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Masculinities in Old Norse Literature
 9781843845621, 9781787448193

Table of contents :
Front Cover
Contents
Contributors
Acknowledgements
List of Abbreviations
Introduction
Boyhood, Saga-Style: From Mannsefni to Maðr
The Licit Love Visit: Masculine Sexual Maturation and the ‘Temporary Troll Lover’ Trope
Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders
‘With mirthful merriment’: Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls
Vulnerable Masculinities and the Vicissitudes of Power in Göngu-Hrólfs saga
Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence
Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna and the Defusal of Kingly Aggression
Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking: Negotiations of Masculinity in Egils saga
ʻÞat þótti illr fundr’: Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa
Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’: rekkjufélagar and vífs rúnar
Companions, Conflicts, and Concubines: Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups
‘That which a hand gives a hand or a foot gives a foot’: Male Kinship Obligations in the Heroic Poe
Afterword: The Ethics and Urgency of Studying Old Norse Masculinities
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

Cover image: Thor’s Fight with the Giants, 1872, Mårten Eskil Winge (1825–1896), oil on canvas. Photo: Nationalmuseum. Cover design: riverdesignbooks.com

 

Gareth Lloyd Evans Jessica Clare Hancock

edited by and



STUDIES IN OLD NORSE LITERATURE

and

CONTRIBUTORS: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, David Ashurst, Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir, Gareth Lloyd Evans, Oren Falk, Alison Finlay, Jessica Clare Hancock, Jóhanna Katrín Fridriksdóttir, Philip Lavender, Thomas Morcom, Carl Phelpstead, Matthew Roby.

edited by Gareth Lloyd Evans Jessica Clare Hancock

JESSICA CLARE HANCOCK is a Lecturer in Educational Development at City, University of London.



GARETH LLOYD EVANS is Lecturer in Medieval Literature at St Hilda’s College, Oxford.



This book’s investigation of how masculinities are constructed and challenged within a unique literature is all the more vital in the current climate, in which Old Norse-Icelandic sources are weaponised to support far-right agendas and racist ideologies are intertwined with images of vikings as hypermasculine. This volume counters these troubling narratives of masculinity through explorations of Old Norse-Icelandic literature that demonstrate how masculinity is formed, how it is linked to violence and vulnerability, how it governs men’s relationships, and how toxic models of masculinity may be challenged.

M A SCUL INI T I E S I N OL D NOR SE L I T ER ATU R E

Compared to other areas of medieval literature, the question of masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature has been understudied. This is a neglect which this volume aims to rectify. The essays collected here introduce and analyse a spectrum of masculinities, from the sagas of Icelanders, contemporary sagas, kings’ sagas, legendary sagas, chivalric sagas, bishops’ sagas, and eddic and skaldic verse, producing a broad and multifaceted understanding of what it means to be masculine in Old Norse-Icelandic texts. A critical introduction places the essays in their scholarly context, providing the reader with a concise orientation in gender studies and the study of masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature.

MASCULINITIES IN OLD NORSE LITERATURE

Studies in Old Norse Literature Print ISSN 2514-0701 Online ISSN 2514-071X Series Editors Professor Sif Rikhardsdottir Professor Carolyne Larrington Studies in Old Norse Literature aims to provide a forum for monographs and collections engaging with the literature produced in medieval Scandinavia, one of the largest surviving bodies of medieval European literature. The series investigates poetry and prose alongside translated, religious and learned material; although the primary focus is on Old Norse-Icelandic literature, studies which make comparison with other medieval literatures or which take a broadly interdisciplinary approach by addressing the historical and archaeological contexts of literary texts are also welcomed. It offers opportunities to publish a wide range of books, whether cutting-edge, theoretically informed writing, provocative revisionist approaches to established conceptualizations, or strong, traditional studies of previously neglected aspects of the field. The series will enable researchers to communicate their findings both beyond and within the academic community of medievalists, highlighting the growing interest in Old Norse-Icelandic literary culture. Proposals or queries should be sent in the first instance to the editors or to the publisher, at the addresses given below. Professor Sif Rikhardsdottir, Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Iceland, Aðalbygging v/ Sæmundargötu, S-101 Reykjavik, Iceland Professor Carolyne Larrington, Faculty of English Language and Literature, St John’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, OX1 3JP, UK Boydell & Brewer, PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 3DF, UK Previous volumes in the series are listed at the end of the volume.

Masculinities in Old Norse Literature

Edited by Gareth Lloyd Evans Jessica Clare Hancock

D. S . B R E W E R

© Contributors 2020 All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system, published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast, transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means, without the prior permission of the copyright owner

First published 2020 D. S. Brewer, Cambridge

978 1 84384 562 1 hardback 978 1 78744 819 3 ePDF D. S. Brewer is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd PO Box 9, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, UK and of Boydell & Brewer Inc. 668 Mt Hope Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620–2731, USA website: www.boydellandbrewer.com A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library The publisher has no responsibility for the continued existence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate This publication is printed on acid-free paper

Front cover image: Thor’s Fight with the Giants, 1872, Mårten Eskil Winge (1825–1896), oil on canvas. Photo: Nationalmuseum.

contents Contributors vii Acknowledgements ix List of Abbreviations xi Introduction Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock

1

i becoming masculine Boyhood, Saga-Style: From Mannsefni to Maðr Oren Falk The Licit Love Visit: Masculine Sexual Maturation and the ‘Temporary Troll Lover’ Trope Matthew Roby Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders Gareth Lloyd Evans ‘With mirthful merriment’: Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

21

37 59

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ii masculinity, power, and vulnerability Vulnerable Masculinities and the Vicissitudes of Power in Göngu-Hrólfs saga Philip Lavender Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence Ásdís Egilsdóttir

97 113

Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna and the Defusal of Kingly Aggression Thomas Morcom

127

Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking: Negotiations of Masculinity in Egils saga Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir

147

v

Contents

iii men’s relationships ‘Þat þótti illr fundr’: Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa Alison Finlay

167

Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’: rekkjufélagar and vífs rúnar David Ashurst

183

Companions, Conflicts, and Concubines: Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups Carl Phelpstead

203

‘That which a hand gives a hand or a foot gives a foot’: Male Kinship Obligations in the Heroic Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga Jessica Clare Hancock

217

Afterword: The Ethics and Urgency of Studying Old Norse Masculinities Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock

237

Bibliography Index

241 263

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contributors Ásdís Egilsdóttir is Professor Emeritus at the University of Iceland. She taught Old Norse and Medieval Literature in the Department of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies, 1991–2016. Her research mainly focuses on translated and vernacular hagiography, memory studies, and gender and masculinity. David Ashurst is Associate Professor in the Department of English Studies, Durham University. As well as writing on Alexanders saga and other learned sagas translated from Latin, he has worked on issues of sexual behaviour in Old Norse literature, and on the Norse-related œuvres of William Morris and Richard Wagner. Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge, on the project ‘The Íslendingasögur as Prosimetrum’. Her research centres on the expression of feelings in Old Norse literature through words, bodily metaphors, and performance. Her publications include essays on emotional depiction in skaldic poetry, the humoral theory in Old Norse textual culture, and a book on the diversities of the Icelandic language. Gareth Lloyd Evans is Lecturer in Medieval Literature at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. He is author of Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (2019), and has also published on skaldic poetry, the correspondences between medieval and postmodern modes of textuality, and contemporary medievalism. Oren Falk is a cultural historian working primarily on Icelandic sagas, with interests in violence, gender, folklore, historical methodology, and more. After studying in Jerusalem (BA, History and ‘Amirim’, 1995) and Toronto (MA and PhD, Medieval Studies, 1996 and 2002), he is currently Associate Professor of History and Medieval Studies at Cornell University. Alison Finlay is Professor of Medieval English and Icelandic Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published on poets’ sagas and kings’ sagas, has contributed to the edition of Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages, and translated many Old Norse texts.

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Contributors Jessica Clare Hancock is Lecturer at City, University of London. Her previous research has examined gender in Old Norse-Icelandic literature itself (with a focus on the Völsung legend in both the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga) as well as in rewritings and re-imaginings of the Norse world (particularly those in works by William Morris and J.R.R. Tolkien, and in children’s literature). She has published on picturebook depictions of Vikings. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir held fellowships at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík and at Harvard University from 2010 to 2016, and was a lecturer at Yale University from 2017 to 2019. She currently holds a post at Nasjonalbiblioteket in Oslo and her book Valkyrie: Viking Women in Life and Legend is forthcoming in 2020. Philip Lavender is a researcher currently working on a project funded by the Swedish Research Council at the University of Gothenburg. His work focusses on medieval and early modern Icelandic literature, in particular legendary sagas, romances, and rímur. His recent projects have focussed on the production of saga forgeries and medieval Icelandic conceptions of the future. He is the author of Long Lives of Short Sagas: The Irrepressibility of Narrative and the Case of ‘Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra’ (2020). Carl Phelpstead is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University. He has published extensively on Old Norse and medieval English literature and on modern medievalism. His books include Holy Vikings: Saints’ Lives in the Old Icelandic Kings’ Sagas (2007) and Tolkien and Wales: Language, Literature and Identity (2011). Thomas Morcom is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, whose thesis reinterprets the function of the þættir in konungasaga compendia on narratological grounds. In addition to his work on masculinity, his research interests include depictions of old age and the performative utility of insults, both within the context of saga literature. Matthew Roby recently completed his D.Phil. at the University of Oxford. His thesis analysed medieval Icelandic literary representations of sexuality during adolescence and old age. He is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Iceland, where he studies depictions of sexual consent in the riddarasögur. He has published on Old Norse-Icelandic and Old English literatures, on topics including sex, gender, ageing, and the supernatural.

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acknowledgements This project began as a series of sessions held at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, 2017. We would like to thank everyone who gave papers at, and attended, these sessions for rich discussions about Old Norse masculinities, and also Glasgow Caledonian University’s Magnusson Fund and the University of Oxford’s English Faculty for providing financial assistance. We are grateful to each of the contributors to this volume for taking part in this project. We would also like to thank Carolyne Larrington and Sif Ríkharðsdóttir for their valued encouragement; Caroline Palmer for both her interest in the project and her patience; and George Manning for exemplary research assistance in the preparation of the manuscript for submission (generously funded by the Oxford English Faculty). To continue to name individuals would be eminently possible, but also invidious, and so we extend our thanks to our family, our friends, and our colleagues. Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock

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list of abbreviations Where authors have referred to the same text but in different editions this has been noted in square brackets.

Primary Sources Alexanders saga Áns saga Atlakviða Atlamál hin groenlenzku Austfirðinga s˛ogur Bandamanna saga Bárðar saga Biskupa sögur I (2003) Biskupa sögur I–II (1858–78) Biskupa sögur II (2002) Biskupa sögur III

Alexanders saga, ed. Finnur Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1925). Áns saga bogsveigis, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 1, pp. 401–32. Atlakviða, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 372–82. Atlamál hin groenlenzku, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 383–401. Austfirðinga s o˛ gur, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Íslenzk fornrit 11 (Reykjavík, 1950). Bandamanna saga, in Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar, ed. Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 7 (Reykjavík, 1936), pp. 291–363. Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, in Harðar saga, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Íslenzk fornrit 13 (Reykjavík, 1991), pp. 99–172. Biskupa sögur I, ed. Sigurgeir Steingrímsson, Ólafur Halldórsson, and Peter Foote, Íslenzk fornrit 15 (Reykjavík, 2003). Biskupa sögur, ed. Jón Sigurðsson and Guðbrandur Vigfússon (Copenhagen, 1858–78). Biskupa sögur II, ed. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Íslenzk fornrit 16 (Reykjavík, 2002). Biskupa sögur III: Árna saga biskups, Lárentíus saga biskups, Söguþáttur Jóns Halldórssonar biskups, Biskupa þættir, ed. Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir, Íslenzk fornrit 17 (Reykjavík, 1998).

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Abbreviations Bjarnar saga

Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa, in Borgfirðinga sögur, ed. Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 3 (Reykjavík, 1938), pp. 109–211. Bósa saga Bósa saga, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 2, pp. 463–97. [This is the edition cited in Roby’s chapter.] Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, in Fornaldar sögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson, 4 vols (Reykjavík, 1954), vol. 3, pp. 281–322. [This is the edition cited in Ashurst’s chapter.] Brot af Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson Sigurðarkviðu and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 324–28. Den store Saga om Den store Saga om Olav den hellige, ed. Oscar Albert Olav den hellige Johnsen and Jón Helgason, 3 vols (Oslo, 1930–41). Droplaugarsona Droplaugarsona saga, in Austfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Jón saga Jóhannesson, Íslenzk fornrit 11 (Reykjavík, 1950), pp. 135–80. Dunstanus saga Dunstanus saga, ed. Christine Elizabeth Fell, Editiones Arnamagnæanæ ser. B, vol. 5 (Copenhagen, 1963). Eddukvæði Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014). Egils saga Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar, ed. Sigurður Nordal, Íslenzk fornrit 2 (Reykjavík, 1933). Egils saga einhenda Egils saga einhenda ok Ásmundar berserkjabana, in Fornaldar sögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson, 4 vols (Reykjavík, 1959), vol. 3, pp. 323–65. Eiríks saga rauða Eiríks saga rauða, in Eyrbyggja saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and Matthías Þórðarson, Íslenzk fornrit 4 (Reykjavík, 1935), pp. 193–237. Eyrbyggja saga Eyrbyggja saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 4 (Reykjavík, 1935). Fáfnismál Fáfnismál, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 303–12. Finnboga saga Finnboga saga, in Kjalnesinga saga, ed. Jóhannes Halldórsson, Íslenzk fornrit 14 (Reykjavík, 1959), pp. 251–340. Fljótsdæla saga, in Austfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Jón Fljótsdæla saga Jóhannesson, Íslenzk fornrit 11 (Reykjavík, 1950), pp. 213–96. Flóamanna saga Flóamanna saga, in Harðar saga, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Íslenzk fornrit 13 (Reykjavík, 1991), pp. 229–327.

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Abbreviations Flóvents saga I

Flóvents saga I, in Fornsögur Suðrlanda, ed. Gustaf Cederschiöld (Lund, 1884), pp. 124–67. Fóstbrœðra saga Fóstbrœðra saga, in Vestfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Björn K. Þórólfsson and Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 6 (Reykjavík, 1943), pp. 119–276. Frá dauða Sinfjötla Frá dauða Sinfjǫtla, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 284–85. Geirmundar þáttr Geirmundar þáttr heljarskinns, in Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946), vol. 1, pp. 5–11. Gísla saga Gísla saga Súrssonar, in Vestfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Björn K. Þórólfsson and Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 6 (Reykjavík, 1943), pp. 1–118. Göngu-Hrólfs saga Göngu-Hrólfs saga, in Fornaldar sögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson, 4 vols (Reykjavík, 1959), vol. 3, pp. 161–280. Grágás Grágás: Lagasafn íslenska þjóðveldisins, ed. Gunnar Karlsson, Kristján Sveinsson, and Mörður Árnason (Reykjavík, 1992). [This is the edition cited in Ásdís Egilsdóttir’s, Evans’s, and Finlay’s chapters.] Grágás: Islændernes lovbog i fristatens tid, udgivet efter det kongelige Bibliotheks Haandskrift, ed. Vilhjálmur Finsen, 4 vols. (Copenhagen, 1852). [This is the edition cited in Roby’s chapter.] Grettis saga Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar, ed. Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 7 (Reykjavík, 1936). Grípisspá Grípisspá, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 286–95. Grœnlendinga saga Grœnlendinga saga, in Eyrbyggja saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and Matthías Þórðarson, Íslenzk fornrit 4 (Reykjavík, 1935), pp. 239–69. Guðmundar sögur Guðmundar sögur biskups I: Ævi Guðmundar biskups, biskups I Guðmundar saga A, ed. Stefán Karlsson (Copenhagen, 1983). Guðrúnarhvöt Guðrúnarhvǫt, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 402–06. Guðrúnarkviða I Guðrúnarkviða I, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 329–34. Guðrúnarkviða II Guðrúnarkviða II, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 352–61.

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Abbreviations Gunnlaugs saga

Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, in Borgfirðinga sögur, ed. Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 3 (Reykjavík, 1938), pp. 51–107. Gylfaginning Snorri Sturluson, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, ed. Anthony Faulkes (London, 2005). Hákonar saga Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar, ed. Þorleifur Hauksson, Sverrir Jakobsson, and Tor Ulset, 2 vols, Íslenzk fornrit 31–32 (Reykjavík, 2013). Hálfdanar saga Brönufóstra, in Fornaldarsögur Hálfdanar saga Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 3, pp. 321–48. Hallfreðar saga Hallfreðar saga, in Vatnsdæla saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 8 (Reykjavík, 1939), pp. 133–200. Hamðismál Hamðismál, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 407–13. Harðar saga Harðar saga, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Íslenzk fornrit 13 (Reykjavík, 1991). Hauksbók Hauksbók: Udgiven efter de Arnamagnæanske håndskrifter no. 371, 544 og 675, 4° samt forskellige papirshåndskrifter, ed. Eiríkur Jónsson and Finnur Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1892–96). Hávamál Hávamál, ed. David A. H. Evans (London, repr. 2000). Hávarðar saga Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings, in Vestfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Björn K. Þórólfsson and Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 6 (Reykjavík, 1943), pp. 289–358. Heilagra manna Heilagra manna søgur: Fortællinger og legender om hellige søgur mænd og kvinder, 2 vols, ed. C. R. Unger (Christiania, 1877). Heimskringla I Heimskringla I, ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit 26 (Reykjavík, 1941). Heimskringla II Heimskringla II, ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit 27 (Reykjavík, 1945). Heimskringla III Heimskringla III, ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit 28 (Reykjavík, 1951). Helgakviða Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Hjörvarðssonar Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 259–69. Helgakviða Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Hundingsbana I Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 247–58. Helgakviða Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Hundingsbana II Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 270–83.

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Abbreviations Hrafnkels saga Hrafns saga Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra Íslendinga saga Íslendingabók Ívens saga Jómsvíkinga saga Jónsbók Karlamagnús saga Ketils saga Kjalnesinga saga Kormáks saga Króka saga Refs Lárentíus saga

Laxdæla saga

Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða, in Austfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Íslenzk fornrit 11 (Reykjavík, 1950), pp. 95–133. Hrafns saga Sveinbjarnarsonar, in Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946), vol. 1, pp. 213–28. Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, in Fornaldar sögur Norðurlanda, 4 vols, ed. Guðni Jónsson (Reykjavík, 1950), vol. 4, pp. 51–176. Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 3, pp. 349–60. Íslendinga saga, in Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946), vol. 1, pp. 229–534. Íslendingabók, ed. Jakob Benediktsson, Íslenzk fornrit 1 (Reykjavík, 1968). Ívens saga, ed. and trans. Foster Warren Blaisdell (Copenhagen, 1979). Jómsvíkinga saga, ed. Þorleifur Hauksson and Marteinn Helgi Sigurðsson, Íslenzk fornrit 33 (Reykjavík, 2018). Jónsbók: The Laws of Later Iceland: The Icelandic Text According to MS AM 351 fol. Skálholtsbók eldri, ed. and trans. Jana K. Schulman (Saarbrücken, 2018). Karlamagnus saga ok kappa hans: Fortællinger om keiser Karl Magnus og hans jævninger, ed. Carl Rikard Unger (Christiania, 1860). Ketils saga hængs, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 1, pp. 243–66. Kjalnesinga saga, ed. Jóhannes Halldórsson, Íslenzk fornrit 14 (Reykjavík, 1959). Kormáks saga, in Vatnsdœla saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 8 (Reykjavík, 1939), pp. 201–302. Króka-Refs saga, in Kjalnesinga saga, ed. Jóhannes Halldórsson, Íslenzk fornrit 14 (Reykjavík, 1959), pp. 117–60. Lárentíus saga biskups, in Biskupa sögur III: Árna saga biskups, Lárentíus saga biskups, Söguþáttur Jóns Halldórssonar biskups, Biskupa þættir, ed. Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir, Íslenzk fornrit 17 (Reykjavík, 1998), pp. 213–441. Laxdæla saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 5 (Reykjavík, 1934).

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Abbreviations Ljósvetninga saga Mágus saga Morkinskinna Njáls saga Óláfs saga helga Orkneyinga saga Örvar-Odds saga Poetic Edda Prestssaga Reginsmál Reykdœla saga Sigrdrífumál Sigurðarkviða in skamma Skáldskaparmál Sturlu saga Sturlunga saga Svarfdæla saga Svínfellinga saga

Ljósvetninga saga, ed. Björn Sigfússon, Íslenzk fornrit 10 (Reykjavík, 1940). Bragða-Mágus saga með tilheyrandi þáttum, ed. Gunnlaugur Þórðarson (Copenhagen, 1858). Morkinskinna, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson, 2 vols, Íslenzk fornrit 23–4 (Reykjavík, 2011). Brennu-Njáls saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 12 (Reykjavík, 1954). Óláfs saga helga, in Heimskringla II, ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit 27 (Reykjavík, 1945). Orkneyinga saga, ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson, Íslenzk fornrit 34 (Reykjavík, 1965). Örvar-Odds saga, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 1, pp. 281–399. Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014). Prestssaga Guðmundar góða, in Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946), vol. 1, pp. 116–59. Reginsmál, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 296–302. Reykdœla saga ok Víga-Skútu, in Ljósvetninga saga, ed. Björn Sigfússon, Íslenzk fornrit 10 (Reykjavík, 1940), pp. 149–243. Sigrdrífumál, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 313–21. Sigurðarkviða in skamma, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 2, pp. 335–48. Snorri Sturluson, Edda: Skáldskaparmál, ed. Anthony Faulkes, 2 vols (London, 1998), vol. 1, pp. 1–134. Sturlu saga, in Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946), vol. 1, pp. 63–114. Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946). Svarfdæla saga, in Eyfirðinga sögur, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson, Íslenzk fornrit 9 (Reykjavík, 1956), pp. 127–208. Svínfellinga saga, in Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946), vol. 2, pp. 87–103.

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Abbreviations Third Grammatical Óláfr Þórðarson. Málhljóða- og málskrúðsrit. GrammatiskTreatise retorisk afhandling, ed. Finnur Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1927). Tristrams saga Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar, ed. and trans. Peter Jorgensen, in Norse Romance, 3 vols, ed. Marianne Kalinke (Cambridge, 1999), vol. 1, pp. 23–226. Trójumanna saga Trójumanna saga, ed. Jonna Louis-Jensen (Copenhagen, 1963). Valdimars saga Valdimars saga, in Late Medieval Icelandic Romances, ed. Agnete Loth, 5 vols (Copenhagen, 1962–65), vol. 1, pp. 51–78. Valla-Ljóts saga Valla-Ljóts saga, in Eyfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson, Íslenzk fornrit 9 (Reykjavík, 1956), pp. 231–60. Vatnsdœla saga Vatnsdœla saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 8 (Reykjavík, 1939). Víga-Glúms saga, in Eyfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Jónas Víga-Glúms saga Kristjánsson, Íslenzk fornrit 9 (Reykjavík, 1956), pp. 1–98. Víglundar saga Víglundar saga, in Kjalnesinga saga, ed. Jóhannes Halldórsson, Íslenzk fornrit 14 (Reykjavík, 1959), pp. 61–116. Völsunga saga Völsunga saga: The Saga of the Volsungs, ed. and trans. R. G. Finch (London, 1965). [This is the edition cited in Ashurst’s and Hancock’s chapters.] Völsunga saga, ed. Guðni Jónsson, in Fornaldar sögur Norðurlanda, 4 vols (Reykjavík, 1954), vol. 1, pp. 107–218. [This is the edition cited in Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir’s chapter.] V˛oluspá, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn V˛oluspá Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 1, pp. 291–321. Þórðar saga hreðu Þórðar saga hreðu, in Kjalnesinga saga, ed. Jóhannes Halldórsson, Íslenzk fornrit 14 (Reykjavík, 1959), pp. 161–226. Þórðar saga kakala Þórðar saga kakala, in Sturlunga saga, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Magnús Finnbogason, and Kristján Eldjárn, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 1946), vol. 2, pp. 1–86. Þorláks saga A Þorláks saga A, in Biskupasögur II, ed. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Íslenzk fornrit 16 (Reykjavík, 2002), pp. 45–99. Þorskfirðinga saga Þorskfirðinga saga eða Gull-Þóris saga, in Harðar saga, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Íslenzk fornrit 13 (Reykjavík, 1991), pp. 173–227. Þorsteins saga hvíta Þorsteins saga hvíta, in Austfirðinga sǫgur, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Íslenzk fornrit 11 (Reykjavík, 1950), pp. 1–19.

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Abbreviations Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla I and II Þrymskviða

Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 3, pp. 395–418. Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla I and II, in Biskupa sögur I, ed. Sigurgeir Steingrímsson, Ólafur Halldórsson, and Peter Foote, Íslenzk fornrit 16 (Reykjavík, 2003), pp. 49–100. Þrymskviða, in Eddukvæði, ed. Jónas Kristjánsson and Vésteinn Ólason, 2 vols (Reykjavík, 2014), vol. 1, pp. 422–27.

Dictionaries Cleasby-Vigfússon Richard Cleasby, Guðbrandur Vigfússon, and William A. Craigie, An Icelandic–English Dictionary, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1957). Fritzner Johan Fritzner, Ordbog over de Gamle Norske Sprog, 2nd edn, 3 vols (Christiania, 1883–96). Lexicon poeticum Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis, ed. Sveinbjörn Egilsson, 2nd edn by Finnur Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1931). OED Oxford English Dictionary, . ONP Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog / A Dictionary of Old Norse Prose, . Zoëga Geir T. Zoëga, A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic (Oxford, 1910).

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Introduction Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock

This volume of essays is the first that takes masculinities in Old NorseIcelandic literature as its focus. The past few decades have seen a welcome proliferation of books – both monographs and edited collections – that consider masculinities in a range of other medieval literatures.1 But this flurry of activity has had a fragmentary influence upon Old Norse-Icelandic studies, meaning that a coherent exploration of the works that address masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature – as well as a fuller consideration of masculinities across the many genres of Old Norse-Icelandic texts – is long overdue. Not only will more sustained attention to masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature provide clearer frameworks for future work in this area, but it will also offer a valuable contribution to our understanding of the ways in which masculinities function and are expressed in a literature that frequently offers clear contrasts to other medieval literatures, especially other European literatures. The oft-remarked upon distinctiveness of saga-style narration, the existence of a variety of genres of extended prose texts, and the very particular forms of poetry that were produced mean that Old Norse-Icelandic 1

It is not possible to give an exhaustive list of these works here but amongst them are: Clare Lees, ed., Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages (Minneapolis, and London, 1994); Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler, eds, Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (New York, 1997); Peter G. Beidler, Masculinities in Chaucer: Approaches to Maleness in The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde (Cambridge, 1998); Jacqueline Murray, ed., Conflicted Identities and Multiple Masculinities in the Medieval West (New York and London, 1999); Ruth Mazo Karras, From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (Philadelphia, 2002); William E. Burgwinkle, Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050–1230 (Cambridge, 2004); Holly A. Crocker, Chaucer’s Visions of Manhood (Basingstoke, 2007); Isabel Davis, Writing Masculinity in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2007); Christina M. Fitzgerald, The Drama of Masculinity and Medieval English Guild Culture (New York and Basingstoke, 2007); Tison Pugh and Marcia Smith Marzec, eds, Men and Masculinities in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (Cambridge, 2008); David Clark, Between Medieval Men: Male Friendship and Desire in Early Medieval English Literature (Oxford, 2009); Derek G. Neal, The Masculine Self in Late Medieval England (Chicago and London, 2008); and Ann Marie Rasmussen, ed., Rivalrous Masculinities: New Directions in Medieval Gender Studies (Notre Dame, 2019).

1

Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock literature is unique among medieval literatures. The socio-political context in which this literature flourished – a frontier community, in a harsh and unforgiving environment, that was without monarchical rule for much of its history – often enables representations and constructions of identity in general, and of masculinities in particular, that vary significantly from those found in other contemporary literatures; in a similar way, the distinctive literary forms of the Old Norse-Icelandic corpus have already provided valuable additions to understandings of medieval literature in other areas, for example of Romance in a pan-European context.2 This volume thus serves a dual purpose: to explore the textual performance and representation of masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature and to provide a deeper understanding of masculinities more generally. In order to achieve these joint aims, this introduction first discusses the concept of gender (including masculinity) to provide a general statement of the approach to masculinities used throughout the volume. The introduction then considers the current state of the study of masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature and offers an overview of the chapters that follow.

Theoretical Contexts: Gender and Masculinity The notion of gender has been theorised (and challenged) in myriad ways.3 These include psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of the gendered subject, discursive and social constructionist models, and theories of sexual difference. Broadly, and perhaps overly simplistically speaking, gender is commonly taken to refer to ‘the cultural understandings and representations of what it is to be a man or a woman’.4 ‘Femininity’ is the term used to classify those behaviours, acts, and styles which are generally associated with being a woman; ‘masculinity’ is the term used to classify those behaviours, acts, and styles generally associated with being a man. Although the question of what gender actually is and how it operates is far from settled in contemporary gender theory, a number of critical axioms have become dominant. Each of the chapters in this collection takes its own individual 2 3

4

Sif Rikhardsdottir, Medieval Translations and Cultural Discourse: The Movement of Texts in England, France and Scandinavia (Cambridge, 2012). For an excellent overview of the different approaches to conceptualising gender, see: Rachel Alsop, Annette Fitzsimons, and Kathleen Lennon, Theorizing Gender (Oxford, 2002). The discussion of gender in this introduction draws on this work, which — as David Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir note — ‘provides an inspiring example of patient tolerance of different interpretative models, aiming collaboratively to follow not the Enlightenment model of debate to reach consensus, but rather a productive continuing dialogue’; see David Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’, in A Handbook to Eddic Poetry: Myths and Legends of Early Scandinavia, ed. Carolyne Larrington, Judy Quinn, and Brittany Schorn (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 331–48, at p. 332. Alsop, Fitzsimons, and Lennon, Theorizing Gender, p. 3.

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Introduction approach to the construction of masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, but they all proceed – implicitly or explicitly – from a shared understanding of gender that is dependent upon a number of foundational principles: 1) Gender is socially constructed. That is to say, that the gendered significance accorded to certain acts and behaviours is created relationally, between gendered subjects, within the context of the social organisation in which they are found. That masculinity and femininity are social constructions does not, however, mean that gender does not have real world effects (or, in the case of Old Norse-Icelandic texts, that its operation is not of significance within the world produced by these texts). Many contemporary theories would also hold the biological division into binary sex to be socially constructed.5 While the editors of this volume are in agreement with this assertion and find the logic behind the arguments for this position compelling (and would moreover stress the substantial real-life impact of the construction, and lived experience, of maleness and femaleness), it is nevertheless the case that many Old Norse-Icelandic texts, while sometimes implying that gender is both socially constructed and performative (see the next point below), understand the binary conception of sex as a natural ‘fact’. It should be noted, however, that some Eddic poems do seem to view biological sex as mutable.6 2) Gender is performative. Gender is produced through the iteration of acts that have pre-established gendered significance within the social context in which they are enacted.7 But these enactments are not to be understood as an expression of an innate gender identity; rather their iteration merely gives the (false) impression of a core identity that exists prior to performance. It is, therefore, through the performance of identity scripts that identity is produced.8 This means that gender must be performed continually for it to appear as coherent to others. A further important implication of the performative nature of gender is that masculinity and femininity are not tied to particular bodily forms. Male-sexed characters are able to perform femininity, just as female-sexed characters are able to perform masculinity.

5 6 7

8

Alsop, Fitzsimons, and Lennon, Theorizing Gender, p. 67. Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’, pp. 339–40. The best-known articulation of the performative (and socially constructed nature) of gender is given by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London, 1990). Alsop, Fitzsimons, and Lennon, Theorizing Gender, pp. 97–100.

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock 3) Identity is intersectional.9 Gender is only one facet of identity, alongside race, ethnicity, age, (dis)ability/ impairment, sexuality, socio-economic status, and so on. The different facets of an individual’s identity are mutually-constitutive: masculinities are, for example, raced, aged, embodied, and classed.10 Identities come into being, and operate, at the intersection of these different social categories. 4) Masculinities are multiple. There are multiple modalities of masculinity. Both Old Norse-Icelandic texts and contemporary gender theory suggest that there are different types of masculinity that are produced in different contexts. While it may be the case that a particular type of masculinity is culturally exalted and dominant in a given context or genre (what is typically termed ‘hegemonic masculinity’), there is nevertheless a plurality of ways of being masculine, some of which are viewed as more culturally acceptable than others.11

Gender and Masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature This volume would not exist without the pioneering and vital work on women and femininities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature begun by female scholars towards the end of the twentieth century.12 These analyses produced, and continue to produce, not only inherently valuable insights into the function of the textual and social worlds built by Old NorseIcelandic texts, but also expanded the field of Old Norse-Icelandic studies to include gender studies approaches. Any critical study of men or masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature is indebted to, and proceeds from (indeed, is part of), this tradition of feminist scholarship. But masculinity has 9

The term is coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, The University of Chicago Legal Forum 140 (1989), 139–67. For an explicitly intersectional approach to the construction of masculinities in saga literature, see: Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019), pp. 63–106. 10 Alsop, Fitzsimons, and Lennon, Theorizing Gender, p. 199. 11 R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Cambridge, 2005), p. 77; Alsop, Fitzsimons, and Lennon, Theorizing Gender, pp. 136–43. 12 See, for example: Jenny Jochens, Old Norse Images of Women (Philadelphia, 1996); Jenny Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society (Ithaca, 1995); Sarah M. Anderson with Karen Swenson, eds, Cold Counsel: Women in Old Norse Literature and Mythology (New York and London, 2002); Helga Kress, Máttugar meyjar: Íslensk fornbókmenntasaga (Reykjavík, 1993); Judy Quinn, ‘Women in Old Norse Poetry and Sagas’, in A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture, ed. Rory McTurk (Oxford, 2005), pp. 518–35; Judith Jesch, Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge, 1991); and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words, and Power (New York, 2013).

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Introduction been studied considerably less extensively and there are relatively few works that are primarily concerned with critically interrogating the construction or operation of masculinity in these texts. We do not here claim to provide a comprehensive overview of those works that have relevance for our understanding of Old Norse masculinity, not least because the distinction between works relevant to the study of masculinity and those that simply discuss men’s actions without considering them from a gendered perspective is not always clear-cut (the relevance of the latter group is implicit rather than explicit). Instead, we here give a brief – and partial – discussion of some of the secondary works that are central to our understanding of masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic texts.13 Although at first glance it may seem that there are a considerable number of works given here, masculinity is often incidental to the works under discussion rather than forming their core focus. We have grouped the works below so as to elucidate trends in the scholarship, and so hope that this overview will prove useful for those who would approach questions of Old Norse masculinity in the future. It is certainly worth noting, however, that a strictly chronological summary of these works – without our intervention in imposing links between disparate pieces of scholarship – would demonstrate the sporadic and fragmentary nature of the field’s development to date. Carol Clover’s work on gender in Old Norse-Icelandic literature must be regarded as foundational for the field. Her ‘Maiden Warriors and Other Sons’ demonstrates that certain female characters (and, taking into account law codes, seemingly medieval Icelandic women) were able to take on the ‘male role’ of ‘functional son’ in order to fill in a breach in the male patriline and so inherit the patrimony.14 And in her highly-influential article, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Clover – inspired by the work of Thomas Laqueur – proposes a model of gender relations for medieval Icelandic literature that she suggests is radically different from twentieth-century models of gender.15 Focusing predominantly on a selection of the sagas of Icelanders, she argues for the operation in medieval Iceland of ‘a one-sex, one-gender model with a vengeance’, in which characters are conceptualised in terms of ‘hvatr’ and ‘blauðr’ (‘hard’ and ‘soft’) rather than 13

See also: Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’; and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘Gender’, in The Routledge Research Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Sverrir Jakobsson (London, 2017), pp. 226–39. 14 Carol Clover, ‘Maiden Warriors and Other Sons’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 85 (1986), 35–49. 15 Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Representations 44 (1993), 1–28. In this same year, the article was also published in two other venues: Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Speculum 68.2 (1993), 363–87; and Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, in Studying Medieval Women: Sex, Gender, Feminism, ed. Nancy F. Partner (Cambridge, MA, 1993), pp. 61–85.

