The Germanic Context of the Unferþ Episode

Speculum 55 (3):444-468 (1980)

The idea that the Unferþ episode in Beowulf is related to the Norse flytings is hardly a new one. It has seldom progressed much beyond the stage of suggestion, however, and even the few longer discussions have failed to make much of the connection. The problem seems to lie on the Norse side of the equation — in large part in reaching a consensus on just what constitutes a “flyting” so that we know what to measure the Unferþ episode against. From this point of view, scholarly discussions of the Norse material have been particularly unsatisfactory, being for the most part narrowly historical and lexical in their orientation. Despite the fact that the Norse flyting is a readily identifiable compositional unit, it has never been subjected to a systematic formal analysis. A recent dissertation by Joaquín Martínez Pizarro locates early Germanic examples of the flytings in Middle Latin sources and delineates the evolution of its scene and narrative context from Paul the Deacon to the late fornaldarsogur, but stops short of organizing themes and analyzing structure. What may strike the outsider as the puzzling absence of a morphology for such an obvious category may have at least in part to do with the traditional and perhaps excessive respect paid by Scandinavianists to inherited native terminology — in this case the terms senna and mannjafnaðr, which, together with níð, have from the outset conditioned and inhibited scholarly discussion of the topic. { event.preventDefault(); })
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DOI 10.2307/2847235
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