K’zoo Humor: Who Says Medievalists Aren’t Funny?

I enjoyed Rachel Waymel’s presentation humor in the Norse-Icelandic sagas. I have obviously missed a lot by not having read these. One of these days, I’m going to take a summer and read them all, along with some research articles to help me make sense of them.

She talked about the humor in the family sagas, where the humor is more folkloric, and the legendary sagas, where humor is more cuts to keep a person from heroic status. In the family sagas humorous irony relieves tension, because too much sustained tension loses the audience.

Waymel did say that there is a dearth of research on humor in the sagas, so I suppose, if you want to brush up on your Old Norse, this would be a reasonable research topic.

She talked about Gunner, a famous character in some saga, and how there are lots of jokes about Gunner’s halberd. The halberd is up. It’s down. It’s not strong. It’s too bad it’s not there… Very much along the lines of simple phallic jokes now.

Having a leg cut off is a symbolic castration.

Bose and Herac (characters in another saga) have Bose going to the host’s daughter’s bed, claiming he has a lively colt and she says later that she has never ridden a more slow-paced colt. Bose is breaking custom through this. I just thought of the country-western song, “Don’t call him a cowboy, till you’ve seen him ride.”

Part of the humor is found in the social pressure to maintain masculinity. This is a significant aspect of the cultural landscape.

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