Illu00This week On the Reading Rest I have an edition of the Eddic poem Lokasenna, but most importantly:
Gunnell, Terry. 1995. The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia. D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.
I abbreviate the book title TOoDiS [too´dis]

Hárbarðsljóð, Fáfnismál, Vafþrúðnismál, Skírnismál and Lokasenna make up the five dialogical poems singled out by Terry Gunnel in his analysis of The Eddic Poems and Drama (TOoDiS:182 ff.). All five dialogues may be staged in a hall, but the three last ones, Vafþrúðnismál, Skírnismál and Lokasenna, are the most obvious hall dialogues since in my opinion they can easily, but not necessarily, make active use of the hall room itself as a scene upon which part of the plot depends. Similar to Beowulf these poems are about life in the hall in which they may also take place. Skírnismál has already figured On the Reading Rest, 1 & 29 October, 2012, and the only thing added to the analysis compared to Terry Gunnell’s is an emphasis on the scene, i.e. the archaeological Norwegian hall of the Carolingian Iron Age – Borg in Lofoten being a case in point. Looking at the poems as plays putting them into a wider context, obviously change their meaning – nevertheless there is a point in analyzing their structure (0).

In his analysis Terry Gunnell shows that in Lokasenna the prose sections – the introduction and the conclusion as well as the few lines inserted between the strophes  – are extraneous(TOoDiS:229) or indeed superfluous and even confusing because the prose sometimes contradicts what we are told in the strophes.

Illu00bSimilarly, the speaker indications in the margins (often cut away from the sheets) once added for the benefit of the silent reader (TOoDiS:212), are problematic because they sabotage the oral performance of the poem making it unnecessary to imagine the characters involved in the narrative, i.e. the wrangle among the Æsir. The poem has been called Loka-senna, ‘Loki’s verbal duel’, but might as well be termed Loki’s wrangling or ‘the Loki kerfuffle’ because in the strophes Loki stands out at a first glance as no more than a dystopian drunk who has taken it upon him to expose the faults of his peers and annoy them. The scene is a genuine beer bash hubbub, Loki is a model of bad behaviour and the whole scene an embarrassing, albeit hardly unknown, hall situation. The format of talk is not to be expected in better halls, such as the Beowulfian King Hrothgar’s Heorot, but nonetheless imaginable. If we cut away the prose, the strophes stand out as a coherent dialogic composition, a mundane critique of the hall-governed society in the shape of a travesty.

Instead of the comic dimension and the irony, which may easily be heard when the strophes are recited, the prose emphasizes a sapient and general approach to and criticism of the pagan mythology and pantheon, rather than the character of the Æsir, and the trauma, and the attitudes they air. The speaker indications punctuate the flow of the narrative enabling the reader to pinpoint a specific utterance deconstructing the dialogue rather than elucidating the general structure of a dialogue that “lends itself particularly well to dramatic production” (cf. TOoDiS:245&247).Terry Gunnell concludes that the  editor of Codex Regius and the manuscript AM 748, in which Lokasenna is included, and those who produced the manuscripts, were aware of the dramatic and performative character of the dialogue (TOoDiS:281). Let’s read the strophes as they stand in the vein of TOoDiS – as a play write’s manuscript – without taking the prose into consideration.

To perform Lokasenna as a play takes no less than 19 actors – 17 speaking parts and two silent ones. Ordered in a table after the length of the roles in strophes and first appearance of the character the cast looks like this:

Since Loki is the only actor to recite two strophes in a row – two times as it were – he actually has half the lines. ‘Shut up’—þigi þú is his favorite imperative when he can think of no better way to begin an answer.

Although most of the party takes place in Ægir’s hall and although Ægir brewed the beer for the beer bash, i.e. the Norse sumbl, his role in the party is minimal and silent. Instead Oðinn presides over the hall and the sumbl as the host. We must conclude therefore that Oðinn in his capacity as the supreme ruler is visiting one of his vassals, automatically becoming the principle hall owner and overlord. We are in other words visiting a hall somewhere in the provincial outskirts of a realm.

