“Work in progress” lunchtime colloquium
14 October 2022

The event will be hosted on Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87842150494?pwd=ZXdibzA1d3R1RG1hN3BqcWdGOXJSdz09


1. Amin Benaissa (Classics, Lady Margaret Hall): Ancient Slavery from the Perspective of the Papyri. New documents from Oxyrhynchus


After a brief introduction to the Oxyrhynchus papyri for non-specialists, this talk will discuss some documents relating to slavery recently published in vol. 86 of The Oxyrhynchus Papyri. These new texts illustrate some typical life-patterns of the enslaved: slavery from infancy, repeated sales, in some cases displacement across the Mediterranean, employment in weaving and wet-nursing, and, for the fortunate, manumission. Of particular note are two sale contracts concluded outside Egypt (one of them in Lycia in modern-day Turkey), which would have reached Oxyrhynchus along with the slaves concerned. In other sales, we encounter slaves brought from Crete, Mauretania, and Phrygia – stark examples of the deracination of slaves in the Roman world and Egypt’s integration in the Mediterranean-wide slave trade. There are also more unusual texts, such as a letter about a missing slave and a record of proceedings of an auction.


2. Katherine Olley (English, St Hilda’s College): Liminal Landscapes: Childbirth and the Uncanny in Old Norse Literature


Childbirth scenes in Old Norse literature frequently involve negotiating a liminal space, whether it be the dreamscapes of Sverris saga and Ectors saga, straddling the worlds of waking and sleeping, or the burial mounds present in Óláfs þáttr Geirstaðaálfs and Gǫngu-Hrólfs saga, which intertwine the worlds of the living and the dead. The paper explores these liminal landscapes in more depth, taking as its central focus Óláfs þáttr Geirstaðaálfs, in which a man called Hrani is visited by Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr in a dream. Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr instructs Hrani to break into Óláfr’s burial mound and take his ring, his knife and belt, and his sword. Before leaving the mound, Hrani is to cut off Óláfr’s head with the sword. He is then to take the belt to Ásta Guðbrandsdóttir, who is labouring with a difficult childbirth. When he wraps the belt around her, she will be delivered and he is to claim the honour of naming her son as a reward. Everything happens as Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr predicts and the boy, the future Saint Óláfr, is named by Hrani after Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr. By close analysis of Óláfs þáttr Geirstaðaálfs, the paper argues that Old Norse childbirth narratives are not just liminal but specifically ‘uncanny’, loosely defined as the disquieting or eerie sensation evoked by the alienation of something once familiar⁠. Recognising the uncanniness of childbirth in Old Norse literature allows us to advance beyond simplistic ‘rites of passage’ analyses to a more nuanced understanding of childbirth and its role in Old Norse literature and life.