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18 April 2024

New book by M. Novotná analyses body and soul in Norse literature

Marie Novotná, head of the Department of Languages and Literature, in her new book Between Body and Soul in Old Norse Literature: Emotions and the Mutability of Form analyses Norse stories in which stories of physical displays of emotions and of change of form, the book describes various ways of perceiving the human body found in the corpus of Old Norse literature and presents a thesis on the gradual transformation of the concept of the body, making thus a contribution to other disciplines formulating a holistic conception of the human being.


What did the body mean for inhabitants of the medieval Norse-speaking world? How was the physical body viewed? Where did the boundary lie between corporality and the psychological or spiritual aspects of humanity? And how did such an understanding tie in with popular literary motifs such as shape-shifting? This monograph seeks to engage with these questions by offering the first focused work to delineate a space for ideas about the body within the Old Norse world. The connections between emotions and bodily changes are examined through discussion of the physical manifestations of emotion (tiredness, changes in facial colour, swelling), while the author offers a detailed analysis of the Old Norse term hamr, a word that could variously mean shape, form, and appearance, but also character. Attention is also paid to changes of physical form linked to flight and battle ecstasy, as well as to magical shapeshifting. Through this approach, diametrically different ways of thinking about the connection between body and soul can be found, and the argument made that within the Old Norse world, concepts of change within the body rested along a spectrum that ranged from the purely physical through to the psychological. In doing so, this volume offers a broader understanding of what physicality and spirituality might have meant in the Middle Ages.

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