There are three acts or parts in the play: to begin with we hear Loki and Eldir talking to each other just outside the hall room. Then Loki enters, and probably the servant Eldir too because, given his name, he looks after the fire. Eldir is one of Ægir´s thralls and consequently not verbally abused by Loki, who is content mildly to reprove him. When Loki enters the hall he starts speaking politely, but then he points out to the guests that have all felt silent and wonders why. Questioning their awkward silence is enough to provoke the self-assured Bragi starting a quarrel that goes on until strophe 57. IN STROPHE 58 Þórr enters the hall room threatening, four times, to kill Loki, who finds is wise to leave the hall given Þórr’s propensity eventually to use his hammer and batter him.

When Loki enters, he interacts first with the most prominent guests and they disclose themselves as an extended leading family consisting of Oðinn, Frigg, Vidar, Gefion, Bragi, and Iðunn. In the end when Sif performs her duties as the lady with the mead cup offering it to Loki just before Þórr enters, we understand that this leading family frames the kerfuffle and solves the problems as indeed it ought to, given its status.

Between Frigg in strophe 27 and Sif in strophe 53 we find the members of the second extended family: Niǫrðr, Skaði, Freyr, Freyia,Týr, Heimdallr, Byggvir and eventually Beyla. If we look at the families in a generational perspective then we can talk of a parent generation consisting of Oðinn & Frigg as well as Niǫrðr & Skaði. Their children are represented by Sif & Þórr as well as Freyr & Freyia. We may venture to consider Vidar less important or younger than the other children because his is silent and ordered about by Oðinn. At the lower part of the ranking, therefore, we find Vidar as well as Gefion, Bragi, & Iðunn on the one side, and on the other Týr & Heimdallr together with Byggvir & Beyla. Since the latter pair is Freyr’s servants they are low ranking on par with Eldir. Their low status is indicated in two ways: Loki pretend not to recognize Byggvir, and Beyla is the first to hear that Þórr approaches the hall room. She is able to hear this and tell the others because she is placed at the entrance, i.e. in the lower hall. Contrary to Eldir’s duties, Beyla’s do not require her to leave the hall; she is in other words a guest.

There are 8 members in each family, and owing to our understanding of their rank and the structure of the hall room, as well as clues in the strophes, we can reconstruct where the actors/guests are seated and how they move

The first scene is the hall before Loki enters. It seems that Oðinn with his entourage is travelling his dominions on a veizla, i.e. a touring his realm visiting his vassals, in this case Ægir, who is obliged to serve the ‘King’ and his court. For the time being, Oðinn has taken over Ægir´s hall and put himself in the hall owner’s position. And since his son Þórr is not present, it stands to reason that on the dais in the uppermost part of the hall Oðinn & Frigg as well as Sif & Ægir have taken their seats presiding over the party. In the side ailes the couples are arranged according to rank and family or household. In Asgard both Oðinn and Niǫrðr are hall owners, but being on veizla they observe their separate household spheres occupying each their side of the hall as guests arranging their followers in pairs. All in all 18 persons in 9 pairs are arranged in the hall in a Norse symposium or sumbl situation — drinking beer. It is the way the guests are arranged that reminds one of Roman ways of dining and that should no come as a surprise given that the Scandinavian hall had affinities with the Aula Sacra.

Illu01If we look at the guests as a worldly court, there are parents, children, kings, princes and consorts as well as specialists like Bragi the scald and capable executives such as Týr & Heimdallr and Þórr, who is not far off. They are matched by rural champions such as the ploughing virgin Gefion as well as the loyal servants Byggvir & Beyla, and Eldir. Into this room, filled with the discreet charm of the Iron Age aristocracy, enters Loki as a Grendel character or a mad prince. And there is method in the play and its seven scenes.

Illu02The first scene, strophes 1-5, Eldir and Loki are speaking to each other just outside the hall room, and the guests, who have been bad-mouthing Loki, fall silent as they hear the conversation.








In the next scene Loki enters the hall and asks the hospitality of host and guests and to sit down and drink beer with them since he has travelled far. This standard request is difficult not to grant in a hall – i.e. the building which represents the interface between the private and the public and a space in which the hall owner shows his qualities as a good host and just ruler.





