Summer Sequel: Three Roads to Miklagård

Brigid Ehrmantraut from Princeton University has been generous to offer her recent essay on Scandinavian mercenaries in Constantinople as a reading feuilleton for the Nordic Byzantine Network. Before we do so, we are happy to have Brigid’s attention for a few questions.

19030570_1893688160893584_4989903031293527064_n.jpgWhat background do you have?

I am an undergraduate Classics concentrator and Medieval studies certificate at Princeton University. In addition, I’ve studied abroad for a spring at the University of Cambridge’s Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic department.

You are both a historian and a writer of fiction; which interest came first?

I think both interests developed at roughly the same time, in an intertwined fashion. Stories have always fascinated me, regardless of how ostensibly true they may be, and I think the best fiction tends to build from strong historical foundations, be they real-world settings or imagined chronologies.

Do you find it particularly challenging to bridge the two roles in cases such as this?

I think the two complement each other nicely. It’s always important for a project like this one to give preference to the historical features, but since so many of those come to us from primary accounts – each with their own unique perspectives and biases – I think historical details and sources inspire rather than limit creativity. This piece came out of a class prompt to engage in ethopoeia, or the Greek term for rhetorically representing another person or character, and the engagement with different perspectives that allowed provided a wonderful way to supplement established historical material, while grounding the fictional aspects against a believable backdrop.

Which scholarly aspect of the Varangians in Byzantium interests you most?

The opportunities for cultural interchange. One of my favorite features of Classics and Medieval Studies is the degree to which you get to study evolving interaction between all areas of culture; one of my particular interests is religious/mythological syncretism.

Are there any literary depictions of the same topic that you find especially recommendable?

I haven’t come across many contemporary literary depictions of the Varangians, but I would always recommend saga material! Anna Comnena’s Alexiad occasionally engages with them as well, and certainly presents its nominally historical account in very dramatic, literary prose.

To which topic will you devote yourself in the nearest future?

Probably religious syncretism in the late antique and early medieval insular world, specifically between Celtic, Roman, and eventually Anglo-Saxon populations in Britain and Ireland.

Interview: OH

The NBN will publish the three parts of Þrír Vegir í Miklagarð (Three Roads to Miklagard), with approximately ten-day intervals over the course of  July 2017.

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