The Barbarian North in Medieval Imagination : Ethnicity, Legend, and Literature book cover
1st Edition

The Barbarian North in Medieval Imagination
Ethnicity, Legend, and Literature

ISBN 9780367871130
Published December 10, 2019 by Routledge
224 Pages

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Book Description

This book examines the sustained interest in legends of the pagan and peripheral North, tracing and analyzing the use of an ‘out-of-Scandinavia’ legend (Scandinavia as an ancestral homeland) in a wide range of medieval texts from all over Europe, with a focus on the Anglo-Saxon tradition. The pagan North was an imaginative region, which attracted a number of conflicting interpretations. To Christian Europe, the pagan North was an abject Other, but it also symbolized a place from which ancestral strength and energy derived. Rix maps how these discourses informed ‘national’ legends of ancestral origins, showing how an ‘out-of-Scandinavia’ legend can be found in works by several familiar writers including Jordanes, Bede, ‘Fredegar’, Paul the Deacon, Freculph, and Æthelweard. The book investigates how legends of northern warriors were first created in classical texts and since re-calibrated to fit different medieval understandings of identity and ethnicity. Among other things, the ‘out-of-Scandinavia’ tale was exploited to promote a legacy of ‘barbarian’ vigor that could withstand the negative cultural effects of Roman civilization. This volume employs a variety of perspectives cutting across the disciplines of poetry, history, rhetoric, linguistics, and archaeology. After years of intense critical interest in medieval attitudes towards the classical world, Africa, and the East, this first book-length study of ‘the North’ will inspire new debates and repositionings in medieval studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1. Ethnogenesis and the ‘Out-of-Scandinavia’ Legend  2. The Goths and the Legend of Scandza  3. Ethnic History and the Origin of Nations  4. Ancestral Rhetoric in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People  5. Northumbrian Angels in Rome: Religion, Race and Politics in the Anecdote of St Gregory  6. Scandinavian Ancestors in Anglo-Saxon Texts  7. Danes and Geatas: Heroes of the Legendary North

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Robert W. Rix is Associate Professor in the Department of English, Germanic, and Romance Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is the author of the book William Blake and the Cultures of Radical Christianity (2007) and is chief editor of Romantik – Journal for the Study of Romanticisms. In recent years, Rix has written a number of articles on the use of Norse mythology in British fiction, and he has published an anthology on Norse tradition in English poetry.


"Through sound, comprehensive research and analysis, Rix successfully unfolds plausible geographical, cultural, and political aspects of a topos that originates as an expression of alterity as much as a historical reality. Summing Up: Recommended." - A. P. Church, CHOICE