The Icelandic family sagas of the thirteenth century offer a whole host of fantastical characters, yet descriptions of them are often tantalisingly obscure. Except in reference to hair and eyes, colours are used relatively sparingly within descriptions of characters. Therefore when they do occur, they become important signifiers of intense emotion, mortality, magic, and malevolence. This makes them crucial to the way we view certain saga characters and their situations. Perhaps the most intriguing of these descriptions are the multiple episodes where saga characters’ bodies turn blue. In this seminar, I hope to draw a connection between the colour blue and ideas of death in the Old Norse literary tradition, focusing in particular on its association with the character of Hel, goddess of death, in Norse mythology.
Immy Cornish is a third-year undergraduate studying Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Newnham College. This talk is based on her current dissertation research on the significance of colours in the Old Norse Icelandic family sagas.
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