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The woman who knows: Female characters of Eyrbyggja Saga Concerning Eyrbyggja the late Einar Olafur Sveinsson wrote at the very end of the Introduction to his Islenzk Fomrit edition a passage that couples modest diffidence at finding himself not entirely in agreement with the opinions of other scholars with a determination not to shrink from putting into words the convictions that came to possess him as a result of living closely with the words of the author of this saga. Quoting the Norwegian poet Hans E. Kinck he writes Po" ae sagan s& pannig fyrst og fremst 'karlamannasaga' (eins og norska ska'ldiu Kinck kemst ab orbi), pa hefur nun po fengie einn kafla meb o6ru efni, en bab er patturinn af astum Bjarnar og Purloar. Pessar frasagnir hofou skilyroi til ab veroa romantiskar eba osiblegar eba hvorttveggja, en hvorugt hefur po oroib fra, yfir pao, sem vfsur Bjarnar, uppistaoa pattarins, gafu tilefni til. Although the saga is first and foremost a karlamannasaga, as the Norwegian poet Kinck puts it, it has nevertheless one episode with a different subject-matter—the love-story of Bjorn and frurl&r. This narrative has all the appearance of being romantic or late or both, yet it has in no way departed from what the verses of Bjorn, the basis of the topic, provided the material for. And he continues with further arguments against Eyrbyggja's being essentially a he-man's saga, that arise from the understanding with which the author treated the quite varied women characters of his story. Pa eru kvenlysingarnar ekki sfiSur athyglisverbar, bo ab kvenbjorjin liggi hb'fundinum synilega i lettu rumi: Purlbur frfiS, glysgjorn og lettuoarfull, Aubur, sem missir hondina, en vill leyna bvi, Po'rgunna, okunn kona ur fjarlaegu landi, og loks er lyVingin a fjolkynngiskonunum Geirrioi og Kotlu og afbrySi peirra hin skemmtilegasta. And then the treatment of women is no less worthy of attention, though the female sex may apparently occupy a lesser place in the author's mind: Purior, beautiful, acquisitive and frivolous; Auor, who loses her hand and wants to hide the fact; Porgunna, mysterious woman from a far land; and finally the treatment of the two women with supernatural powers, Geirrrar and Katla, along with their rivalry in love, is highly entertaining. It is the aim of this paper to follow up Sveinsson's words, but not in order to consider the social position of women in mediaeval Iceland for others, whose canvas is broader, are engaged on such a task; nor, without a great deal of care, is it wise to examine a work of literature with such an aim. My interest is, rather, in how an Icelandic author of the thirteenth century saw women as story material, trusting that his artistry variously makes use, as a memorable writer's usually does, of the creations of predecessors, the assumptions of contemporaries and the personal observation of those he or she lived amongst. 74 F. Scott After that disclaimer about not looking for social roles, one exception is immediately registered, which is, moreover, a significant one; it comes from a section of the code of laws of the Commonwealth period, called Grdgds. This section deals with the baptism of children, for which very minute prescriptions were provided in the ecclesiastical section of the law. For example, if a child is born on an island which has no church, then anyone may be called on to provide a boat to ferry the child and, once landed, the baby and its five boatmen must be provided with accommodation by anyone summoned to do so. There are also provisions for the case when no water can be found but snow is available; then snow may be substituted, and exactly the same words must be said as if the child were being baptized in water, but when the moment comes when the baby would have been immersed, in the name of each of the Persons of the Trinity, the person administering the rite is enjoined: Eigi skaljnann sva drepa barni f snaeinn at pat saski kuloi sva' at pvf se vie bana haett, heldr skal hann riba snaanum a meo hondum ser. ...not to dip the child in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 73-91
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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