In the third scene Bragi starts to reproach Loki, but the well-behaved Oðinn acts fast and honourably, asking his son Vidar to give room for Loki.








In the fourth scene, Loki who has got a seat amidst the members of the leading family, lets loose his bad temper abusing Bragi, who sitting closer to the high seat than Loki and having observed Oðinn‘s behaviour tries to come to terms with him. One by one Loki insults the members of leading family to his left and right when they try to talk some sense into him. His audience consists of the members of the second family, the frontbenchers sitting in the other side of the hall.


The fifth scene begins when Freya interrupts Loki’s wrangling with the first family. she criticizes his bad and foolish manners. Following up on this Loki begins abusing her, and thus provoked the other members of the second family continues the quarrelling.






The sixth scene starts when Sif interrupts Loki’s quarrel with the second family. She does this in her capacity as the lady with the mead cup offering Loki something to drink in a good-humoured way. Sif has not yet been abused by Loki, but now he seizes the opportunity. While doing so, Beyla, Freyr’s servant in the lower part of the hall thinks she hears Þórr coming back and tells everybody in the hall. Since Loki has not yet told her to shut up he does so now. This means that he has succeeded in abusing all the guests that have spoken.

Illu08The last scene commences when Þórr enters the hall and starts quarrelling with Loki. Four times he shouts: ‘shut up, pervert!’ (þegi þú, rǫg vættr!) and threatening to bash, destroy and kill him with his hammer Mjǫllnir. Loki finds it wise to take his leave and in so doing he offers Ægir some prophetic Wrath piyting him rather than scolding him.






.  In a number of articles Terry Gunnell has developed his analysis of dialogical poems as staged plays in different spatial settings, stressing the interplay between actors and audience as well as mythology. He points to the theatrical qualities of the poems linking them to indoor and outdoor scenes as well as sacred and liminal situtuations  (cf. Gunnell, T 2006, ‘“Til holts ek gekk . . .” The performance demands of Skírnismál, Fáfnismál and Sigrdrífumál in liminal time and sacred space’. In Andrén et al (eds). Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives, Lund: Nordic Academic Press:238–42; or Gunnell, T 2008, ‘The performance of the Poetic Edda’. In Brink and Price (eds), The Viking World. London and New York: Routledge:299–303.).

Putting the performance of poems such as Skírnismál or Lokasenna into a more mundane hall setting suggests no more than different readings and interpretations of the dialogues, for instance with an emphasis on travesty or irony in a historical setting, rather than mythological drama. This is unproblematic – the one does not exclude the other — inasmuch as it a quality inherent to the theatrical performance that it may fit several interpretation. Indeed the edited versions we read in the Older Edda, strophes framed and interlaced with prose as well as structured by speaker indications, are interpretations befitting the silent 13th c reader.

The performative and dramatic qualities of Eddic poems was pointed out already by Phillpotts, B. 1920. The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. Recently, Neil Price (Price, N. 2010. Passing into Poetry: Viking-Age Mortuary Drama and the Origins of Norse Mythology. Medieval Archaeology, 54:23-56.) has discussed Scandinavian drama in the Carolingian Iron Age and linked it firmly to the ritual scenes of mortuary practice.


Fig 00 översiktThis week On the Reading Rest I have a report in Swedish. The language is befitting. Prehistoric segregation is an important phenomenon easily niched in the Swedish landscape. Owing to the isostatic uplift that started when the ice sheet disappeared, settlements often sort themselves according to productivity and the less successful sit at higher altitudes than the successful ones. In Swedish, therefore, the present report presents four not very impressive sites in such a segregating Swedish landscape. Today, and since the Iron Age, they are situated at the margins of a relatively prosperous rural area.

