Das Mittelalter 25 (1):46-65 (2020)

The society depicted in the Icelandic family sagas has often been characterised as the archetype of a ‘feuding society’. The disputing strategies found in the sagas have therefore served as an argument that the prescriptions of the laws which curb revenge were irrelevant in socio-legal practice. This dominance of the feud as the actual ‘law’ crystallising in saga disputes is questioned through a close analysis of gender roles. While ‘classical’ sagas frequently apply the motif of the female whetter who forces a male character to take action or lose his manly honour, thus stabilising the feuding mechanism, the contemporary sagas and non-canonical family sagas display a wide variety of male-female interaction in the negotiation of social resources and legal obligations. The systematic look at non-canonical passages reveals a discourse of counsel, in which gender roles are fluid and interchangeable. This fluidity reveals an implicit theory of ‘law’ in the sense of doing conflict which stresses the stabilising forces supporting written law opposed to the motif of the whetter, which comes to form a central element of the imagination of the Icelandic heroic age.
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DOI 10.1515/mial-2020-0005
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