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.16 Instead of there being two genders, Clover suggests that there is just one gender – that which characterises the ‘hvatr’ subject – and that it is ‘something like’ masculine.17 Ultimately, Clover claims that, to the extent that we can speak of a social binary, a set of two categories, into which all persons were divided, the fault line runs not between males and females per se, but between able-bodied men (and the exceptional woman) on one hand and, on the other, a kind of rainbow coalition of everyone else (most women, children, slaves, and old, disabled, or otherwise disenfranchised men).18 While very influential in both the field of Old Norse-Icelandic studies and beyond,19 the framework is far from universally accepted.20 It has been critiqued, for example, for its selective and oversimplified readings of Old Norse-Icelandic texts, for its erasure of the importance of physical sex, and for its apparently ahistorical view of masculinity; it also does not allow for the theorisation of multiple masculinities.21 Indeed, some chapters in this volume also explicitly reject elements of Clover’s theorisation.22 This is not to say, however, that the influence of Clover’s article is to be taken as a negative. The article should be seen as occupying a position of great importance in Old Norse-Icelandic scholarship: although the precise details of its argumentation have, in the more than a quarter of a century that has passed since its publication, come under scrutiny, it has played an invaluable role in opening up the field of Old Norse gender studies and in stimulating much further discussion. And indeed, several of the chapters in this volume build productively on Clover’s insights. Whether conceptualising the gendered poles in terms of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, or ‘hvatr’ and ‘blauðr’, it becomes evident that masculinity is to be regarded a relational – rather than isolated and self-contained – category. In ‘Taming the Shrew: The Rise of Patriarchy and the Subordination of the Feminine in Old Norse Literature’, Helga Kress interrogates one aspect of 16

Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 18. Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 13. 18 Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 13. 19 At the time of writing, Google Scholar lists 248 citations to this article. While this does not in itself demonstrate the widespread approval of the article, it nevertheless demonstrates its extensive influence. 20 For critiques of Clover’s model, see, for example: Bjørn Bandlien, ‘Man or Monster?: Negotiations of Masculinity in Old Norse Society’ (doctoral thesis, Universitetet i Oslo, 2005), p. 10; Henric Bagerius, ‘Mandom och mödom: Sexualitet, homosocialitet och aristokratisk identitet på det senmedeltida Island’ (doctoral thesis, Göteborgs universitet, 2009), pp. 52–55; Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature, pp. 7–8; Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘Gender’, p. 234; Evans, Men and Masculinities, pp. 10–15. 21 Evans, Men and Masculinities, pp. 10–15. 22 See, for example, the chapters by Evans and Lavender in this volume. 17

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Introduction this relational quality of gender by examining interactions between male and female characters in a wide range of poetic and saga texts.23 She suggests that throughout Old Norse-Icelandic literature the primacy of masculinity (and by extension, patriarchy) is dependent upon the oppression of women and the feminine. Pragya Vohra also addresses a method for extending power through the exclusion of women. In ‘Creating Kin, Extending Authority: BloodBrotherhood and Power in Medieval Iceland’, she considers the masculine significance of fictive kinship bonds between men in Old Norse sources – especially but not exclusively sagas of Icelanders – and, by extension, medieval Iceland.24 She argues that the creation of these additional links can be used to widen a man’s sphere of influence, but that women are not able to participate in these relationships which establish connections beyond natal or affinal kinship. Just as Clover’s work is foundational for the study of Old Norse gender in general, the work of Preben Meulengracht Sørensen is foundational for the focused study of men and masculinity from an unequivocally gendered perspective. In Meulengracht Sørensen’s important study, Norrønt nid: Forestillingen om den umandige man i de islandske sagaer, he explores the operation in Old Norse-Icelandic literature of sexualised insults.25 A revised version of this book was later published in English translation as The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society.26 This focused study, which (like Clover’s) mainly examines a selection of the sagas of Icelanders, is of utmost significance for our understanding of the operation of masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature as it suggests that Norse textual society is ‘to a very large extent based on an aggressive masculine ethic’,27 and, moreover, that an individual character’s manliness is open to challenge through insults aimed at his masculinity.28 Whereas Meulengracht Sørensen focuses on the ways in which masculinity can be questioned or undermined, Roberta Frank examines the ways in which 23

24

25 26 27 28

Helga Kress, ‘Taming the Shrew: The Rise of the Patriarchy and the Subordination of the Feminine in Old Norse Literature’, in Cold Counsel, ed. Anderson with Swenson, pp. 81–92. Pragya Vohra, ‘Creating Kin, Extending Authority: Blood-Brotherhood and Power in Medieval Iceland’, in The Palgrave Handbook of Masculinity and Political Culture in Europe, ed. Christopher Fletcher, Sean Brady, Rachel E. Moss, and Lucy Riall (London, 2018), pp. 105–31. Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, Norrønt nid. Forestillingen om den umandige man i de islandske sagaer (Odense, 1980). Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983). Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 21. For further studies of Old Norse insult see, for example: Folke Ström, Níð, ergi and Old Norse Moral Attitudes (London, 1974); Thomas L. Markey, ‘Nordic Níðvísur: An Instance of Ritual Inversion?’, Medieval Scandinavia 5 (1972), 7–18; Alison Finlay, ‘Níð, Adultery and Feud in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa’, Saga-Book 23 (1990–3), 158–78; Alison Finlay, ‘Monstrous Allegations: An Exchange of ýki in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa’, Alvíssmál 10 (2001), 21–44; and Joaquín Martínez Pizarro, ‘On Níð against Bishops’, Mediaeval Scandinavia 11 (1978/79), 149–53.

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock it can be reinforced in her paper ‘Why Skalds Address Women’. Here, Frank considers the role of female audiences and/or addressees of skaldic poetry, arguing that skalds address women as a means of proving – and having validated – their manliness.29 Creative activities, such as the composition of poetry, are not only associated with masculinity through the use of an audience to legitimise gender identity, but have also been read as having a broader connection to masculinity in myths. In her two-volume work on Old Norse myth, Prolonged Echoes, Margaret Clunies Ross explores the Old Norse myths and their reception in medieval Iceland.30 Although not primarily about the construction of gender or masculinity, these works are nevertheless important for our understanding of the conceptualisations of gender found within Old Norse myth and also for understanding gendered conceptualisations of the mythic corpus. Clunies Ross argues that masculinity in Old Norse myth is associated with ‘the categories of creativity, especially in the intellectual or spiritual sense, order, work and life’,31 suggests that the practice of seiðr is antithetical to masculine status,32 and demonstrates that the act of land-taking is coded as a masculine activity.33 Several other critics have found Old Norse myth a similarly fruitful source for the discussion of gender. In particular, Þórr’s gender performance in Þrymskviða has caught the attention of a number of scholars, including Clunies Ross. John McKinnell, in his article ‘Myth as Therapy: The Usefulness of Þrymskviða’, considers this Eddic poem’s potential social and psychological functions.34 He suggests that Þrymskviða may function as a therapeutic exploration of the loss and recovery of masculinity, and also of the reconciliation of masculinity and femininity. In ‘“Þegi þú, Þórr”: Gender, Class, and Discourse in Þrymskviða’, Jón Karl Helgason also regards masculinity as a central concern of the poem.35 Jón reads Þórr’s hammer as a symbol of his masculinity, and the loss and recovery of the hammer as symbolic of loss and recovery of masculine status. Clunies 29

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31 32 33 34 35

Roberta Frank, ‘Why Skalds Address Women’, in Poetry in the Scandinavian Middle Ages: Atti del 12o Congresso Internazionale di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, ed. Teresa Paroli (Spoleto, 1990), pp. 55–66. Margaret Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society – Volume 1: The Myths (Odense, 1994); Margaret Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society – Volume 2: The Reception of Norse Myths in Medieval Iceland (Odense, 1998). Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society – Volume 1, p. 187. Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society – Volume 1, pp. 208–11. Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society – Volume 2, pp. 122–57. John McKinnell, ‘Myth as Therapy: The Usefulness of Þrymskviða’, Medium Ævum 69.1 (2000), 1–20. Jón Karl Helgason, ‘“Þegi þú, Þórr”: Gender, Class, and Discourse in Þrymskviða’, in Cold Counsel, ed. Anderson with Swenson, pp. 159–66.

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Introduction Ross, in ‘Reading Þrymskviða’, also views the hammer as a symbol of Þórr’s masculinity, and the poem as one in which Þórr loses and regains his virility; the neat resolution of Þrymskviða – in addition to Þórr’s unconvincing performance of femininity – is seen as bolstering the patriarchal, masculine status quo.36 This attention to gender in Old Norse myth attests to the value of examining a range of literary genres. Whilst many analyses of Norse masculinities have focused on the sagas of Icelanders (in keeping with the general popularity of this genre with modern readers), Kristen Mills similarly demonstrates the importance of examining a wider range of genres to provide a fuller understanding of the different modalities of masculinity evinced in Old Norse-Icelandic literature. Her article ‘Grief, Gender, and Genre: Male Weeping in Snorri’s Account of Baldr’s Death, Kings’ Sagas, and Gesta Danorum’ investigates the acceptability of male tears in a range of texts.37 She demonstrates convincingly that while crying can be problematic for a man’s gender performance in the sagas of Icelanders, this is not necessarily the case in other genres of Old Norse-Icelandic literature. Sif Rikhardsdottir also discusses the interplay of emotion and masculinity in her ground-breaking book, Emotion in Old Norse Literature: Translations, Voices, Contexts, as well as demonstrating the value of studying texts from a range of genres. Chapter 4 of this book has particular relevance for the study of masculinity; it is here that Sif argues that the concealing or masking of emotion ‘seems to be a condition of masculinity’.38 A key figure in the study of Old Norse masculinities – who also ranges productively beyond the sagas of Icelanders in much of her work – is Ásdís Egilsdóttir. In 2016, the festschrift Fræðinæami: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur was published, which brought together a selection of Ásdís’ writings.39 The second section of this book is dedicated to her writings on Old Norse gender and masculinity. In ‘Kvendýrlingar og kvenímynd trúarlegra bókmennta á Íslandi’, Ásdís discusses the representation of female saints and holy women, and suggests that they can take on masculine characteristics.40 In ‘Kolbítur verður karlmaður’, Ásdís discusses 36

37

38 39

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Margaret Clunies Ross, ‘Reading Þrymskviða’, in The Poetic Edda: Essays on Old Norse Mythology, ed. Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington (London, 2002), pp. 180–94. For a similar argument, see Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society – Volume 1, pp. 109–11. Kristen Mills, ‘Grief, Gender, and Genre: Male Weeping in Snorri’s Account of Baldr’s Death, Kings’ Sagas, and Gesta Danorum’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 113.4 (2014), 472–96. Sif Rikhardsdottir, Emotion in Old Norse Literature: Translations, Voices, Contexts (Cambridge, 2017), p. 131. Fræðinæmi: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur, ed. Ármann Jakobsson, Gunnvör Karlsdóttir, Sif Ríkharðsdóttir, and Torfi Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2016). Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kvendýrlingar og kvenímynd trúarlegra bókmennta á Íslandi’, in Fræðinæmi, pp. 180–202. Originally published as: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kvendýrlingar

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock the development of young males (specifically the figure of the kolbítr) into masculine heroes, indicating that this is a status that has to be proved through performance and through separation from the mother.41 In ‘Með karlmannlegri hughreysti og hreinni trú’, Ásdís examines the masculine performances of religious men, suggesting that Christian texts and ideas had a significant influence on what were considered acceptable modes of masculinity.42 In ‘En verden skabes – en mand bliver til’, Ásdís explores young males’ transitions to adult masculinity focusing in particular on tests or initiations that prove the young man’s masculinity and endow him with masculine status.43 In ‘Masculinity and / or Peace? On Eyrbyggja saga’s Máhlíðingamál’, Ásdís argues that masculinity is the central concern in this poem and that the character of Þórarinn is forced to demonstrate his masculinity for both other men and for women in the saga.44 And in ‘Esja’s Cave: Giantesses, Sons and Mothers in Kjalnesinga Saga’, Ásdís suggests that this saga is particularly concerned with the construction of masculinity, especially the young male’s transition to manhood and the role played by mothers and mother-figures in facilitating this transition.45 Ármann Jakobsson has also considered the textual construction of masculinities. He has examined the representation of masculinity in Njáls saga in two articles. In ‘Ekki kosta munur: Kynjasaga frá 13. öld’, Ármann notes the text’s preoccupation with issues of gender and suggests that constructions of

41

42

43

44

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og kvenímynd trúarlegra bókmennta á Íslandi’, in Konur og kristsmenn: Þættir úr kristnisögu Íslands, ed. Inga Huld Hákonardóttir (Reykjavík, 1996), pp. 91–116. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kolbítur verður karlmaður’, in Fræðinæmi, pp. 157–69. Originally published as: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kolbítur verður karlmaður’, in Miðaldabörn, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Torfi Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2005), pp. 87–100. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Með karlmannlegri hughreysti og hreinni trú’, in Fræðinæmi, pp. 146–56. Originally published as: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Með karlmannlegri hughreysti og hreinni trú’, in Hugvísindaþing 2005: Erindi af ráðstefnu Hugvísindadeildar og Guðfræðideildar Háskóla Íslands 18. november 2005, ed. Haraldur Bernharðsson, Margrét Guðmundsdóttir, Ragnheiður Kristjánsdóttir, and Þórdís Gísladóttir (Reykjavík, 2006), pp. 31–40. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘En verden skabes – en mand bliver til’, in Fræðinæmi, pp. 170–180. Originally published as: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘En verden skabes – en mand bliver til’, in Fornaldarsagaerne: Myter og virkelighed: studier i de oldislandske fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Agneta Ney, Ármann Jakobsson, and Annette Larsen (Copenhagen, 2009), pp. 245–54. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Masculinity and / or Peace? On Eyrbyggja saga’s Máhlíðingamál’, in Fræðinæmi, pp. 109–19. Originally published as: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Masculinity and / or Peace? On Eyrbyggja saga’s Máhlíðingamál’, in Frederic Amory in Memoriam: Old Norse-Icelandic Studies, ed. John Lindow and George Clark (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2015), pp. 135–46. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Esja’s Cave: Giantesses, Sons, and Mothers in Kjalnesinga saga’, in Fræðinæmi, pp. 120–30. Originally published as: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Esja’s Cave: Giantesses, Sons, and Mothers in Kjalnesinga saga’, in Meetings at the Borders: Studies Dedicated to Professor Władysław Duczko, ed. Joanna Popielska-Grzybowska and Jadwiga Iwaszczuk with Bożena Józefów-Czerwińsak (Pułtusk, 2016), pp. 79–84.

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Introduction gender are troubled in this saga.46 He sees the text as ‘hinsegin saga’ (a queer saga), in which ‘[k]arlmennskan er goðsögn sem er handan raunverulegra karlmanna’ ([m]asculinity is a myth that is beyond real men).47 Similarly, in ‘Masculinity and Politics in Njáls saga’, Ármann analyses the workings of masculinity in Njála, arguing persuasively that the saga problematises dominant models of masculinity.48 He has also considered the construction of masculinity in other sources. In ‘Hinn fullkomni karlmaður: Ímyndarsköpun fyrir biskupa á 13. öld’, for example, Ármann investigates the representation of clerical masculinities, focusing on Bishops Gizurr Ísleifsson and Friðrekr in particular.49 Carl Phelpstead has also examined the construction and operation of masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic texts through a number of articles. With these, he has significantly furthered the theoretical models available to us for the study of Norse masculinities. In ‘Masculinity and Sexuality in Sagas of Scandinavian Royal Saints’, Phelpstead demonstrates that the characters of these sagas exhibit multiple, and often competing, masculinities over the course of their lives; in doing so, he draws attention to the fact that we must consider, and be prepared to analyse, multiple forms of masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic texts.50 In ‘The Sexual Ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka’, Phelpstead makes use of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s conceptualisations of homosociality to explore gendered inter-character dynamics. He thereby suggests the utility of Sedgwick’s framework for the study of gender and sexuality in Old Norse-Icelandic literature.51 And in two linked articles – ‘Size Matters: Penile Problems in Sagas of Icelanders’ and ‘Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Loss, the Tonsure, and Masculinity in Medieval Iceland’ – he explores two different elements of masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic texts, and in doing so examines and establishes the utility of psychoanalytic (and particularly Lacanian) frameworks for the study of Old Norse masculinity.52 46 47 48 49 50

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Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Ekki kosta munur: Kynjasaga frá 13. öld’, Skírnir 174 (2000), 21–48. Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Ekki kosta munur’, p. 35. Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Masculinity and Politics in Njáls Saga’, Viator 38 (2007), 191–215. Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Hinn fullkomni karlmaður: Ímyndarsköpun fyrir biskupa á 13. öld’, Studia theologica islandica 25 (2007), 119–30. Carl Phelpstead, ‘Masculinity and Sexuality in Sagas of Scandinavian Royal Saints’, in Scandinavia and Christian Europe in the Middle Ages: Papers of the 12th International Saga Conference, Bonn, Germany, 28th July – 2nd August 2003, ed. Rudolf Simek and Judith Meurer (Bonn, 2003), pp. 421–28. Carl Phelpstead, ‘The Sexual Ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka’, Scandinavian Studies 75.1 (2003), 1–24. Carl Phelpstead, ‘Size Matters: Penile Problems in Sagas of Icelanders’, Exemplaria 19.3 (2007), 420–37; Carl Phelpstead, ‘Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Loss, the Tonsure, and Masculinity in Medieval Iceland’, Scandinavian Studies 85.1 (2013), 1–19.

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock Like Phelpstead, David Clark has also productively read Old NorseIcelandic literature alongside theories of gender and sexuality. His book, Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga, provides several detailed analyses of masculinity.53 In chapter 2 of this book, Clark explores the operation of homosociality and homophobia in the Helgi poems of the Poetic Edda, drawing on the work of Sedgwick and suggesting its utility for the study of masculinities in Old Norse poetry; in Chapter 3, he explores the representation of kin-slaying (particularly fratricide) in the Poetic Edda; in Chapter 4, he discusses the operation of phallic aggression in Gísla saga; and, in Chapter 5, he explores the interplay of different models of masculinity – secular and clerical – in saga literature. In their chapter on ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’ in A Handbook to Eddic Poetry, David Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir further consider the construction and representation of maleness and masculinity in the Poetic Edda. They suggest that while many of the poems of the Edda are inhabited by ‘tough guys’, they nevertheless also ‘show the cracks and fissures in such strenuous performances of masculinity’.54 The portrayal of masculinities in Eddic narratives (as well as a legendary saga) is also analysed in Jessica Clare Hancock’s Oxford doctoral thesis, ‘Beyond Sorrow and Swords: Gender in the Old Norse Völsung Legend and its British Rewritings’55 in which she examines masculinities in both the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga. Hancock argues that masculinities in these texts are often closely connected to violence, but become complicated by courtliness and the fluidity offered by human and animal shape-shifting (as well as other supernatural abilities). The Völsung legend also proves a productive source for Agneta Ney; in her book, Bland ormar och drakar: Hjältemyt och manligt ideal i berättartraditioner om Sigurd Fafnesbane, she examines portrayals of the dragon-slayer Sigurðr Fáfnisbani, a key figure of the Völsung legend, in both pictorial and textual sources.56 A primary concern of Ney’s book is to consider the representations of Sigurðr in relation to masculinity. A consideration of Old Norse masculinities from a more historical than literary-critical perspective is offered by two doctoral theses. Bjørn Bandlien’s Oslo Dr. Philos. thesis ‘Man or Monster?: Negotiations of Masculinity in Old Norse Society’ attempts to chart historical changes in the constitution of masculinity from the Viking Age to the early thirteenth century.57 And Henric David Clark, Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga (Oxford, 2012). Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’, p. 347. 55 Jessica Clare Hancock, ‘Beyond Sorrow and Swords: Gender in the Old Norse Volsung Legend and its British Rewritings’ (doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2014). 56 Agneta Ney, Bland ormar och drakar: Hjältemyt och manligt ideal i berättartraditioner om Sigurd Fafnesbane (Lund, 2017). 57 Bandlien, ‘Man or Monster?’. 53 54

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Introduction Bagerius’ Göteborgs Universitet thesis – ‘Mandom och mödom: Sexualitet, homosocialitet och aristokratisk identitet på det senmedeltida Island’ – interrogates the function of sexuality in the construction and maintenance of chivalric masculinities within the aristocracy.58 Most recently, Gareth Lloyd Evans has produced the first literary-critical monograph on masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic saga literature, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders.59 This book explores the construction, operation, and problematisation of masculinities across the Íslengdingasaga corpus, and demonstrates the utility of theories of hegemonic masculinity and of intersectionality for the study of Old Norse masculinities. Like Phelpstead and Clark, Evans draws upon Sedgwick’s conceptualisations of homosociality to analyse Old Norse-Icelandic literature, and in doing so also considers the implications that Old Norse-Icelandic material hold for Sedgwick’s theorisations. As will be evident from the above summaries of some of the works most relevant to the study of Old Norse masculinity, the study of masculinities in this literature remains at a relatively early stage. Although there has been a burgeoning number of studies in recent decades that explicitly examine the construction of Norse masculinity, the relevance of many works to the study of masculinity is incidental to their authors’ primary concern. There is still much to be done in the field of Old Norse masculinity studies: as has been observed, the sagas of Icelanders are presently over-represented in studies of Norse masculinities (as, indeed, they are in Old Norse-Icelandic studies in general) while many other genres are treated in less depth (or, indeed, not at all), despite the evidence that masculinities are clearly variable across genres. It is also notable that the study of Norse masculinity has tended to advance – apart from a handful of exceptions – through disparate articles rather than focused, book-length studies. A primary aim of the present volume is to bring together in one book a range of perspectives on Old Norse masculinities, taking into account various textual sources and genres, and thus to provide a coherent overview of the current – vibrant – state of the field and encourage the further research into Norse masculinities that is so urgently needed. This volume is divided into three sections, each containing four chapters, which address different aspects of Old Norse masculinities. The first section examines the concept of ‘Becoming Masculine’, with two chapters that explore this process in conjunction with the development of saga characters from boys to men, and another two that interrogate the concept of female masculinity. Both of these approaches, from the outset, put the category of masculinity under pressure, examining what it looks like in bodies that are not stereotypically associated with masculinity, and so provide a reconsideration of some of the assumptions around what masculinity might be. Oren 58

Bagerius, ‘Mandom och mödom’. Men and Masculinities.

59 Evans,

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock Falk’s chapter, ‘Boyhood, Saga-Style: From Mannsefni to Maðr’ examines representations of mannsefni, or ‘the man to be’, in childhood in the sagas of Icelanders (Íslendingasögur) and contemporary sagas (samtíðarsögur). He argues that examining pre-adult gender identities enables us to acknowledge how masculinity begins to be constructed and, in doing so, offers fresh insight into both childhood and masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature through the combination of these two areas of study. Falk demonstrates how pre-adulthood can be analysed as providing training in a particular kind of masculinity, often involving violence and physical prowess, with self-sufficiency and agency being important characteristics. The next chapter, Matthew Roby’s ‘The Licit Love Visit: Masculine Sexual Maturation and the “Temporary Troll Lover” Trope’ also considers masculinity as it is expressed by youthful characters but, unlike Falk who offers a survey of masculinity across a variety of texts and ages, Roby focuses tightly on a particular theme as it appears in four fornaldarsögur: that of sexual initiation of a human male character through a relationship with a troll-woman. Close analyses of this particular trope provide new insights into the intersection of sexuality and masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature and also how masculinity can be informed through encounters with the Other. Roby argues against existing analyses of these encounters as acting merely to assist in a hero’s quest and instead emphasises the initially passive role of the male characters, suggesting that maturation towards a more dominant masculinity is learnt through sex with the troll-women, which becomes a rite of passage and preparation for subsequent marriage to a human woman. Yet this narrative of male sexual privilege is productively contradicted by the final text examined, Ketils saga hængs, which provides a critique of this rehearsal bride motif, demonstrating the existence of conflicting ideas about the connections between male sexuality, masculinity, and transitions from youth to adulthood. If examinations of how masculinity is formed and developed call into question the idea of masculinity as innate, this is further destabilised by the consideration of instances where masculinity is no longer something that is solely connected to male bodies. Gareth Lloyd Evans addresses some key moments where this occurs in his chapter, ‘Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders’. Evans interrogates three scenes that demonstrate the critical possibilities of using a female masculinities framework in the study of Old Norse-Icelandic literature: Auðr wearing male-coded clothing and attacking her husband with a sword while he lies in bed in Laxdœla saga; Ólof impersonating a male warrior to protect herself and her maid from rape in Víglundar saga; and Freydís’ stout self-defence in Eiríks saga rauða. Evans offers alternative readings of these moments from previous critics through his connection of the female characters to masculinity. He argues that male masculinity is critiqued through these scenes as is the naturalised link between men and masculinity. Not only are previous concepts of masculinity thus expanded, but these are also challenged by masculinities that can be more successfully performed by female characters than male.

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Introduction This crucial troubling of links between maleness and masculinity is also explored in the next chapter, ‘“With mirthful merriment”: Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls’ by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir. Jóhanna argues that the courtly and heroic model of masculinity that appears in Norse romance (which is very different from the masculinities that focus on restraint, chivalry, and emotion present in European texts) is interrogated through its performance in Mágus saga by the approbation of Mágus, whose masculinity is non-normative, and of a cross-dressing woman. The theme of disguise which occurs throughout the text is used to destabilise the homosocial nature of the court itself, especially in the case of Ermenga who takes on a male name and the identity of a knight; she is able to rule in her husband’s absence, with her style of governance being revealed to be more praiseworthy than his. Ermenga is shown to be able to adopt masculinity or femininity at different points in the saga, according to which best suits her strategy at the time; she – like Auðr, Ólof, and Freydís – demonstrates that masculinity is a constructed identity category that a female character can excel at performing and that gender is not necessarily connected to sex. Whilst some attention has been paid to femininity in Old Norse romance, Jóhanna illustrates the importance of paying similar attention to masculinity rather than accepting this as a simpler or more stable identity. The first section, therefore, aims to confront assumptions that might be made about masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, such as its innate nature or simple associations between masculinity and maleness. The second section – ‘Masculinity, Power, and Vulnerability’ – advocates the importance of a deeper understanding of Norse masculinity through explorations of how dominant masculinities intersect with ideas about power and vulnerability. In his chapter ‘Vulnerable Masculinities and the Vicissitudes of Power in GönguHrólfs saga’, Philip Lavender produces a focused study of how this theme is expressed in one particular legendary saga. He adds to the challenges to Clover’s one-gender model, addressed earlier in this introduction, by questioning its linear model of power and its neglect of genres of Old NorseIcelandic literature outside of the sagas of Icelanders. An examination of Göngu-Hrólfs saga provides a counter to both these issues, with Lavender drawing attention to the ways in which masculinities are put under pressure, whether by disability or restrictions on agency, and how these stressors can make meeting the expectations of a normative masculinity difficult or impossible. Lavender argues that masculinity cannot be examined in isolation and that consideration needs to be given to the ways in which masculinities interact with other aspects of identity and contemporary power structures. Ásdís Egilsdóttir similarly addresses power, but in a very different context: that of Christianity in medieval Iceland. Her chapter ‘Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence’ interrogates how churchmen were able to perform recognisable masculinities despite their inability to express masculinity through violence or sexual conquests. She argues that masculinities which embraced peace instead of conflict were seen as viable, with the adoption of Christianity

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock providing an alternative model for masculinity. Furthermore, hagiographical texts demonstrate how religious men can embody a masculinity connected to courage and authority without an accompanying need for violence. Ásdís’ examination of the new kinds of masculinities introduced to Iceland alongside Christianity is a further reminder of the importance of exploring less frequently studied texts in broadening our understanding of gender in Old Norse-Icelandic literature; her chapter also offers a complement to Lavender’s analysis of the interaction of power and masculinity in secular society. Further exploration of specific models of masculinity and their interaction with social structures is provided by Thomas Morcom in his chapter ‘Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna and the Defusal of Kingly Aggression’. Morcom analyses yet another genre of Old Norse-Icelandic literature, the kings’ sagas (konungasögur). Through an examination of the function of the hirð (the king’s retinue), he demonstrates how masculinities are produced and reinforced through the relationships between the king and his men. In doing so, Morcom reads Morkinskinna – a late thirteenth-century manuscript which compiles various narratives related to eleventh- and twelfth-century Norwegian kings – alongside recent critical theory that introduces the concept of inclusive masculinity, a model that explains how dominant forms of masculinity can accept those who perform less normative masculinities. Morcom argues that this concept illuminates the masculinities connected to kings who share rulership, as well as the ways in which hyper-masculine identities can be moderated. Morcom’s chapter demonstrates the benefits of bringing cutting-edge theory into dialogue with medieval texts: their synthesis here enables a fresh understanding of Old Norse masculinity and its connection to kingly power. The final chapter of this section returns the focus to vulnerability rather than power and investigates this theme in relation to emotion. In ‘Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking: Negotiations of Masculinity in Egils saga’, Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir argues that while hegemonic masculinity normally denigrates obvious expressions of emotion, Egill in Egils saga is shown to be emotionally vulnerable as well as exhibiting the more common masculine traits of dominance, aggression, and heroism. Brynja explores concepts of melancholy and lovesickness as expressed in courtly literature contemporary with Egils saga, and shows that the adaptation of these emotive scripts into saga literature produces an ambiguous picture of Egill, who is at times portrayed as an aggressive viking and at others helplessly lovesick. The mixture of these models of masculine behaviour – the native aggressive model with the expressively emotional model of courtly European literature – does not undermine Egill’s masculinity, as might be expected, but instead augments it. Brynja’s chapter thus demonstrates the importance of conceptualising Norse models of masculinity in relation to models of masculinity prevalent in other European literatures in order to consider their interplay and interaction. The third and last section of this book – ‘Men’s Relationships’ – focuses on how masculinities are developed in relations between men: whether as

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Introduction clerics, bedpartners, rivals, or relatives. Alison Finlay’s chapter, ‘“Þat þótti illr fundr”: Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa’ examines masculinities in skaldic verse as well as saga prose. Finlay investigates the concept of níð, a visual or verbal insult punishable by law, and the potential shame attached to being part of a male homosexual act. In contrast to other critics, she establishes a case for the níð in Bjarnar saga being less unusual than previously thought, through a consideration of similar incidents in other Old Norse-Icelandic texts. Male sexual submission, whether depicted in a carved object or in poetry, is shown to be opposed to hegemonic masculinity. Yet Finlay also argues that the creator of the níð which represents a male character sexually dominating another man risks his own hegemonic masculinity at the same time as he attempts to denigrate that of his rival. The connections between masculinity and male relationships are also explored in David Ashurst’s chapter, ‘Male Bedpartners and the “Intimacies of a Wife”: rekkjufélagar and vífs rúnar’. Here – by drawing on a vast range of Old Norse-Icelandic sources – Ashurst argues that, unlike the níð discussed in the previous chapter with its overt depiction of sex, bedsharing between men was often about intimacy unconnected to sexual desire. The bond created by bedsharing was not necessarily erotic, but instead social and often deeply emotional. This chapter provides a clear example of the importance of examining masculinity in the context of contemporary historical and cultural norms and of avoiding assumptions that might come from twentyfirst century notions of masculine behaviour (in this case, for example, those surrounding the likely reasons for male bedsharing). Ashurst’s chapter also emphasises the usefulness of Old Norse masculinities for drawing attention to the ways in which masculinities of other periods and literatures might exhibit variations in their construction. Ashurst ends his chapter with a comment about how the devotion between bedsharers might echo ideas of religious love between men; Carl Phelpstead’s chapter, ‘Companions, Conflicts, and Concubines: Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups’ directly addresses the implications for masculinity of religious men’s relationships. As Phelpstead notes in this chapter, studies of Old Norse masculinity have largely overlooked clerical masculinities and Old Norse-Icelandic scholarship in general has not paid as much attention to the fourteenth century as it has to other periods. In focusing on Lárentíus saga in his chapter – and by providing a focused investigation of clerical masculinity in this text – Phelpstead simultaneously contributes to both of these areas. Phelpstead argues that, in this text, masculinity is constructed for clerics through intimate relationships with other men, by the homosocial communities that they interact with, and also through their relationships with women. Clerical friendships are depicted as particularly hierarchical, in contrast with aristocratic male friendships, which have been more commonly examined in Old Norse-Icelandic literature. Like Finlay, Phelpstead observes the importance of conflict for the formation of masculinities in the context of homosocial settings, such as schools or monasteries. In contrast to other

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock genres of Old Norse-Icelandic literature, relationships with women are rarer and become much less important. The importance of relationships between men is viewed from a different but complementary angle in the final chapter of the book, Jessica Clare Hancock’s ‘“That which a hand gives a hand or a foot gives a foot”: Male Kinship Obligations in the Heroic Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga’. This chapter examines family relations rather than friendships. Hancock addresses how masculinity can be constructed in the relationships between fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, or brothers through an analysis of the Völsung legend as it appears in its Eddic and saga iterations. Whereas some criticism has addressed either gender or sibling relationships in these texts, Hancock offers a reading of how male family relationships can construct masculinity as either innate or learnt, and also establish as well as question a hegemonic heroic masculinity. Several memorable scenes, such as Gunnarr asking for his brother’s heart on a platter, and two brothers encountering and killing their half-brother, demonstrate how family bonds are frequently severed by violence, and also how the texts repeatedly return to explorations of family duty, loyalty, and conflicts that seem ultimately irresolvable. Hancock argues that this is due to the nature of family, which emphasises both similarity and difference, and engenders rivalry as much as allegiance. In the Afterword, Evans and Hancock consider the ethical implications of studying Old Norse masculinities, arguing that exploring the social construction of masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature is an important feminist undertaking that is all the more urgent given contemporary misappropriations of these texts. The significance of this undertaking means that, although Masculinities in Old Norse Literature is the first collection of essays that takes this topic as its focus, we very much expect – and, indeed, hope – that it will not be the last. Masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic literature is a growing field and the chapters gathered in this collection give a snapshot of its current shape and predominant critical and theoretical concerns. The contributors to this volume include scholars from all academic career stages: graduate students to emeritus professors. We hope that this volume will appeal to a similarly wide readership — encompassing undergraduate and graduate students, junior and senior academics alike — and so inspire engagement both with the ideas presented here and with masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature more broadly. This collection of essays will also enable scholars of other medieval literatures to compare the masculinities encountered in their fields with those present in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, and consequently open up avenues for future comparative research. The chapters in this volume each seek to be vital contributions to the discipline but – as with any scholarly exchange – they are not, and should not serve as, the final word. There is more to be thought and to be written about masculinities in Old NorseIcelandic literature – pervading, as they do, every aspect of the corpus – and we invite, and encourage, readers to take part in the conversation.

