, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 753–774 | Cite as

Treasure and Violence: Mapping a Conceptual Metaphor in Medieval Heroic Literature



The ‘economic’ metaphor, in which violence is spoken of in terms of a financial transaction, is as familiar to Classical and Medieval literary traditions as it is to modern English-speaking culture. Making use of Lakoff’s theory of cognitive metaphor, this paper traces the common cultural and historical basis of the metaphor back to the custom of compensation payment, or wergeld: with a focus on literary examples of this legal process and the common vocabulary of legislation and metaphor, it presents a ‘mapping’ of the metaphor’s variants and fluctuations primarily in Old English and Old Norse-Icelandic literature, but with reference to Homeric Greek, Virgilian Latin, Medieval Latin, Old Irish, Old and Middle High German, Chaucer and Shakespeare for a wider picture of the phenomenon.


Metaphor Lawcodes Old English literature Old Norse-Icelandic literature Homer Virgil Heroic literature 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Medieval and Renaissance StudiesOxfordUK

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