FASEALASAndersson, F. et al. 2013. Fredrik Andersson, Susanna Eklund, Ann Lindkvist & Anneli Sundkvist. Med bidrag av (with a contribution by) Anneli Ekblom, Rasbo-Hov: From Bronze Age Shores to Iron Age Fields. Särskilda arkeologiska undersökningar inför omdragningen av väg 288, Jälla – Hov Rasbo 632, 634, 635, 659, 660, 668, 704 & 705, Hov 1:7, Uppsala kommun, Uppsala län. SAU rapport 2013:4.

I abbreviate it FASEALAS [Fa-sea’-las] and have based all illustrations upon it. Most of the illustrations are adaptation.


Along the present road section the very first trace of human activity is a cooking pit situated on a small island on the site Raä 634 (Andersson in FASEALAS). This island must have been a stopover for people entering or leaving the passage that begins or ends just north of the island. The place would have made a perfect camping site, a terrace on the beach below and between two small hills. If you wanted to sit in the afternoon and evening sun cooking and enjoying a meal a summer’s day in the 18th c. BCE pondering whether the Neolithic was drawing to an end or Bronze Age commencing, this was the place to sit.

In the millennium around 1000 BCE, the larger area to which the sites in this report belong, is characterized by two kinds of easily recognizable monuments: burnt mounds and cairns. Both are built and heavily dependent on stones either un-burnt in the cairns or fire-cracked and brittle-burnt in the burnt mounds. The other elements involved are air or earth in the cairns, but in the burnt mounds in which there is never any air, the earth is mixed with all kinds of remains related to all kinds of human activities. In the cairns the remains have to do mostly with burying humans.

Materially speaking burnt mounds are broad-spectrum and built over a considerable period of time with a large element of ´produced’ material, while cairns are narrow-spectrum and built during a short primary building phase with material that was ‘gathered’. Burnt mounds are often related to a boulder, cairns less so. Both monuments have a relation with the landscape. Cairns are often easily visible at a distance and often vantage points, while burnt mounds belong to small scale environments. Both monuments share a relation with waterways, but in a bay environment suitable for landing a canoe, and situated as an interface between productive lands and sheltered waters, the burnt mounds are more frequent than the cairns. Both monuments cluster, but as Ann Lindkvist’s analysis shows, clusters of burnt mounds are not as peaked as cairn cluster.

CLUSTERThere are two reasons for this. Burnt mounds are closely related to a production landscape and their clusters will reflect the size or productivity of niches or areas in the landscape. Cairns are related to the natural landscape and their clusters will reflect points in this landscape – visible points or vantage points.

In the eyes of human beings, seeking primarily to sustain themselves, the isotactic uplift in a landscape such as that of the Northern Mälar Valley will change a given environment from a prominent point in a natural landscape to a prominent niche in a productive landscape. This change will cause clusters of burnt mounds and cairns sometimes to overlap, but most often the fact that on a dwelling-site or local scale they do not overlap is the more striking.

Burnt mounds as well as cairns are connected with remains of cremated human beings. Cairns, which are often secluded monuments, have singular grave qualities, while the cremated remains in burnt mounds demonstrated ways of including the remains of the dead in the daily life of the living. The latter context, the daily interaction between the living and the dead, involves a third phenomenon: the fact that boulders attract the remains of cremated human beings as well as the produce of daily life. It would seem that if possible a dwelling site will involve remains of cremated human beings and ritual sites. Rather than being confined to graves the remains of the dead are integrated into the monuments as well as the life of the living.

Lastly it must be pointed out that building a cairn or a burnt mound is not a primarily something one does to sustain oneself, both monuments as well as the activities around boulders, represent ritual needs in prehistoric society. Cairns represent sporadic events, while bunts mounds refer to frequent events.

Access osvTo get a general feeling for the landscape when it starts to attract people we may compare the clustering tendencies among burnt mounds and cairns respectively to the isostatic uplift. This demonstrates that the cairn clusters in the northeastern part of the larger area have to do with the access from the north and a landscape in which the shores have a sharp inclinatrion and heights suitable for cairns. There is little fertile land in this area and thus no burnt mounds. In the western part of the greater area the picture is reversed, access is from the South. The concentrations of burnt mound in the northwest are situated along to a bay behind a narrow sound. On the shores around the bay it is easy to make landfall and the soils are fertile.