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i 

becoming masculine

Boyhood, Saga-Style: From Mannsefni to Maðr Oren Falk1

When Bjorn ˛ Hítdoelakappi first lays eyes on him, Kolli Oddnýjuson is a mere toddler, busily loafing about, as boys his age are wont to do, at an autumn þing (assembly) in western Iceland’s Borgarfjorðr. ˛ Bjǫrn, eponymous hero of his saga, has been told that Kolli is the son of his arch-nemesis, Þórðr Kolbeinsson, who had duplicitously stolen his intended bride, Oddn´y from him. But one glance is enough to persuade him that this report cannot be true. In an impromptu stanza, Bjǫrn declares: r[ennandi …] runnr dǫkkmara […] œgiligr í augum, at glíki mér, víka […] þeygi […] sinn fǫður, kunna. (the sprig of dusky steeds of the bay[,] running […] eyes blazing, in my likeness […] does not know […] his father.)2 The double-crossing Þórðr has evidently been double-crossed himself; already at the time of the boy’s conception, Bjǫrn had predicted that ‘gæti son sæta […] ríklunduð mér glíkan’ (soon the spirited lady’s son [will be born] in my image),3 and now it is, indeed, the youngster’s looks that give him away 1

2 3

This chapter originated as a paper presented at the Sixteenth International Saga Conference in Zurich (12 August 2015); I am greatly indebted to participants for helpful feedback, especially Ármann Jakobsson, Carolyne Larrington, Rebecca Merkelbach, Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir, and Elizabeth Walgenbach, as well as to Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir for her invaluable critical comments on a later draft. Translations, except where otherwise attributed (usually to Complete Sagas of Icelanders, ed. Viðar Hreinsson et al., 5 vols [Reykjavík, 1997]; henceforth CSI), are mine. Bjarnar saga, pp. 171–72 (v. 29). I have adapted Alison Finlay’s translation (CSI, vol. 1, p. 285). Bjarnar saga, p. 145 (v. 12). I have adapted Alison Finlay’s translation (CSI, vol. 1, p. 272).

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Oren Falk as the fruit of Þórðr’s cuckolding. Bjǫrn confidently asserts that no child this promising could have sprung from the loins of his treacherous rival: little Kolli has about him ‘it fríðasta mannsefni’ (the most handsome makings of a man), a telltale dignity of disposition. Mannsefni – ‘a man to be’, as one dictionary definition has it – is a word that is all potential: the boy Bjǫrn observes is only ‘nǫkkurra vetra gamall’ (a few winters old),4 and is still no more than four or five some years later, when he takes part in his father’s slaying.5 At that autumn þing, Kolli’s manliness, already visible to the discerning eye, is still a prediction, entirely unrealized. The word thus captures an immanent tension between the present of childhood and the future of manhood: the latter is foreshadowed, but not yet actualized, within the former. This same tension between present and future, childhood and manliness, is showcased when, ostensibly half a century or so earlier,6 one of Víga-Hörðr Grímkelsson’s outlaws loses his temper at the son of a farmer. The two had gone up into the heath to round up some runaway horses, and it emerges that the boy had (perhaps inadvertently) injured a stallion belonging to Hörðr. The outlaw condemns him less for what he had just done, however, than for the dim prospects he foresees in him: ‘Þú munt vera illt mannsefni, ok eigi skaltu mörgum góðum gripum spilla heðan af’ (You have the makings of a bad man, nor may you destroy many good treasures from here on in), he tells the lad before setting upon him. When Hörðr learns of what has happened, he roundly condemns his companion for having ‘drepit ungmenni eitt, ok þó saklaust’ (slain a young man on his own, and guiltless at that), and echoes his fellow outlaw’s prediction, transposing it from the future to the present tense: ‘Þú ert illr maðr’ (You are a bad man).7 Mannsefni, potential masculinity, has become concrete maðr, ‘man’. Ironically, the farmer lad’s untimely demise seems to have immediately fulfilled rather than forestalled his killer’s prophecy – albeit in the person of the killer himself. The unfortunate boy, for better or worse, will never grow up to realize his mannsefni. This chapter seeks to insert itself into the tension crystallized within this word: the potential futurity of manhood tugging in one direction, the real presence of childhood pulling in the other. I focus on the corpus of what may be termed the ‘historical sagas’: sagas of Icelanders (Íslendingasögur) and 4

5

6 7

Bjarnar saga, p. 171: ‘Þat hafði verit um sumarit, at Kolli inn prúði var ungr, at Bjǫrn kom til leiðar, en sveinninn rann þar nǫkkurra vetra gamall ok it fríðasta mannsefni’ (It happened one summer when Kolli inn prúði was young that Bjǫrn came to an autumn þing, but the boy ran about there, a few winters old, and he had the most handsome makings of a man). For the definition of mannsefni, see Cleasby-Vigfússon, s.v. maðr (elsewhere, they suggest ‘a promising young man’, s.v. efni). See also Fritzner, s.v. mannsefni: ‘Person som der kan blive Mand af’. Bjarnar saga, pp. 201–02; for the saga’s reconstructed chronology, see Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson, ‘Formáli’, in Borgfirðinga sögur, Íslenzk fornrit 3 (Reykjavík, 1938), pp. v–clvi, at p. lxxxviii. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, ‘Formáli’, in Harðar saga, pp. v– ccxxviii, at p. xliv. Harðar saga, p. 55.

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Boyhood, Saga-Style contemporary sagas (mostly compiled within Sturlunga saga). The two genres were committed to parchment in the thirteenth century or later but claim to recount factually-based narratives about Icelanders in the long tenth century (c. 870–1030) and the short thirteenth (c. 1200–64), respectively.8 Historical in their orientation, these sagas encapsulate a peculiar slice of medieval Icelanders’ cognitive and cultural realities, not comfortably datable to either the 900s or the 1200s (and beyond). They capture Icelanders’ ideology of the past – what anthropologist Kirsten Hastrup has called their ‘uchronia’ – an idealized and motivated version of societal memory whose authenticity they vouched for. In focusing on saga notions of mannsefni, then, we are looking at how present and future strained against each other within a semantic configuration which itself was projected onto and apprehended within the past.9 In recent years, there has been increasing interest in saga masculinities, and likewise (once the ghost of Philippe Ariès was exorcised) a growing body of work on childhood and youth in the sagas – but few scholars have expressly sought to investigate the overlap of these two conceptual fields: to examine manliness at the stage before it has reached maturity, or to investigate boys specifically as gendered creatures.10 The two conceptual fields are uneven, which arguably dictates incompatible approaches. On the one hand, materials pertaining to masculine gender parameters in the sagas are so ubiquitous that they easily overwhelm any attempt at synoptic and synthetic reading. Anything and everything may be relevant. Students of Norse masculinity have thus tended either to assume the central tenet at the heart 8

Following scholarly convention, I refer to these saga genres (as well as to the kings’ sagas and the bishops’ sagas, not extensively canvassed here) as primarily historical, in contradistinction from the more fantastic fornaldar and riddarasögur; generic similarities between the sagas of Icelanders and contemporary sagas make them more alike than the differences distinguish them from each other. See, for example, William Ian Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland (Chicago and London, 1990), pp. 44–51. For discussion of youthful masculinity in the fornaldarsögur – particularly in relation to questions of developing sexuality – see Roby, this volume. 9 See Kirsten Hastrup, A Place Apart: An Anthropological Study of the Icelandic World (Oxford, 1998), pp. 178–79. The paragraph above presents a highly condensed version of an argument I develop more fully in This Spattered Isle: Violence and Risk in Medieval Iceland (Oxford, forthcoming). 10 Two rare exceptions are Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kolbítur verður karlmaður’, in Miðaldabörn, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Torfi H. Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2005), pp. 87–100, and Carolyne Larrington, ‘Awkward Adolescents: Male Maturation in Norse Literature’, in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, ed. Shannon LewisSimpson (Leiden, 2008), pp. 151–66; see also Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019), pp. 64–78. On childhood and youth, see further Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Viking Childhood’, in Childhood in History: Perceptions of Children in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds, ed. Reidar Aasgaard and Cornelia Horn, with Oana Maria Cojocaru (London and New York, 2018), pp. 290–304. On Ariès and his legacy, see Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Troublesome Children in the Sagas of Icelanders’, Saga-Book 27 (2003), 5–24, at pp. 5–6.

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Oren Falk of their investigation as a given, without bothering to interrogate it closely, or to zoom in on performances of masculinity in narrowly circumscribed and often extreme (not to say aberrant) circumstances, where men’s gender identity might be called into question or thrust into jeopardy.11 Students of Norse childhood, meanwhile, have had to contend with the opposite problem: their evidentiary corpus is so thin that it seems unprofitable to exclude from consideration any data pertaining to young people, regardless of sex. (It is also true, as Chris Callow notes, that most of what the sagas tell about children is, in fact, about males in their early teens, which may seem to obviate the need to isolate gender as a variable: what we know about children and what we know about teenaged boys are nearly one and the same thing.)12 Nevertheless, the possibility I propose to explore here is that – if we are to take gender seriously13 – we must attend to the formative years of pre-adulthood as the proving ground on which masculinity (and, for that matter, femininity) was beaten into shape and perpetuated. Youth, then, can function as the limiting criterion for our study of gender, a filter on the deluge of masculine signals which the sagas emit: the unevenness of our fields can make them complementary rather than incompatible, allowing us to capture a broad swathe of manliness in the narrow circumstances of its formation. To take gender seriously means, I think, to approach it as a pervasive and systemic logic of social organization, an inherently relational logic in which sexual difference is merely a surface idiom for creating, maintaining, and

11

The former tendency is exemplified even by such subtle studies as Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Masculinity and Politics in Njáls saga’, Viator 38 (2007), 191–215, which – while it concludes that Njáls saga subverts typical ideals of manliness – nevertheless takes for granted the notions of masculinity so subverted. See also Judith Jesch’s magisterial Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse (Woodbridge, 2001). For some examples of the latter tendency (on which, cf. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘Gender’, in The Routledge Research Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Sverrir Jakobsson [London, 2017], pp. 226–39, at p. 235), see Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983); Kari Ellen Gade, ‘Homosexuality and Rape of Males in Old Norse Law and Literature’, Scandinavian Studies 58 (1986), 124–41; Carl Phelpstead, ‘The Sexual Ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka’, Scandinavian Studies 75 (2003), 1–24; and William Layher, ‘Caught Between Worlds: Gendering the Maiden Warrior in Old Norse’, in Women in Medieval Epic: Gender, Genre, and the Limits of Epic Masculinity, ed. Sara S. Poor and Jana K. Schulman (New York and Basingstoke, 2007), pp. 183–208. 12 Chris Callow, ‘Transitions to Adulthood in Early Icelandic Society’, in Children, Childhood and Society, ed. Sally Crawford and Gillian Shepherd (Oxford, 2007), pp. 45–55, at p. 45. 13 Too often, scholars speak of ‘gender’ when what they really mean is ‘women’; see, for example, Lisa M. Bitel, who invokes a radical new methodology of gender, only to return in practice to a familiar historiography of women (‘Introduction: Convent Ruins and Christian Profession: Toward a Methodology for the History of Religion and Gender’, in Gender and Christianity in Medieval Europe: New Perspectives, ed. Lisa M. Bitel and Felice Lifshitz [Philadelphia, 2008], pp. 1–15).

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Boyhood, Saga-Style ideologizing power differentials.14 ‘Pervasive’ means that there is no escaping it: one can occupy no social position that is outside gender. The common saga topos of selective female infanticide illuminates this point: even a newborn, still without name or any other claim on life, is already slotted into gender. The paradigmatic criterion determining its fate is whether it is a boy or a girl.15 Gender is, moreover, ‘systemic’ in the sense that its dictates form an interlocking whole – riddled, of course, ‘by contradiction and instability’,16 but nevertheless tending to correlate disparate social phenomena into a cohesive, mutually reinforcing structure. That newborn boys could be exposed seemingly reveals a breach in the edifice of male privilege, an instance in which males might be subjected to lethal repression in much the same way as females. But that, according to the testimony of the sagas, they only ever were exposed under extraordinary circumstances highlights the way in which even chinks and contradictions could be co-opted to secure male privilege and enshrine it as the norm. Male infanticide remained the rare exception, an eyebrow-raising choice which had to be specially accounted for, rather than an accepted, even expected course of action.17 And this example also showcases the ‘relational’ aspect of the gender system: infrequent exposure of a male infant manifested differential distribution of power within the masculine sphere, but did so only through juxtaposition and contrast with the pervasive, systemic demotion of females (newborn or otherwise) to comparatively less powerful strata. No matter who lost on any specific occasion – whether the baby abandoned to an agonizing death were the typical unwanted girl or the rare despised boy – the patriarchy always won out.18 If gender formed an interlocking matrix which cradled all members of society in its palm, then infancy, childhood, adolescence – arguably 14

15

16 17 18

Compare Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Masculinity and / or Peace? On Eyrbyggja saga’s Máhlíðingamál’, in Fræðinæmi: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur, ed. Ármann Jakobsson, Gunnvör Karlsdóttir, Sif Ríkharðsdóttir, and Torfi Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2016), pp. 109–19, at p. 110. See, for example, Gunnlaugs saga, pp. 55–56; compare Finnboga saga, pp. 254–55, well analysed by Carol Clover, ‘The Politics of Scarcity: Notes on the Sex Ratio in Early Scandinavia’, Scandinavian Studies 60.2 (1988), 147–88, at p. 158. John Tosh, ‘What Should Historians do with Masculinity? Reflections on Nineteenth-century Britain’, History Workshop 38 (1994), 179–202, at p. 188. Compare Clover, ‘The Politics of Scarcity’, p. 157: ‘Femaleness itself is justification [for exposure]; no other explanation is necessary’. Callow suggests that exposure of babies was not intended to kill but to instigate adoption and fosterage (‘Transitions to Adulthood’, p. 47). Others, however, have argued, in my opinion persuasively, for the lethality of the practice (see, for example, Clover, ‘The Politics of Scarcity’, pp. 154–55; Nancy L. Wicker, ‘Selective Female Infanticide as Partial Explanation for the Dearth of Women in Viking Age Scandinavia’, in Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West, ed. Guy Halsall [Woodbridge, 1998], pp. 205–21; Else Mundal, ‘“Barn skal eigi lata dœya handa millim”: Um fátækra kvenna börn á milli tveggja siða’, in Miðaldabörn, pp. 17–26). Even the most compelling saga evidence against infanticidal intentions seems contrived: see, for example, Finnboga saga, p. 255.

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Oren Falk anachronistic terms for what Callow dubs the ‘transitions to adulthood’ – complemented and reinforced the gender system’s pervasive grip. We can see how the different conceptual fields converged and synergized by considering ‘Grámagaflím’, a bitingly satirical verse Bjǫrn Hítdœlakappi composed about his rival Þórðr’s mock-heroic parentage. The lampoon culminates in Þórðr’s birth, when his mother announces that she intends to rear her pup (‘sá hundbítr […] jafnsnjallr sem geit’ [a dog-biter, just as bold as a she-goat]): ‘Sveinn kom í ljós, sagt hafði drós […] at hon ala vildi’ (A boy came to light. The lady said […] that she wished to raise it up).19 Her proclamation implies that Þórðr’s fate had in fact been touch-and-go; a positive decision to refrain from exposing him could not be taken for granted and so needed to be adverted.20 Carol Clover has convincingly argued that ‘the aim of [Bjǫrn’s] insult was surely more than fiscal’, a jab at the poverty of Þórðr’s family (as Joseph Harris had argued); rather, the slur ‘must also imply femaleness – or, better yet, sexual ambiguity’.21 Clover’s line of reasoning may be extended to capture the intertwining of sexist and juventist derision in Bjǫrn’s jeering at Þórðr throughout the saga. Bjǫrn four times refers in verse to the déclassé and gender-fuzzy Þórðr as lítill sveinn or sveinn enn hvíti, a ‘small’ or ‘pale (i.e., frightened?) boy’, consigning him by implication to perpetual childhood. Bjǫrn even makes a point of repeating this ridicule when Þórðr is about to strike him dead: ‘Seinn til slíks móts, lítill sveinn’ (You’re a johnny-come-lately, little boy), he sneers at him, dramatizing his own sterling courage and his opponent’s chronic ineptitude.22 Youth, here, maps neatly over economic precariousness and gender mutability to paint Þórðr as an unworthy and incompetent pretender to full social personhood, a.k.a. masculinity. A dishonourable Peter Pan, Þórðr is trapped in a nevernever limbo: he is made of questionable mannsefni and can never mature into maðr.23 19

20

21 22 23

Bjarnar saga, pp. 168–69 (v. 28). I follow Joseph Harris’s translation (‘Satire and the Heroic Life: Two Studies (Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, 18 and Bjǫrn Hítdœlakappi’s Grámagaflím)’, in Oral Traditional Literature: A Festschrift for Albert Bates Lord, ed. John Miles Foley [Columbus, 1981], pp. 322–40, at p. 330). Harris explains (p. 340, n. 34) why translations like Alison Finlay’s (‘the birth was beginning’ for hon ala vildi, CSI, vol. 1, p. 283) should be rejected. Though the precise meaning of some details in this verse remains obscure or contentious, its overall thrust is unmistakably defamatory. It is, moreover, ironic (as Harris notes, ‘Satire and the Heroic Life’, p. 331) that the mother should make this call: the decision on whether a baby were to be raised would, in the normal course of things, be made by the father. Clover, ‘The Politics of Scarcity’, p. 159. Species ambiguity is likewise prominent in the poem, though not elsewhere in the saga. Bjarnar saga, p. 201; see also pp. 140–44 (vv. 3, 6, 9, and 11). Compare Njáls saga, p. 301, and Íslendinga saga, p. 317. This example further illuminates the futility of attempting to date the sagas’ vision of boyhood with any precision. Like Peter Pan – who first appeared in print and on stage at the beginning of the twentieth century, but whose image has remained culturally active ever since and is perhaps most familiar through his 1953 Disney

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Boyhood, Saga-Style For most saga boys, of course, pre-adulthood is but a passing phase, a burden they have to bear for a while but can confidently expect to shed eventually. As is well known, both the law codes and the sagas seem to envision twelve (or so) as the minimal age at which a boy might be considered mature, fifteen or sixteen as the more normal entry age into adulthood, and anywhere up to twenty as still a reasonable age for young men to hesitate at the threshold of maturity.24 When Þórðr kakali Sighvatsson in 1242 asks his nephew, Hrafn Oddsson, to support him in a campaign against Kolbeinn ungi Arnórsson, Hrafn declines on grounds of youth and inexperience: ‘“Hefi ek”, sagði hann, “eigi í ferðum verit með höfðingjum hér til”. Kvaðst hann ok eigi vita, hvárt hann myndi harðnaðr vera nökkut, þar er hann var lítt kominn af barnsaldri’ (‘I have never been on expedition with chieftains until now’, he said; he also attested that he did not know whether he was hardened enough, since he had just recently emerged from childhood). By revealing in an authorial aside that ‘Hrafn var þá sextán vetra’ (Hrafn was then sixteen years old), the narrator clues us into what Nic Percivall has rightly called ‘a masterly piece of political spin’: Hrafn chooses to define himself as falling just short of the threshold in an effort to avoid an inconvenient political and military entanglement.25 Not only does he lie to his uncle’s face (he had in fact participated in an expedition already the previous year),26 he also, ironically, displays his maturity precisely by denying it, exhibiting the kind of political cunning one would expect of a full-grown man. It may well be significant that Þórðr kakali himself (1210–56) is precisely twice Hrafn’s age – twice the man Hrafn claims not to be. Although the development of manliness does not follow a linear function as one grows older, we should suspect Hrafn (or the saga author, silently chuckling behind the scenes) of quite consciously crafting the contrast here between uncle and nephew. Hrafn’s example should help remind us that, in discussing pre-adulthood, we must not get too hung up on questions of precise chronology. At eighteen, Óláfr pái Hǫskuldsson could still likewise be considered to have ‘enn lítit af barns aldri’ (but recently left childhood behind). Despite the stated two-year age difference, we should imagine Hrafn and Óláfr as belonging to the same cohort. Keeping a precise tally of anyone’s birthdays would have been a tall order in a world that was probably by-and-large illiterate and innumerate – and a silly, pointless exercise, at that. Age was reckoned not with calendrical clockwork but with notational relativity: Óláfr is outstanding for someone so film adaptation – Þórðr represents a specific (negative) fantasy of youth, which exists uchronically, outside of linear time. 24 See, for example, Nic Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst: The Structures and Boundaries of Adolescence in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Iceland’, in Youth and Age, pp. 127–49, at pp. 134–37. See also Callow, ‘Transitions to Adulthood’, pp. 49–51, and Evans, Men and Masculinities, pp. 64–65. 25 Þórðar saga kakala, p. 10; Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst’, p. 148. 26 See Íslendinga saga, p. 449.

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Oren Falk young (‘Miklir ágætismenn eru slíkt, sem þú ert’ [Men such as yourself are great prodigies]),27 whereas Hrafn assiduously hides behind the apron of his youthful normalcy. Age was less a function of how many candles one had on one’s cake and more a question of how one presented (or chose to represent oneself): as immature or precocious, a youth or an adult, a boy or a man. Similarly, when Egils saga mentions that Egill Skalla-Grímsson’s grandson Grímr was ten at the time he was killed, it does not mean to say he had spent precisely 3,650 days on this Earth (or, taking leap years into account, 3,652 or -3) but to balance him, with the exacting equilibrium of feuding punctiliousness, against Ǫnundr sjóni Ánason’s ten-year-old grandson, slain on the other side in the same engagement.28 Many chapters earlier, when a six-year-old Egill killed another Grímr (Heggsson), that boy had been said to be ‘ellifu vetra eða tíu ok sterkr at jǫfnum aldri’ (eleven or ten years old, and strong for his age); the point had again been relative: to establish Grímr as the bigger and stronger boy, though still not full-grown. The saga author himself explicitly neither knows nor cares precisely how old he was, only that he was not quite at an age when anyone might consider him an adult, yet nearly twice Egill’s age.29 Within the long span of barnsaldr, ‘childhood’, the ages assigned to these boys function in much the same way as the proper names given to them – is it really any coincidence that both dead boys bear the same name as Egill’s abusive and abused father? – to locate them on a sliding scale relative to the saga’s protagonist and other characters. Absolute age mattered, then, only as a relative reference point. It allowed comparisons to be drawn among different boys,30 or a boy’s nominal biological youth to be favourably contrasted with his actual mature behaviour. Like Óláfr pái and Egill, many of the boys celebrated in the sagas are noted for their precocity which, as Peter Foote and David Wilson long ago remarked, typically manifests in asocial behaviour: ‘It is clear from many stories that people liked to see signs of manliness in a child, and this meant chiefly admiration for the obstreperous and defiant boy’.31 Grettir Ásmundarson, the notorious tenth-century future outlaw, is one such child; Gizurr Þorvaldsson, who would grow to deliver the coup de grâce to the free Icelandic Commonwealth in 1262–64, is another; Haraldr Sigurðarson, Norway’s future hard-ruling king (r. 1046–66), a third. A ten-year-old Grettir wreaks havoc on his father’s farm, expressing his displeasure with the chores Laxdœla saga, p. 53. Egils saga, p. 291. On the balance-sheet model of feuding, see Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking, pp. 179–220, and idem, ‘Why is your Axe Bloody?’: A Reading of Njáls saga (Oxford, 2014), pp. 73–87. 29 Egils saga, p. 99. 30 Mannjafnaðr, ‘comparison of men’, was something of a Norse obsession, according to the sagas. Much has been written on this practice and its poetic reflexes; see, for example, William Ian Miller, Eye for an Eye (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 174–79. 31 Peter Foote and David Wilson, The Viking Achievement: The Society and Culture of Early Medieval Scandinavia (London, 1970), p. 116. 27

28 See

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Boyhood, Saga-Style assigned to him by botching each in spectacular, bloody fashion; meanwhile, at fourteen or so (in 1223), Gizurr provides early insight into his flinty personality when he ‘stóð kyrr ok horfði einarðliga á móti Sighvati’ (stood still and unwaveringly returned the stare) of Sighvatr Sturluson, one of the most cold-blooded men in Iceland, who looked him up and down disapprovingly; and three-year-old Haraldr not only returned his adult half-brother St Óláfr’s menacing frown but, when the latter pulled his hair, gave as good as he got.32 Of the many things mature males might do or say, what was especially coded as culturally masculine was fiercely independent, aggressive resourcefulness, an unwillingness to back down in the face of challenge or adversity, and conversely an eager readiness to act precipitously to assert one’s own will. Boys liable to stand their ground (as Gizurr does when he meets Sighvatr’s glare, or Haraldr Óláfr’s), even to harass and assault others (as when Haraldr tugs on the king’s moustaches or when Grettir wrings the necks of his father’s geese and flays the old man’s mare – obeying the letter, while subverting the spirit, of his directives), were regarded as displaying admirable gendered behaviour beyond their years: when the six-year-old Egill has buried his axe in Grímr Heggsson’s skull, his mother delights to see in him ‘víkingsefni’ (the makings of a viking).33 Norse masculinity, as it emerges from the ideal these precocious boys embody, was a species of egocentric callousness. Barnsaldr comprised the years during which this ideal, if inherent, manifested itself in them or, if nurtured, was to be bred into them. For some form of conduct to count as precocious there must, as Anna Hansen sensibly notes, exist a standard of age-appropriate normalcy.34 Many of the broad benchmarks by which this standard was defined seem both culture- and gender-insensitive, thus unremarkable: infants were suckled at the breast,35 swaddled,36 and bedded in cots.37 Young children were cared for by their parents38 and prone to cry when left untended.39 Once ambulatory, they roamed in and around their homes (clumsily, at times),40 played on the Grettis saga, pp. 37–42; Íslendinga saga, p. 300; Óláfs saga helga, pp. 107–08. Compare also Droplaugarsona saga, p. 177, and Svarfdœla saga, p. 155. Egils saga, p. 100. Compare other instances of boys who tease or bully others, often older and stronger than themselves: Grettis saga, p. 133; Njáls saga, p. 28; Finnboga saga, p. 300. Larrington, ‘Awkward Adolescents’, discusses the examples of both Egill and Grettir. Anna Hansen, ‘The Precocious Child: A Difficult Thirteenth-Century Icelandic Saga Ideal’, in Scandinavian and Christian Europe in the Middle Ages: Papers of the 12th International Saga Conference Bonn/Germany, 28th July – 2nd August 2003, ed. Rudolf Simek and Judith Meurer (Bonn, 2003), pp. 220–28, at p. 221. See, for example, Flóamanna saga, p. 288; Hrafns saga, p. 221: ‘kona hans […] bar reifabarn á baki sér, þat er hon fæddi á brjósti sér’ (his wife […] carried a swaddled infant on her back, which she fed at her breast). See, for example, Bárðar saga, p. 108; Hrafns saga, p. 221. See, for example, Grœnlendinga saga, p. 262; Laxdœla saga, p. 76. See, for example, Íslendinga saga, p. 308. See, for example, Hrafns saga, p. 224. See, for example, Droplaugarsona saga, p. 172; Harðar saga, pp. 16–17.

32 See 33

34

35

36 37 38 39 40

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Oren Falk floor,41 amused themselves with age-appropriate toys,42 or ventured farther afield to play rough-and-tumble outdoor games.43 And so on. These seem like biological, behavioural, and psychological building blocks of pre-adulthood which are pretty much universal. Once we get down from this level of selfevident generality to specifics, however, some cultural features begin to coalesce. When he is ten years old, Bárðr Dumbsson is sent off to be fostered by a mountain-denizen (bergbúi), Dofri, who ‘tók við honum [ok vandi] hann á alls kyns íþrottir ok ættvísi ok vígfimi’ (received him well [and taught] him all kinds of proficiencies and lineage-wisdom and martial arts), as well as, it is suspected, arcane erudition.44 This story, and one or two others like it,45 make explicit the truism that (with apologies to Simone de Beauvoir) one is not born a man but rather becomes one through arduous apprenticeship. This point is underscored by Finnbogi Ásbjarnarson’s avowal that it is his paternal duty towards his sons to ‘menna þá’ (make men of them).46 For all their insistence on inborn character traits,47 the sagas here recognize the role of nurture as supplementing nature, and construct an image of pre-adulthood as the period reserved for the process of perfecting one’s mannsefni into a mature man. Genetic makeup certainly matters, too: a child of poor endowment (illt mannsefni) would never grow up into an accomplished man (góðr maðr) – though plenty of boys who at first appear to be kolbítar (lethargic and unpromising youths, lit. ‘coal-biters’) turn out to possess well-hidden talents when they grow older.48 But genetics on its own was insufficient; it required grooming. Passing references to the See, for example, Vatnsdœla saga, p. 111; Njáls saga, p. 28. See, for example, Egils saga, p. 82 (v. 5); Víga-Glúms saga, pp. 40–41; Óláfs saga helga, p. 108. See also a casual reference to a spinning top in a simile: Njáls saga, p. 418. 43 See, for example, Hávarðar saga, pp. 346–47; Grettis saga, pp. 43–44; Bárðar saga, p. 114; Finnboga saga, p. 260. 44 Bárðar saga, p. 103, which adds: ‘váru þetta allt saman kallaðar listir í þann tíma af þeim mönnum, sem miklir váru ok burðugir, því at menn vissu þá engi dæmi at segja af sönnum guði norðr hingat í hálfuna’ (all such things were at that time deemed arts by those men who were great and well-born, because people had no inkling then of the Son of God here in the northern hemisphere). 45 Compare Finnboga saga, pp. 263–64, and Víglundar saga, pp. 65 and 75. 46 Finnboga saga, p. 323. On fathers as teachers, see further Hancock, this volume. 47 This ideology is clearly set out in Geirmundar þáttr, pp. 5–6. 48 In Flóvents saga I, a fourteenth-century riddarasaga loosely based on Continental romance materials, an enraged emperor hurls abuse at the fifteen-year-old protagonist (in terms nearly identical to those used in Harðar saga, n. 7 above): ‘Þv, ilt manz efni! ekki man stoða at flygia. Þat skvlv menn sia vm þat, er við skilivm, at alldri siþan skaltv spilla fyrir oss goðvm dre[n]ggivm’ (You model of unmanliness! Running away will do you no good. Men will witness it, when we part, that you shall never again destroy our good retainers) (p. 126). The emperor’s judgement is, however, clearly not endorsed by the saga author. I owe this point to a suggestion made by Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir. On kolbítar, compare Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kolbítur verður karlmaður’. See also Svarfdœla saga, pp. 192–93 and Harðar saga, pp. 16–17. 41 42

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Boyhood, Saga-Style possibility or reality of failure along the way confirm a perception of the process as tenuous and uncertain: for better or worse, some boys’ mannsefni (like that of the horse-herd of whom Víga-Hörðr’s man had disapproved) proves abortive.49 In the luckiest cases, men and boys might be able to make positive choices that would allow nurture to do its work, complementing what nature had given them. Such is the case when the young Eiðr Skeggjason prefers to be fostered by Þórðr hreða Þórðarson rather than by the man his father had selected for him: nobility of mind leads like to recognize like and forges an intergenerational alliance that will serve both foster-father and foster-son.50 Bárðar saga, for all that it is fantastical in many details and explicitly set in a mythical past distinct from the saga author’s present,51 thus speaks to what might have been widely regarded as a (foster-)parent’s due diligence towards the education of his charge. Unfortunately, the terminology used to describe this idealized curriculum (‘alls kyns íþróttir ok ættvísi ok vígfimi’ [all kinds of proficiencies and lineage-wisdom and martial arts]) is quite vague; we have little idea what proficiencies the author had in mind, for instance, nor is it easy to understand quite what genealogical lore Dofri might have imparted on Bárðr. (Whatever ættvísi was, it was sufficiently important that even St Þorlákr, who otherwise shuns puerile pastimes, received instruction in it.)52 Judging by the well-known poetic lists of íþróttir given elsewhere,53 these proficiencies probably included mostly athletic skills – rowing, shooting, skiing, and so forth – but possibly also some intellectual ones, such as playing music and tafl, composing verse and carving runes.54 Other sagas support such an interpretation by providing fleeting portraits of boys engaged in some such activities: the magnificent Kjartan Óláfsson swimming like a seal, threeyear-old Egill pleasing his grandfather with childish skaldic composition, or the illegitimate son of Eiríkr jarl in Víglundar saga, beating his better-born See, for example, Sturlu saga, p. 106; Prestssaga, pp. 118 and 123; Grettis saga, p. 219: ‘en þá er [Skeggi] var fimmtán vetra, var hann sterkastr norðr þar ok var þá eignaðr Gretti. Hugðu menn, at hann myndi afbragðsmaðr verða, en hann andaðisk sjautján vetra, ok er engi saga af honum’ (when [Skeggi] was fifteen years old, he was the strongest man in the north and was then acknowledged as Grettir’s [son]. People thought he would become a man of distinction, but he died when he was seventeen, and there is no saga about him). 50 Þórðar saga hreðu, pp. 170 and 174–75. 51 See Bárðar saga, p. 103. On the question of this saga’s historicity, see Ármann Jakobsson, ‘History of the Trolls? Bárðar saga as an Historical Narrative’, Saga-Book 25 (1998), 53–71. 52 See Þorláks saga A, p. 51. Compare also Bjǫrn Hítdœlakappi’s rebuke of Kolli for participating in the fatal assault on him: ‘annat mun þér betr gefit en ættvísin’ (you must be more gifted at things other than lineage-wisdom) (Bjarnar saga, p. 202). 53 See esp. Orkneyinga saga, p. 130 (v. 34); Morkinskinna, vol. 1, p. 116 (v. 61). 54 See Geoffrey Russom, ‘Íþróttir’, in Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, ed. Phillip Pulsiano (New York and London, 1993), p. 337; and Judith Jesch, The Nine Skills of Earl Rögnvaldr of Orkney (Nottingham, 2006). 49

