Caught Between Worlds: Gendering the Maiden Warrior in Old Norse
In Liber VII of the Gesta Danorum, an early thirteenth-century chronicle about the history of Denmark, the author Saxo Grammaticus pauses for a moment, after narrating the fantastical adventures of a swashbuckling female pirate named Alvhilda, in order to deliver a brief excursus about the shield-maidens that populated the Nordic world centuries ago.
KeywordsBurial Mound Maternal Grandfather Male Persona Male Heir Early Fourteenth Century
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- 1.J. Olrik, and H. Reeder, eds., Saxonis Gesta Danorum, 2 vols. (Copenhagen: Levin & Munksgaard, 1931), 1: 192.Google Scholar
- 3.On some historical, legal, and anthropological facets of the warrior woman figure in Old Norse see Carol Clover, “Maiden Warriors and Other Sons,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 85 (1986): 35–49, to which I am indebted for much early inspiration on this topic. A broader focus on the topic of warrior women is presented in Megan McLaughlin, “The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe,” Women’s Studies 17 (1990): 193–209. For a comprehensive and authoritative overview of women in Norse culture, see Jenny Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995) and her other book, which might be seen as a companion volume to the first, Old Norse Images of Women (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996). Her chapter on “Warrior Women,” in Images, pp. 87–112, is essential reading. The most detailed look at Saxo and the shield-maidens is found in N.H. Holmqvist-Larsen, “Skjoldmodigressionen,” in Meer, skjoldmøer og krigere: En studie i og omkring 7. bog af Saxo’s Gesta Danorum (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanums Forlag, 1983), pp. 40–73.Google Scholar
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