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Math, myths, and Vikings: storytelling and social networks
July 18, 2014 7:30 PM   Subscribe

"An unusual article recently appeared in the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and American Statistical Association. It featured web-like diagrams of lines connecting nodes, a hallmark of research that analyzes networks. But each node, rather than being a plain dot, was the head of a burly, red-bearded Viking sporting a horned hat, his tresses blowing in the wind."

Researchers are using social network analysis to understand Icelandic sagas and Irish legends.

"Even in Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings — which Mac Carron and Kenna analyzed to compare with the sagas — the networks are nowhere near as vast. That density of characters, and the realism of their networks, suggest a different purpose for literature than might be the case now — the creation of portraits of societies, rather than portraits of individuals."
posted by gingerbeer (11 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
a maiden prophet with three pupils in each eye

whelp, that's nightmare fuel.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:35 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


That is very cool.
posted by rtha at 7:37 PM on July 18, 2014


The Royal Statistical Society ought to know that Vikings didn't wear horned helmets.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:47 PM on July 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


also, according to 10th century English writers, they cut their hair short.
posted by jb at 8:10 PM on July 18, 2014


I have heard this before.

Erik Njorl, son of Frothgar, leaves his home to seek Hangar the Elder at the home of Thorvald Nlodvisson, the son of Gudleif, half brother of Thorgier, the priest of Ljosa water, who took to wife Thurunn, the mother of Thorkel Braggart, the slayer of Cudround the powerful, who knew Howal, son of Geernon, son of Erik from Valdalesc, son of Arval Gristlebeard, son of Harken, who killed Bjortguaard in Sochnadale in Norway over Cudreed, daughter of Thorkel Long, the son of Kettle-Trout, the half son of Harviyoun Half-troll, father of Ingbare the Brave, who with Isenbert of Gottenberg the daughter of Hangbard the Fierce...
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:27 PM on July 18, 2014


Maybe I should read the original paper, because this article made me a little suspicious.

Other than an assertion that "research suggests that real social networks have different properties than fictional ones," and references to the narrow character focus of modern novels, there don't seem to be any counterexamples here. Beowulf, the Iliad, and the Icelandic family sagas look like real social networks. But then we read about the Táin, with its multiple magical-fantasy heros:
The Táin's network was more artificial. Interestingly, however, they found that a lot of the Táin's unreality was concentrated in just a few, grotesquely over-connected characters. When they theorized that some of those characters might actually be amalgams — for instance, that some of the times the queen of Connacht is said to speak to someone, it might be a messenger speaking for her instead — the network began to look more realistic.
Oh, okay, if you're willing to arbitrarily introduce any number of new characters by splitting up hypothesized "amalgams," you can get a realistic social network. But then -- what if you did the same thing to Harry Potter, or a known-to-be-fictional ancient text like the Mabinogion? Is this device so powerful it renders the technique useless?
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:55 AM on July 19, 2014


whelp, that's nightmare fuel.
The Tain is a riot. Outrageous violence, a kid hero like something from horror fiction crossed with Looney Tunes, even a medieval version of the "your shoe's untied" gag - it's awesome.
posted by doctornemo at 5:23 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Oh, okay, if you're willing to arbitrarily introduce any number of new characters by splitting up hypothesized "amalgams," you can get a realistic social network. But then -- what if you did the same thing to Harry Potter, or a known-to-be-fictional ancient text like the Mabinogion? Is this device so powerful it renders the technique useless?

I assume the splitting isn't arbitrary, but along the seams where it's more plausible that they were originally activities of two different people: "Dude was over there, bashing skulls on some farm in Scotland, why did he set world speed records going back to Norway just for a party?"
posted by ardgedee at 5:41 AM on July 19, 2014


I love the idea of people doing stuff like this but don't find these guys work so convincing. Here's an arXiv paper by them and here's what I wrote about it on my blog.
posted by escabeche at 5:43 AM on July 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Thanks, escabeche!
posted by gingerbeer at 11:32 AM on July 19, 2014


So when can we map the social network of the Bible?
posted by mangasm at 8:36 AM on July 20, 2014


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