14 February 2014

Love Stories from Oslo

The runic message 'Think of me, I think of you! Love me, I love you' that I mentioned in the Runic Valentine blog of two years ago occurs in more or less the same form in at least three inscriptions. It therefore has an off-the-shelf quality that doesn't tell us anything about the people who might have been exchanging such messages. But other inscriptions introduce us to the real people who suffered the joys and anxieties of love.

One medieval lover in Oslo's Gamlebyen wanted no one to be in doubt as to who exactly his lady-love was:
nikulos a=n ko=no= =þeiri uæl er gyriþ hei(t)er stiufdoter ÷ pit(a)srahnu
'Nikulás loves well the woman called Gýríðr, stepdaughter of Pitas-Ragna.'
One could spin many tales to explain why it was so important for Nikulás to mention his girl's stepmother, was she an important figure, or very rich?

Not all lovers were as true as they should have been; one piece of bone from medieval Oslo seems to be addressing two different women, in two contrasting inscriptions:
an sa × þer × es × risti × runa þesar × þortis þora ek kan kilia
'He who carved these runes loves you, Þordís! Þóra! I can beguile (any woman).'
But, as with many such inscriptions, we can wonder how serious the sentiments were. Perhaps it was all just an after-dinner game, as the remains of the roast were passed around and people wrote jokey messages on it.
Yet another bone inscription sounds just like what you might hear in any schoolyard:

asa × an × st- / ek × uæit
'Ása loves St... I know.'

The inscription is incomplete, so we will never know the name of Ása's boyfriend. The common name Ása occurs elsewhere in inscriptions from medieval Oslo, and she or some other woman could have been responsible for carving þut 'hum' on the spindle-whorl pictured above. Let's hope her love-life was humming like her spinning.

Note on sources: these inscriptions have not been fully published yet; the texts cited above are taken, with small modifications, from the Samnordisk runtextdatabas.


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