In the central part of the area, which is accessed from the south, the cairn and burnt mound landscapes overlap. And the area should be understood primarily to consist of three phases of usage governed by the isostatic uplift. The northernmost part is accessed through narrow sounds which dry up early especially the eastern water way. The southernmost part has the longest history because it is a broken landscape that attracts burnt mounds as well as cairns, probably at different points in time.

Between these two landscapes there is a small intermediary one situated at the southeastern passage to the northernmost landscape. This passage dries up c. 1200 BCE creating the shorelines followed by the new road, which in its turn caused the excavations to take place. During the following centuries, shorelines rapidly disappeared southwards creating a flat and wet landscape difficult to access. Two sites with burnt mounds, Raä 634 and Raä 668, nevertheless survive as coastal into the 8th c. BCE.

Rasbo-hov 800 BCE

Inlet and cemetery

Originally Raä 668 belonged to a small cluster of burnt mounds facing north towards the bay accessed from the southeastern passage. We may in other words conclude that c. 1200 BCE the isostatic uplift brought an end to a small marginal niche in the maritime Bronze Age landscape. Circa 1000 BCE Raä 668 was revived, but this time from a shoreline southwest of the monument because the bay to the north could no longer be accessed. At the same time even the burnt mound at Raä 634 was built on a shore facing southwest. Consequently, the changing landscape in tandem with the traditional subsistence system favouring coastal settlements created two marginal 9th c. sites. Both Raä 634 and 668 are Bronze Age settlements, without house constructions since the house remains found at the sites and situated exactly where one would prefer to build one’s house, are Iron Age.

Although deceased people were taken care of on sites characterized by burnt mounds, a small cemetery, Raä 659, was added to the landscape c. 1100 BCE situated in a cove a couple of hundred metres west of Raä 668 and 1.5 km east of Raä 634. This site was almost overlooked by the archaeologists responsible for survey and trail excavations and thus also by the heritage authorities at County Board, None the less this cemetery is by far the most interesting site in this part of the road section and accordingly, loosing information about it, while gaining conventional knowledge about a host of others, would have seemed a very high price to pay for conventional knowledge. Although the County Board was unable to take the right decision: the total excavation and precise chronological understanding of the whole cemetery — archaeologists eventually managed to record and excavate some of the monuments. This allowed them to conclude in general terms that the site was a peripheral burial ground used occasionally during c. 1500 years. Over time, its position changed from one next to a sound, over one in a cove next to a possible landing place (completely destroyed by road building) into becoming an ancient burial ground revived c. 500 CE. By then it was situated on a shelf below a ridge at the edge of the forest. The site is a diminutive ritual place of a surprisingly long-lasting importance to prehistoric man.

Rasbo-hov 400 BCE

During three centuries the water withdraws causing the section where the road runs today to become inland and a more and more marginal part of a flat agricultural country around a center with low hills, a country surrounded by peripheral. But owing to a change in subsistence economy, which allows smaller family groups to survive during a longer period at a given site, the three sites are reestablished in the Pre Roman Iron Age and a new site is added (Eklund in FASEALAS). Raä 635 is a farmstead next to suitable pastures and arable land. Raä 634 gets an annex, Raä 632, bordering on the southern side of the same arable land. These small settlements are not permanent. On the contrary they are occupied at intervals for no more than a house generation or two. The farm houses are small, but the sites are used by minor households from the 5th c. BCE to the 6th c. CE. The four sites Raä 634, 632, 635 and 668 represent locations where is it possible at intervals to settle a family or at Raä 635  two families (Eklund in FASEALAS). Probably these settlements have kept the cemetery Raä 659 in living memory. At least some graves on this cemetery belong to the 6th c. CE.

Given the ritual practices of the period, it is worth asking oneself, whether the remains of one of the three human being in connection with the block A1342 (In total c. 370 grams of bone) on the cemetery Raä659 (Eklund in FASEALAS), dated (Ua-40848) 2164 ± 31 BP (360–110 f.Kr.) is the same being as the remains (40 grams of bone) in connection with the block A4149 on the settlement Raä 668 (Lindkvist in FASEALAS), dated (Ua-41796): 2199 ± 37 BP (380–180 f.Kr.). The question is rhetorical, but nevertheless worth posing.


