Heroes and Ideology

On Grímur Thomsen's rewriting and interpretation of medieval texts

  • Kristján Jóhann Jónsson University of Iceland
Keywords: Medievalism, romanticism, nationality, freedom, interpretation, culture and heroism


Grímur Þorgrímsson Thomsen became a doctor of Aesthetics and thus a pioneer in Icelandic cultural history. He published two books in Danish (1846 and 1854) about how Icelandic medieval texts could become a lodestone and a yardstick for Nordic culture. Thomsen’s central idea is that the independent medieval man and Viking is the ancestor and template for the young citizen in the nineteenth century, relying on his strength and power, desiring freedom and ready to succeed or fail with his acts and ideas. The hero stands proud against nobility, royalty and the forces of nature.

Such ideas found resonance in an ascendant bourgeoisie that was not “to the manor born,” but the industrial revolution saw their fortunes improve dramatically. Thomsen’s reading of medieval texts looks to find historical support for the views of those who attacked the centre of power from the flanks. His ideas are an offspring of Romanticism, and his books show how deep its roots lie. This applies to both the connections Romanticism made to medieval times and the values of Western civilization.

In his Sögubrot (or Sagastykker) Thomsen interprets medieval texts with a view to justifying the ideas and aspirations of Nordic citizens in the nineteenth century.