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Michele Roncarati

Languages and Literature, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

Wolves and the Wolfish: Imagery of a Cultural Phenomenon in Old Norse-Icelandic

My project offers the first holistic examination of wolves in Old Norse-Icelandic culture, unearthing the impact of wolf imagery in medieval Iceland. I ask: What is the cause of wolves’ cultural ubiquity in Iceland despite their physical absence? What does the spiritual and moral codification of this species suggest about social outlooks towards individuals associated with wolves? How has this aspect evolved in modern society? 

By expanding on recent studies regarding the history and distribution of this species in the Scandinavian landscape, my thesis evaluates the meaning of wolves in folk taxonomy and the wider culture. This includes their pervasiveness in Scandinavian burial rituals, depictions on runestones, and the Old Norse-Icelandic naming tradition.

I consider ‘wolfishness’ as a conceptual metaphor that shaped human perception and communication in medieval Iceland. Following Lakoff’s ‘image schema’, I argue that ‘wolfishness’ operates as a conceptual domain, where mental representations sanction the extension of spatial and physical laws to more complex situations. I examine performative sources, such as skaldic poetry, to assess the artistic intent behind the representations of wolves and the audience’s reception. I focus on the relationship between wolves, the words, and the poets’ own discernment.

Research Area

  • Languages and Literature
  • Scandinavian Studies