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Oren Falk half-brothers first at tafl, then at wrestling, and finally at public oratory.55 Some portrayals of boys at play likewise hint at their training for adult life: Króka-Refr Steinsson learns boat-building by studying a toy ship, Guðmundr Arason reveals his calling by playing the bishop with his cousin, while Kjartan Bjarnarson, with childish exuberance, rinses his ‘øxi litla’ (little axe) in the blood pooling from a dying man’s wound, suggesting that it would not have been regarded as abnormal for young boys to carry weapons (and not necessarily toys, either).56 The subterfuge with which Vésteinn Vésteinsson’s orphaned boys gain access to Þorkell Súrsson’s sword in order to slaughter him (‘Allgóðr gripr mun sverðit þat vera, sem þú hefir í hendinni, eða hvárt muntu lofa mér at sjá?’ [That sword you have in your hand is a mighty fine treasure – will you let me have a look at it?]) further presupposes a world in which boys might be expected to express fascination with grown-ups’ arms and accoutrements; elsewhere we see boys receive premium weapons as gifts in response to interest they show in them.57 And, of course, saga portrayals of boys engaged in actual combat, killing or dying or both, indicate that vígfimi was a subject of very tangible concern in the education of a young man.58 A boy’s life was not all fun, games, and gratuitous violence, however. As ten-year-old Grettir discovered to his dismay, he – presumably like other preteens – was expected to perform menial tasks around the farm. Grettir’s massaging of his father’s aching back and his tending to the farm animals ended disastrously; other boys were not as inept (or as mischievously nasty).59 Not yet seven years old, Finnbogi won a gigantic fish by dragging Laxdœla saga, p. 76; Egils saga, pp. 81–83; Víglundar saga, pp. 67–68. Króka saga Refs, pp. 128–29 (cf. boy helping his foster-father with actual boatwrighting, Þórðar saga hreðu, p. 174); Prestssaga, p. 123; Eyrbyggja saga, p. 107. The axe Kjartan has with him could be a toy, but this cannot be the case for a young Guðmundr inn ríki Eyjólfsson’s axe in Ljósvetninga saga, pp. 28–29 [A] and 37–38 [C]. 57 Gísla saga, p. 90; Þórðar saga hreðu, p. 174; Vatnsdœla saga, pp. 111–12; Þorsteins saga hvíta, p. 17. Compare Svarfdœla saga, pp. 193–94. 58 The following selection of examples makes no pretence to completeness. In some of these twenty cases, the age of those involved is unstated or vague; of boys whose ages are known, one is nine years old, two are ten, six are twelve, two are thirteen, two are fourteen, two are fifteen, two are sixteen, one is seventeen, three are eighteen, and two are about twenty. See Laxdœla saga, pp. 180–93 (ages: sixteen and twelve); Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 130 (age: fifteen); Grettis saga, pp. 153–55 (age: sixteen); Vatnsdœla saga, p. 112 (age: unknown); Kormáks saga, p. 263 (age: twelve); Víga-Glúms saga, pp. 72–79 (age: twelve); Valla-Ljóts saga, p. 235 (age: fourteen); Svarfdœla saga, p. 158 (age: ten); Droplaugarsona saga, pp. 145–46 (ages: twelve and thirteen); Fljótsdœla saga, pp. 243–46 (ages: ten and twelve); Harðar saga, p. 96 (age: twelve); Þorskfirðinga saga, p. 202 (age: nine); Flóamanna saga, p. 267 (age: seventeen); Prestssaga, p. 116 (age: eighteen); Íslendinga saga, pp. 229–30, 352–57, 437–38, 445, and 489–92 (ages: under twenty; eighteen and about twenty; thirteen or fourteen; thirteen; about fifteen); Svínfellinga saga, p. 101 (age: eighteen). 59 Compare Óláfr Haraldsson’s childhood prank at his step-father’s expense: Óláfs saga helga, pp. 3–4. Though he walks away laughing at the older man, Óláfr’s actual 55 See 56 See

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Boyhood, Saga-Style it onto land, a feat very nearly paralleled by Þorgils Þórðarson’s prodigious fishing at age nine, while Oddr Ófeigsson won himself a merchant ship by the hard work he put in at the fisheries between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and Ingjaldr’s son and foster-son, escaping from their father’s blazing farm, won passage to safety by passing themselves off as ‘sveinar […] í þjónustu’ (boys in service).60 The sagas routinely show children employed as shepherds – ‘a task typed for young boys, not sui juris males’, as William Ian Miller notes – and less frequently as messengers, mowers, stable-hands, and so on.61 Such work gave them plenty of opportunity to practise the kinds of íþróttir expected of them; certainly we see many a shepherd lad running like the wind.62 Those who survived the travails of childhood labour would presumably emerge as hardened men. In sum, then, we have seen that the sagas imagined boyhood not simply as a static stretch, during which a youngster’s innate characteristics might be prefigured and ripen into maturity, but as a training period in which his potential had to be cultivated and augmented. The narrative preference for precocious boys has skewed our perception somewhat, in that it celebrates especially those outliers whose innate gifts enabled them at an early age to secure achievements appropriate to more mature individuals, but we have enough clues to suggest that, as a matter of norm rather than exception, the sagas expected mannsefni to be manipulated and nurture to supplement nature’s gifts. We have also seen that chronological age meant little as absolute numbers; Sighvatr Sturluson most likely stretched the definition of barnsaldr when, in 1220, he expressed outrage at the attack by Bishop Guðmundr’s men on ‘sveininn Sturlu’ (the boy Sturla), then about twenty-one years old, but the liberty he took with chronology was on the cusp of believability – much as in the instance of sixteen-year-old Hrafn denying his battle-readiness – and so it inadvertently reveals the pliancy of emic ideas about youth.63 Age was a relative matter, and pre-adulthood as a whole was conceptualized only in relation to maturity. Finally, we have caught some glimpses of the educational programme saga boys were expected to undergo, which included elements both more and less formal of exercising adult skills through play, instruction, testing, and on-site work experience. trick (saddling a goat when he had been asked to prepare a horse for travel) is very mellow when compared with Grettir’s. 60 See Finnboga saga, p. 259; Flóamanna saga, p. 252; Bandamanna saga, pp. 294–96, and compare Finnboga saga, p. 320; Hallfreðar saga, pp. 136–37 (v.ll. þjónustusveina[r], bakstrsveinar). 61 William Ian Miller, Hrafnkel or the Ambiguities: Hard Cases, Hard Choices (Oxford, 2017), p. 30. For examples of boys carrying out these types of work, see Laxdœla saga, pp. 192–93; Grettis saga, pp. 153–54; Njáls saga, p. 136; Harðar saga, pp. 74–75. 62 See, for example, Laxdœla saga, p. 166; Fljótsdœla saga, pp. 274–77; compare Sturlu saga, p. 69. 63 See Íslendinga saga, p. 276; compare Oren Falk, ‘Helgastaðir, 1220: A Battle of No Significance?’ Journal of Medieval Military History 13 (2015), 93–137, at p. 121, n. 61.

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Oren Falk This final point raises a last, somewhat more speculative suggestion, with which I conclude. Much of this curriculum seems designed to cultivate stark individualism in boys, who might, for instance, come of age by labouring as shepherds – perhaps the most quintessentially solitary and self-sufficient job-description one could imagine.64 If masculinity in the sagas was conceptualized as the pursuit of egocentric callousness, then saga boyhood certainly appears calculated to breed this gender identity into males transitioning to adulthood: whether precocious or slow, they would have had no shortage of opportunities to learn self-reliance, defiance, and obstreperousness. In this respect, being a sveinn in the sagas differed radically from being a drengr in the Viking Age. ‘The word drengr means “boy, youth”’, Foote and Wilson tell us, ‘but […] collective uses […] show that drengir, “lads”, might especially be used to mean the crew of a fighting ship, members of an army unit or of a merchant fraternity’, and Judith Jesch further identifies drengr as ‘a member of the comitatus (though not necessarily a technical term) […] with emphasis on one hand on the semantic component of “intimacy”, on the other of “followership”’.65 In drengskapr, then, ‘boyhood’ has been pretty much evacuated of its age content and infused, instead, with a gender identity that is primarily collective and collaborative: that of the young (but full-grown) men who pull together on the oars, hoist the shieldwall in concert, or share the dangers and profits of hunting the whale and trading the amber. In contrast, the sagas celebrate the not-yet-adult sveinn in his glorious, chip-on-the-shoulder singularity. ‘All for one and one for all’ is not a motto an Egill, a Grettir, or a Gizurr would have warmed to. No one would have cherished them as crew-mates (Grettir makes a point of securing his fellow voyagers’ displeasure when crossing from Iceland to Norway, choosing to make love to one sailor’s wife while the others are desperately bailing bilge-water); no one could have relied on them as shoulder-to-shoulder companions when the arrows shrieked and the spears sang (as Egill’s brother Þórólfr learns to his disaster at the Battle of Vínheiðr). But it is precisely their absence of team spirit that the sagas lionize. When Grettir finally pitches in to battle the Atlantic gale, he bails more buckets than eight other crew together can keep up with; when Egill turns to avenge his fallen brother, he single-handedly mows a ragged highway through the Scottish ranks.66 See, for example, Hrafnkels saga, pp. 102–03. This point must not be pushed too far. The sagas, in fact, suggest a surprising amount of this pre-adult labour would have been undertaken in cooperative settings: not only do boys accompany grown-ups on various errands (as when a fifteen-year-old keeps Bjǫrn Hítdœlakappi company on his final trek [Bjarnar saga, p. 197] or when a sixteen-year-old who had gone haymaking with his father dies at his side [Grettis saga, pp. 153–55]), even shepherds seem in Iceland to have come together often enough (for example, Laxdœla saga, pp. 64 and 192–93). 65 Foote and Wilson, The Viking Achievement, p. 105; Jesch, Ships and Men, pp. 219–20. 66 See Grettis saga, pp. 50–55; Egils saga, pp. 139–41. Many scholars have made compelling arguments for a more nuanced reading of saga ideals; see, for example, Theodore M. Andersson’s now classic ‘The Displacement of the Heroic Ideal in the 64

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Boyhood, Saga-Style These overgrown boys prove to be consummately heroic and supremely selfsufficient men – ideal types for Icelandic elites to emulate. And not only elites: the same ideal of masculinity-in-the-making was evidently projected onto (and perhaps also appropriated by) rank-and-file Icelanders.67 When Vémundr kǫgurr Þórisson and his men approach a certain boy they hope to enlist as a spy, asking him whose son he is, he exemplifies the same insolent spirit, giving them an answer that is technically correct but does not provide them with the information they desire: ‘hann kvazk vera sonr móður sinnar’ (he replied that he was his mother’s son).68 It is no trivial matter to offer a lippy reply to a party of armed and dangerous headhunters; anyone, especially a boy whose whole life was still ahead of him, might be well advised not to provoke them.69 But, by insisting to be known only as a mother’s son, this unnamed and unimportant child advertises not only his agency and audacity but also his buy-in to the culturally sanctioned programme of saga-style boyhood. Like Egill, Grettir, and Gizurr, he lustily engages in honing his mannsefni, polishing it with an eye to one day becoming a defiant, obstreperous grown-up: one mean maðrfucker.

Family Sagas’, Speculum 45.4 (1970), 575–93. In a similar vein, Ármann Jakobsson comments on the young Egill that he ‘is represented as something of a sociopath […] an ambiguous figure, partly grotesque, partly sympathetic, but always dangerous’, an observation difficult to dispute (‘Troublesome Children’, p. 14; cf. p. 17 for similar commentary on Grettir). Nevertheless, the point I wish to stress is that the sagas present the kind of aggressive masculinity an Egill or a Grettir embody as partly excessive, partly laudable, but never repulsive. Ambiguity is firmly bracketed by admiration. 67 Pace Ármann Jakobsson, who argues we should speak of ‘magnate masculinity’ rather than ‘saga masculinity’ (personal communication). 68 Reykdœla saga, pp. 188–89. 69 Contrast old farmer Ingjaldr’s famous, world-weary reply to Bǫrkr inn digri Þorsteinsson’s posse: ‘Ek hefi vánd klæði, ok hryggir mik ekki, þó at ek slíta þeim eigi gerr’ (The clothes I have are threadbare and it doesn’t worry me in the least if I should not wear them out) (Gísla saga, p. 84).

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The Licit Love Visit: Masculine Sexual Maturation and the ‘Temporary Troll Lover’ Trope Matthew Roby

The medieval Icelandic sagas depict a range of standard avenues by which adolescent males can show their development towards adulthood, including autonomous sea journeys and displays of legislative or martial attainment.1 Another activity that seems to bear initiatory significance is that of premarital and strictly temporary sexual intercourse with trolls. This chapter analyses four iterations of this motif, specifically as it appears in Örvar-Odds saga, Kjalnesinga saga, Hálfdanar saga Brönufóstra, and Ketils saga hængs. In each of these texts, the juvenile hero leaves his human community, goes off into the wilderness and has a tryst with a troll-woman, before returning and, usually immediately, marrying a human bride.2 Though he develops a dominant sexual role during the act of intercourse itself, the hero fails to show initiative at several crucial points. Fascinatingly, it is members of the troll household, including the ‘temporary troll lover’ herself, who compensate for this deficiency in motivation. In three of these sagas, the trolls actively encourage the protagonist’s use and abandonment of his supernatural mistress, arguably exonerating him from the potentially negative social and emotional consequences of his actions. By thus pardoning him, these texts present such affairs as acceptable and innocuous forms of sexual initiation, which facilitate the 1

Carolyne Larrington, ‘Awkward Adolescents: Male Maturation in Norse Literature’, in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, ed. Shannon Lewis-Simpson (Leiden, 2008), pp. 151–66, at p. 152; Nic Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst: The Structures and Boundaries of Adolescence in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Iceland’, in Youth and Age (Leiden, 2008), pp. 127–49, at pp. 141–43. 2 These supernatural beings are described using a variety of terms, including ‘jötunn’ (giant), ‘flagðkon[a]’ (ogre-woman), and ‘tröll’ (troll). See Örvar-Odds saga, p. 338; Hálfdanar saga, p. 333; and Ketils saga, p. 256, respectively. However, for the sake of clarity, and in recognition of the flexibility of the Old Norse term troll — later tröll — to refer to a multitude of paranormal entities, I describe all these women as ‘troll-women.’ See Ármann Jakobsson, The Troll Inside You: Paranormal Activity in the Medieval North (Brooklyn, 2017), pp. 18–35.

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Matthew Roby heroes’ development of dominant masculinity. These episodes might reveal medieval considerations of adolescent and/or premarital sexual experimentation in a purely abstract or imaginative sense, including as a male sexual fantasy. However, considering the sexual practices that seem to have existed around the time of these sagas’ composition and consumption, I will further argue that these episodes might expose perspectives on the contemporaneous or remembered custom of premarital concubinage. However, Ketils saga hængs paints a significantly different picture. In its portrayal of the emotional impact of premarital affairs on both partners, as well as its refusal to exonerate Ketill for his profligate behaviour, this saga questions the efficacy and equitability of this model as an avenue toward male sexual maturation. The broader motif of sex with troll-women has been studied most influentially by John McKinnell. In his pioneering monograph Meeting the Other, McKinnell attempts to formulate one cogent interpretation for an overambitious range of medieval Scandinavian examples. He identifies all such episodes as iterations of an Óðinnic pattern, in which the god – or his heroic stand-in – deliberately employs sex with a supernatural woman to acquire an object or skill. Afterwards, the hero actively abandons her to escape the chaotic natural forces, or the irrational female psyche, that she supposedly represents.3 However, though such readings work well for certain Eddic episodes, grafting them onto all similar narratives throughout the corpus is problematic.4 Features of some of the texts he identifies, including the four under scrutiny here, fundamentally contradict aspects of McKinnell’s interpretation. First, there is the question of initiative: these saga protagonists never instigate their sexual encounters with, nor even always their abandonments of, their ‘temporary troll lovers.’ These young men are therefore relatively passive, which complicates their status as determined or experienced womanisers. Second, the notion that the hero ‘must abandon’ his supernatural lover to escape female influences is further problematic, since these protagonists afterwards – usually immediately – marry human women.5 Therefore, in at least these four texts, the protagonist’s departure cannot signify his obligatory escape from some monolithic feminine psyche. Rather, these sagas seem to distinguish between two different types of female partner: the first (the troll) with whom the protagonist enjoys a consensual but ultimately temporary sexual relationship, and the second (the human) who becomes his permanent bride. Admittedly, with reference only to Hálfdanar saga, McKinnell does gesture to these curious elements. Specifically, he recognises Brana’s unusually active stance, both in her initial relationship with Hálfdan and after her baffling self-demotion to the status of his platonic helper. In the latter 3 4 5

John McKinnell, Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 172–80. See, for example, Óðinn’s theft of the mead of poetry; Skáldskaparmál, pp. 4–5. McKinnell, Meeting the Other, p. 179.

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The Licit Love Visit role, she most notably assists this young man in the matter of her own replacement by his human wife. McKinnell suggests that these features result from the elision of the mythic Óðinnic pattern with another: Þórr’s ‘helpful giantess’ pattern.6 He thus offers a stemmatic explanation for how these incongruous elements might have been combined in the first place. However, he does not account for how this curious form of the broader of trope of troll sex was interpreted by its late medieval audiences. Even if McKinnell’s stemmatic hypothesis is correct, such audiences might not have recognised or derived interpretive guidance from these narratives’ Eddic origins, instead seeking cues from the sagas themselves. In each of these four texts, one particularly likely cue is the protagonist’s youth. This trait might have been assumed to account not only for his initial lack of enterprise, but also for the actions of his ‘temporary troll lover’ to help him overcome it. Such an interpretation would characterise his trollish tryst as an adolescent rite of passage, in which his sexual experimentation with his supernatural partner facilitates his maturation. Indeed, though with little attention to his specifically sexual passivity, McKinnell has elsewhere discussed Hálfdan Brönufóstri’s perpetual irresponsibility as symbolic of his adolescence.7 In earlier scholarship, Riti Kroesen, Lotte Motz, and Hilda Ellis Davidson have also all gestured to the initiatory potential of these ‘temporary troll lover’ episodes.8 I expand upon such notions here. It is also important to note that, unlike McKinnell’s broad range of examples, the four sagas on which I focus here are so closely related that medieval audiences would almost certainly have noted a connection between them. These episodes share not only their basic narrative structure, but also an unmistakable verbal formula, and are also found together in multiple codices.9 It is therefore likely that they invited intertextual interpretations, with the similarities and differences in their presentations of male sexual experimentation considered by medieval Icelandic audiences. However, as is common when studying the Old Norse-Icelandic corpus, the exact temporal 6

7

8

9

McKinnell, Meeting the Other, p. 192. Brana’s eager self-demotion has actually intrigued scholars since the earliest interpretations of this trope; see Hilda Ellis Davidson, ‘Fostering by Giants in Old Norse Literature’, Medium Aevum 10.2 (1941), 70–85, at p. 72. John McKinnell, ‘The Fantasy Giantess: Brana in Hálfdanar saga Brönufostra’, in Fornaldarsagaerne: Myter og Virkelighed, ed. Agneta Ney, Ármann Jakobsson, and Annette Lassen (Copenhagen, 2009), pp. 211–19. Riti Kroesen, ‘Ambiguity in the Relationship between Heroes and Giants’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 111 (1996), 57–71, at pp. 68–69; Lotte Motz, The Beauty and the Hag: Female Figures of Germanic Faith and Myth (Vienna, 1993), p. 64; and Ellis Davidson, ‘Fostering by Giants’, p. 78. I here refer to the fates of the protagonists’ illegitimate offspring, which follow the same rules in all four sagas, and which are expressed formulaically in three. See Örvar-Odds saga, p. 341; Kjalnesinga saga, p. 34; Hálfdanar saga, p. 336; and Ketils saga, p. 255. Codices that share two or more of these sagas include, but are not limited to, AM 343 a 4to, AM 471 4to, and JS 28 fol.

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Matthew Roby context to which such audiences belonged is somewhat unclear. For these four sagas, the contexts of which we can be most assured are fourteenthand fifteenth-century Iceland based on the manuscript record, with some concession that each continued to be copied throughout the late Middle Ages and beyond. They might also have had older oral or written forms, with scholars speculating that the composition of each saga might have taken place around the turn of the fourteenth century.10 Before analysing their sexual encounters, I will establish the protagonists’ juvenility during these episodes. In three of the four sagas, this detail is unquestionable from a chronological perspective, and is also corroborated in terms of social roles and behaviours. In Kjalnesinga saga, Búi was likely interpreted to be around fifteen when he meets Fríðr. His age is not specified at this point, but can be gleaned by counting the winters since the most recent statement of his age at twelve.11 Moreover, although Búi has already begun a sexual relationship with his human fiancée, several other details corroborate his juvenile social status. This is his first overseas quest and, until his departure, he remains under the comprehensive control of his foster-mother, Esja.12 When Hálfdan Brönufóstri first meets his ‘temporary troll lover’, he states outright that he is sixteen. This episode not only draws more proximate attention to its protagonist’s youthful age, but also implies the immaturity that goes along with it.13 Additionally, this is Hálfdan’s first real solo adventure and his first sexual encounter of any kind.14 Finally, Ketill hængr is only twelve when he meets Hrafnhildr, also his first lover, with these events occurring the year after he is explicitly identified as eleven.15 Hence, all three of these heroes fall within the speculated ‘zone of transition’ in male adolescent development in medieval Iceland, between the ages of twelve and sixteen, and are depicted as inhabiting juvenile social roles to boot.16 10

11

12

13 14

15 16

See Riti Kroesen, ‘Örvar-Odds saga’, in Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, ed. Phillip Pulsiano (New York, 1993), p. 744; Tommy Danielsson, ‘Kjalnesinga saga’, in Medieval Scandinavia, pp. 355–56, at p. 355; Peter Jorgensen, ‘Hálfdanar saga Brönufóstra’, in Medieval Scandinavia, pp. 260–61, at p. 260; and Marlene Ciklamini, ‘Ketils saga hængs’, in Medieval Scandinavia, pp. 352–53, at p. 353. Kjalnesinga saga, p. 10. Kjalnesinga saga, p. 25. Búi’s fosterage corroborates his age at around sixteen, since such contracts, especially as they pertained to the fosterling’s residence, usually terminated at that age; see Anna Hansen, ‘Fosterage and Dependency in Medieval Iceland and its Significance in Gísla saga’, in Youth and Age (Leiden, 2008), pp. 73–86, at pp. 79–80. Hálfdanar saga, p. 334. Hálfdan has taken a previous voyage at nine years old. However, since he pleads for an adult escort, this journey hardly demonstrates his emergent independence; see Hálfdanar saga, p. 329. Ketils saga, p. 248. On the ‘zone of transition’, see Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst’, p. 136, and Chris Callow, ‘Transitions to Adulthood in Early Icelandic Society’, in Children, Childhood and Society, ed. Sally Crawford and Gillian Shepherd (Oxford, 2007), pp. 45–55, at p. 49.

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The Licit Love Visit Örvar-Oddr is a different case. Since scholars have overlooked and even categorically discounted his potential juvenility during his trollish tryst, he warrants closer attention.17 At this point in the narrative, Oddr was likely interpreted to be around thirty. He has skippered many voyages, and had a wife, a child, and an argument that caused him to leave them both behind.18 Hence, the audience has already been compelled to consider him in the adult roles of captain, spouse, and parent before this episode. Nevertheless, I assert that Oddr’s time among the trolls may also represent the hero’s adolescent sexual maturation, due to his symbolic juvenility. First, from the outset of his saga, Oddr is cursed to live for three hundred years, which might have primed audiences to jettison conventional chronological categorisations of his age.19 Even more significant are numerous infantilising features of Oddr’s supernatural sojourn. This journey is not undertaken on Oddr’s own initiative: the masculine self-determination that he has hitherto shown is snatched away, as he is literally snatched away by a giant vulture and carried to its eyrie.20 Since Oddr ends up trapped in this parent bird’s nest, residing with its fledgling offspring and forcibly dependent on the nourishment it brings, this period is rendered one of symbolic rebirth and infancy. Oddr’s symbolic infantilisation does not stop there, however. When Hildir rescues the protagonist from the eyrie, this troll explicitly mistakes him for a child. Hildir calls him ‘kögurbarn’ (blanket-baby) and suggests that his daughter Hildigunnr – Oddr’s future lover – should nurse him alongside her newborn brother Goðmundr.21 Hildigunnr also identifies Oddr this way, comparing his size (unfavourably) with Goðmundr’s, laying them together in a cradle and singing ‘barngælur’ (lullabies) over them.22 Partially, this rehearses a comedic trope, common to both Eddic and saga literature, in which giants mistake Æsir or human heroes for children because they are relatively so small.23 However, I posit that this also profoundly impacts audience interpretations of this episode. Once Oddr is placed in a cradle and For other studies that examine these three protagonists as adolescents during their supernatural liaisons, see Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Esja’s Cave: Giantesses, Sons, and Mothers in Kjalnesinga saga’, in Fræðinæmi: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur, ed. Ármann Jakobsson, Gunnvör Karlsdóttir, Sif Ríkharðsdóttir, and Torfi Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2016), pp. 120–30, at p. 120; McKinnell, ‘Fantasy Giantess’, pp. 211 and 216–17; and Larrington, ‘Awkward Adolescents’, at pp. 158–59. 17 Kroesen, ‘Ambiguity in the Relationship’, p. 68; Motz, The Beauty and the Hag, p. 89. 18 Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 293–318. 19 Örvar-Odds saga, p. 289. For a similar observation, see Kathryn Hume, ‘From Saga to Romance: The Use of Monsters in Old Norse Literature’, Studies in Philology 77.1 (1980), 1–25, at pp. 5–6. 20 Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 337–38. 21 Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 338–39. 22 Örvar-Odds saga, p. 340. 23 See Gylfaginning, pp. 39 and 44, and Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns, p. 412. See also McKinnell, Meeting the Other, pp. 191–92.

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Matthew Roby treated as the peer of a one-day-old baby, it becomes difficult to see him for what he is: the generational equal of Hildir, the troll-father. Rather, he becomes more easily identifiable as equivalent to Hildir’s children and, even within this dynamic, more akin to the younger than the elder, more independent sibling. Notwithstanding, it is significant that Hildigunnr’s verse about Oddr’s puniness also refers to his moustache: ‘Tuttr litli / ok toppr fyr nefi’ (Little tot / and a tuft before his nose).24 Considering the significance of facial hair as a marker of adult masculinity, this verse gives Oddr a paradoxical age-based status.25 Since he has one foot in the childhood of a ‘tuttr’ and another in the adulthood betrayed by his ‘toppr’, this verse enhances his potential as a transitional figure, perhaps encouraging audiences to interpret his subsequent activities as pertaining to adolescence.26 Oddr’s symbolic infantilisation and tiny relative size do not merely invite interpretations relating to youthful maturation, however. They also establish an immediate power imbalance in the interactions, sexual and otherwise, between him and Hildigunnr. Since this symbolic tot only reaches her mid-thigh, he is implied to be the socially and physically inferior party in these exchanges.27 This relates to a point common to all four of these sagas: the protagonists all begin in positions of socio-sexual submissiveness to the trolls, including to their ‘temporary troll lovers.’ Örvar-Oddr’s first interactions with Hildigunnr are initiated by the trollwoman’s father when, as mentioned, he instructs her to nurse him. However, he also seems to invite the pair to have sex: ‘skal hún hafa þik fyrir leiku’ (she will have you as a plaything).28 At this point, Hildir’s intentions are somewhat unclear. Since he believes Oddr to be a baby, his reference to play might simply refer to childhood games. However, considering the prevalent use of leika/leikr as euphemisms for sex, including later in the same episode, audiences might have interpreted this as a dramatically ironic acknowledgement that Hildigunnr will have sex with Oddr.29 Especially considering this troll-father’s later pride upon discovering that this ‘play’ has borne a son, Hildir’s euphemistic invitation decreases the likelihood of interpretations of Oddr’s active or illicit sexual scheming.30 Oddr is also passive in the instigation of intercourse itself. Hildigunnr notes that he is restless in his cradle, and so ‘lagði hún hann í sæng hjá sér ok 24 25

26

27 28 29 30

Örvar-Odds saga, p. 340. Carl Phelpstead, ‘Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Loss, the Tonsure, and Masculinity in Medieval Iceland’, Scandinavian Studies 85.1 (2013), 1–19, at pp. 9–10. Búi is also called ‘skeggbarn’ (beard-baby) in numerous manuscripts; Kjalnesinga saga, p. 32. As with Örvar-Oddr, this might have spurred audiences to interpret Búi as inhabiting a liminal space between juvenility and maturity during his time with Fríðr, despite his former sexual experience. Örvar-Odds saga, p. 340. Örvar-Odds saga, p. 339. Örvar-Odds saga, p. 340. See also Bósa saga, p. 477, and Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra, p. 356. Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 343–44.

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The Licit Love Visit vafðist utan at honum, ok kom þá svá, at Oddr lék allt þat, er lysti; gerðist þá harðla vel með þeim’ (she laid him in bed beside her and wove herself around him, and it happened then that Oddr played all that he wanted; then things went mightily well between them).31 This passage shows that the physical acts leading up to sex, including the distinctly erotic actions of lifting Oddr into her bed and coiling her body around him, are carried out by the female party. The male is initially depicted as Hildigunnr’s ‘leik[a]’, though he later takes the dominant role, becoming the subject of the verb ‘lék.’ It is also worth noting the pun here: ‘harðla vel’ might intimate not only that their activities progressed satisfactorily, but also in a hard manner. We are thus assured that, though Oddr begins this tryst portrayed as a bawling infant, his implied erection certainly proves one aspect of sexual maturity by the end. This transition from baby to lover characterises the episode as a whole as a symbolic representation of sexual maturation. However, considering their size difference, Oddr’s adoption of this active role might have struck audiences as somewhat comical. It was perhaps not construed as truly ascendant, but rather plucky, with the image of a baby-sized man crawling over the body of his gigantic lover continually reminding the audience that this is a fledgling effort. This same initial lack of enterprise is present in the other three texts. In Kjalnesinga saga, it is Fríðr who actively gazes at Búi when she greets him, inviting him inside explicitly because she finds him visually promising.32 She immediately starts ordering him around and, in a twice-repeated phrase, the youngster obeys: he ‘gerði svá’ (did so).33 The implicitly sexual valence of this power asymmetry is soon confirmed when it is Fríðr who initiates their sleeping together. As above, it is only after this point that Búi develops a jointly active role, as indicated grammatically: ‘“skaltu nú hér sofa í nótt í mínu herbergi.” Hann lét sér þat vel líka. Skemmtu þau sér þar um kveldit’ (‘you will now sleep here for the night in my bedroom.’ He approved of this also. They amused themselves in the evening).34 As in Örvar-Odds saga, Fríðr’s father also gives Búi a euphemistic invitation to engage in such behaviour: ‘á kveldum skuluð þit […] skemmta ykkur í stófu hennar’ (in the evenings you two shall […] entertain yourselves in her room).35 Again, though perhaps Örvar-Odds saga, p. 340. Kjalnesinga saga, p. 30. Though Ruth Mazo Karras suggests that the female gaze in medieval literature often only bolsters the capital of the viewed man, its potential to grant power to the female viewer has been the subject of numerous recent studies. See Ruth Mazo Karras, ‘Young Knights Under the Feminine Gaze’, in The Premodern Teenager, ed. Konrad Eisenbichler (Toronto, 2002), pp. 189–206, at p. 196; M. A. Jacobs, ‘“Hon stóð ok starði”: Vision, Love, and Gender in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu’, Scandinavian Studies 86.2 (2014), 148–66; and John Lindow ‘When Skaði Chose Njǫrðr’, in Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iceland, ed. Kirsten Wolf and Johanna Denzin (Ithaca, 2008), pp. 165–82, at pp. 173–76. 33 Kjalnesinga saga, p. 30. 34 Kjalnesinga saga, p. 31. 35 Kjalnesinga saga, p. 32. 31 32

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Matthew Roby dramatically ironic, Dofri’s remark diminishes the potential for interpretations that the hero acts surreptitiously or on his own initiative. In Hálfdanar saga Brönufóstra, Brana kills her own father, rendering his consent irrelevant. However, as above, it is she who initiates their union. Upon first glimpsing the hero, she exclaims: ‘Hér er vel til yndis skipat, ok ætla ek mér við konungsson’ (Here is a situation well arranged for pleasure, and I intend to get myself a king’s son).36 Like Fríðr, Brana immediately seizes scopophilic initiative in this passage, which is made more plainly voyeuristic via the euphemistic term ‘ynd[i]’ (pleasure).37 Following this remark, she physically leaps at the lad, instigating a bout of suggestive wrestling. However, it is Hálfdan who eventually gets the upper hand in this combat, while Brana ends up ‘á grufu’ (on her belly), in a position of sexually symbolic submissiveness.38 The protagonist’s assumption of this erotically charged dominance is more explicitly connected to his maturation than in the other sagas, since it occurs immediately after Brana impugns his masculinity in direct reference to his age. While Hálfdan struggles to subdue Brana, the boy states that he is sixteen years old, to which she retorts that he is ‘þó enn eigi kvensterkr’ (yet still not woman-strong).39 The implication of this grammatical construction is that Hálfdan has now reached an age at which his domination of women has become an expectation. This positions him on the cusp of a specifically gendered and/or sexual form of adolescent maturation, with his immediate conquest of this troll-woman demonstrating his successful completion of this transition. Next, when it comes to their literal sexual union, it is again Brana who makes the first move: ‘[Hún] bað þá vera hjá sér um vetrinn. Hálfdan segir svá vera skyldu. Brana var þá allkát […] Hálfdan lá hjá Brönu hverja nótt’ (She asked them stay with her over winter. Hálfdan said that would be so. Brana was then very joyful […] Hálfdan lay with Brana every night).40 Therefore, in both the sexually symbolic martial prelude and the sexual intercourse itself, the troll-woman actively instigates their union. It is only during each encounter that Hálfdan is cast in a more active role. Finally, in Ketils saga hængs, the young protagonist is invited to sleep with Hrafnhildr immediately upon meeting her father Brúni: Brúni spurði, hvárt hann vill liggja hjá dóttur hans eða einn saman […] Ketill kveðst hjá Hrafnhildi liggja vilja. Síðan fóru þau í rekkju, ok Hálfdanar saga, p. 333. Trójumanna saga, p. 89. 38 Hálfdanar saga, p. 334. 39 Hálfdanar saga, p. 334. 40 Hálfdanar saga, p. 336. According to Jenny Jochens, kátr (joyful) may have had a specifically sexual valence for medieval Icelandic audiences, which would further corroborate the erotic initiative of Brana’s invitation; see Jenny Jochens, ‘Before the Male Gaze: The Absence of the Female Body in Old Norse’, in Sex in the Middle Ages, ed. Joyce Salisbury (New York, 1991), pp. 3–29, at p. 6. 36

37 See

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The Licit Love Visit breiddi Brúni á þau uxahúð efsta […] En Ketill var þar eptir ok skemmti sér við Hrafnhildi. (Brúni asked whether he would like to lie with his daughter or alone […] Ketill said he would like to lie with Hrafnhildr. Afterwards they went to bed, and Bruni spread an oxhide over them […] Ketill stayed there after and amused himself with Hrafnhildr.)41 This follows precisely the same trajectory as the sagas above. Ketill is a willing participant in sexual intercourse, but he is certainly not its primary or dominant instigator. His initial passivity is emphasised even after he has accepted Brúni’s proposition, via its exaggerated and perhaps even comical physicalisation: the troll-father literally escorts the pair to bed and tucks them in. Within the internal logic of the saga, this behaviour is explained as Brúni’s attempt to prevent his Finnish or Sámi guests from seeing the pair. However, this does not detract from the additional connotations of his actions: Brúni implicitly sanctions and even initiates their activities between the sheets by actively putting them there. However, like the heroes above, Ketill develops an active stance once the intercourse begins, as indicated grammatically. Considering the established literal or figurative juvenility of all four protagonists, their transitions from acquiescence to dominance during their trollish trysts are highly significant. In medieval Icelandic culture, sociosexual passiveness seems to have been associated with the unmasculine – most women, children, and the elderly – as opposed to activeness, which was predominantly associated with independent adult males.42 Based on these gendered and age-related associations attached to activeness and passiveness, these ‘temporary troll lover’ episodes seem to imply the perceived significance of youthful sexual experience to male maturation. These episodes further characterise the acquisition of sexual mastery as a development in which an initially passive male might be guided or even coached, including by dominant female figures and their families. This runs contrary to the far more common presentations of this transition elsewhere, particularly in naturalistic episodes, in which young men are portrayed as innately sexually ascendant. Consider, for example, the ‘illicit love visit’ trope identified by Jenny Jochens, in which men demonstrate sexual activeness from the start, while women tend to be pictures of passivity.43 A common physicalisation of this dynamic is the man placing the woman on his knee, a sign of both intimacy and domination.44 This sometimes happens Ketils saga, p. 252. This concept is most influentially discussed by Carol Clover, though her assertions on the subject have since been nuanced, including by the contributors to and editors of this volume. See Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Speculum 68.2 (1993), 363–87, at p. 380. 43 Jenny Jochens, ‘The Illicit Love Visit: An Archaeology of Old Norse Sexuality’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 1.3 (1991), 357–92, at p. 377. 44 Hallfreðar saga, p. 145; Víglundar saga, p. 90. 41 42

