Bad Beef and Mad Cow Disease in Bósa saga ok Herrauðs

30 Nov 2017

The fourteenth-century fornaldarsaga Bósa saga ok Herrauðs is unique in the corpus of medieval Icelandic saga literature on account of several outrageously flamboyant elements. Studies have been devoted to the saga’s use of runes (see Thompson), its colourful curses (see Lozzi Gallo) and its explicit pornographic set-plays (see Renaud). The runes and fabliau-inspired pornographic scenes are both unique in saga literature, while the curses are exaggerated beyond all seriousness. This relatively late saga also readily subverts several aspects mostly consistent across other fornaldarsögur, such as its use of over-hyperbolised battle-scenes and its hero Bósi’s idiosyncratic reliance on cunning rather than physical strength. Also notable is its humorous portrayal of the semi-mythological Goðmundr of Glæsisvellir, who, in his numerous recurrences in fornaldarsögur (Tolkien 84–6, Ellis Davidson 167–78), is never elsewhere treated as a parodic punchline. In the words of Vésteinn Ólason, the saga is “a comedy where the conventions and clichés of the genre of fornaldarsaga are exaggerated to the verge of parody and indeed beyond” (121). This article will examine another element whose very construction is a product of this eagerness on the part of the saga author to push established boundaries: the conflation of two established motifs, the monstrous animal and transformative meat. The discussion will seek to fully contextualise the literary processes underpinning this conflation by examining analogues of each of these separate motifs, in order to determine the specific ways and effects through which the saga author adapted them.