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“A Guest is in the Hall”: Women, Feasts, and Violence in Icelandic Epic

  • Jana K. Schulman
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The literature of medieval Iceland, regardless of genre, is united by several features, including narrative structures, emphasis on genealogy as a means of character delineation, and recognition of the importance of equal status of both parties for a marriage to succeed. Sagas make much of marriages as narrative devices because so much is embroiled in the arranging of the marriage: status, honor, and alliances derived from marriages shape the plots of many sagas, both positively and negatively.1 When women do not wish to marry the prospective grooms that their fathers have selected, but agree to do so anyway, albeit reluctantly, the setting is ripe for violence. Sometimes, these women reject the suitors because they deem them socially beneath them; other times, they object because their guardians have not consulted them. Honor is as important to women as it is to men in medieval Icelandic literature. The arrangement of a marriage, then, presents opportunities for perceived slights to honor; many insults derive from misalliances or thwarted expectations. Any perceived insult can have a devastating result, and it is all too easy for such an insult to lead to violence as a means of redressing that misalliance or thwarted expectation.

Keywords

Sexual Theme Foster Father Narrative Device Drinking Vessel High Seat 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Jana K. Schulman, “Make Me a Match: Motifs of Betrothal in the Sagas of the Icelanders,” Scandinavian Studies 69.3 (1997): 296–321; Jenny Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), especially the chapter on marriage; Jenny Jochens, “Consent in Marriage: Old Norse Law, Life, and Literature,” Scandinavian Studies 58.2 (1986): 142–76.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Lars Lönnroth, “The Concept of Genre in Saga Literature,” Scandinavian Studies 47.4 (1975): 420 [419–26]. Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards, Legendry Fiction in Medieval Iceland (Reykjavik: Printsiniðjan Leiftur, 1971), p. 16; Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, “Generic Hybrids: Norwegian ‘Family’ Sagas and Icelandic’Mythic-Heroic’ Sagas,” Scandinavian Studies 65.4 (1993): 541 [539–54].Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Theodore M. Andersson, “Splitting the Saga,” Scandinavian Studies 47.4 (1975): 439 [437–41].Google Scholar
  4. 13.
    Hugh Magennis, Anglo-Saxon Appetites: Food and Drink and Their Consumption in Old English and Related Literature (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), p. 20.Google Scholar
  5. 39.
    Michael Enright, Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996), pp. 38 and 69 especially.Google Scholar
  6. 40.
    G. V. Smithers, “Five Notes on Old English Texts,” English and Germanic Studies 4 (1951–52): 74 [65–85].Google Scholar
  7. 49.
    James Rosier, “The Uses of Association: Hands and Feasts in Beowulf,” PMLA 78 (1963): 9 [8–14].CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Sara S. Poor and Jana K. Schulman 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jana K. Schulman

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