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The Sun-chariot’s Journey Towards the Nordic Sky: on the (Pre-)History of Ideas on Sky, Sun, and Sunlight in Northern Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SunSHINE (The Sun-chariot’s Journey Towards the Nordic Sky: on the (Pre-)History of Ideas on Sky, Sun, and Sunlight in Northern Europe)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2022-06-30

During the MSCA fellowship at the Roots of Europe research center of Copenhagen University’s Department of Nordic Studies and Lingusitics, the researcher Dr. Riccardo Ginevra, under the supervision of Prof. Birgit Olsen, has worked towards three main objectives:
(1) “Sky, sun, and sunlight in Old Norse, Germanic, and Indo-European”, in which features of poetic and figurative language – such as so-called “formulaic expressions” and “phraseological collocations” – attested in the texts of a number of ancient traditions have been collected and analysed according to their semantic and pragmatic contexts of occurrence; the shared elements of these contexts have in turn been investigated as well, in order to extract and identify the so-called “oral-traditional themes” or “thematic structures” that they reflect – i.e. the thematic units, or ready-made building blocks, according to which the texts belonging to ancient oral traditions were structured. Such features of ancient languages are an open window on the religious conceptualizations and cosmological beliefs according to which the speakers of these languages lived: studying them by means of a systematic linguistic analysis gives us privileged insight into the minds of both historical and prehistoric human communities, a process that also allows us to understand our own contemporary cultures better.
(2) “Archaeolinguistics and Comparative Indo-European Poetics”: the researcher has undergone training activities in order to absorb the basic tenets of Archaeolinguistics – the very successful interdisciplinary approach to Indo-European studies practiced at the Roots of Europe research center, combining Linguistics and Archaeology in a single field – and to combine it in turn with the discipline of Comparative Indo-European Poetics by engaging in his own original research.
(3) “Dissemination and communication”: the researcher has attempted to raise awareness within the scientific community of his research themes, and of their importance for the analysis of ancient cultures and the reconstruction of their modes of thought.

Image: the Trundholm Sun Chariot. Source:
"The following are some tasks performed during the project and some results that have been achieved:
(1) By applying the methodology of Comparative Indo-European Poetics to the Old Norse texts of the so-called Eddic corpus (comprising both poetry and prose), the researcher has identified and analysed, both from an inner-Norse and a comparative Germanic perspective, a series of recurring features in the poetic phraseology and traditional themes concerning the sky, the sun, sunlight, and the deities associated with them; furthermore, the researcher has analysed some of their correspondences in the poetic phraseology and traditional themes attested in other Indo-European traditions, evaluating whether they may reflect inherited features.
The interpretation of these data allows for to the reconstruction of, firstly, an elaborated system of metaphors and metonymies that may be traced back, firstly, to common Germanic oral tradition and, secondly, to inherited Indo-European poetic diction, according to which, for instance, people falling into illness or danger or death were said to “go to the darkness”, whereas a healed or rescued or resuscitated person was said to be “brought back to the light”; secondly, of an ancient Indo-European mythological tradition, within which the well-being of a god associated with light (like the ""shining"" god Baldr) was threatened by specific characters (suc has ‘Darkness’) in connection with specific events (such as the god’s sexual interest in the ‘daughter of the sky’) and closely linked to the well-being of the entire universe (as in the Norse and Sanskrit myths, for instance). The results of the research will be set forth in at least one journal article on sky, sun, and sunlight, and will become an important part of a planned monograph on the Indo-European background of the Norse gods Baldr and Loki.
(2) The researcher began the training by studying relevant publications in the fields of Archaeolinguistics and Archaeology under the guidance of Prof. Birgit Olsen and of colleagues at RoE, Prof. Thomas Olander and Prof. Guus Kroonen. Transfer of knowledge between researcher and host institution also went in the other direction, as the researcher contributed with his expertise in Comparative Poetics and Comparative Mythology to the enrichment of the field of Indo-European studies at the University of Copenhagen, broadcasting the opportunities that the systematic analysis of poetics and mythology have to offer to the scholar of Indo-European studies.
The researcher was invited by Prof. Olsen and Prof. Olander to take part in the activities of the interdisciplinary research group “Languages and Myths of Prehistory” (LAMP), led by Prof. Jenny Larsson (Stockholm University), whose aim is to develop a new approach to the study of Indo-European prehistory by combining Linguistics, Mythology and Archaeology. The researcher was also strongly involved in the active organization of the online interdisciplinary conference “Power, Gender and Mobility: Features of Indo-European society” (26–27/03/2021), sponsored by the Roots of Europe research center, and will also be involved in the publication of the corresponding Proceedings volume.
Finally, the researcher developed his new interdisciplinary scientific skills by doing original research, namely by preparing two studies (titles: “Hermes and Prometheus in Scandinavia: Reconstructing Indo-European Myth and Ritual” and “Indo-European Myths on Patron-Client Relationships and the Power of Words”) that combine Comparative IE Poetics and Comparative IE Mythology with Archaeology and Archaeolinguistics, which have been presented at international conferences (and a research seminar) and have now become articles that will be published in the corresponding Proceedings volumes.
(3) Dissemination activities included a press release of his monograph Odino Alfǫðr e il nome dei dvergar, also available on-line in open access, and by presenting some results of his research at international venues."
The project’s early termination after month 7 (which became necessary once the fellow was granted a new academic position in Italy) has prevented the researcher from fulfilling many of the research, training and dissemination activities that had been originally planned; future publications and activities connected with the project, however, will include a reference to EU funding and adhere to the EU’s policies regarding open access.
The Trundholm Sun Chariot (National Museum of Denmark)