frisia, and we split among us the spoils of war’ (alliteration here marked with underlining). Similarly emotionally engaged, a mother on the memorial stone from Dynna bemoans the loss of her gifted daughter, waxing poetic at the conclusion (N68): ‘Gunnvǫr, Þrýðríkr’s daughter, made a ‘bridge’ in memory of Ástríðr, her daughter: She was the handiest maiden in Hadeland’ (where hǫnnurst and Haðalandi alliterate).
With the coming of Christianity and the growth of towns in the Scandinavian Middle Ages, it seems writing with runes became even more of a general means of expression, and the types of texts that survive cover many and sundry aspects of everyday human life. Medieval inscriptions range from pious prayers and quotations, many in Church Latin, to base and vulgar statements.
See also: Kiss Me: The World of Runes
Top Image: Rune from Norway – photo: Bengt A Lundberg / Riksantikvarieämbetet