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Matthew Roby before the hero has any previous sexual experience, including in the first sexual encounter of the fourteen-year-old Egill Skalla-Grímsson. Here, Egill’s inexperience is initially mocked by his female companion, which indicates that men might indeed have been thought to require experience in the sexual sphere to develop laudable prowess. The woman rejects the company of this youngster, who ‘sjaldan hefr gefnar / vargi varmar bráðir’ (has seldom given warm flesh to a wolf).45 Considering the context of this encounter, at a feast at which men and women are pairing off to drink together, as well as the use of wolf imagery to refer to female genitalia elsewhere in the corpus, this taunt takes on a distinctly sexual meaning.46 It repurposes the trope of feeding wolves as a descriptor of battle to suggest that, in addition to not being battle-hardened, Egill has little experience of penetrative sex. However, this prodigious youth immediately lifts the woman closer to him and, having thus demonstrated socio-sexual dominance, the pair become suggestively ‘allkát’ (utterly delighted).47 Such scenes contrast with those analysed above, most obviously that of Hildigunnr lifting Oddr up bodily and placing him in her bed. The supernatural motif, in which the male initially inhabits the physically and sexually passive role, represents a direct reversal of the norm. Considering the ubiquity and starkness of this variation, it seems possible that the supernatural status of these troll-women provided saga composers with a distanced platform on which to depict sexual maturation in a novel, perhaps more candid, light. Presumably because he is not being shown as sexually submissive to a human woman, which would impugn his masculinity, the protagonist may be depicted as an inexperienced youngster, who learns to adopt an active stance via sexual practice with an apparently more adept female. The impact of this dynamic on medieval readers and listeners could also have been significant. As I outline below, the enviably dominant position of these troll-women is soon diminished via their male lovers’ desertions. However, until that point, female audiences might have responded positively to these portrayals of women inhabiting not merely active, but even superior roles in their sexual interactions with men. Following his acquisition of socio-sexual dominance in the arms of his troll lover, the protagonist then departs for human society. In Örvar-Odds saga, Kjalnesinga saga, and Hálfdanar saga, the young man’s departure is tolerated, facilitated and – in the lattermost – even instigated and endorsed by his ‘temporary troll lover.’ At her parting with Örvar-Oddr, Hildigunnr tearfully states that ‘þú átt ekki eðli til at vera hér álengdar hjá oss’ (you do not have the nature to stay here longer with us).48 The term ‘eðli’ denotes not just character, but rather that something is ‘eðligr’ (natural, appropriate). Egils saga, p. 121. See Richard Harris, ed., ‘Hjálmþérs saga: A Scientific Edition’ (doctoral thesis, University of Iowa, 1970), p. 31. 47 Egils saga, p. 121. 48 Örvar-Odds saga, p. 341. 45 46

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The Licit Love Visit This detail exonerates Oddr by characterising his desertion, even from the jilted female’s perspective, as an inevitability for which neither lover can be blamed. In Kjalnesinga saga, Fríðr is even more distraught: she initially attempts to prevent her human lover’s desertion and even intimates that it ought to warrant his death. However, like Hildigunnr, she soon acknowledges the necessity of their parting, even assisting in his departure by obtaining her father’s blessing.49 Oddr and Búi are remarkably indifferent to the sadness of their troll lovers. As a result of their protagonistic status, it is possible that audiences were encouraged to share this apathy, which might have prompted their recognition of these troll-women as uncomplicatedly disposable partners. The exoneration of the protagonist in Hálfdanar saga is even more extreme, since Brana resumes the control she temporarily ceded to Hálfdan during their intercourse. Though it also explicitly saddens her, she is the one to instigate and organise Hálfdan’s departure, as well as to plan his subsequent matrimony: ‘muntu heðan vilja burt halda, ok skal þat vera, þótt mér þykki annat betra […] [Marsibil] er nú vænust kölluð allra meyja í heiminum […] ok þat vilda ek, at þú fengir hennar’ (you will wish to get away from here, and that must be so, although I would prefer another way […] Marsibil is now called the finest of all maidens in the world […] and I wish for you to have her).50 As McKinnell notes, Brana’s initiative, selflessness, and stoicism in the face of her lover’s parting and future marriage entirely absolve the hero of any guilt for his desertion.51 Conversely, while Brana plans and endorses Hálfdan’s love life without her, the boy reverts to a relatively acquiescent state; he says only that he will ‘eigi þrætra’ (not argue) with her recommendations.52 He is even portrayed as more reluctant to depart than Brana. Though he does go to England to woo and eventually marry Princess Marsibil, he repeatedly asks for Brana to join him and it is the troll who must refuse.53 Their respective stances encourage audiences to consider Hálfdan as blameless in his desertion, again permitting them to enjoy the spectacle of his empowering premarital sex without considering its potentially negative consequences for Brana. The protagonists in these three sagas are thus absolved to varying degrees for their temporary sexual liaisons, after which they advance – immediately, in the cases of Kjalnesinga saga and Hálfdanar saga – to court permanent wives.54 These episodes might therefore reflect and/or have dialogically perpetuated support for a model of male premarital sexual experimentation in a purely abstract or imaginary sense, including as a masculinist sexual fantasy.55 The 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

Kjalnesinga saga, pp. 33–34. Hálfdanar saga, pp. 336–37. See also McKinnell, ‘Fantasy Giantess’, pp. 210–11. Hálfdanar saga, pp. 336–37. Hálfdanar saga, p. 337. Örvar-Odds saga, p. 384; Kjalnesinga saga, pp. 40–41; Hálfdanar saga, p. 348. I here employ the theoretical terminology outlined by Laurie Finke, which was

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Matthew Roby grossly inequitable dynamics of this fantasy might not only have bolstered a sense of sexual entitlement among male composers and audience members, but also have had an impact on female readers and listeners. Following Rita Felski’s statements on the possible effects of literary reception on female selfhood, such influences could have included the internalisation of notions of their own inferior status within a gendered and sexual hierarchy.56 However, it also seems possible that these ‘temporary troll lovers’ were connected to specific, ‘real world’ figures in the minds of saga composers and audiences. As I have outlined elsewhere, such figures might include those with whom most medieval Icelanders could only imagine having contact, sexual or otherwise, including the indigenous women of northern Scandinavia or princesses from foreign courts. Furthermore, particularly in the case of Örvar-Odds saga, in which the protagonist’s lover is the most peculiarly maternal, it also seems possible that these trolls were associated with a particular female figure with whom young Icelandic men might genuinely have enjoyed sexual contact: the fóstra (foster-mother).57 However, considering the specifically – and, in Hálfdanar saga Brönufóstra, the explicitly – preparatory nature of these trysts for matrimony, I argue that the most likely ‘real world’ figure with whom medieval audiences would have associated these troll-women would be that of the premarital frilla (concubine or mistress). As Percivall, Jochens, and others have noted, the samtíðarsögur describe a thirteenth-century Icelandic society in which a large proportion of the male householding population – including married men – had frillur from other, usually lower-status, householding families.58 Such depictions are so common, and are expressed so matter-of-factly, that scholars concur that they represent a genuine and prevalent custom of concubinage. These behaviours were institutionalised to the extent that some lower-status families seem purposefully to have installed their daughters as the frillur of elite males.59 This system of entrenched concubinage also allowed adolescent males to

56 57

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first applied to Old Norse-Icelandic literature by Carl Phelpstead. See Laurie Finke, ‘Sexuality in French Medieval Literature: “Séparés, on est ensemble”’, in Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, ed. Vern Bullough and James Brundage (New York, 1996), pp. 345–68; Carl Phelpstead, ‘The Sexual Ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka’, Scandinavian Studies 75.1 (2003), 1–24, at p. 18. See Rita Felski, Doing Time: Feminist Theory and Postmodern Culture (New York, 2011), p. 181. Matthew Roby, ‘Troll Sex: Youth, Old Age, and the Erotic in Old Norse-Icelandic Narratives of the Supernatural’ (doctoral thesis, University of Oxford, 2019), pp. 90–92. Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst’, pp. 144–45; Jenny Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society, (Ithaca, 1995), p. 31–39. Philadelphia Ricketts, High-Ranking Widows in Medieval Iceland and Yorkshire (Leiden, 2010), p. 164; Auður Magnúsdóttir, ‘Women and Sexual Politics’, in The Viking World, ed. Stefan Brink and Neil Price (New York, 2008), pp. 40–48, at pp. 42–43. For a rare expression of such motivation, see Svarfdæla saga, p. 165.

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The Licit Love Visit engage in informal sexual activity and even father children before marriage, a pattern of behaviour provided for by legal stipulations and repeatedly depicted in the samtíðarsögur.60 Percivall speculates that this might have been considered a period of rehearsal eroticism – socio-sexual preparation for the actualisation of a man’s manhood in marriage – a notion attested elsewhere in Europe.61 Such premarital activities were especially viable in Iceland because, at least around the thirteenth century, neither the illegitimacy of children nor the virginal status of women seem to have been barriers to their future inheritance or marriage prospects.62 Unsurprisingly, though, clerical authorities were opposed to such behaviours, and Auður Magnúsdóttir suggests that they might even have made some progress toward curbing them by the mid-thirteenth century.63 However, both she and Percivall highlight an episode from Íslendinga saga, which implies the persistence of pre-marital affairs even in the supposed context of the prohibition and extirpation of extra-marital mistresses.64 Here, Sturla Sighvatsson’s mother quietly ushers out his premarital frilla before the twenty-four-year-old returns with his new bride. Sturla had enjoyed an informal, temporary relationship with this woman – Vigdís Gíslsdóttir – for at least five years, and the pair also had a daughter.65 The prevalence of such behaviours following the thirteenth century – and into the more assured temporal context of the reception of these ‘temporary troll lover’ episodes – is less clear. Jenny Jochens and, more recently, Agnes Arnórsdóttir have demonstrated that pre- and extra-marital activities remained prevalent throughout the fourteenth and even fifteenth centuries.66 However, both Auður Magnúsdóttir and Henric Bagerius suggest that, though such behaviours might have persisted as surreptitious deviances, the acceptability and certainly the institutionalised aspects of concubinage diminished by the fourteenth century. They suggest this to be a reaction to changes the loci of power, which shifted from ties between Icelandic Ricketts, High-Ranking Widows, pp. 137–38; Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst’, p. 144; Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society, p. 83. See also Grágás, vol. 2, p. 28, and Sturlunga saga, vol. 1, pp. 64–66, 72–73, and 118–23. 61 Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst’, p. 145. See also W. M. Aird, ‘Frustrated Masculinity: The Relationship between William the Conqueror and his Eldest Son’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. D. Hadley (London, 1999), pp. 39–55, at p. 44. 62 Ricketts, High-Ranking Widows, pp. 116–17, 164; Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst’, p. 145; Jenny Jochens, ‘The Church and Sexuality in Medieval Iceland’, Journal of Medieval History 6.4 (1980), 377–92, at p. 384. 63 Auður Magnúsdóttir, ‘Kingship, Women, and Politics in Morkinskinna’, in Disputing Strategies in Medieval Scandinavia, ed. Kim Esmark, Lars Hermanson, Hans Jacob Orning, and Helle Vogt (Leiden, 2013), pp. 83–106, at p. 89. 64 Auður Magnúsdóttir, ‘Kingship, Women, and Politics’, pp. 89, 105; Percivall, ‘Teenage Angst’, pp. 144–45. 65 Sturlunga saga, vol. 1, pp. 262, 300. 66 Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society, pp. 31–41, and Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity: The Christianization of Marriage in Medieval Iceland 1200–1600 (Aarhus, 2010), pp. 120–21, 137–39, 157, 177–79. 60

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Matthew Roby chieftains and their supporters to those with the crown.67 In this context, the word frilla took on pejorative connotations and female virginity became an increasingly important criterion for marriage.68 Such changes would suggest that pre- and extra-marital sex were not as broadly acceptable as they had been during the thirteenth century. Moreover, throughout this time, including while concubinage was more assuredly entrenched, scholars argue that the literary treatment of such activities beyond the samtíðarsögur suggests they were perceived as undesirable. Jochens and Bagerius gesture to the relative paucity of extra-marital affairs in the Íslendingasögur and riddarasögur, respectively.69 Jochens suggests that this reveals the desire of saga composers to ‘whitewash’ the sagas with distanced settings, in a manner that they could not – but supposedly wished to – with the contemporaneous samtíðarsögur, a hypothesis recently repeated by Auður Magnúsdóttir.70 Jochens notes that, when such activities do appear in symbolic forms in these more distanced sources, they are condemned. She argues this to be the case in the ‘illicit love visit’ trope, in which young males loiter suggestively around their neighbours’ kinswomen, but refuse to marry them. Jochens claims that the ubiquitous chagrin of the women’s giptingarmenn (legal administrators), in addition to the often-fatal punishments of the young men, imply the opposition of saga composers to such premarital flirtation.71 Likewise, Bagerius suggests that, in the few instances in which pre- or extra-marital sex is depicted in the riddarasögur, it is decried as ignoble. ‘True knights’ do not engage in such disreputable behaviours, a notion that he argues appealed to the riddarasögur’s elite audiences, who were attempting to cultivate a courtly self-image.72 The symbolic connection between the ‘temporary troll lover’ episodes and this custom of premarital sexual experimentation with women from lower-status families is substantiated in numerous respects. First, they share the basic trajectory of sex with one female figure as a precursor to – and perhaps even as preparation for – marriage to another. Second, though all the ‘temporary troll lovers’ in question descend from either human or supernatural nobility, numerous attributes commonly associated with trolls permit them to be interpreted as figures of low socio-economic status. These include their misshapen physicalities and ludicrously high esteem for dairy 67

Auður Magnúsdóttir, ‘Kingship, Women, and Politics’, p. 84, and Henric Bagerius, ‘Romance and Violence: Aristocratic Sexuality in Late Medieval Iceland’, Mirator 14.2 (2013), 79–96, at pp. 83–85. 68 Bagerius, ‘Romance and Violence’, p. 83; Agnes Arnórsdóttir, Property and Virginity, pp. 280–84; Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society, p. 124. See also Jónsbók, pp. 94–96. 69 Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society, pp. 33–36; Bagerius, ‘Romance and Violence’, p. 85. 70 Jochens, ‘The Illicit Love Visit’, pp. 361–64; Auður Magnúsdóttir, ‘Kingship, Women, and Politics’, pp. 86–87. 71 Jochens, ‘The Illicit Love Visit’, pp. 365–74. 72 Bagerius, ‘Romance and Violence’, pp. 81–85.

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The Licit Love Visit products, both of which are present in Ketils saga.73 Their possible symbolic significance as the daughters of lower-status households is substantiated further in Örvar-Odds saga and Ketils saga specifically, via the emphatically domestic nature of the troll households. Rather than in regal or rough-hewn caves, these trolls appear to live in houses. These dwellings, even described as ‘bæ[r]’ (a farm) in Ketils saga, are inhabited by small, working families, and are furnished with basic household items, such as Goðmundr’s cot.74 This symbolic link is corroborated most clearly via an analogue in Áns saga bogsveigis. Here, Án’s informal tryst with a lower-status human daughter contains the same unmistakable verbal formula common to three of the ‘temporary troll lover’ episodes.75 As the fourth in the Hrafnistusögur series to which Ketils saga and Örvar-Odds saga belong, and which also often appear together in manuscripts, it is highly likely that this text was read alongside two or more of these ‘temporary troll lover’ episodes.76 It is therefore probable that audiences drew parallels between informal sex with the daughters of troll families and those of such human, independent, but lower-status households. As mentioned above, pre- and extra-marital sexual affairs with the daughters of such households are portrayed neutrally – albeit apparently begrudgingly – in the samtíðarsögur. However, as Bagerius and Jochens assert, they are presented negatively in the riddarasögur and Íslendingasögur, ostensibly indicating their widespread censure both before and after their supposed extirpation. Such activities are even depicted somewhat cagily in episodes featuring human lovers from the distanced fornaldarsögur, including in Áns saga. This protagonist’s sexual attentions are not implied to be disagreeable to his female lover, but they occur without the knowledge or permission of the latter’s family.77 Conversely, these ‘temporary troll lover’ episodes present relatively – and, in Hálfdanar saga, emphatically – unproblematised accounts of such behaviour. If interpreted along such lines, these episodes might demonstrate tacit ideological support for the use of premarital mistresses, made safe by the supernatural figure of the troll-woman. As contemporary descriptions or – after its apparent extirpation – literary remembrances of institutionalised concubinage, these episodes seem particularly to extol the apparent culture of consent among mistresses and their giptingarmenn to accept the inferior role in such activities. Corroborating Percivall’s hypothesis about the use of premarital mistresses as rehearsals for official matrimony, these episodes 73

74 75 76 77

Ketils saga, p. 252. See also Amy Eichhorn-Mulligan, ‘Contextualising Old NorseIcelandic Bodies’, in The Fantastic in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: Sagas and the British Isles: Preprint Papers of the Thirteenth International Saga Conference, Durham and York 2006, ed. John McKinnell, David Ashurst, and Donata Kick, 2 vols (Durham, 2006), vol. 1, pp. 198–207, at p. 199. Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 339–40; Ketils saga, pp. 251–52. Áns saga, p. 418. Recall n. 9. AM 343 a 4to, for example, contains all four Hrafnistusögur. Áns saga, p. 418.

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Matthew Roby also present such activities as contributory to the development of male sociosexual activeness in romantic interactions, including in specific preparation for marriage. Finally, these portrayals characterise such premarital affairs as innocuous, with little reference to the stigma such activities apparently began to accrue following the thirteenth century. On one particular source of shame – the reduction of a woman’s marital value after losing her virginity – some of these sagas even note the existence of such concerns, though in a hypocritical manner that fails to implicate the protagonist. During one of Brana’s later appearances to facilitate Hálfdan’s marriage to Marsibil, she laments that their female lovechild might have ‘orðin fífl’ (become seduced) in her absence.78 Later in the same saga, Hálfdan’s rival Áki attempts to impede the hero’s courtship of Marsibil by spreading the rumour that he has already had informal intercourse with her, which enrages her father.79 Likewise, in Kjalnesinga saga, Búi refuses to marry his fiancée, Ólof in væna, upon his return to Iceland. This is because she has been kidnapped and, in Búi’s own words, ‘spillt’ (spoiled) by a rival.80 These references locate their respective sagas in contexts in which the informal sexual use of women could be considered detrimental, both to their families’ honour and to their marriage prospects. However, via the supernatural symbol of the troll-woman, these sagas simultaneously support such activities when carried out by their protagonists, implying lingering support for such youthful, masculine entitlement in the imaginations of at least some medieval Icelanders, if not in their enacted behaviours or customs. I turn now to Ketils saga hængs, which offers a radically different perspective and one which, by virtue of the extreme intertextual potential of these sagas, might have provided different answers to the same questions regarding premarital sex. Through the words and actions of the protagonist’s father, this text repeats the ideology presented above: young men may enjoy trysts with troll-women, who might symbolise the daughters of lower-status families. These must be temporary, however, yielding to marriages with more appropriate brides. However, by focusing on the affective turmoil of its two lovers, Ketils saga calls into question the propriety and harmlessness of such premarital affairs, as well as their efficacy in fostering stable adult masculinity.81 Three years after their separation, which in this saga is significantly left undescribed, the troll-woman Hrafnhildr comes to see Ketill in his Hálfdanar saga, p. 343. Hálfdanar saga, p. 345. 80 Kjalnesinga saga, p. 40. 81 Though she does not discuss the pertinence of this episode to Ketill’s sexual development, my interpretation follows that of Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir. She too recognises the emotional tribulations of Ketill and Hrafnhildr’s romance, which she similarly suggests pertains to the troll-woman’s unsuitability as a marital match; Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words, and Power (New York, 2013), pp. 69–70. 78 79

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The Licit Love Visit human community. She brings along their lovechild, Grímr loðinkinni. Ketill immediately invites her to stay, but this enrages Hallbjörn, his father. Hrafnhildr agrees to depart, though Ketill attempts to comfort her as she goes.82 Hallbjörn’s dismissal of Hrafnhildr is the first sign of his alignment with the principles depicted in the other three sagas. However, this sequence also demonstrates that neither lover shares these sentiments. In Hrafnhildr’s arrival at Hrafnista and Ketill’s immediate invitation for her to stay there, as well as his explicit concern for her wellbeing, both lovers seem to wish to maintain contact, perhaps sexually and romantically, after the protagonist’s return to human society. Consistent with my interpretation of the motif as depicting symbolic premarital mistresses, Hallbjörn soon arranges his son’s betrothal with direct reference to his erstwhile lover: Bárðr hét maðr, góðr bóndi, ok átti dóttur fríða, er Sigríðr hét. Sá þótti þá beztr kostr. Hallbjörn bað Ketil biðja sér konu ok hyggja svá af Hrafnhildi. Ketill kvað sér ekki hug á kvánföngum, ok var hann jafnan hljóðr, síðan þau Hranfhildr skildu. Ketill kveðst mundu fara norðr með landi. En Hallbjörn sagðist mundu fara bónorðsför fyrir hann, – ‘ok er þat illt, at þú vilt elska tröll þat’ […] en þó gekk fram þessi ráðastofnun, ok var veizlan góð. Ketill fór ekki af klæðum ina fyrstu nótt, er þau kómu í eina sæng. Hún fór ekki at því, ok samdist brátt með þeim. (A man was called Bárðr, a prosperous farmer, and he had a beautiful daughter, who was called Sigríðr. That one was thought then to be the best marriage prospect. Hallbjörn told Ketill to ask her to be his wife, and thus leave off thinking about Hrafnhildr. Ketill said that he did not wish to think about marriage, and he was always taciturn after he and Hrafnhildr separated. Ketill said he would travel north along the coast. But Hallbjörn said that he would go on a wooing journey on his behalf, – ‘and it is bad that you insist on loving that troll’ […] and yet this [Hallbjörn’s] plan went forward and the marriage celebration was good. Ketill did not take off his clothes on the first night, when they came into one bed. She didn’t trouble herself about this, and things soon worked themselves out between them.)83 This excerpt demonstrates the saga composer’s familiarity with the pattern depicted in the other texts, which he ventriloquises through Hallbjörn: Hrafnhildr is apparently not an appropriate candidate for permanent marriage to Ketill, while the eligible Sigríðr certainly is. However, Ketils saga does not let this perspective stand unchallenged. Despite her ostensible unsuitability, and in violation of his father’s wishes, this passage indicates Ketill’s persistent affection for his ‘temporary troll lover.’ Both in Hallbjörn’s implication that Ketill cannot stop thinking about Hrafnhildr and in the boy’s 82 83

Ketils saga, pp. 255–56. Ketils saga, p. 256.

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Matthew Roby explicitly ‘hljóðr’ (taciturn) state, this passage implies Ketill’s lovesickness for her. When Hallbjörn requests that Ketill go and woo Sigríðr, the lad not only refuses, but also voices his intention to travel ‘norðr með landi.’ Audiences would likely have interpreted this to signify Ketill’s intention to seek Hrafnhildr, since the latter’s bearing as she rowed away just a few sentences earlier was described with identical diction.84 Finally, Ketill’s reaction to his arranged marriage with Sigríðr confirms his continued longing. Out of love or loyalty for Hrafnhildr, Ketill attempts to resist this marriage by refusing sexual contact. However, his efforts do not withstand Sigríðr’s persistence and, ultimately, he relents. The latter detail is especially significant to this saga’s criticism of premarital sexual experimentation. Numerous scholars have identified lovesickness as an impediment to masculine ascendency in Old Norse-Icelandic sources, of which Ketill’s infatuation is a prime example.85 His time with Hrafnhildr has not prepared him for, but rather precludes him from, demonstrating mature socio-sexual dominance with his bride. It causes him to inhabit a passive position – the object of this woman’s wiles rather than the active instigator – in the marital bed. Hallbjörn eventually dies and Ketill settles into married life with Sigríðr, with whom he has his second child. Three years later, Hrafnhildr returns and Ketill once more invites her to stay with him. This evinces the same belief as earlier that the continuation of their interactions, possibly even cohabitation and intimate relations, would be appropriate, in spite of the presence of his human wife.86 This time, though, Hrafnhildr is the one to refuse: ‘hún kveðst ekki þá mundu dveljast. “Þar hefir þú nú gert fyrir um fundi okkra ok samvistir í lauslyndi þinni ok óstaðfestu.” Hún gekk þá til skips, mjök döpr ok þrungin’ (she said that she would not remain there. “You have now forfeited our meeting and living together, through your loose-mindedness and unsteadfastness.” She then went to her ship, very sad and troubled).87 This passage grants Hrafnhildr a different perspective to those expressed by the troll-women above. Though they are all saddened, they each recognise the necessity of their lovers’ abandonment and, to some extent, facilitate it. Hrafnhildr challenges this notion: while recognising that it is now dashed, Ketils saga, p. 256. See Lindow, ‘When Skaði Chose Njǫrðr’, p. 169; Margrét Eggertsdóttir, ‘The Anomalous Pursuit of Love’, trans. Phillip Roughton, in Romance and Love, pp. 81–109, at p. 97; and Bjørn Bandlien, Strategies of Passion: Love and Marriage in Old Norse Society, trans. Betsy van de Hoek (Turnhout, 2005), pp. 27–32. For further considerations of pining and lovesickness as impediments to masculinity, see also Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir, this volume. 86 Incidentally, Ketill’s second offer of cohabitation extends this saga’s commentary beyond premarital mistress to extra-marital ones, like those throughout the Sturlunga compilation, as well as Melkorka in Laxdæla saga. Hrafnhildr’s refusal to accept this position also offers a unique voice to such women, suggesting such an arrangement to be detrimental to emotional state of the frilla, not just the wife; see Laxdæla saga, p. 26. 87 Ketils saga, p. 257. 84 85

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The Licit Love Visit she admits her sincere belief that the pair were going to live together in monogamous union, using a term – ‘samvistir’ (living together) – that primarily refers to married life. If, as I speculate, she represents Ketill’s lowerstatus, premarital mistress, her expression that she is actually an appropriate marital match challenges the disregard for the social, sexual, and emotional wellbeing of such women. Unlike her counterparts above, Hrafnhildr refuses to exonerate the hero in this passage. Her unambiguous allocation of blame precludes the audience’s interpretation that Ketill’s abandonment of his premarital mistress was justifiable. This passage pays considerable attention Hrafnhildr’s emotional state in response to Ketill’s (admittedly unwilling) enactment of the ‘temporary troll lover’ pattern. In addition to the anger implied in her accusations, Hrafnhildr is explicitly described as ‘mjök döpr ok þrungin’ (very sad and troubled). However, it is not merely the statement of her sorrow that is unique in Ketils saga. Rather, this saga encourages greater sympathy for the perspective of the abandoned troll-woman due to the sentiments of its protagonist. The offhand disregard for the troll-women’s feelings shown by Búi and Oddr, with the latter not uttering a single word in response to Hildigunnr’s tearful speech, arguably gives the audience greater licence to dismiss the troll-women’s distress. Conversely, as this saga’s protagonist, Ketill’s persistent care for Hrafnhildr encourages audiences to consider her position more deeply. This constructs a criticism of male premarital sexual activities that is uniquely attuned to the female perspective, and to her affective turmoil in particular, rather than merely to her kinsmen’s honour or her future marriage prospects. The abandonment of the troll-woman, and the human figure she might represent, is thus characterised as emotionally injurious to the female party, as something that unfairly and erroneously relegates certain women to the position of disposable sexual conquest, and something for which the male party is entirely culpable. This episode also indicates the long-term detrimental impact of relationships with premarital mistresses on the male party. Ketill’s second invitation for cohabitation confirms his continued lovesickness, with its rejection implying his subsequent disappointment. When paired with Hrafnhildr’s reference to ‘samvistir’, Ketill’s two invitations become more conclusively characterised as proposals of cohabitation or even marriage, redoubling the audience’s consideration of that dashed possibility. Moreover, the saga intimates that Ketill’s unfulfilled love-longing persists throughout his life. First, he again heads north some years after this emotional scene, this time with the explicit intention of finding her.88 Additionally, not only has he named his human daughter Hrafnhildr, presumably out of lingering affection for this troll-woman, but he also later swears an oath that this daughter will never be compelled to marry without her consent, perhaps an oblique reference to his own forced marriage to Sigríðr.89 The saga seems to intimate 88 89

Ketils saga, p. 257. Ketils saga, pp. 256–57. See Ciklamini, ‘Ketils saga hængs’, p. 353, and Philadelphia

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Matthew Roby that a young man, perhaps even specifically because of his youth and romantic inexperience, might develop strong feelings for a first love whom he is supposed to forsake. This leads to later confusion and sadness when he is expected to love – and show socio-sexual dominance over – another.90 Through the unique presentation of a possible masculine perspective in the figure of Ketill, this saga calls male premarital sexual activity into question. It intensifies the audience’s consideration of whether certain women should be deemed inappropriate for permanent partnership, as well as suggesting the potentially injurious impact of such a model on the besotted young male and his stable, dominant masculinity. In conclusion, the ‘temporary troll lover’ trope seems potentially indicative of the diversity of late medieval Icelandic perspectives on male, premartial sexual experimentation. To begin with, it has the potential to express considerations of such activities as a fantasy or otherwise purely abstract construct. In such a scenario, these sagas indicate contrasting ideologies on the hypothetical sexual entitlement of young males. However, I maintain that these texts might also offer insight into medieval conceptions of the entrenched culture of concubinage of the thirteenth century, as well as the memories of that custom – in addition to the possibility of its continued enactment, perhaps without institutionalised endorsement – in subsequent centuries. The first three sagas demonstrate a broadly positive view of male premartial sexual affairs, offering a contrary perspective to the majority of naturalistic portrayals. Presumably due to the distanced nature of the trollwoman as a symbol, these episodes allow for the unproblematised and even laudatory expression of youthful male dalliance with informal partners as an avenue toward masculine sexual maturation, prior to its subsequent consummation in matrimony. However, Ketils saga hængs indicates contemporaneous qualms surrounding this ideology. As outlined above, such anxieties are evinced elsewhere. Jochens notes that premarital affairs are criticised for their negative social impacts on the mistresses and their families in the ‘illicit love visit’ trope, while Bagerius asserts that they are characterised as ignoble in the riddarasögur. Ketils saga condemns such activities from a different angle. This text draws attention to the emotional attachment that two young lovers might develop, compelling the audience to sympathise with both parties when – due to the pressure to enact the pattern presented in the other sagas – they must part. Moreover, this episode does not absolve the male hero of guilt for Ricketts, ‘Spoiling Them Rotten?: Grandmothers and Familial Identity in Twelfthand Thirteenth-Century Iceland’, in Youth and Age (Leiden, 2008), pp. 167–204, at pp. 173–74 and 178. 90 Similar notions on young love — as perceived by both male and female lovers as permanent, exclusive, and unrepeatable — are expressed poignantly in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu: ‘ok er þat satt, sem mælt er, at lengi man þat, er ungr getr’ (and that is true, as it is said, that that is long remembered, which is learned in youth); Gunnlaugs saga, p. 87. See more generally Gunnlaugs saga, pp. 88–107.

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The Licit Love Visit his desertion, but rather expresses blame for his inconstancy when he acquiesces to the norm. Ketils saga thus problematises such conduct, suggesting that premarital sexual experimentation is an inequitable, ineffective, and emotionally injurious model for the accession to male adulthood. If I am correct that medieval Icelanders connected this episode to the custom or concept of treating lower-status women as premarital mistresses, Ketils saga indicates a further significant point. Considering his protagonistic status, audiences might have supported Ketill’s lifelong love for Hrafnhildr and opposed the callous perspectives of his father. Hence, this episode might have reflected or reinforced the notion not only that premarital sexual activities are problematic in and of themselves, but also that such mistresses – including women from lower-status households – should not be discounted as appropriate marital matches. The saga demonstrates sympathy for romance across social divides, offering a more sentimental rationale for the directive, expressed in Jónsbók, that errant young men might be encouraged or coerced to marry the women with whom they have dallied.91 It is tempting to suggest that the composition of Ketils saga might have coincided with the possible waning of pre- and extra-marital concubinage in later medieval Icelandic society, and might also have gained more widespread audience appreciation as this change progressed. However, since the actuality and temporal context of this shift are contested, and since it is impossible to ascertain the order or composition date for these texts, I will refrain from positing that the Ketils saga episode represents a deliberate modification of an older story pattern, made with these specific social changes in mind. Rather, it is most defensible to suggest that these four sagas simply evince the existence of different perspectives on the subject of premarital partners, each composed and consumed between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, whose contrasting depictions of premarital sex might have been considered, compared, dismissed, or internalised by late medieval Icelandic audiences. Ketill hængr’s unwillingness to treat Hrafnhildr as a mere premarital mistress might have been more recognisable and perhaps even agreeable to certain audiences: perhaps Jochens’s clerical or pro-reform saga composers, or Bagerius’s post-thirteenth-century secular chieftains, with their courtly pretensions. However, the other three sagas continued to enjoy sustained interest into the early modern period as well, suggesting at the very least the lingering survival of the ideologies they represent in the imaginations and fantasies, if not necessarily the conscious worldviews or behaviours, of late medieval Icelanders.

Jónsbók, p. 82. This second hypothesis on Ketils saga hængs has already been proposed by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir; see Women in Old Norse Literature, p. 70.

91 See

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders Gareth Lloyd Evans

In Chapter 35 of Laxdœla saga, a woman named Auðr is publicly accused by her husband Þórðr of having worn men’s breeches ‘sem karlkonur’ (like masculine women).1 He uses this claim as reason and legal justification for divorcing her. As readers, we cannot know for certain whether this accusation is to be considered factually accurate or a complete fabrication. Before this chapter, Auðr’s ostensible deviation from sartorial gender norms had not previously been mentioned in the saga; the issue is only raised at this point when Þórðr’s love-interest Guðrún – who is also the woman he will marry following his separation from Auðr – asks him whether it is true that his wife ‘er jafnan í brókum ok setgeiri í’ (is always wearing breeches with inset gores) and also suggests that the name Bróka-Auðr (Breeches-Auðr) has come to be associated with her as a result.2 But regardless of its veracity, this claim of a transgressive gender performance is apparently – within the world of Laxdœla saga at least – a legitimate, and culturally intelligible, reason for the dissolution of their marriage.3 Instances such as this one, in which cultural masculinity is ascribed to a female-sexed character, can be found in a number of the sagas of Icelanders. And in modern gender studies scholarship today, as discussed in the introduction to this volume, the idea that sex and gender are not coterminous is both commonplace and widely accepted. Judith Butler’s influential theorizations of the socially-constructed and performative nature of gender allow for (and even demand) the radical uncoupling of gender from sex. The result of this radical disruption is that – to use Butler’s words – ‘gender becomes a free-floating artifice, with the consequence that man and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one, and woman and feminine

1 2 3

Laxdœla saga, p. 96. Laxdœla saga, p. 95. Grágás prescribes harsh punishments for both men and women who wear clothing deemed at odds with their sex (p. 125).

