Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Illness in the Icelandic Saga?

Via an link at medievalist.net, I stumbled across this really interesting article in the Scientific American. It's a look at the Icelandic saga of Egil, a man of heroic stature and singular ugliness. There are quite a lot of descriptions of this man, including poems he supposedly wrote himself with complaints about body conditions, that according to this article all hint on him having an illness called Paget's Disease, a disease causing abnormal growth of bone.

I found this article fascinating due to two reasons. Firstly, it (again) shows that it is a good thing to look at a given historical source from all different kinds of angles and perspectives, not only literary or historical. And secondly, it shows in a very impressive way that the oral tradition that served to hand down the saga material from its start to it being written down at least a century later must have been very accurate in passing from one "carrier" to the next one, preserving all the details and hints that led to this diagnosis in 1995. I totally recommend reading this article!


Fanny said...

Thanks for the link! Yeah, working with the written sources in this way (which us archaeologists do more often than historians and the literary crowd!)is incredibly valuable. Every possible angle can give new insights into almost every subject, since the sagas are so diverse. The problem is of course that they were most often written down after having been passed down orally for a couple of generations, whereby one can't trust everything to be original. But still, at the very least they can give a whole lot of information about the time when they were actually written down.

Liv Elin said...

I actually read that article for the same reasons! :)