At one level the story about the sites in the road section is a function of the general change in more dynamic parts of society, at another it is a distorted reflection adding a critical light to the general picture. At a third level we get a glimpse of peripheral social values.

Although some of the places are very old in their landscapes they are neither abandoned nor developed – they are simply open or common places befitting needs that may occur in any society. Outside the road section and perhaps in the immediate vicinity of the excavation trenches, there are perhaps more populous and lively places characterized by the commonplace, but the sites as we know them were nevertheless unimportant and undecided during thousands of years. This doesn’t mean that there was no drama here – actually both House 1 and House 3 at Raä 635 were  burnt down (Eklund FASAELAS:146) – it just means that so little happened on these settlements that the life lived there didn’t bother to erase the traces of an event as dramatic and yet as commonplace as a fire. Instead of tidying up the scene and rebuildung House 1, which occupied the best location at Raä 635, people preferred to build something next to the ruined house.

Rasbo till Hov dateringar

If we sum up the dates related to these outskirts there are two intensive phases c. 800 and 300 BCE and a long less intensive phase covering the first five centuries of the first millennium CE. In addition to these phases there is occasional and sporadic presence signified by the odd 14C-test. There are no remains of buildings to counteropint the burnt mounds of the intensive presence c. 800 BCE, but c. 300 BCE the first house remains start to occur. This shift is a reflection of the common shift in subsistence economy, but socially speaking settlements are still short-lived exploitations of resources. In the beginning of the Common Era something new, a function of general social change, starts when subsistence economy in the road section gains sustainability and when some new settlement locations are added to the old ones. If this period, 0-500 CE, had been the most intensive, the 14C-diagram would have resembled that of the prolific Roman Iron Age farm, which often occupied a place that had been settled several times before it became the location of a permanent and successful farm. In the road section the typical picture is in other words distorted. Contrary to success, the persistent low-frequency presence indicates that the periphery works as an expansion vessel, albeit in a settlement rather than hot water system: when settlement pressure in central areas becomes too high and the settlements too crowded, people drop off into the outskirts and margins of rural landscape and society.

We may look upon this expansion as something positive suggesting that indirectly it shows the right to found a family still to be respected. There is little doubt on the other hand that this right was never meant to result in social segregation and since segregation is at play, we can easily imagine that not everyone living in the outskirts enjoyed a model family life – if one can live in an outhouse in the Eketorp ring fort (OtRR 25 Nov 2013) one can do so too in the settlement at Raä 635. In the long run, inability to prevent segregation from growing will harm society (O).

Raä659 There are obviously too few graves in the road section, if we expect those who lived there to be represented in monuments, but more importantly there is the uncommon cemetery, used from the Early Bronze Age, EBA, to the Pre Carolingian Iron Age, PCIA. It would seem that this cemetery was inaugurated by a stone setting representing a ship at the shore of the EBA sound or LBA cove.

Although this monument is at the bottom of a slope it dominates the cemetery in a way quite opposite to the normal monumentality, which could well have been a cairn or two at one of the obvious locations in the immediate vicininty. There is nothing wrong with the symbolism of the ship, given the BA landscape, but scunnering hights and cairns or diminishing their value is deviant BA behavior and almost impossible to excuse with reference to building a cairn being too much labour for a few outskirters. On the contrary, the boat-on-the-shore cemetery seems a most significant contribution to a new and this case outskirt identity in a shore-bound newly marginalized area (cf. Eklund162 ff.). A break with traditions, it seems significant that the site continues to be part of the human landscape even after the water disappeared c. 600 BCE (cf. Lindkvist 2013:153;fig 119). The road section Rasbo to Hov runs through the traditional lands of the prehistoric outskirters — the Commons?.

(0) Since this topic has been relatively frequent On the Reading Rest, I have added the category ‘Iron Age Segregation and Poverty’ to the existing ones.