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Gareth Lloyd Evans a male body as easily as a female one’.4 Jack Halberstam, partially drawing upon Butler’s theorizations and exploring extensively the implications of this radical uncoupling, has discussed the realities and representations of female-sexed women and characters who embody or perform modalities of masculinity.5 Arguing persuasively that ‘masculinity must not and cannot and should not reduce down to the male body and its effects’, Halberstam demonstrates the essential importance of studying female masculinities in order to understand fully the various possible configurations that masculinity might take.6 Studies of masculinity that do not take into account female masculinity are, at best, partial accounts of the phenomenon. Studying female modalities of masculinity also enables us to identify more easily the social signifiers, the attributes, and the technologies that produce and perpetuate masculine performances. Writing of contemporary configurations of masculinity, Halberstam has argued that ‘[m]asculinity […] becomes legible as masculinity where and when it leaves the white male middle-class body.’7 And indeed, in saga literature, masculine women – whose female bodies do not fit culturally-normalized expectations of a masculine subject – have their masculinity foregrounded, and thus encourage us to examine the construction and, indeed, constructedness, of masculinity. Scholars of saga literature have recognized the possibility of saga women performing masculinity (or, in the terminology of some older scholarship, adopting the ‘male role’). Carol Clover, for example, in what has now become an extremely influential model for the study of gender in medieval Scandinavia, has suggested that medieval Iceland and medieval Icelandic saga literature operated according to a ‘one-sex, one-gender model with a vengeance’ in which sex was of no consequence at all and gender was everything.8 Clover formulates her argument thus: to the extent that we can speak of a social binary, a set of two categories, into which all persons were divided, the fault line runs not between males and females per se, but between able-bodied men (and the exceptional woman) on one hand and, on the other, a kind of rainbow 4 5 6 7

8

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York and London, 1990), p. 6. Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity (Durham, NC and London, 1998). Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p. 1. Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p. 2. Although these terms may seem a little inapposite for the construction of masculinity in saga literature, I have elsewhere demonstrated that deviations from the cultural norm in terms of race, sex, and socio-economic status impact negatively upon masculine standing. See Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019), esp. ch. 3. Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Representations 44 (1993), 1–28, at p. 18. For a precursor to this line of argument, see Carol Clover, ‘Maiden Warriors and Other Sons’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 85 (1986), 35–49.

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders coalition of everyone else (most women, children, slaves, and old, disabled, or otherwise disenfranchised men).9 According to Clover, we should not think in terms of male/female and masculine/feminine but rather of hvatr (hard) and blauðr (soft), with modes of action deemed hvatr seen as socially acceptable and valued, and actions thought of as blauðr as being denigrated. Clover’s model suggests that all subjects were judged on their gender performance alone: manliness (i.e. to be hvatr) was seen as a positive, and unmanliness (i.e. to be blauðr) a negative. Whether one was a manly man or a manly woman was of no importance at all, and, moreover – according to the logic of Clover’s framework – such a distinction would not have even been particularly intelligible. Clover’s assertion that women have the potential to perform masculinity – just as they can today – is clearly correct, but her larger model cannot be seen as an accurate reflection of saga literature.10 Of particular concern for the present discussion is that Clover’s model entirely erases the significance of biological sex when considering questions of gender performance. While I may personally be of the opinion that dimorphic sex is very much a matter of social construction in itself, the sagas, however, do clearly suggest a naturalized view of a fundamentally binary conception of sex, which can be seen to be of significant importance when evaluating the gender performance of a given character.11 It does matter in the sagas whether a subject is a manly man or a manly woman; to gloss over this distinction robs the masculine woman of the fundamentally different relationship she has to masculinity – her own masculinity, that of the men around her, and also the concept itself in abstraction. The sources that Clover uses in formulating her one-sex, one-gender model are selective at best and, if we take a broader view of the sagas of Icelanders, we can find a number of examples from a range of sagas in which female-sexed characters are able to perform or embody masculinity while nevertheless retaining their female status. And more than simply retaining their female status, many narratives clearly draw attention 9

Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, 13. A number of other scholars have taken issue with, and pointed out flaws within, the model of gender proposed by Clover. Her formulation, however, nevertheless has an undue hold over scholarship on Old Norse gender. For critiques of Clover’s framework see, for example: Bjørn Bandlien, ‘Man or Monster?: Negotiations of Masculinity in Old Norse Society’ (doctoral thesis, Universitetet i Oslo, 2005), p. 10; Henric Bagerius, ‘Mandom och mödom: Sexualitet, homosocialitet och aristokratisk identitet på det senmedeltida Island’ (doctoral thesis, Göteborgs universitet, 2009), pp. 52–55; Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words, and Power (New York, 2013), pp. 7–8; Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘Gender’, in The Routledge Research Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Sverrir Jakobsson (London, 2017), pp. 226–39, at p. 234; and Evans, Men and Masculinities, pp. 11–15. 11 For examples of instances in which biological sex is clearly taken to be of significance, see my Men and Masculinities, pp. 12–14. 10

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Gareth Lloyd Evans to the sexed physical specificity of the female body that performs masculinity, suggesting that sex and gender cannot be elided in the saga imagination and that the saga authors actively encourage their audiences to consider the significance of such characters. What also becomes clear from studying examples of female masculinity is that female masculinities cannot – and should not – be elided with male masculinities: they serve a different purpose within these narratives.12 In this chapter, I look at a number of examples of what I suggest we should identify as female masculinities. I explore both their representation within saga literature and their relationship to dominant – that is, male – modalities of masculinity, particularly focusing on the implications that female masculinities hold for our understanding of the concept of Norse masculinity. The chapter also demonstrates the utility of female masculinity as a framework appropriate for – and beneficial to – the study of Old Norse masculinities. While David Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir have recently asserted the relevance of a female masculinity framework for interpreting characters like the valkyries of eddic poetry and the maiden-kings of the fornaldarsögur, I here suggest that the concept has a much wider applicability and needs to be discussed in further depth to appreciate the critical power that it offers us for understanding the operation of gender in Old Norse texts.13 The chapter also contributes – beyond the field of Old Norse studies – to our appreciation of female masculinities more broadly: while Halberstam argues that we need to ‘understand the masculine woman as a historical fixture, a character 12

Halberstam similarly argues, for the female masculinities he elucidates in the sources that form the basis of his study, that ‘female masculinity is not simply the opposite of female femininity, nor is it a female version of male masculinity’ (Female Masculinity, p. 29). 13 David Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’, in A Handbook to Eddic Poetry: Myths and Legends of Early Scandinavia, ed. Carolyne Larrington, Judy Quinn, and Brittany Schorn (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 331–48, at pp. 338–39. See also Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘Gender’, p. 234; and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature, esp. ch. 5. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir also uses the concept of female masculinity in her discussion of Mágus saga jarls in her contribution to this volume. Karma Lochrie – in a very recent book chapter, which appeared after the present chapter had been written – also employs the concept of female masculinities in the study of medieval literature. She suggests that she would ‘like to propose a direction for medieval masculinity studies that has so far been neglected as a distinct gender category, and that is masculinities without men’; she ultimately aims to provide ‘a preliminary archive for thinking about masculinities apart from men in medieval literature and culture’; see Karma Lochrie, ‘Medieval Masculinities without Men’, in Rivalrous Masculinities: New Directions in Medieval Gender Studies, ed. Ann Marie Rasmussen (Notre Dame, 2019), pp. 209–33, at pp. 209 and 229. Lochrie’s claim that female masculinities have been neglected is perhaps a little overstated. The ‘archive’ she produces is nevertheless wide-ranging and thought-provoking, although Old Norse-Icelandic material is notably absent from it (at least, of course, from the perspective of an Old Norse specialist).

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders who has challenged gender systems for at least two centuries’, the study of female masculinities in saga literature demonstrates that this figure has been a historical fixture, troubling gendered taxonomies and categories, for far longer than this.14 First, to return to Laxdœla saga’s Auðr, who was accused of having worn men’s breeches ‘sem karlkonur’ (like masculine women) and was divorced as a result:15 the word used by Þórðr to describe Auðr here – karlkonur – is both extremely interesting and extremely significant. It is a compound formed by the joining together the words ‘karl’ (man) and ‘kona’ (woman), hence *karlkona (masculine woman).16 As the compound karlkonur indicates, Auðr clearly retains her female status but is nevertheless aligned with the masculine: although she is recognised as performing masculinity, she is still considered to be female. The precise signification of the term karlkona is not entirely clear, however. We cannot know whether Auðr is seen as sexually deviant, as simply cross-dressing, or as having an identity akin to that of a transgender person today.17 We may conjecture that this ambiguity is intentional: as Jenny Jochens has suggested, ‘only the terms karl and kona ensure unambiguous gender specificity’.18 Thus, the word karlkona takes Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p. 45. Laxdœla saga, p. 96. 16 Karlkonur (sg. karlkona) is a hapax legomenon, occurring only in the Möðruvallabók redaction of Laxdœla saga (the oldest manuscript that contains a full version of the saga). Younger manuscripts, instead of reading ‘sem karlkonur’, have ‘sem karlmenn’ (meaning, ‘like men’), ‘sem karlar’ (also meaning ‘like men’), or ‘sem karlmaðr’ (meaning ‘like a man’) – see ONP for details of MS variants. Both because this word occurs only once in the Old Norse corpus and likely because it troubles simple binary notions of gender, the Möðruvallabók reading is often seen as a scribal error and is emended accordingly. The Cleasby-Vigfússon dictionary, for example, claims that the word is ‘a false reading for karlmenn’ (CleasbyVigfússon, s.v. karl-kona). But such emendation seems unnecessary—and, indeed, undesirable—given the context in which the compound occurs: the transgression of expected gender norms is central to this scene. That the emendation is unnecessary is a fact bolstered, I hope, by the other examples of female masculinity elucidated in this chapter. Moreover, to emend this hapax legomenon—without good cause and indeed against thematic evidence—is to erase from the historical and literary record a trace of an identity that does not fit normative categories. Such an emendation is to do unwitting—at best—symbolic violence against those who do not fall neatly into normative categories, both in the past and today. Einar Ól. Sveinsson in his edition of the saga for Íslenzk fornrit retains the Möðruvallabók reading, suggesting that ‘er það líklega rétt’ (it is likely correct): see Laxdœla saga, p. 96. George Tate also notes that ‘[t]he blurring of sexual difference in the Möðruvallabók compound is […] consistent with other details of the narrative’ – see George Tate, ‘Fertility, Ergi, and Violence in Laxdœla saga’, Allegorica: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Literature 10 (1989), 13–26, at p. 25. Furthermore, if we are to follow the principle of lectio difficilior potior, then we must surely accept ‘karlkonur’ as legitimate. 17 This is not, of course, to suggest that trans identities are unitary or ahistorical. 18 Jenny Jochens, Women in Old Norse Society (Ithaca, 1995), p. 121. 14 15

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Gareth Lloyd Evans what might sometimes be thought of as simple and unambiguous – that is, binary notions of sex and gender – and reveals them to be explicitly, and unavoidably, complex. What is clear is that the term, by juxtaposing the words for man and woman, indicates that sex is of importance to questions of gender identity and performance. What is also particularly interesting to note is that the word occurs in the plural, perhaps suggesting that the category of ‘masculine women’ would have been understood more widely than simply in the isolated instance that now survives in Möðruvallabók. This impression is bolstered by the construction used: Þórðr does not claim that Auðr is a karlkona (er karlkona) but rather acts like karlkonur (sem karlkonur). By suggesting her similarity to the category of ‘masculine women’ – a group, of course, whose existence depends upon separate notions of sex and gender being in operation – Þórðr implicitly validates, or even reifies, the existence of such a group (either in actuality or in the cultural imagination). Here, we perhaps have a tantalizing glimpse of the possible existence – in reality or at least in saga-society – of a category (or, even more tentatively, community) of gender-deviant women. Following her divorce from Þórðr, Auðr takes revenge on her ex-husband. We read that she rides to Þórðr’s home, and the saga narrative wryly tells us that ‘var hon þá at vísu í brókum’ (she was certainly wearing breeches at that point); whether or not she has previously worn male dress, she unquestionably does so now.19 Once she has arrived, we read the following: Auðr gekk at durum, ok var opin hurð; hon gekk til eldhúss ok at lokrekkju þeiri, er Þórðr lá í ok svaf; var hurðin fallin aptr, en eigi lokan fyrir. Hon gekk í lokrekkjuna, en Þórðr svaf ok horfði í lopt upp. Þá vakði Auðr Þórð, en hann snerisk á hlíðina, er hann sá, at maðr var kominn. Hon brá þá saxi ok lagði at Þórði ok veitti honum áverka mikla, ok kom á hǫndina hœgri; varð hann sárr á báðum geirvǫrtum; svá lagði hon til fast, at saxit nam í beðinum staðar. Síðan gekk Auðr brott ok til hests ok hljóp á bak ok reið heim eptir þat.20 (Auðr walked to the doorway and the door was open; she went into the fire-hall, and to the bed-closet in which Þórðr lay and slept; the door was closed, but it was not bolted. She went into the bed-closet, and Þórðr was asleep facing upwards. Then Auðr roused Þórðr, and he turned over onto his side, when he saw that a man had come in. Then she drew a short-sword and thrust at Þórðr and gave him a great wound, and it struck him on the right arm; he was wounded on both nipples; she struck so hard that the sword stuck in the bed. Afterwards Auðr left and went to her horse and leapt onto its back and then rode home.) In this scene, Auðr performs masculinity and in doing so demonstrates dominance over her ex-husband. There are a number of elements to consider 19 20

Laxdœla saga, p. 96. Laxdœla saga, p. 98.

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders here. The most basic, of course, is that she is confirmed by the saga author to be wearing male dress at this point in the narrative. That she stabs Þórðr also clearly has gendered significance and stabbing him in bed adds erotic resonances to the scene. As a married couple, Auðr and Þórðr would have shared a bed but now their former situation is violently reversed: stabbing Þórðr in bed amounts to a symbolic act of phallic aggression (and, indeed, a symbolic act of phallic penetration).21 We might compare this scene in Laxdœla saga with a similar scene from Gísla saga in which Gísli kills Þórgrímr in similar circumstances. In that scene, Þórgrímr is in bed – asleep – with his wife, when Gísli initiates a sexualized situation between the husband and wife, by variously touching each of them while they sleep so that each thinks the other wishes to have sex.22 According to David Clark, Gísli initiates this situation so that Þórgrímr will be aroused when Gísli stabs him. According to Clark, he does this so that, when he stabs him, ‘he is symbolically saying: “I am penetrating you because I am a real man, and you are taking it from me like a woman, and indeed your erection shows that you are enjoying it”’.23 In the case of the scene from Laxdœla saga, Auðr makes a similar suggestion through her actions: it is as if she is saying ‘I am penetrating you like a man and you are taking it from me like a woman’.24 This interpretation is bolstered when we consider what it is that causes Auðr’s breeches to be coded masculine. The simple fact she wore breeches cannot in itself have been an issue given that other female characters in the sagas wear breeches without attracting gendered opprobrium.25 Instead, as Jochens has indicated, it is the For discussions of phallic aggression, see Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983), pp. 27–28 and pp. 51–57; David Clark, Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga (Oxford, 2012), ch. 4; and Margaret Clunies Ross, ‘Hildr’s Ring: A Problem in the Ragnarsdrápa: Strophes 8–12’, Mediaeval Scandinavia 6 (1973), 75–92, at p. 80. 22 Clark, Gender, Violence, and the Past, pp. 111–14. 23 Clark, Gender, Violence, and the Past, pp. 113–14. Eldar Heide likewise reads the situation as sexual – see Eldar Heide, ‘Kvinner som gjer menn til kvinner i Laxdœla saga’, Nordlit 9 (2001), 79–96, at pp. 85–86. William Sayers also suggests that Þórðr here ‘symbolically plays a woman’s part’ – see William Sayers, ‘Sexual Identity, Cultural Integrity, Verbal and Other Magic in Episodes from Laxdœla saga and Kormáks saga’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 107 (1992), 131–55, at p. 135. 24 It is also interesting to note – although any conclusions drawn from the fact should be tentative – that the verb vekja (which here, in this scene from Laxdœla saga, occurs in its past tense third-person singular form, vakði) possibly functions as a double entendre, perhaps meaning both to rouse to wakefulness and to arouse sexually. Clark has suggested that this is the case for its use in the bed-murder scene in Gísla saga (Gender, Violence, and the Past, pp. 111–14); although less explicit, we might wonder whether the author of Laxdœla saga intends to produce a similar ambiguity through their use of the verb in describing Auðr’s attack on Þórðr. If so, it may be suggested that the saga subtly indicates that Auðr arouses Þórðr sexually before stabbing him, thus – as in Gísla saga – augmenting his shame as recipient of phallic aggression. 25 Kirsten Wolf, ‘Transvestism in the Sagas of Icelanders’, in Sagas and the Norwegian 21

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Gareth Lloyd Evans fact that these particular breeches had setgeiri (inset gores) – pieces of fabric inserted at the front of men’s trousers to accommodate male genitalia – that makes them an item acceptable only for men to wear.26 The issue – essentially – is that Auðr is said to have dressed as if she had a penis. And in this scene, in which she penetrates Þórðr with a sword she effectively – and symbolically – acts as if she had a penis, or, more precisely, as we would expect one who had a penis to act in saga literature. It also seems of significance that the sword she uses to stab Þórðr – which functions as a phallic symbol – stands upright in the bed after she has stabbed him: we can read this as an indicator of her phallic virility. The ambiguity of her gendered identity is moreover emphasised in this scene when we are told that Þórðr, after having been awoken by Auðr, ‘sá, at maðr var kominn’ (saw, that a man had come in).27 Here, the word maðr could either be taken to mean ‘a man’ (with its gendered specificity) or ‘someone’ (who could be either male or female).28 Just as the word karlkona combines masculinity with female sex, so too the author’s use of this word keeps unresolved – and thus draws attention to – the question of Auðr’s gendered identity. In discussing this episode, Eldar Heide has suggested that it is as if Auðr is symbolically saying ‘Jo, visst kan eg vera mann, og som det gjer eg deg til kvinne’ (Yes, I can certainly be a man, and I can likewise turn you into a woman).29 Similarly, Kirsten Wolf has suggested that Auðr is ‘a woman who imitated the superior sex […] by suppressing femaleness and using male disguise’.30 Both of these comments, however, suggest too strongly a renunciation of her female status. Although she does take on elements that are associated with men – both in dress and masculine behaviour – neither Heide nor Wolf here place enough emphasis on Auðr’s physical sex. She is a woman acting as a man; she does not become a man through her actions, and it is upon this fact that the scene turns.31 Likewise, she is not disguised as a man, but rather simply wears an item of male clothing; a disguise would, of course, mask its wearer’s true identity, but it seems that Auðr is here acting as herself rather than pretending to be someone else. She is not a man, nor is she unambiguously perceived to be one by the reader or other saga characters; if she were this scene would lose its significance, which depends upon a female character performing masculinity – and performing it better than a

26

27 28 29 30 31

Experience/Sagaene og Noreg: 10. Internasjonale Sagakonferanse (Trondheim, 1997), pp. 675–84, at p. 677. Jenny Jochens, ‘Before the Male Gaze: The Absence of the Female Body in Old Norse’, in Sex in the Middle Ages: A Book of Essays, ed. Joyce E. Salisbury (New York, 1991), pp. 3–29, at pp. 10–12. Laxdœla saga, p. 98. Cleasby-Vigfússon, s.v. maðr. Heide, ‘Kvinner’, p. 88. Wolf, ‘Transvestism’, p. 678. It should be noted that Heide does elsewhere suggest that Auðr behaves ‘som ein mann’ (like a man) (Heide, ‘Kvinner’, p. 88), but there is slippage in his article between viewing Auðr as a man and acting as a man.

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders man: she exhibits a female masculinity and should be recognised as doing so. Ultimately, the modality of female masculinity in evidence here – which, in this instance, relies not only on the behavioural signifiers of masculinity but also some of the physical signifiers of male masculine performance – is suggested to be superior to the male masculinity of Þórðr. That she is able to perform masculinity better than him inevitably calls into question the masculine performance of her ex-husband, but also the naturalized (and hence, usually invisible) link between masculinity and maleness.32 Víglundar saga provides us with another crucial example of female masculinity in the sagas of Icelanders.33 In Chapter 8 of this saga, we see the female character Ólof donning male dress. In this episode, the brothers Einarr and Jökull – the sons of Hólmkell – visit Ólof while her husband, Þorgrímr, is away from home. They intend that Einarr should rape Ólof and thereby shame Þorgrímr, of whose honour they are envious. To prevent this, Ólof disguises her maid as herself, and when Einarr sits next to the maid we are told the following: Í þessu kom maðr í stofuna bláklæddr ok helt á brugðnu sverði. Maðrinn var ekki stórr vexti, en allreiðugligr var hann. Þeir spurðu hann at nafni, en hann nefndist Óttarr. Ekki þekktu þeir þenna mann, en þó stóð þeim nökkurr ótti af þessum manni.34 (At this moment a man dressed in black came into the room, and he was holding a drawn sword. The man was not big in stature, but he looked very angry. They asked him his name and he gave his name as Óttarr. They did not recognize this man, and yet they stood somewhat in fear of this man.) After this, Óttarr announces – falsely – that Þorgrímr is on his way home and that he is swiftly approaching the farmstead. The brothers then jump up and quickly leave. At first, we might be tempted to think that this example in fact supports – rather than problematizes – Clover’s one-sex model. A cursory reading would suggest that here the saga sees gender merely as a matter of social performance. Indeed, in this episode, Ólof’s performance of masculinity seems to be so believable that both the intruding men and the reader (led by the narrator) are convinced by it, and assume that Ólof, as Óttarr, is indeed Writing on the relationship between Hildr and Hǫgni in Ragnarsdrápa, Clunies Ross suggests that to have one’s masculinity challenged by a woman who herself performed masculinity would be all the more injurious (‘Hildr’s ring’, p. 92). 33 There has been discussion over whether Víglundar saga should be considered as one of the sagas of Icelanders — see, for example, Marianne E. Kalinke, ‘Víglundar saga: An Icelandic Bridal Quest Romance’, Skáldskaparmál 3 (1994), 119–43. Here, however, I treat it as an Íslendingasaga on the grounds that it belongs to the same chronotope as the rest of the members of this genre. 34 Víglundar saga, p. 78. 32

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Gareth Lloyd Evans a man. The men fear Óttarr and flee from the threat that Óttarr poses. The narrative repeatedly refers to Óttarr as ‘the man’ (although admittedly, given that the Old Norse reads maðr, this could be translated merely as ‘person’), and it also uses masculine personal pronouns for him. Furthermore, Óttarr wields an unsheathed sword – an obvious, and rather unsubtle, phallic symbol – which is an indicator of his masculinity. And, if we wanted to dip briefly into psychoanalysis, in Lacanian terms, wielding the sword demonstrates that the character now possesses the phallus, and thus the social power afforded to a masculine subject.35 However, even here, in this apparently extremely convincing performance of masculinity on Ólof’s part, there are still hints that biological sex remains of importance for a complete understanding of gender performance. The first of these hints is found in the earlier quotation. By stating that the man ‘var ekki stórr vexti’ (was not big in stature) – effectively, that he is short – it is subtly suggested that Óttarr does not quite match the expectations that the narrator has of men, and more specifically, of men’s bodies. Óttar’s small size marks him out as deviating from the expectations for masculine males. The second hint that biological sex remains of importance for understanding gender performance in this episode comes immediately after Einarr and Jökull have fled the scene. Once they have left, the narrator reveals to the reader that – in reality – ‘inn bláklæddi maðr var Ólof sjálf’ (the man dressed in black was Ólof herself).36 This reference to ‘Ólof herself’ suggests a core identity that lies behind the masculine performance, that can be reverted to when the masculine performance is dropped. It is instructive to compare this idea of masculine performance with Saxo Grammaticus’s discussion of shield-maidens in his Gesta Danorum. In his description of these women, he claims that they devoted themselves so fully to martial pursuits ‘ut feminas exuisse quivis putaret’ (that one should think that they had cast off their sex).37 In discussing this construction, William Layher has argued that Saxo’s verb phrase ‘putaret exuisse’ (from exuere, ‘to strip off, divest’) is used transitively, taking feminas as its direct object – meaning literally, that the shield-maidens were ‘able to take off the woman.’ […] Stripping away the physical details (cf. exuere) reveals the perfect and exemplary male structure underneath.38

35

Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir also considers female characters who possess the phallus in her contribution to this volume. See pp. 90–92. 36 Víglundar saga, p. 78. 37 Saxo Grammaticus: The History of the Danes, Books I–IX, ed. Hilda Ellis Davidson, trans. Peter Fisher, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1979–80), vol. 1, p. 212. Translation adapted in the light of William Layher, ‘Caught Between Worlds: Gendering the Maiden Warrior in Old Norse’, in Women and Medieval Epic: Gender, Genre, and the Limits of Epic Masculinity, ed. Sara S. Poor and Jana K. Schulman (New York and Basingstoke, 2007), pp. 183–208, at p. 184. 38 Layher, ‘Caught Between Worlds’, p. 184.

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders For Saxo, then, masculinity is the naturalized, ‘default’ human position, and femininity is a performance layered over the top of it. This is not so for Ólof, however, who suggests that masculinity is here to be regarded as that which is performed on top of, and then cast off from, a woman’s body. Masculinity – as opposed to femininity – is here shown to be constructed and as that which is performed. Ólof clearly adopts a masculine performance, but it is one that is still linked to a female body and so must not be regarded merely as masculinity – but rather as female masculinity. Her ability to adopt a masculine performance is akin to the gender subversion engaged in by the modern drag king who – according to Halberstam and Del LaGrace Volcano – ‘takes what is so-called natural about masculinity and reveals its mechanisms’.39 As Halberstam notes elsewhere, the performance of drag kings is often less ostentatious than that of drag queens since masculinity is culturally regarded – today at least – as non-performative. The performance of ostensible non-performativity, however, reveals that masculinity is – in fact – constructed and performed.40 Perhaps in this example, this type of performance is best shown through the cultivation of a martial masculinity and the display of extreme anger; both have their desired effect but neither performance is hyperbolic. Ólof’s performance of masculinity – no matter how fleeting – destabilizes and subverts the primacy and impenetrability of the category of masculinity. Moreover, that she is able to scare off her would-be attackers with her masculine performance and by her invocation of the arrival of homosocial support in the form of Þorgrímr, suggests that female masculinities can sometimes be more effective and more powerful than male masculinities. This conclusion is perhaps bolstered by her husband’s reaction to hearing of the attempted rape. Þorgrímr suggests that they should not respond to the incident ‘sakir Hólmkels, vinar míns’ (for the sake of Hólmkell, my friend).41 Marianne Kalinke sees this as a sign of the bond between Þorgrímr and Hólmkell42 – which it undoubtedly is – but it can also perhaps be seen as another, implicit, critique of male masculinity: while Ólof, as Óttarr, uses her masculinity to defend herself – while also reassuring her maid that she will let no harm come to her either43 – Þorgrímr’s lack of reaction could be read as impotent. That she defends herself from an attempted rape using her masculinity – and also uses it to ensure the safety of her maid – demonstrates (to appropriate Halberstam’s analysis of the modern drag king) ‘that there are no essential links between misogyny and masculinity; rather, masculinity seems bound to misogyny structurally in the context of patriarchy and male privilege’.44 Judith ‘Jack’ Halberstam and Del LaGrace Volcano, The Drag King Book (London, 1999), p. 62. Also see Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p. 239. 40 Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p. 259. 41 Víglundar saga, p. 78. 42 Kalinke, ‘Víglundar saga’, p. 138. 43 Víglundar saga, pp. 77–78. 44 Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p. 255. 39

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Gareth Lloyd Evans Ólof’s female masculinity functions as a critique of – and effective revolt against – such social structures. While Ólof’s modality of female masculinity is one that relies significantly on signifiers that are also associated with male masculinity, this is not the only way that masculinity can be expressed by female characters in the sagas. And it is not the case for what – to my mind – is the most striking example of female masculinity to be found in the sagas of Icelanders, which is provided by Freydís in Eiríks saga rauða. In Chapter 11 of this saga, a Norse encampment in North America is attacked by Skrælingar (the pejorative Old Norse term used to describe the native North Americans). The men of the settlement, led by Karlsefni, all flee in terror, leaving behind the heavily pregnant Freydís to fend for herself. It is worth quoting Freydís’ reaction – to both the fleeing men and the attacking Skrælingar – in full: Freydís kom út ok sá, at þeir Karlsefni heldu undan, ok kallaði: ‘Hví renni þér undan þessum auvirðismǫnnum, svá gildir menn sem þér eruð, er mér þœtti sem þér mættið drepa niðr svá sem búfé? Ok ef ek hefða vápn, þœtti mér sem ek skylda betr berjask en einnhverr yðvar.’ Þeir gáfu engan gaum hennar orðum. Freydís vildi fylgja þeim ok varð seinni, því at hon var eigi heil; gekk hon þó eptir þeim í skóginn, en Skrælingar sœkja at henni. Hon fann fyrir sér mann dauðan; þar var Þorbrandr Snorrason, ok stóð hellusteinn í hǫfði honum. Sverðit lá bert í hjá honum; tók hon þat upp ok býsk at verja sik. Þá kómu Skrælingar at henni; hon dró þá út brjóstit undan klæðunum ok slettir á beru sverðinu. Við þetta óttask Skrælingar ok hljópu undan á skip sín ok reru í brott.45 (Freydís came out and saw that Karlsefni and the men were fleeing, and she called, ‘Why are you running away from these wretched men, such worthy men as you are, who seem to me as if you might slaughter them like cattle? And if I had a weapon, I think I should fight better than any of you.’ They paid no attention to her words. Freydís wished to follow them but did so slowly because she was pregnant; nevertheless, she walked after them into the forest, but the Skrælingar pursued her. She came across a dead man; it was Þorbrandr Snorrason, who had a flat stone lodged in his head. An unsheathed sword lay next to him; she took it up and prepared to defend herself. Then the Skrælingar advanced towards her; she pulled out one of her breasts from her clothing and slapped it on the bare sword. At this, the Skrælingar were frightened and ran to their ships and rowed away.) There is much to unpack here, and the scene has been interpreted in a number of ways. But before addressing some of these other interpretations, I first give an outline of my reading of the episode in the light of notions of female masculinity: here, Freydís not only questions the manliness of the men who 45

Eiríks saga rauða, p. 229.

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders flee, and the men attacking, but further demonstrates that her courage goes far beyond that of either group of men. We are given a portrait of a woman who is able to do what men are not only unable to do, but are also afraid to even attempt. Judy Quinn has suggested that ‘the exposure of her breast only intensifies the force of her goading of Karlsefni and his men: it takes a woman, and it takes a woman to do so little to make the Skrælingar evaporate from the scene’.46 This is clearly correct, but we may read further into the gender dynamics of this episode. We may suggest that in her violent opposition to the attacking Skrælingar Freydís demonstrates qualities that are associated with masculine subject positions in Old Norse-Icelandic saga literature. But unlike Ólof’s performance of a pseudo-male masculinity in Víglundar saga, Freydís performs a masculinity that is completely divorced from the bodily semiotics of maleness and, moreover, that is explicitly tethered to a female body. Both her pregnancy and her defiantly exposed breast foreground her biological sex, ensuring that it is not obscured by her masculine performance. Slapping the sword with her breast, Freydís powerfully suggests – through the symbolic meeting of cultural masculinity and biological femaleness – that masculinity is by no means the preserve of men. Consequently, she reveals the link between men and masculinity to be an artificial construct, and thus subverts masculinity’s status as natural, normal, and unconstructed. She also, like Auðr in Laxdœla saga and Ólof in Víglundar saga, seemingly performs masculinity better – that is, more effectively – than the men around her. Kirsten Wolf – in analyzing this scene – usefully draws attention to the significant variants across the manuscript witnesses for this episode. In both the Hauksbók and Skálholtsbók version of this scene, Freydís bares her breast, and the sword and breast are slapped against one another. But in the seventeenth-century paper manuscript AM 770 b 4to we read that ‘hún dró þá út brjóstit undan klæðunum ok skar þat af sér, of grýtti eptir þeim’ (she pulled out one of her breasts from under her clothes, sliced it off and threw it after them).47 Wolf prioritizes the reading given by this younger manuscript because ‘the later manuscript unambiguously presents Freydís as an Amazon, thus interpreting and clarifying the ill-defined picture of Freydís in Skálholtsbók and Hauksbók’.48 While Wolf sees this supposed clarification as a positive, we may question whether simplification of what is seemingly ambiguous should be used as the sole basis for prioritizing a later textual Judy Quinn, ‘Women in Old Norse Poetry and Sagas’, in A Companion to Old NorseIcelandic Literature and Culture, ed. Rory McTurk (Oxford, 2005), pp. 518–35, at pp. 531–32. 47 Kirsten Wolf, ‘Amazons in Vínland’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 95.4 (1996), 469–85, at p. 481. See also: Carl Christian Rafn, ed., Antiqvitates americanæ, sive, Scriptores septentrionales rerum ante-Columbianarum in America (Copenhagen, 1837), p. 154; and Kristian Kålund, Katalog over den Arnamagnæanske håndskriftsamling, 2 vols (Copenhagen, 1888–94), vol. 2, pp. 190–91 – both cited in Wolf, ‘Amazons’, p. 481. 48 Wolf, ‘Amazons’, p. 483. 46

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Gareth Lloyd Evans variant. While Wolf is correct that Freydís seems to be more aligned with the figure of the Amazon in this later manuscript, her preference for this reading rests on the assumption that Freydís should also be seen – and would have been seen – as a kind of proto-Amazon in the older manuscript witnesses. But we could regard this later manuscript variant not as a positive clarification but rather as a simplification of – and reaction to – Freydís’s female masculinity. We may conjecture that the later redactor – in emending this scene – is simplifying what he may have seen as confusing in Freydís’s gender performance: an Amazon behaving in a masculine fashion – whose removed breast makes the body appear more ‘male’ – may have been more comprehensible as it relies upon a more simplistic understanding of the nexus between sex and gender than that demanded by female masculinity.49 Female masculinity – as performed by Freydís in the older manuscripts – upsets the naturalized link between maleness and masculinity; the figure of the Amazon – whose masculinity is associated with the removal of one marker of female sex – does not, and instead reinforces the ideology that physical sex and gender performance are coterminous. Oren Falk has also questioned the validity of Wolf’s preference for the later manuscript reading – and her perception of Freydís as Amazon – noting that that the evidentiary basis for this is rather slim, and suggesting that Amazons, in medieval tradition, ‘figure primarily as trouncing-fodder for male champions rather than as archetypes of virtuous female derring-do’.50 Despite his critique of Wolf’s prioritization of the late manuscript, however, Falk clearly seems to have been influenced by it. A key element of his extended reading of this episode is his conviction that – even in the younger manuscripts – Freydís threatens, or at least alludes to, self-harm by bringing the sword to her breast.51 He sees this supposed shadow of self-violence as a means of signalling her vulnerability to the men who have abandoned her so that they might come to her rescue.52 But that Freydís is threatening harm to herself is something that is far from clear (or even evidenced at all) in either Skálholtsbók or Hauksbók; this reading also robs her of the active masculinity she displays here.53 Rather than seeing the meeting of sword and breast as 49

50 51 52 53

We may also suggest that Wolf’s preference for the later reading betrays a similar impulse. This impression is bolstered by the shifting terminology that Wolf uses to discuss Freydís: she alternately talks of how Freydís switches from ‘female to male’ (‘Amazons’, p. 479), discusses her ‘male activity’ (p. 479), and sometimes calls her ‘“masculine”’, sometimes with, and at other times without, scare quotes. Oren Falk, The Bare-Sarked Warrior: A Brief Cultural History of Battlefield Exposure (Tempe, 2015), p. 95. Falk, Bare-Sarked Warrior, pp. 26, 29, 81, and 95. Falk, Bare-Sarked Warrior, pp. 31 and 117. Falk, like Wolf, demonstrates some difficulty in writing of Freydís’ gender performance. He occasionally seems to show a reluctance to ascribe masculinity to Freydís, suggesting rather that she is ‘approximating masculinity’ (Bare-Sarked Warrior, p. 67), and also works with rather hazy definitions of sex and gender – see, for example, Bare-Sarked Warrior, p. 91, where it is argued that ‘[i]f baring her

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders a cry for help foreshadowing what would be done to her if the Norse men do not come to her rescue,54 we can instead see in this action an intention on Freydís’s part to fight, demonstrating masculinity where that of the men in her company has failed. The meeting of sword and breast does not indicate an intention to do harm to the self, but rather is an act she undertakes to prepare herself, and the sword, for battle: by striking the sword on her breast, she whets the sword,55 readying it for action, and so indicates to the approaching enemy that she intends to vigorously defend herself. After Karlsefni and his men do not respond to her verbal hvöt (‘why are you running away from these wretched men[?]’) she makes good on her claim that if she had a weapon she would fight better than any of them – and implicitly, that she would perform masculinity better than them – by whetting the sword using her own body. Particularly noteworthy here is that her female body is used directly to prepare for masculine action: masculinity is here primed by – and seen to proceed from – the female body. That we should read this episode as an example of female masculinity is reinforced by a scene from the only other saga in which Freydís appears, Grœnlendinga saga. In this saga, Freydís wears her husband Þorvarðr’s cloak when paying a secretive visit to the brothers Helgi and Finnbogi, and later violently kills all of the women in the opposing camp. As we have seen with Auðr and Ólof, wearing men’s clothing can cause a female character to be read as masculine; Freydís’s wearing of her husband’s cloak in Grœnlendinga saga functions to masculinize her and thus – perhaps – is meant to be taken as explanation for her violent behaviour. It is often held that Eiríks saga rauða is younger than Grœnlendinga saga and that it is a revision of – or at least would have been influenced by – the older saga.56 We can thus see that the author of Eiríks saga – while transforming Freydís from vicious murderer to heroine – has maintained the character’s masculine identity.57 It is clear, as has already been suggested, that Freydís’s masculine actions in Eiríks saga rauða function as a challenge to the masculinity of the men of her party who flee. We can thus read the incident as a critique of male masculinity; Freydís’s female masculinity is more effective than theirs, and

54 55

56 57

breast grounds Freydís in physical femininity, the sword she swings stamps her with transient, behavioural masculinity’. The elision of female sex with ‘physical femininity’ is representative of the sometimes confused conceptualizations of sex and gender that run through Falk’s book; a female masculinities approach – as demonstrated by this chapter – avoids such terminological imprecision. Cf. Falk, Bare-Sarked Warrior, p. 31. So argued in Stefan Einarsson, ‘The Freydís-Incident in Eiríks saga rauða, Ch. 11’, Acta Philologica Scandinavica 13 (1938–39), 246–56, at pp. 248–49. See also Erik Wahlgren, ‘Fact and Fancy in the Vinland Sagas’, in Old Norse Literature and Mythology: A Symposium, ed. Edgar C. Polomé (Austin and London, 1969), pp. 19–80, at p. 27. See in particular: Jón Jóhannesson, ‘The Date of the Composition of the Saga of the Greenlanders’, Saga-Book 16 (1962–65), 54–66, see esp. p. 57. Wolf, ‘Amazons’, p. 480.

