Our perceptions of other cultures are strongly guided by what others say about them in the print and electronic media. Yet we would have a better understanding of these cultures if we listened to their own voices expressed in words or in visual and other art forms. I will show that is relevant now and in the past, using as a case study the Vikings, a people who left few firsthand accounts of themselves.
Because almost all contemporary accounts of the Vikings were written by the people they raided or traded and fought with, the Vikings have come to be portrayed as relentless barbaric marauders at worst and shrewd businessmen at best. However, they were more complex than that. If we turn to their poetry and visual art, we see a sophisticated people with sharp minds and an appreciation for intricacy and abstraction, a people with strongly developed aesthetics. This is shown most clearly in the intricacy of the kennings and structures of Skaldic verse and in the grace and subtlety of Ringerike and Urness styled wood and metal work. I will discuss these art forms from a literary, semiotic, and ethnographic perspective.
In my conclusion of this paper I will make the point that we need to look at the personal expression of any culture before we think we know who they are.
|Keywords:||Self-characterization, Viking Art, Ringerike, Urness, Skaldic Verse, Ethnography|
Professor of Communication and Humanities, Department of Communication and Humanities, Western New England College, USA
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