Christmas 2011: Oral Traditions

The royal road to healing: a bit of a saga

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7826 (Published 19 December 2011)
Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7826

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  1. Linn Getz, associate professor 12,
  2. Anna Luise Kirkengen, professor134,
  3. Halfdan Petursson, research fellow1,
  4. Johann A Sigurdsson, professor56
  1. 1General Practice Research Unit, Department of Public Health and General Practice, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 7491 Trondheim, Norway
  2. 2Landspitali University Hospital, Reykjavik, Iceland
  3. 3Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway
  4. 4Centre for Health Promotion, Akershus University Hospital, Lørenskog, Norway
  5. 5Department of Family Medicine, University of Iceland, Reykjavik
  6. 6Centre of Development, Primary Health Care of the Capital Area, Reykjavik
  1. Correspondence to: Linn Getz linn.getz{at}ntnu.no

Linn Getz and colleagues describe how a Norwegian king beat Freud to the talking cure by more than 700 years

In the face of another person’s suffering, a listener can offer to be a competent, dedicated, and attentive co-thinker—not pretending to know the solution, but trusting the healing power inherent in an empathetic relationship.

In an atmosphere saturated with diagnostic labels, antidepressants, and standardised cognitive therapy schemes, we want to highlight the therapeutic potential of dialogue. We present an anecdote written around the year 1220 in the Icelandic saga Morkinskinna.1 2 3 4 There, we meet the Norwegian king Eysteinn, who ruled in Norway 1103–1123, and an Icelandic skald (highly respected court poet), Ivar Ingimundarson. Ivar has become deeply melancholic and the king seeks to find out what troubles him and how to help. Finally, Ivar’s grief is resolved by daily conversations between the two men.

Sigmund who?

Morkinskinna—a king’s saga with an unruly touch

Morkinskinna, which means “mouldy parchment,” was originally the name of a book sent from Iceland to Copenhagen’s Royal Library in 1662, where it is still preserved (numbered as 1009 fol). The saga was written in Iceland around the year 1220. It describes the history of the Norwegian kings from 1030 until 1157, when the text ends abruptly, as the last part of the manuscript has been lost. The author is unknown, but Morkinskinna was evidently a central source for the later and far more renowned saga Heimskringla.4 A distinctive feature of Morkinskinna is its numerous inserted anecdotes. Many of these describe the relationship between a Norwegian king and an Icelandic guest or man of court. The literary format of Morkinskinna has long been considered unwieldy and of lesser quality than other more stringent sagas, but literary scholars have recently been captivated by its charm and distinctive human touch.4 …

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