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Gareth Lloyd Evans so demonstrates that masculinity should not be viewed as the sole preserve of men. This critique is heightened – amusingly – when we consider the meaning of the kenningarnafn (nickname) of the (male) leader of the group that flees from the Skrælingar. Þorfinnr, rather than being referred to as such, is instead referred to by his nickname, Karlsefni. This nickname, formed by the joining together of ‘karl’ and ‘efni’, could be literally translated as ‘the makings of a man’ or ‘the stuff that a man is made of’. Writing on nicknames, Diana Whaley has noted that in the sagas they can be used ironically and that we must look to the context of their usage to determine if this is the case for a given nickname.58 Considering his sub-par masculine performance in this scene, we may wonder whether there is not an intentional irony in this usage: Karlsefni may be called a man, but Freydís – in wielding a sword in anticipation of battle with her approaching enemies – acts like the reader would expect one to do so. Whatever a man is made of, in this instance – at least – it does not seem to be masculinity. Not all men are masculine, but some women certainly are. The three examples discussed in this chapter – from Laxdœla saga, Víglundar saga, and Eiríks saga rauða – when approached from the critical vantage point of female masculinities allow us to see: that the sexed body is of significance to the performance of gender in the sagas; that female masculinities cannot be elided with male masculinities; and that female masculinities – by being more effective than some male masculinities – subvert male masculinity, destabilizing the ostensibly inevitable link between men and masculinity. These three examples also indicate that there is not a unitary modality of female masculinity operating in the sagas, just as there is not only one type of male masculinity: Auðr and Ólof’s masculinities are dependent – in part – upon the visual signifiers more commonly associated with male masculinity (although in both cases the female body that performs masculinity is foregrounded), while Freydís performs a masculinity that is explicitly tethered to, and proceeds from, a female body, and is dependent on behavioural – rather than visual – codes. The examples I have chosen are – admittedly – some of the more spectacular instances to be found in the sagas of Icelanders. They moreover come from sagas that seem particularly interested in issues of female agency,59 and for two of them – Laxdœla saga and Eiríks saga rauða –

Diana Whaley, ‘Nicknames and Narratives in the Sagas’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 108 (1993), 122–46, at pp. 127–28. 59 See, for example: Robert Cook, ‘Women and Men in Laxdæla saga’, Skáldskaparmál 2 (1992), 34–59; Kalinke, ‘Víglundar saga’, pp. 136–37; Loren Auerbach, ‘Female Experience and Authorial Intention in Laxdœla saga’, Saga-Book 25 (1998), 30–52; Patricia Conroy, ‘Laxdœla and Eiríks saga rauða: Narrative Structure’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 95 (1980), 116–25; Helga Kress, ‘“Mjǫk mun þér samstaft þykkja”: Um sagnahefð og kvenlega reynslu í Laxdœla sögu’, in Konur skrifa: til heðurs Önnu Sigurðardóttur, ed. Valborg Bentsdóttir, Guðrún Gísladóttir, and Svanlaug Baldursdóttir (Reykjavík, 1980), pp. 97–109. 58

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Female Masculinity and the Sagas of Icelanders links with female religious institutions have been suggested.60 Perhaps it is unsurprising then that the most obvious examples of women demonstrating that masculinity does not belong solely to men are to be found in those sagas in which women are given a greater role, purposefully troubling the social power afforded to men by disrupting the link between men and masculinity. Although most prominent in those scenes discussed here, other examples of female masculinities can be found throughout the sagas of Icelanders,61 and where they are found the revolt of masculine women against male masculine domination is clear. Although instances of female masculinity often appear in their larger saga narratives for only a short period of time, they nevertheless provide for audiences – and particularly audiences who may themselves deviate from social norms – an opportunity to examine and critique the naturalized social status quo, and to consider alternative configurations of social and gendered being.62

Helgi Þórláksson, ‘The Vínland Sagas in a Contemporary Light’, in Approaches to Vínland: A Conference on the Written and Archaeological Sources for the Norse Settlements in the North-Atlantic Region and Exploration of America, ed. Andrew Wawn and Þórunn Sigurðardóttir (Reykjavík, 2001), pp. 63–77, at p. 67; and Helga Kress, ‘Meget samstavet må det tykkes deg: Om kvinneopprör og genretvang i Sagaen om Laksdölene’, [Svensk] Historisk Tidskrift 100 (1980), 266–80, at p. 279. Both are cited in Siân Grønlie, ‘“No Longer Male and Female”: Redeeming Women in the Icelandic Conversion Narratives’, Medium Ævum 75.2 (2006), 293–318, at p. 307. 61 There are many other examples of female masculinity in the sagas worth considering, but for whom constraints of space do not allow discussion here. These include: Auðr of Gísla saga, who Clover uses as the basis for her theories of the one-sex, one gender model, but who would more accurately be described as performing a female masculinity; Grettir’s mother Ásdís in Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar (whose gender performance I have briefly discussed in my Men and Masculinities, pp. 116–19); and a number of the female characters of Njáls saga — for discussion of the ways in which the women in Njála problematize simple gender taxonomies, see Heather O’Donoghue, ‘Women in Njáls saga’, in Introductory Essays on Egils saga and Njáls saga, ed. John Hines and Desmond Slay (London, 1992), pp. 83–92. 62 Cf. Halberstam, Female Masculinity, p. 207. 60

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‘With mirthful merriment’: Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

Mágus saga jarls (also known as Bragða-Mágus saga) is an innovative saga that draws on a vast array of sources to tell a story that explores the boundaries between reality and fantasy, true and false identities, the performance of gender, the basis of power, and the ideal qualities of leaders. The action moves all over Europe and includes stock features of the late medieval sagas, including some of their most colourful battle descriptions, but wry intertextual references to traditional Norse motifs are also used effectively. That this saga was wildly popular through the ages should come as no surprise: it is a riveting tale involving wronged heroes, tyrannical kings, cross-dressing, shrewd and subversive women, comically evil villains, and the crafty magician Mágus. Beneath its raucous exterior, the saga raises important questions about power, rulership, and ethics, and through its playful engagement with clichéd roles from both native and courtly culture, it presents gender in its different manifestations as performative. Scholarship on the Icelandic legendary sagas and romances – considered as one genre by some – has taken off recently, illuminating the ways in which Scandinavians interacted with new ideologies and literary conventions that Francophone romances brought to the North. Gender issues have constituted a large part of this discussion: the gender models favoured in these texts were quite at odds with native ones and Old Norse-Icelandic vocabulary for emotion differed considerably from French and Anglo-Norman.1 Translators adapted their texts for Norse audiences, dispensing with tropes such as the weeping, intensely emotional knight who expresses fear. Instead, the Norse Arthurian knight takes on characteristics of heroic masculinity, displaying courage and assertiveness – qualities which would have been much more palatable to the audience.2 The courtly model for aristocratic male sexuality, 1 2

See, for example, Carolyne Larrington, ‘Learning to Feel in the Old Norse Camelot?’, Scandinavian Studies 87 (2015), 74–94. Sif Rikhardsdottir, Medieval Translations and Cultural Discourse: The Movement of Texts in England, France and Scandinavia (Cambridge, 2012), chs. 1–3.

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir based on chivalry and restraint towards ladies, made more impact on the Icelandic literary scene than the ‘feeble’ Arthurian knight and became dominant in Icelandic romances.3 This conception of masculinity made its mark on Mágus saga as it did on others, but the saga is unusual in that it engages playfully with the model by having it performed by a cross-dressing woman. The courtly paradigm intersects with ideas about proper rulership and conduct at the monarch’s court – no longer a band of warriors but a gathering of knights. This new ideal was championed in texts such as the mid-thirteenth-century treatise Konungs skuggsjá (King’s Mirror), sponsored by King Hákon Hákonarson, but the saga shows it as being challenging to live up to in practice. Nor is traditional Norse masculinity, which co-existed with courtliness in the literary sphere, viewed as unproblematic. Transplanting named figures from Norse legend into one episode, quoting a quip from Njáls saga, and referring in other, more oblique, ways to clichéd aspects of heroic masculinity, the redactor criticises the pointless violence to which such a model tends to lead. In the first section of this chapter, I will analyse several male characters which embody the indigenous and foreign masculine models with which Icelandic audiences were familiar, configured in differing manifestations, and trace the ways in which they reveal the positive and negative sides of masculinity. Next, I will look at how a female character’s adept travel between the roles of courtly lady and knight suggest the redactor’s recognition that all gender is a performance that has no basis in nature. Both sections partly centre on how the saga’s thinking about gender prominently hinges on disguises, mistaken identities, and masquerade, a running theme in the saga. My overall aim is to illuminate this text’s deliberate engagement with gender, particularly masculinity, and its intersections with the themes of ethics and rulership.

Background Mágus saga is a sophisticated text, at times reminiscent of a Shakespearean comedy of errors. In fact, one section of the saga, William Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well, and Boccaccio’s Decameron (Third day, novel IX) can all be traced to a folktale about an unreasonable aristocratic husband and the impossible tasks he sets his wife.4 This tale forms the basis of the saga’s first part, which centres on the courtship and marriage of King Hlöðvir of Saxony and Princess Ermenga of Constantinople. The second part is based on some version of Renaud de Montauban, a chanson de geste also known as Les Quatre Fils Aymon, but the saga is so divergent from the extant European versions 3

4

Henric Bagerius, ‘Mandom och mödom: Sexualitet, homosocialitet och aristokratisk identitet på det senmedeltida Island’ (doctoral thesis, Göteborgs universitet, 2009). William Witherley Lawrence, ‘The Meaning of All’s Well That Ends Well’, PMLA 37 (1922), 418–69, at p. 431.

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls of this text that it cannot be called a translation.5 This part centres on a feud between four sons of a local nobleman and King Hlöðvir, his son Karl, and their evil sidekick, Earl Ubbi. The brothers are helped by their brother-in-law Mágus, who is married to their sister. Mágus saga is copied in over 70 complete and fragmentary manuscripts dating from c. 1300 until the end of Icelandic manuscript production around 1900 – one of the largest numbers of copies for any extant medieval text.6 Episodes from the saga were also versified in at least two rímur in the late medieval period, Mágus rímur and Geirarðs rímur, dated to 1450–1500.7 Both redactions are written in a straightforward saga style, featuring none of the often-disparaged characteristics of Icelandic romances such as over-frequent use of present participles or hyper-alliteration, and its authorial voice is ‘learned, playful and artistically self-conscious’ in the tradition of the most accomplished texts ascribed to this genre.8 Mágus saga’s oldest manuscript is AM 580 4to, dating to the first years of the fourteenth century, making it among the oldest preserved romances in Iceland.9 Another redaction is preserved in the prestigious late medieval saga manuscript AM 152 fol., copied in c. 1500–1525.10 This version of the saga is about three times as long as the short one, with many additional episodes and conversations, transforming a pithy, plot-driven narrative into a complex study of power, ethical behaviour, and gender. This is achieved by telling the story in more detail and delineating the characters with more nuance; as the redactor writes in the epilogue, some stories seem ‘til skammt um talað’ (too briefly told), and the explicit goal is to augment (auka) the story and tell it ‘með fögrum orðum’ (with fair words).11 Marianne E. Kalinke has outlined the differences between the redactions in her recent book; since the long redaction proves richer on the theme of masculinity, I will limit my discussion to this text.12

Marianne E. Kalinke, Stories Set Forth With Fair Words: The Evolution of Medieval Romance in Iceland (Cardiff, 2017), p. 63. 6 Marianne E. Kalinke and P. M. Mitchell, Bibliography of Old Norse-Icelandic Romance (Ithaca, 1985), pp. 77–78. 7 Haukur Þorgeirsson, ‘Hljóðkerfi og bragkerfi. Stoðhljóð, tónkvæði og önnur úrlausnarefni í íslenskri bragsögu’ (doctoral thesis, Háskóli Íslands, 2013), pp. 252 and 254. 8 Geraldine Barnes, ‘Romance in Iceland’, in Old Icelandic Literature and Society, ed. Margaret Clunies Ross (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 266–86, at p. 272. 9 AM 580 4to and Stockholm, Kungliga biblioteket, Perg. 7 4to were once parts of the same manuscript. 10 See Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘Ideology and Identity in Late Medieval Northwest Iceland. A Study of AM 152 fol.’, Gripla 25 (2014), 87–128. 11 For a detailed discussion of the saga’s plot and the differences between the redactions, see Kalinke, Stories Set Forth, pp. 63–79. 12 Additionally, the saga is preserved in Stockholm, Kungliga biblioteket, Papp. 58 fol., a paper copy of the now-lost fourteenth-century *Ormsbók.

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir

Mágus’s Disguises My first case study of the saga’s engagement with masculinity analyses the theme from the perspective of courtliness. It follows through the trajectory of the four sons of Earl Ámundi – Vígvarðr, Rögnvaldr, and two younger brothers – and their brother-in-law Mágus, a nobleman. Of the brothers, Rögnvaldr is their superior in looks, skills, and character, while Vígvarðr is dark, surly, and hot-headed. The conflict between the brothers and King Hlöðvir begins with a feast during which the Ámundasynir’s friend drunkenly boasts of Rögnvaldr’s excellence, especially his skill in chess. The king’s principal advisor, Earl Ubbi, reports the conversation to Hlöðvir but stirs up trouble by misrepresenting its content, claiming that the friend described Rögnvaldr as better than the king at chess. The king, an unbalanced, jealous, and vain man, grows angry, immediately challenging Rögnvaldr to a chess match. Not only does he lose, but he also publicly disgraces himself by behaving like a bully and a boor, ignoring his wife’s entreaties to keep himself in check. The episode contrasts, on the one hand, the queen and Rögnvaldr, whose impeccable, refined conduct and innate qualities single him out as superior, and, on the other hand, the king, whose crass behaviour transgresses the courtly models imparted in romances and the solemn responsibility of the king as judge (rex iustus) promoted in Konungs skuggsjá.13 King Hlöðvir’s reactions to Ubbi’s gossip and his losing the match function as an indirect critique of his anti-courtly character. Hlöðvir’s fragile ego and his lack of restraint lead to unnecessary conflicts and violence which could have been avoided had he, in the spirit of courtliness, ignored the gossip and kept his composure. Following his loss, the irate king throws various insults at Rögnvaldr, who leaves the scene. His older brother Vígvarðr (whose name means ‘Kill-ward’) takes great offence at these, and, more importantly, rightly fears what more the king might do if not prevented. Living up to his name, he kills King Hlöðvir with a blow to the head. When he joins his brothers, Rögnvaldr asks ‘hví at öx hans væri blóðug’ (why his axe is bloody), a tongue-incheek reference to Njáls saga, where the same question is repeatedly posed following killings.14 Echoing Njála’s rascal Hrappr, who brashly claims that he cured his victim’s backache, Vígvarðr quips that he has cured the king’s headache, meaning that he has dealt him a deadly blow to the head.15 Fearing for their lives, the four brothers go into hiding. They are subsequently helped by Mágus, who builds them a fortress in which to hide, and he rescues them when they get captured by Ubbi. Having promised them unswerving loyalty in exchange for their sister’s hand in marriage, Mágus notably prioritises affinal bonds over loyalty to his vassal, the king – now See Bagerius, ‘Mandom’, and Sverre Bagge, The Political Thought of The King’s Mirror (Odense, 1987), ch. 2. 14 Mágus saga, p. 45; Njáls saga, chs. 12, 17, and 87. 15 Njáls saga, ch. 131. The comment about the headache is not in the shorter redaction of Mágus saga.

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls Karl (literally, ‘Man’), the son of Hlöðvir. He subsequently adopts a series of pseudonyms and disguises, attributed to his skill in necromancy, runes, and magic, in order to restore the brothers to their property and rightful place in society.16 In the course of the long feud of the four brothers and Mágus versus the royal house, stretching over many years, Ubbi manages three times in a row to capture one of the brothers and hold him hostage. Each time, Mágus is able to get him out of prison using a combination of ingenious disguises, magic, and wit. On the two former occasions, he changes his appearance, first calling himself Skeljakarl ‘Shell-Man’, a reference to the shells pilgrims wore as a sign of their journey, and then Víðförull ‘Wide-Traveller’, one of Óðinn’s many names. Richard Cole has illuminated how Mágus’s personas seem to be amalgamations of attributes associated with the Scandinavian mythicalheroic figures Óðinn, Norna-Gestr, and Starkaðr, medieval pilgrims, and the Wandering Jew, one of many examples of the saga’s creative use of literary motifs.17 In disguise, Mágus bluffs his way into the court, where he behaves outrageously by telling tall tales and performing optical illusions. The most elaborate of these tricks is when he conjures a glass ceiling (glerhiminn) in the sky, across which the assembled court observes Norse legendary heroes, including Gunnarr, Högni, and Sigurðr dragon-slayer, riding.18 After entertaining the court with this spectacle for a while, Víðförull is seen up on the ceiling spreading slander among the heroes, evoking the saga motif of backbiting courtiers who stir up conflicts between retainers or kings, and also Óðinn’s guise as Bölverkr ‘Evil-doer’ in Snorri’s Edda.19 The heroes grow angry, a battle breaks out and they fight until four bellowing giants arrive. While this amusing spectacle is going on and everyone’s attention is engaged, Mágus uses the opportunity to free the captive brother. The legendary heroes’ over-sensitive reactions to Mágus’s slander and their speedy resorting to violence function as a wry observation on the type of precarious masculinity – epitomised in Njáls saga – which needs to be asserted through physical reprisals for the smallest insult.20 The third rescue operation is even more complicated, beginning with Mágus faking his own death to lull Ubbi and King Karl into a sense of security, and going into self-imposed exile in Denmark. He then infiltrates Mágus saga, p. 37. Richard Cole, ‘When Did the Wandering Jew Head North?’, Scandinavian Studies 87 (2015), 214–33. 18 The audience would presumably have drawn a connection between Gunnarr and Högni, who betrayed fraternal bonds with Sigurðr, and Mágus, who is loyally trying to save his brother-in-law; see further Jessica Clare Hancock’s chapter in this volume. 19 Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words, and Power (New York, 2013), pp. 30–39. 20 See Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Masculinity and Politics in Njáls saga’, Viator 38 (2007), 191–215. 16 17

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir their retinue in the persona of Hálfliti-maðr ‘Half-Coloured-Man’, a warrior with a grotesque face reminiscent of the mythological Hel, half fair and half foul.21 Having ingratiated himself with the king, Hálfliti-maðr is given the castle of the Ámundasynir’s dynasty. The brothers try to win it back by jousting for it, but in the last joust, Hálfliti-maðr, Ubbi and his men form a circle around Rögnvaldr, who seems doomed at this point. Unbeknownst to the audience, Mágus has already managed to talk with his brother-in-law in secret and lay out his plan. Using rune magic, he has enchanted a shield, making anyone holding it look like Rögnvaldr and, before the jousting, Mágus had given it to Ubbi’s nephew. Going back to the surrounded Rögnvaldr, he breaks through the circle and rides away on his brave steed, the men gallop after him, but in all the mayhem the nephew gets mistaken for Rögnvaldr and is killed by Ubbi’s son, Erlendr. The son picks up the magic shield and as he now appears to be Rögnvaldr, he is in turn beheaded by his own father. Ubbi triumphantly declares victory, thinking he has killed his arch-enemy. For the first time, Mágus’s disguise magic has led to death. Ubbi’s blindness to justice – represented by the effects of the magic shield – and his pursuit of the innocent Rögnvaldr has now been turned onto his own kin, who are equally without blame. Their deaths are collateral damage in Ubbi’s doggedly wrongheaded mission to triumph over the brothers. After this final showdown, the Ámundasynir and King Karl make peace while Ubbi eventually gets his comeuppance – being dragged to death behind two horses. The comedy in these three episodes is produced through a variety of techniques: magic, Mágus’s clever witticisms, costumes, and physical movements. It verges on absurdity at times, such as when Skeljakarl, an old and decrepit-looking man wearing a cloak covered with shells – clams, scallops, mussels, limpets, and even lobster claws, we are told – is found kicking and screaming on the ground with a pack of dogs jumping all over him, when the astonished King Karl happens on him and saves him from the dogs. Skeljakarl loudly demands to be taken back to court, and – though he is a vagrant and a stranger – insists on being treated like an honoured guest. Even more outrageously, he constantly complains about what he alleges is inadequate hospitality until the king himself attends to him in a goodnatured display of munificence (in clear contrast with his father’s character). When Ubbi expresses disbelief at the pauper being treated like royalty, Skeljakarl insults him in alliterative, vulgar language, comparing him to a dog and saying that whoever listens to his malicious counsel is a fool: þér mun meir gefit ragspeki, enn risna, ok þat mun mælt, at sá festi sitt ráð mjök við hundshala, er þangat leitar ráða, sem þú ert, því at þú munt þau ein ráð til leggja, at þá mun verr enn áðr.22 Andrew Hamer, ‘Mágus saga – Riddarasaga or fornaldarsaga?’, in Fourth International Saga Conference. München, July 30th – August 4th, 1979 (Munich, 1979), pp.1–10, at p. 3. 22 Mágus saga, p. 65.

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls (you have been given more cowardice than generosity, and it will be said that whoever seeks counsel from you is attaching their business to a dog’s tail, for you will only give counsel for the worse.) Ubbi naturally protests but Skeljakarl only becomes more belligerent and shocking in his comparison: ‘Greypilega lætur greyit jafnan, ok er þat þó illt at reyna’ (The dog barks fiercely and it is a nuisance to bear).23 The situation has now become awkward, since Ubbi clearly expects some form of punishment to be inflicted on Skeljakarl for the gross insults that the disguised Mágus has levelled at him, but the king deflects Skeljakarl’s words by laughing them off as nonsense and successfully entreats him to entertain the court with stories about his eventful life instead. At the heart of the tale of Mágus’s three disguises is an ethical matter, namely Ubbi’s ruthlessness in his flawed pursuit of vengeance for King Hlöðvir’s murder, ascribing blame to all four brothers for Vígvarðr’s act. Ubbi is repeatedly told how unfair and wrong this is by both King Karl and the queen, whose is a voice of wisdom and reason throughout the saga. When Ubbi has apprehended one of the innocent brothers, Aðalvarðr, she accuses him in no uncertain terms of cowardice and unmanliness, highlighting the injustice of his actions and pressuring her son, the king, to step up to the courtly royal model: Ubbi, þú talar ódrengiliga, er þú vilt pína saklausan mann, en þú hafðir eigi þorat til at ríða ok drepa þann, er vegit hafði herra þinn; vænti ek, at konungr geri þetta eptir makligleikum, ok geri vel við Aðalvarð, því at hann er saklauss af drápi bónda míns.24 (Ubbi, you speak dishonourably, for you wish to torture an innocent man, but you did not dare to go and kill the one who has killed your lord. I expect that the king will do what is proper and treat Aðalvarðr well, for he is innocent of my husband’s slaying.) Skeljakarl, too, continues to be publicly critical of Ubbi’s malevolence, as well as the low moral character of some of the other courtiers, reciting scathing verses in eddic metre describing them as cowardly backbiters: Sé ek, hvar húkir hirð á bekkjum, hjartadeigir, ef herja skal. Sé ek hvar sitja, Sveinn og Helgi, þeir eru rógberar, rekka á millum: Þykjaz garpar í gamanmálum; eru löskvir tveir lymskudrengir. 23 24

Mágus saga, p. 66. Mágus saga, p. 60. On similar speeches uttered by queens in the fornaldarsögur, see Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature, ch. 1.

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir Veit ek í öndvegi öðru sitja, sá er í ráðum reyndr at illu. Rigar þú í rúmi ragr ertu, Ubbi; Þér er verst gefit er þik varðar mest.25 (I see where the retinue cowers on benches, men soft of heart, if there should be any fighting. I see where Sveinn and Helgi are sitting; they are slander-bearers among men. They appear brave fellows in their joking speech, they are two good-for-nothing men of cunning. I know there sits in the second high seat the one who is steeped in evil in his plans. You are squirming in your seat, you are a scoundrel, Ubbi; you are worst in that which concerns you most.) Although speaking these verses in public might seem the height of audacity, Mágus’s disguise as a poor old vagrant and his pantomime comedy, exaggerating the movements characteristic of elderly people, permit him to utter damning things about the king’s closest adviser which no one else could say without being ejected from the court (or worse). While the queen can speak in her position of royal authority, Mágus appropriates the role of court jester, voicing condemnation of Ubbi’s moral flaws and his capacity for giving bad advice, which is dangerous to the king and the realm. He is able to overcome the king and Ubbi whilst inhabiting roles that are at odds with the classic tropes associated with hegemonic Norse masculinity: he is alternatively old, socially inferior, physically deformed or Óðinn-like, which, along with his use of magic, associates him with the perversion of seiðr.26 The saga’s thematic engagement with masculinity is underlined by the use of elements meaning ‘man’ in the names of King Karl and Mágus as Skeljakarl and Hálfliti-maðr, drawing connections between the two: the former, whose manliness is not qualified in his name, should be the ultimate ideal man while the latter’s strangeness, highlighted by the descriptive elements in his names, ought to detract from his masculinity. Using both the queen – a woman – and the non-normative man Mágus as mouthpieces of social critique, the saga is at pains to expose the petty, small-minded, and thus anti-courtly nature of Ubbi. In so doing, it warns against the dangers of promoting cowards like him to positions of power, and ultimately, it puts forth a critique of the homosocial court of King Karl, in marked contrast to the success of Ermenga’s female-dominated rule (discussed later in this chapter). ‘Mágus saga’, ed. Margaret Clunies Ross, in Poetry in fornaldarsögur, 2 vols, ed. Margaret Clunies Ross (Turnhout, 2017), vol. 2, pp. 597–602, at pp. 599–602. 26 Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019). 25

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls Ubbi and the young king have an oddly co-dependent relationship, and although the king seems to be generally well-intentioned, he lets Ubbi vitiate his rule: [Karl] var stjórnsamr ok vildi hverjum manni gott gjöra, er fyrir honum kærði sín mál, hvort sem hann var ríkr eða fátœkr. Hann var vel kristinn [...] Ubbi stjórnaði mest ríki með Karli, ok þótti öllum, sem var, at hann [Ubbi] spillti um fyrir stjórn keisara.27 (Karl was a strong ruler and wanted to help every man who brought his problems to him, whether he was rich or poor. He was a good Christian [...] Ubbi mostly governed the kingdom with Karl, and everyone thought, as was true, that he was a corrupting force on the king’s rule.) Although he does not go as far as expelling Ubbi from the court until the very end, Karl grows in moral status by being kind and patient with Skeljakarl, displaying Christian humility by serving the old man food and drink himself. However, implicit in the saga’s criticism of Ubbi, and Karl’s enabling of his behaviour, is not just a message about moderation, justice, and the danger of letting immoral men advance to powerful and influential positions at court. The young king is also blamed for failing to rid himself of Ubbi, and thus indirectly for the consequences of his advisor’s doings. Karl’s initial guilelessness in trusting Ubbi is perhaps understandable, as he is only on the verge of adulthood when he ascends the throne, but when the king is shown as realising that his advisor is not to be trusted, allowing him to continue at court becomes markedly less justified. Perhaps Karl gives Ubbi the benefit of the doubt because of his longstanding service to the realm, but there may also be political reasons. Rögnvaldr’s superiority and warm, perhaps sexual, relationship with the queen mother – who is widowed early on in the episode – may provoke fear that he intends to usurp the throne.28 There is some basis for worries along these lines: although Rögnvaldr takes no steps towards a coup, he does marry Queen Ermenga at the end of the saga once the feud has been resolved.29 Possibly, Karl’s growing awareness that he has competition for the throne is the ultimate reason the young king keeps Ubbi around, rather than a naive belief that Ubbi will improve, but the saga’s implicit criticism is that such personal motivation and inclinations should not take precedence over the fair treatment of innocent subjects. Whatever the case, the queen’s criticism and Mágus’s disguised appearances provide the redactor with vehicles through which the shortcomings of rulers, the personal and political dynamics at court, and the tension between morality and political Mágus saga, p. 50. Mágus saga, p. 36. 29 This is a surprising development at this stage since the queen is at least forty; thus Rögnvaldr cannot be sure that his wife is still fertile. 27 28

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir success, can be explored. This part of the saga probes classic Norse models of masculinity, characterised by overconcern with personal honour, touchiness, and physical and verbal aggression, and holds up the courtly conduct of Rögnvaldr as aspirational. It juxtaposes figures that, in their performance of masculinity, come short in different ways: Ubbi, in particular, is outwitted by the seemingly-unmanly Mágus, and shamed by both him and the queen, who also functions to highlight her son’s shortcomings. Only Rögnvaldr, who is restrained, loyal, and brave, truly rises above the violence and moral failures displayed by the other men.

Ermenga’s Disguises Aspects of Mágus’s character overlap with the saga’s primary female character, Ermenga – the focus of my second case study – who is beautiful and endowed with all the feminine virtues (kvenmannsdyggðir).30 The first part of the saga has often been treated as merely a preamble to the ‘main action’ (the story about the four brothers), but, at 12 chapters long, it forms a substantial portion of the saga and is an equally rich source for analysis as the part about Rögnvaldr and his brothers. This section centres on the engagement and tumultuous marriage of the heroine and King Hlöðvir. He is a misogamous king, believing that no woman is noble enough for him. He only agrees to marry at the behest of his advisor Sigurðr, who argues that the king needs a queen not just to produce an heir but also ‘svo ríkisstjórn hafi með þér’ (so as to govern with you).31 Sigurðr woos Ermenga on behalf of the king and although the princess has strong misgivings owing to their mismatched personalities, she is even more afraid of retribution should she turn Hlöðvir down. When he arrives in her father’s kingdom for the wedding, Ermenga has the foresight to adopt her first disguise: ‘konungsdóttir tók til ok þvó sér í límvatn; síðan tók hún þá hvítustu hinnu, ok þandi um andlit sitt. Ok er hún hafði hana fest með lími, þá var hún svo föl, at allr litr sýndist úr hennar kinn’ (the princess went and washed herself in lime-water; then she took the whitest of films and spread it over her face. And when she had fastened it with lime, she looked so pale that all colour seemed to be drained from her cheek). Now ghostly pale, Ermenga proceeds to the welcome feast dressed in her gold-embroidered, gem-encrusted silk cloak, and upon entering, she directly asks her betrothed to cut up a roast chicken. This turn of events at the engaged couple’s first meeting is somewhat puzzling to a modern reader, but the goal seems to be to test the suitor’s humility and courtliness. King Hlöðvir reacts angrily, and his future wife hastens to explain that she does not want him to carve it in a literal sense but to divide it with wise words. This does not assuage the king’s anger and he vows to repay her for this humiliation later. 30 31

Mágus saga, p. 3. Mágus saga, p. 3.

