30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Kirsten Wolf, "What the Face Reveals: An Analysis of the Sagas and Tales of Icelanders"

The human face has the capacity to generate expressions associated with a wide range of affective states. The glare of anger, the wide-eyed look of surprise, the bright smile of delight, the frozen stare of terror, the averted eyes of embarrassment, and much more all emanate from the face. Even a face in repose is informative. Every expression of the face is a betrayal of a condition of the mind and creates an impression of an inner emotion. It is a non-verbal behavior that escapes efforts to deceive and evades self-censoring.

The face is a highly expression region and has different parts, which can act independently. The mouth can be turned up or down. The eyebrows can be raised or knit. The nose can be wrinkled and the nostrils flared. The skin can be colored white or red, perspiring or not. And finally, there are the eyes, which have often been called the mirror of the soul. Although gaze is not a signal in the way that facial expressions are, it does, however, send the signal that the communication channel is open and visual signals can be received.

This paper examines the descriptions of human facial expressions in Old Norse-Icelandic literature and the social information they transmit. Its aim is to analyze the manner in which facial expression is used as a means of non-verbal communication to convey the emotional state of an individual to observers. More specifically, it seeks to determine what emotions specific facial expressions represent.


Last modified: Oct. 13, 2009
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