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Physics and society: Network analysis of the Íslendinga sögur - the Sagas of Icelanders

Posted By Gina Gunaratnam, 09 February 2015

The Icelandic sagas are ancient tales of brave deeds and lives and loves, with a cast of thousands – but how true to life are they? Pádraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna analyse the interactions between the characters and find that social networks of the Viking era were very similar to those of today.

The Íslendinga sögur – or sagas of Icelanders – purport to describe events in the period following the settling of Iceland about a thousand years ago. The sagas tell of families and feuds, of warfare and warriors, of lives and loves, betrothals and betrayals. The antiquity of the texts and their unique narrative style make them an important element of world literature. Some consider the sagas to contain information on Viking life, while others object that such tales are entirely fictional, with no basis in reality.  With overlapping plots in different texts involving thousands of characters and their interactions, their huge network of interactions makes them an ideal study for statistical analysis.

The approach follows a previous study of mythological and epic literature, which compared the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, Homer’s Iliad and the Irish epic, Táin Bó Cuailnge [1]. One may ask questions about the bases for such tales and attempt to uncover what quantitative information may have been hidden for centuries within the pages of ancient manuscripts. For the  Íslendinga sögur  Mac Carron and Kenna gathered data for 18 narratives, five of which contain over 100 characters each. These are Njáls saga, Laxdæla saga, Vatnsdæla saga, Egils saga Skallagrímssonar and Gísla saga Súrssonar. They examined these individually in order to compare different sagas to each other. They also studied the sagas collectively – a network of 1549 characters – to gain insight into the structure of the overall saga society [2].

The networks underlying saga society have similar properties to real-world social networks; they are far more clustered than their random counterparts - Viking society is small world. Individuals in the society are connected to each other by an average path length of 5.5 – remarkably close to the six degrees of separation of modern society. A propensity to disfavour odd numbers of hostile links is related to the notion of structural balance – in the Viking era, the enemy of an enemy is a friend. Some of the family sagas are assortative, meaning that characters associate with other characters similar to themselves. The outlaw Gísla saga is by contrast disassortative. A strong overlap between the communities in Njáls saga and Laxdæla saga offers support to the theory that one saga may have been used as a source for the other.

Traditional studies of literature focus on individuals and events. This new statistical approach looks instead at the collections of interactions between characters. It offers a new and exciting way to make quantitative comparisons both between the sagas as well as to compare to other literary genres. The new approach  opens new windows for us to peer into our dim and distant past.

References

[1]. Mac Carron, P. and Kenna, R. (2013) Network analysis of the Íslendinga sögur – the Sagas of Icelanders. European Physical Journal B, 86, 407–415. Free to download from http://iopscience.iop.org/0295-5075/99/2/28002?fromSearchPage=true

[2]. Mac Carron, P. and Kenna, R. (2012) Universal properties of mythological networks.
Europhysics Letters
, 99, 28002. Free to download from http://de.arxiv.org/abs/1309.6134

View the presentation of Ralf Kenna's work on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5tMomhjGKY&feature=youtu.be

Tags:  EPL Publication  European Physical Journal 

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Read the EPL Highlights of 2012

Posted By Administration, 02 May 2013
Updated: 02 May 2013
EPL publishes original, high-quality Letters in all areas of physics, ranging from condensed matter topics and interdisciplinary research to astrophysics, geophysics, plasma and fusion sciences, including those with application potential. Articles must contain sufficient argument and supporting information to satisfy workers in the field, and must also be of interest and relevance to wider sections of the physics community.

Website for authors: https://www.epletters.net
Website for subscribers: http://www.epljournal.org

Highlights of 2012

The articles selected are those which have received a large number of citations, or have been the most downloaded and read, or those chosen for "Editor's Choice” during 2012.

All of the articles featured in the collection are free to read until 31 December 2013. You can also download a PDF version of the Best of 2012 brochure.

Download the EPL Highlights of 2012.

Tags:  epl  EPL Publication  highlights  publication 

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Universal properties of mythological networks

Posted By Administration, 26 July 2012

This article from Pádraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna was published in EPL Volume 99 Number 2 and is available at:
http://iopscience.iop.org/0295-5075/99/2/28002

Abstract
As in statistical physics, the concept of universality plays an important, albeit qualitative, role in the field of comparative mythology. Here we apply statistical mechanical tools to analyse the networks underlying three iconic mythological narratives with a view to identifying common and distinguishing quantitative features. Of the three narratives, an Anglo-Saxon and a Greek text are mostly believed by antiquarians to be partly historically based while the third, an Irish epic, is often considered to be fictional. Here we use network analysis in an attempt to discriminate real from imaginary social networks and place mythological narratives on the spectrum between them. This suggests that the perceived artificiality of the Irish narrative can be traced back to anomalous features associated with six characters. Speculating that these are amalgams of several entities or proxies, renders the plausibility of the Irish text comparable to the others from a network-theoretic point of view.

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Helping superconductors turn up the heat

Posted By Administration, 19 June 2012
EurekAlert! - Public release date: 18-Jun-2012
Contact: Annette Gallagher, University of Miami

A team of physicists from the University of Miami introduces a breakthrough in the understanding of high-temperature superconductivity


CORAL GABLES, FL (June 18, 2012)--Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) are unveiling a novel theory for high-temperature superconductivity. The team hopes the new finding gives insight into the process, and brings the scientific community closer to achieving superconductivity at higher temperatures than currently possible. This is a breakthrough that could transform our world. (...)

The study, titled "Pairing Glue Activation in Curates within the Quantum Critical Regime," is published online ahead of print by the journal Europhysics Letters.

Read the complete article at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-06/uom-hst061812.php

Tags:  EPL Publication 

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