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls He nevertheless responds to the challenge with a metaphor, comparing the chicken’s parts to her family members: the wings and body are the brothers, since they are ready to fly, the head and neck is the father, for he is the head of the family, Ermenga represents the legs, since it is her duty ‘at halda uppi’ (to prop up) the family, and Hlöðvir himself represents the breast, since his role is to be ‘brjóst ok brynja yðar allra’ (breast and byrnie of you all).32 In addition to communicating Hlöðvir’s lack of courtliness, the saga introduces, at the outset, the idea that women have a fundamental role both in the family unit and in government. Figuring it as a roast chicken rather than the familiar medieval image of the body politic flags up the comedy, as does Hlöðvir’s boorish behaviour, which dramatically contradicts the conduct conventional for a courtly suitor towards his lady. After the wedding, the king does not take his vision of loyalty and service to his wife and her kin seriously, since he goes on to make the marriage as difficult as possible for her. He gives Ermenga the cold shoulder from the outset, avoiding her and treating her unkindly. News comes that a foreign army has seized Trevizuborg, a city in the king’s realm, and the king must go and drive out the invaders. Before leaving, Hlöðvir sets his wife three seemingly impossible tasks in punishment for the roast chicken incident. One is to build him a magnificent palace, the second, to give him a son – even though he has so far withheld sex – and, third, to acquire three objects that are no less excellent than his prized treasures, a horse, a falcon, and a sword.33 Ermenga solves the first task with aplomb, building a most excellent castle with the advice and expertise of her people. Like Mágus, she uses more disguises as well as her shrewdness and eloquence to overcome the second two challenges. Ermenga now takes on the persona of a knight. She adopts male dress and weapons and calls herself by the male name Hirtingr, travelling around with a retinue of sixty soldiers. The character is partly cast in the mould of the maiden-kings prominent in many sagas, such as Þorbjörg in Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, who also dresses and behaves like a man, gains a retinue from her father, changes her name and humiliates a man. Unlike Þornbjörg/ Þorbergr, Hirtingr feigns illness to get out of fighting, presumably because he lacks battle skills.34 Maiden-kings are unmarried women who adopt the social role of rulers – and sometime also warriors – until they are defeated by their suitor, but, since Ermenga and Hlöðvir are already married, Mágus saga’s redactor applies this narrative paradigm to a different situation. The queen’s cross-dressing does not give rise to negative evaluations comparable with the snide comment made by Þórðr in one Laxdæla redaction about ‘karlkonur’ such as Bróka-Auðr, likely because it is a temporary means to Mágus saga, pp. 152–53. Kalinke identifies these as belonging to tale types H 1187 and K 1812.8.3, see Stories Set Forth, p. 64. 34 See Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature, ch. 5. 32 33

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir an end.35 On the contrary, the narrator revels in the fun of it all, harnessing the multiple ‘costume changes’ for comedic effect. One such scene is when Hirtingr makes a favourable impression on the ladies: Hvar sem hann kom, fannst mörgum mikit um fegurð hans, ok hvar sem ríkiskonur litu hann, gáðu þær ekki annars en horfa á hann. [Hirtingr] var blíður í máli ok breytinn í öllum atvikum við konurnar. Brá þeim ok mjök vit, er hann gladdi þær með fögrum orðum. En hvern tíma, er þær hugðu, at hann mundi þeirra fýst fremja, veik hann því af með kýmilegum keskilátum, því at hann vissi, at hann hafði eigi svo mætan grip at miðla þeim, sem þeirra hugur beiddi. (Wherever he went, many people were impressed by his beauty, and no noblewoman who saw him could stop herself from staring at him. He was pleasant in words and all deeds to the ladies. They were most impressed when he delighted them with fair words. But every time they thought that he would do what they desired, he slipped away with mirthful merriment, for he knew that he did not have such an extraordinary thing to give them, which their minds longed for.) Hirtingr’s performance of the role of charming knight is utterly convincing, even too convincing, since he does not actually want to complete the seduction of any ladies. The crucial issue in the scene is not the question of adultery – frequently the topic of romances – nor is the possibility of same-sex desire at stake. Rather, Hirtingr believes that if he were to go to bed with a lady, he would be revealed as a fraud, and this could sabotage the mission. However, the risk of being outed does not alarm the knight and he deftly escapes from his desiring sweethearts with a pleasant smile. An audience familiar with the tale type would likely have expected the queen to solve the impossible tasks, so one can imagine that the elusive knight excusing himself at the crucial moment of heightened sexual tension could have been played for laughs by a skilled narrator. The point here is not to stigmatise women who transgress their gender role but to feature Ermenga’s ingenious tactics in solving the challenges. Hirtingr is described as strikingly handsome, courtly, and so good at speaking ‘snjöll orð’ (clever words) that when he arrives in Trevizuborg, the invading king and his advisors believe the cover story he feeds them ‘skjallaust’ (without documentation), allowing him to join ranks with his husband’s enemy.36 He once again employs his wit to escape battle, which – without knowing how to fight – would have landed him in trouble, and uses In his chapter in this volume, Gareth Lloyd Evans notes that karlkonur is a hapax legomenon in the Old Norse-Icelandic corpus, only present in the Möðruvallabókredaction of Laxdæla. Its time of copying and/or reading in the late fourteenth century may be the same period during which sagas such as Mágus saga and Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar were rewritten. 36 Mágus saga, p. 17. 35

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls the time to work out a way to solve the remaining challenges. Eventually, Hirtingr and King Hlöðvir face one another in three chess matches, which the king loses (anticipating the match with Rögnvaldr later in the saga) and, with each loss, Hlöðvir must yield up one of his three prized objects to his opponent. Now two out of three tasks are completed; the only remaining one is to conceive a son. Ermenga’s next disguise is brilliantly unexpected: she dresses ‘svo sem voldugri frú heyrði’ (as befits a powerful lady), which, from one point of view, could be regarded as not, in fact, a disguise, but rather her ‘true’ appearance.37 She goes to a tower above the city wall and reveals herself to Hlöðvir, who has been lured to the base of the tower by an accomplice. Speaking in florid language (unlike the straightforward style she employed before), the lady claims that she has been abducted by Hirtingr and begs him to rescue her. This performance is the height of camp: Ermenga turns the romance cliché of the damsel in distress on its head, appropriating it for her own ends to manipulate her husband, who becomes mad with lust for this beautiful stranger. The tongue-in-cheek remark about Ermenga’s appearance when she prepares for showing herself to the king – a crucial moment if she is to solve the third task – flags up the comedy. Having described her outfits and appearance in detail up to this point in the saga, the narrator now baldly states that he cannot be bothered to go into the minutiae of what she was wearing: ‘Ekki hirðum vér að tína hvert hennar athæfi, fríðleik né framburð orða eða klæðaumbúning eða aðra kurteisi’ (We are not going to take the trouble to note her every action, beautiful attribute or words spoken or dress or other courtesy).38 This metafictional comment subverts a romance audience’s expectation for elaborate descriptions of clothing and appearance, and makes fun of the genre’s clichés. Now that she has aroused the king’s desire by revealing herself from afar, the queen subsequently slips into Hlöðvir’s camp and approaches him again. Although she weeps a great deal during their conversation and jealously accuses him of being married to another, they sleep together three nights in a row, and we later find out that the queen gave birth to a son.39 Either her husband is a complete idiot or she is genuinely unrecogniseable (one does not exclude the other). Since she not only manages to get him to have sex with her but also uses the opportunity to upbraid him for being abominable to his wife, Hlöðvir is once again the butt of the joke.40 That the king should prefer the damsel in distress over the more assertive figure that Ermenga cuts back in Constantinople and Saxony is also a comment on the reprehensible attitude of misogynistic men who objectify women, who simply want them to be Mágus saga, p. 24. Mágus saga, p. 19. 39 ‘Adultery’ with one’s own spouse where one or both parties are in disguise is a well-known tale type, see Wendy Doniger, The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade (Chicago, 2000), ch. 1. 40 Mágus saga, pp. 25–26. 37 38

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir beautiful but dull vehicles through which they can assert their own manhood, rather than recognising them as people of flesh and blood. Unbeknownst to Hlöðvir, this woman is, of course, anything but passive, and she has now successfully solved the third and final challenge. The most salient issues at stake in the story of the couple’s marriage are to expose Hlöðvir as a fool and to juxtapose his style of ruling against that of his wife. The saga relentlessly mocks the king by depicting Ermenga/Hirtingr running rings around him in changing disguises, constantly maintaining the upper hand over the boorish, dimwitted king. Hlöðvir comes across as not just a tyrannical and unpopular ruler – his subjects serve him ‘með ótta ok aga, meir enn með ástúð eðr elsku’ (with fear and discipline rather than with love or fondness) – but as arrogant, domineering, dishonest, and thin-skinned.41 Hlöðvir also likes to boast of his assets, and to flash his wealth ostentatiously about. When he arrives in Mikligarðr to marry, there is a long description of his gold- and silk-decorated ships sailing into the harbour, shining so brightly that the procession looks like wildfire; instead of being impressed, Ermenga and her father are taken aback at this over-the-top display of wealth, the latter deeming it ‘dramb’ (pomposity).42 Later in the saga, Hlöðvir is petulant and jealous, accusing the queen of favouring Rögnvaldr over him when she makes intercessory efforts on behalf of the four brothers, refusing to let matters drop when it becomes clear that Rögnvaldr is not trying to compete with the king. The king is ascribed with a modicum of self-awareness on only one occasion: when he realises that his wife has outwitted him and completed the three impossible tasks, Hlöðvir concedes defeat and the couple arrive at a sort of modus vivendi in their marriage, although it could never be described as a happy one. The three disguises that Ermenga takes on not only expose the king’s flaws, they also raise imporant questions about gender, power, and rulership. Ermenga is notably not regarded as transgressing her gender role when ruling in her husband’s absence: as stated previously, the saga assumes that a queen should rule jointly with her husband, though he is the primary ruler. Her more democratic method of governing, characterised by crowd-sourcing and consensus-building, is met with appreciation, and when she returns from her trip to Hlöðvir’s camp, she receives a warm welcome from her subjects. It is thus the style of governing rather than the ruler’s gender that determines whether they are worthy of praise, and Hlöðvir’s toxic masculinity, characterised by thin-skinned arrogance, vulgar one-upmanship, and misogyny, is strongly condemned throughout the saga. So too, courtly masculinity, according to Mágus saga, is assigned not by sex, but is performed through adoption of gender-specific clothing, the bearing of weapons and armour, and demonstrating certain behaviour, such as flirting with ladies. Ermenga’s appropriation of the male role of Hirtingr is prompted 41 42

Mágus saga, p. 1. Mágus saga, p. 7.

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls by her need to win Hlöðvir’s special things rather than by gender dysphoria, the feeling that one’s internal gender is at odds with one’s socially-assigned gender, but she is better at the role than any male character except Rögnvaldr. The disguise allows the queen entry into spaces and homosocial relationships with other knights that would otherwise be closed to her, and only thus is she able to achieve her goal. She does not seem to have an internal male identity (what we today refer to as transgender) in the same way as Þorbergr in Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, whose motive for adopting a male role seems to be attributed to the character’s identifying as male despite his female biology – he does not have any plans to relinquish his role as warrior and (petty) king until forced to by Hrólfr and his invading army.43 Ermenga retains a (cis) female identity to which she reverts immediately once she has completed the tasks, so the theoretical term most apt for her behaviour during her time as a man is what Jack Halberstam calls female masculinity, that is, masculinity divorced from maleness and performed by a person biologically female.44 Hirtingr’s biology – a female body lacking a penis – does not preclude him from carrying out this masculinity and thus seizing the phallus, the social power afforded to a masculine subject, though by drawing attention to his skilful escape from opportunities to engage in sexual acts with women, the saga narrator deflects the problem of courtly masculinity’s sexual aspects, especially regarding adultery. Hirtingr’s winning the chess match against the king, as Rögnvaldr does later in the saga, is here the quintessential manifestation of courtly masculinity and drives home the point that Ermenga is able to take on this cloak and be as successful and convincing a knight as the saga’s foremost hero. Ermenga’s behaviour as a woman is equally performative when she takes on the ‘lady’ disguise to seduce her husband. As we find out when she appears in the same guise when back in Saxland, the queen takes great care of the way she presents herself to the king, arranging her hair beautifully, wearing finery, and speaking in a lady-like manner, in contrast to the more assertive voice she adopts earlier, when she has the white film on her face. Considering how she deliberately performs the role of ‘voldug frú’ (powerful lady), aristocratic femininity is depicted as just as much of a mask as the other two guises. Feminist critics have explored the notion of feminine masquerade, distinguished from disguise by the hyperbole of the performance as well as its objectives.45 The concept is inspired by the psychoanalyst Joan Rivière’s 1929 essay on the subject, and it arguably intersects with the work of queer theorists such as Judith Butler, who have argued that gender is See Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature, ch. 5; Lee Colwill, ‘The King’s Two Bodies? Snjáskvæði and the Performance of Gender’ (MA dissertation, Háskóli Íslands, 2018), p. 61. 44 Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity (Durham, NC, 1998). 45 See David Clark, Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga (Oxford, 2012), ch. 1. 43

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Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir a performance, a set of ‘congealed’ acts that come to be regarded as natural.46 In this framework, (cis, female-presenting) women who have acquired power in a patriarchal social structure tend to display an excessive femininity, using clothes, make-up, body language, and actions coded feminine in the dominant culture.47 The function of their hyper-self-aware performance is to alleviate guilt, compensate and protect themselves from anger and retribution, masking their possession of the phallus and reassuring its observers that the status quo remains in place. Authors of fiction recognise this pattern and employ its features in their character portraits, whether consciously or not. Ironically, the masquerade simultaneously destabilises the status quo and upholds it: women’s performance of femininity exposes a gap between biology and gender, or femaleness and hegemonic femininity as a cultural construct, but it does so in order to draw attention away from their lack of femininity.48 Applying these theoretical insights, Ermenga’s exaggerated performance of traditional femininity as it is conceived in the romance genre is a successful strategy, enabling her to trick her husband and conceive a child by him. She is understandably unwilling to reveal her true identity for fear of her husband’s violent personality. Through this masquerade and Ermenga’s competent performance as a knight, the saga’s redactor employs disguise as a way of exploring the nature of both masculinity and femininity, destabilising the notion that these are binary opposites that have clear boundaries which align neatly with sex. Ermenga is just as good at being a knight as she is at ruling as queen or performing the role of courtly damsel, while her husband is neither a good king nor does he display any of the refined, moderate conduct that Rögnvaldr, Ermenga’s second, more deserving, husband, does. It is fitting, therefore, that both should defeat Hlöðvir in consecutive chess matches, which no amount of flashy possessions or bullying behaviour can help him win.

Conclusion Mágus saga displays little anxiety about women dressing in male clothing in the way that the more familiar sagas of Icelanders do, or about women entering male roles, as in many of the maiden-king sagas – in fact, it presents Joan Rivière, ‘Womanliness as a Masquerade’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis 10 (1929), 303–13; Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, 1990), p. 33. 47 The concept of feminine masquerade as it is used in feminist criticism originates in the classic article by the film studies scholar Mary Ann Doane, ‘Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator’, Screen 23 (1982), 74–87. 48 This is not to dismiss people’s inherent sense of belonging to a particular gender, but, rather, to note that literary characters, who do not have an actual identity or body, can function to expose hegemonic femininity as contrived. See further Colwill, ‘The King’s Two Bodies’, pp. 46–47, and Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, 2nd edn (Boston, 2016). 46

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Masquerade and Masculinity in Mágus saga jarls Ermenga’s egalitarian methods of ruling and no-nonsense attitude as ideal. The text is, rather, interested in exploring the ways in which people of both sexes talk their way into courts and retinues by adopting disguises, as both Hirtingr and Mágus do, and how easily they manage to deceive people around them. Through these characters, the saga raises questions about when you are truly ‘yourself’ and to what extent all existence, at least in public, is a role one plays, a role which is arbitrary, malleable, and open for subversion. At stake, too, are the personal and moral shortcomings of people in positions of power, and the threat that corruption and human vices and follies pose to innocent people. Power in the public sphere is inextricably bound up with masculinity. In the explicit intertextual references to Norse heroic narratives, the rash, easily-manipulated legendary heroes highlight the toxic nature of the kind of masculinity that Hlöðvir, too, embodies. The redactor deliberately quotes Hrappr’s rejoinder explicitly to connect Mágus saga with Njáls saga – a text strongly preoccupied with the detrimental effects of heroic masculinity – in order to highlight the affinities between the two sagas and their similar critique of manly men. Courtly masculinity is also ‘unmasked’ in this text as a constructed role which can be performed by a woman, who is, moreover, better at it than most men. Equally, Ermenga exposes courtly femininity – subservient, docile, feeble – as a sham, and, as a ruler, her intelligence, resourcefulness, foresight, and openness to her subjects is held up as exemplary, in contrast to the flawed rule of both Hlöðvir and their son Karl. Her adopted name Hirtingr, which is changed from the short redaction’s Íringr, is a revealing choice: hirting means chastisement. And what are the functions of these masters of disguise, Ermenga and Mágus, if not to chastise and surpass the fools and tyrants who come into power because of their masculine gender rather than their skills and qualities?

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masculinity, power, and vulnerability

Vulnerable Masculinities and the Vicissitudes of Power in Göngu-Hrólfs saga Philip Lavender

Right from the first line of Göngu-Hrólfs saga the modern reader is forced to acknowledge the cultural weight of men and masculinity. The ambiguity that the Old Norse word maðr (pl. menn) can refer to both a human being in general or a male specifically (but significantly not a female in particular) must be born in mind when we read in the prologue that ‘margar frásagnir hafa menn samat sett til skemmtanar mönnum, sumar eftir fornskræðum eða fróðum mönnum’ (men/people have composed many tales for the enjoyment of men/people, some based on old tales or the authority of wise men/people).1 Even if we imagine a mixed audience and even acknowledging that women played a role in literary endeavour, the phrasing pushes us to see the potentially unmarked human beings as men, and thus the genesis of the work – as presented in Göngu-Hrólfs saga – as one in which men compose for the entertainment of men on the authority of men (or texts composed by men). For this reason alone it would seem worthwhile to study the function and representation of masculinity in Göngu-Hrólfs saga, which is the aim here. The nuance with which different types of masculine power and powerlessness, or vulnerability, are portrayed in this particular saga provides further justification for such a study. Any work considering questions of gender in Old Norse-Icelandic literature must acknowledge the importance of Carol Clover’s 1993 article ‘Regardless of Sex’, which proposed a spectrum of power not intrinsically linked to biological sex as one of the dominant social binaries in early medieval Scandinavia.2 A wide array of work has entered into dialogue with its observations – see, for example, the introduction to this volume – so it is unnecessary to rehearse the various critiques here. Nevertheless, a couple of

1 2

Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 163. Note that this prologue does not always accompany Göngu-Hrólfs saga, but is attached to two of the earliest medieval witnesses. Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Speculum 68 (1993), 363–87.

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Philip Lavender preliminary observations which contribute to the lines of investigation here may be apposite. At the crux of Clover’s argument we are told that the ‘“conditions” that mattered in the north [...] worked not so much at the level of the body, but at the level of social relations’,3 thus biological sex is downgraded and we are presented with a system where the emphasis is on gender. This realignment is not complete, however, until we are informed that early Scandinavian gender consists not of our modern binary concepts of masculinity and femininity (providing the limits for the one-gender system), and not even of masculinity and not-masculinity as such, but rather breadwinners and dependents or the powerful and the powerless. While this reorientation has forced scholars not to be complacent in their approach to gender in sagas and contemporary sources, one of the main problems is its elision of the category of biological sex. As Gareth Lloyd Evans points out in his contribution to this volume, the Íslendingasögur (‘sagas of Icelanders’) give ample evidence that gendered behaviour frequently drew meaning precisely from its interactions with biological sex. Another problem is the conception of power-levels spread out across a scale, with those who have none at the bottom and those who have a lot at the top. Power, in all its trickiness, resists being reduced to such a linear quantitative model, as I will argue further below. One further issue with Clover’s paradigm which has tended to be overlooked by scholars so far, is the vagueness as regards time and chronology. The primary examples which Clover looks at are taken from Gísla saga and Egils saga, dated to the thirteenth century but referring to events having taken place in the ninth and tenth. In applying the lessons learnt from these texts, however, Clover refers on numerous occasions to early Scandinavia and Old Norse. Neither of these terms is precisely delimited, even if ‘early’ would seem to refer roughly to ‘pre-Conversion’. If early Scandinavia had a ‘sex-gender system rather different from our own, and indeed rather different from that of the Christian Middle Ages’, trying to understand that system from texts written in a society where it was already becoming conflated with and being reevaluated through another system is a tricky business: with reference to Gísla saga, Clover says that ‘some part of its confusion stems from what I shall suggest are different gender paradigms’, i.e. different gender paradigms working concurrently within the text not just different to those familiar to a modern reader.4 Looking at such examples from the dynamic perspective of multiple masculinities (and femininities) and intersectional concerns, as opposed to as a monodirectional paradigm shift, will surely help.5 3

Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, pp. 378–79. Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 365. 5 Intersectionality has recently gained a great deal of currency in the critical analysis of social structures of power and exclusion. For the founding articulation of its efficacy see Kimberlé Crenshaw, ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color’, The Public Nature of Private Violence, ed. Martha Albertson Fineman and Roxanne Mykitiuk (New York, 4

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Vulnerable Masculinities in Göngu-Hrólfs saga To that end, augmenting our store of reference points will also be useful. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir has pointed out that Clover’s arguments about women are ‘based on a small selection of female characters from the Íslendingasögur as well as legal and lexical evidence’ and thus urges that it is ‘necessary to examine all of the extant sources’.6 This suggestion is equally applicable when it comes to the representation of male characters and masculinities, and among the extant sources which it seems most pertinent to examine, principally because they look back towards an even earlier period of early Scandinavia than the Íslendingasögur, are the fornaldarsögur (‘sagas of ancient times’ or ‘legendary sagas’).7 While almost nobody would claim that this genre, which blossoms in the thirteenth century, provides us with a historically accurate representation of Scandinavia prior to the settlement of Iceland, sagas of this type do both draw on traditional materials and at times reveal a sensitivity to antiquarian detail.8 Even if not truly ‘early Scandinavian’, these sagas have much to say about the conflicts which arose in the move towards a more high medieval society. As far as the representation of masculinity in this genre is concerned, some work, such as Carl Phelpstead’s foray into the sexual ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka and Miriam Mayburd’s on gender dynamics in Hervarar saga, already exists, but much more remains to be done.9 Thus Göngu-Hrólfs saga, I would propose, presents fertile ground. Normally categorised as a legendary saga with romance influence, it appears in a great many manuscripts, the earliest of which are dated to the fourteenth 1994), pp. 93–118. For a broad overview of how masculinity intersects with other categories in the Íslendingasögur see chapter 3 in Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019), pp. 63–106. 6 Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words, and Power (New York, 2013), pp. 7–8. 7 Clover’s article does contain some fleeting references to legendary sagas. Hervör as a transmitter of masculine traits in Hervarar saga is mentioned in footnote 36 (p. 372), Örvar-Oddr is mentioned in connection with the insults he launches at his opponent Sigurðr (p. 376) and in footnote 64 there is a mention of ‘heroes battling giantesses and warrior women in the fornaldarsögur’, scenes which potentially ‘turn on male humiliation’ (p. 381). 8 On the origins of the genre see, for example, Torfi Tulinius, The Matter of the North: The Rise of Literary Fiction in Thirteenth-Century Iceland, trans. Randi C. Eldevik (Odense, 2002). See also Margaret Clunies Ross ‘Fornaldarsögur as Fantastic Ethnographies’, in Fornaldarsagaerne: Myter og virkelighed, ed. Agneta Ney, Ármann Jakobsson, and Annette Lassen (Copenhagen, 2008), pp. 317–30, where one of the literary modalities of this genre is termed ‘salvage ethnography’ (p. 322). 9 Carl Phelpstead, ‘The Sexual Ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka’, Scandinavian Studies 75.1 (2003), 1–24; Miriam Mayburd, ‘“Helzt þóttumk nú heima í millim...”: A Reassessment of Hervör in Light of Seiðr’s Supernatural Gender Dynamics’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 129 (2014), 121–64. See also Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir’s contribution to this volume, whose focus is Mágus saga jarls, which despite being generally categorised as a riddarasaga (lit. ‘saga of knights’) contains ‘explicit intertextual references to Norse heroic narratives’ and critiques ‘the rash, easilymanipulated legendary heroes’ (p. 93).

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Philip Lavender century. The core narrative tells of Hrólfr’s quest, as a proxy-suitor, to obtain Ingigerðr of Garðaríki for Earl Þorgnýr of Denmark, although that mission goes awry on more than one occasion. Firstly, when Hrólfr is duped by a rogue named Vilhjálmr and forced, under threat of death, to swear to help the villain on his own bridal quest. Upon completing both, Hrólfr is again waylaid by Vilhjálmr, who on this occasion manages to amputate Hrólfr’s legs and escape with Ingigerðr. Despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds, Hrólfr does make it back to Þorgnýr’s court and exposes Vilhjálmr for the crook that he is before heading back to Garðaríki and engaging in a battle royale to avenge Ingigerðr’s slain father. While the narrative is clearly far from literary realism, there are signs that in the Middle Ages it may not have been dismissed as pure fiction (as far as that concept even had meaning for contemporary audiences), and the prologue which appears in some of the oldest manuscripts suggests that debates over the historicity of the material presented were ongoing and perhaps even encouraged.10 In what follows I will focus on three aspects of Göngu-Hrólfs saga in which masculinity – always present if not always foregrounded – reveals its contours under the strain of its own exigencies as well as its interactions with contiguous categories. Firstly, the concept of desperate masculinity is assessed through an analysis of the character Vilhjálmr. This leads into an investigation of the relationship of able-bodiedness/disability to masculinity, drawing arguments from the scene in which Hrólfr’s feet (or legs) are amputated. Finally, the complexities of the interaction of power and masculinity are looked at through the lens of oaths and promises.

Vilhjálmr and Desperate Masculinity Clover’s ideas on masculinity in early Scandinavia can be more or less summed up in her statement that it is characterised by a man’s fear of ‘find[ing] himself not just side by side with women, but under her, and [...] it may be just that ever-present possibility that gives Norse maleness its desperate edge’.11 While Norse maleness may have had a unique combination of factors which provoked its desperate edge, prevailing theories of contemporary masculinities also see men as unable to rest on their laurels. As a recent article puts it, ‘manhood is widely viewed as a status that is elusive (it must be earned) and tenuous (it must be demonstrated repeatedly through 10

On the prologue see Philip Lavender, ‘“Sumar eptir fornkvæðum eðr fróðum mönnum, ok stundum eptir fornum bókum”: Some Observations on the Sources of Göngu-Hrólfs saga’, Scandinavian Studies 90.1 (2018), 78–109, and Ralph O’Connor, ‘Truth and Lies in the fornaldarsögur: The Prologue to Göngu-Hrólfs saga’, in Fornaldarsagaerne, pp. 361–78. For a discussion of similar issues in regard to konunga­sögur (‘kings’ sagas’) see Carl Phelpstead, ‘Fantasy and History: The Limits of Plausibility in Oddr Snorrason’s Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar’, Saga-Book 36 (2012), 27–42. 11 Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 381.

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Vulnerable Masculinities in Göngu-Hrólfs saga actions)’.12 There is thus a pressure on modern men, just like their medieval brethren, to constantly reassert their masculinity under threat of slipping downwards within a hierarchy of masculinities. Whether representative of early Scandinavian or later concepts of masculinity, in Göngu-Hrólfs saga an attempt to elicit a desperate response under the threat of gender slippage appears early on when the hero’s father, Sturlaugr, sneers that ‘Heyrir meir konu en karlmanni at hafa þvílíkt framferði sem þú hefir’ (To act as you do is more befitting of a woman than a man).13 It is not made explicit, at least not in terms transparent at a distance of centuries, why Hrólfr’s mild introversion and mixed abilities in sports make him feminine in Sturlaugr’s eyes,14 but regardless Hrólfr seems unconvinced of the risk of losing his masculinity, even if his father’s words do spur him into setting off on his own into the wider world. For an example of fully-articulated desperate and insecure masculinity, however, we may rather look at the predicament of Hrólfr’s nemesis, Vilhjálmr. When Vilhjálmr has finally reached the end of the road, facing imminent death, he presents a kind of confession-cum-potted autobiography. There, the spur to his involvement in the narrative comes when he is visited in a dream by the diabolical Grímr ægir and offered a kind of turbo-charge (i.e. more strength, weapons, and fine armour) in exchange for deceiving Hrólfr. Vilhjálmr tells how Grímr ‘kvað mik vera gott mannsefni’ (said that I had the makings of a real man).15 We do not know Vilhjálmr’s actual age at this moment, but since he has just murdered his family it would seem he has decided to venture out into the world as an independent adult male. The implication of this backhanded compliment, however, is that Vilhjálmr is not a real man as things stand, but rather still merely a boy in need of training. The terms of Vilhjálmr’s deal with Grímr subsequently turn the former’s desperately desired masculinity into a kind of zero-sum game. Vilhjálmr’s rising star seems to be intimately connected to Hrólfr’s downfall as articulated by Grímr: ‘má svá vera giftumuninn, at þú verðir mágr Eireks konungs, en hann [Hrólfr] fái bana’ (there may thus be a change in fortunes, such that you end up becoming one of Eiríkr’s kinsmen and he [Hrólfr] ends up dead).16 The change of fortunes is presented almost as if it were an exchange 12

13 14

15

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Jennifer K. Bosson and Joseph A. Vandello, ‘Precarious Manhood and its Links to Action and Aggression’, Current Directions in Psychological Science 20.2 (2011), 82–86, at p. 82. See also R. W. Connell, Masculinities, 2nd edn (Berkeley, 2005). Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 174. It could be the case that Sturlaugr deems jousting and shot-practice (which Hrólfr is good at) as more feminised courtly pursuits, contrasting with the more masculine pursuits associated with pagan nordic society (e.g. ball games and duels). Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 234. See Oren Falk’s chapter in this collection on the ways in which males who have not yet reached maturity may be marked out as inherently promising in terms of masculinity with recourse to a favourable assessment of their mannsefni. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 234.

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Philip Lavender of fortunes. While we might see this as confirmation of Clover’s sliding scale of masculinities, it may be better to see it as an oversimplification of what is at stake in masculinity peddled either knowingly or unknowingly by Grímr, who is respectively either archly manipulative or monstrously unaware of how ‘real men’ should behave. It is not long after this nocturnal visitation that Vilhjálmr manages to force Hrólfr into swearing an oath such that he will perform whatever acts are necessary to win Gyða, Eiríkr’s sister, in marriage but pass all his accomplishments off as Vilhjálmr’s. Despite now having Hrólfr in his power, Vilhjálmr’s dependence on his foe seems to heighten his fragile gender identity.17 This can be noted through his constant attempts at self-aggrandisement. For example, on arriving at Eiríkr’s court, Vilhjálmr claims to be ‘svá sterkr, at mér verðr aldri aflfátt’ (so strong that I never run out of energy) and asserts, among other things, that ‘enga missa ek þá, er karlmann má prýða’ (I lack none of those qualities that can distinguish a man).18 Eiríkr’s dubious acceptance of Vilhjálmr into his court lends a humorous touch to the proceedings, and the fact that subsequently ‘skjalaði Vilhjálmr í hvern heim’ (Vilhjálmr boasted wherever he went), particularly as compared to Hrólfr’s judicious silence, adds to this comic portrayal of insecurity.19 The joke becomes perhaps laboured as after each trial set by Eiríkr (and accomplished in secret by Hrólfr) Vilhjálmr continues to extol his own praises as alpha-male: after the capturing of the golden-horned stag Vilhjálmr claims that ‘afburð hefi ek flestum mönnum’ (I am a paragon above all men), and after the raiding of Hreggviðr’s gravemound he wonders how on earth Eiríkr could cast doubt upon ‘hreysti minnar karlmennsku’ (the courage of my manhood).20 A high point of Vilhjálmr’s self-fashioning comes when he gives an account of how he entered Hreggviðr’s mound and retrieved the dead king’s armour. Insulted and perhaps concerned by Eiríkr’s suspicions that Hrólfr performed the deed, Vilhjálmr narrates how: þá ek fór í Hreggviðar haug, skyldi hann festi haldit hafa, ok þá hann heyrði dunur ok stór högg í hauginn, varð hann svá hræddr, at hann rann frá festinni. Var þat eitt þá mín hjálp, at ek hafði borit festarendann um stóran stein, ok las ek mik upp ór hauginum með handafli.21

17

18

19 20 21

On the ways in which oaths and promises have a complex relationship to power and masculinity see the final section of this chapter. Here it may suffice to say that while the oath that Hrólfr makes puts his power at Vilhjálmr’s disposal, it may also heighten Vilhjálmr’s awareness of his limited masculinity due to the fact that Hrólfr is so prodigious and their agreement is only temporary. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 196. Note that since maðr means both ‘person’ and ‘man’, karlmaðr can be read as straddling the line between meaning ‘man’ and ‘manly man’ or ‘macho man’. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 197. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, pp. 201 and 206. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 206.

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Vulnerable Masculinities in Göngu-Hrólfs saga (when I went into Hreggviðr’s gravemound, he [Hrólfr] was supposed to hold onto the rope, and when he heard crashing and heavy blows inside the mound, he ran away from the rope. My only salvation was that I had tied the end of the rope around a large rock, and I hoisted myself up out of the mound by the power of my own hands.) Vilhjálmr’s account shows that he has done his reading, with his derivative description presumably taking its main features from preexisting tales of mound-breaking.22 The most obvious comparable example is that found in Grettis saga, where the hero raids the mound of Kárr the Old and is abandoned by his companion Auðunn, who upon hearing a crashing sound in the mound abandons his post by the entrance-hole.23 Vilhjálmr paints himself as the Grettir-type hero, and Hrólfr as the unreliable and easily-flappable Auðunn-type. The dramatic irony for the audience is that we know the breaking of Hreggviðr’s mound to have been anything but this self-affirming standard narrative of masculine achievement in the face of undead alterity. Hreggviðr was actually waiting outside the mound on Hrólfr’s arrival and handed over the required goods with gusto.

The Impairment of Hrólfr ‘the Walker’24 Of course, Clover does not just emphasise that masculinity is desperate, but also that masculinity in early Scandinavian society may be something slightly different from what we have come to expect. An important part of her argument is that: to the extent that we can speak of a social binary [...] the fault line runs not between males and females per se, but between able-bodied men (and exceptional women) on the one hand and, on the other, a kind of rainbow coalition of everyone else[.]25 The introduction of the qualifier ‘able-bodied’ here bears closer investigation, especially since Clover has relatively little to say about impairment and disability in her article. From the perspective of the social model of disability studies impairments can be disabling, but need not necessarily be so, since disability is a social phenomenon (rather than a somatic one).26 22

23

24 25 26

On the trope of mound-breaking see Hilda Ellis Davidson, The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature (Cambridge, 1943), pp. 35–36 and 191–93. Grettis saga, pp. 55–56. I am not claiming that Göngu-Hrólfs saga definitely borrows from Grettis saga, merely pointing out that both at least allude to very similar traditions of mound-breaking. Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards call the hero ‘Hrolf the Tramper’ in their translation, Göngu-Hrólfs saga (Edinburgh, 1980). Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 380. For surveys of disability studies in relation to medieval studies see Irina Metzler, ‘Disability in the Middle Ages: Impairment at the Intersection of Historical Inquiry

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Philip Lavender To say that ‘able-bodied’ men have a privileged position in any society is a fairly uncontroversial statement, since to be able-bodied requires social structures of affirmation. Perhaps it is more interesting to attempt to understand what the particular society in question understood (or established) as disability and which impairments were not seen as such, since disability ‘is not an unchanging human condition that manifests as a synchronic structure common across all human cultures’.27 In doing so we avoid imposing our own assumptions onto Old Norse sources and rather engage with their testimony. By nuancing our view of impairments and disabilities, we also stand a good chance of nuancing our views of masculinities. Recent work on the intersectional dilemma of disabled masculinity has shown how hegemonic masculinity (associated with power and autonomy) and disability (associated with helplessness and dependency) are often seen as incompatible, and thus men with impairments may adopt a variety of strategic masculinities depending on the specificities of their situation.28 With the adoption of an intersectional approach, it becomes possible for us to reconsider Clover’s claims, as the able-bodied masculinity which she sees as valorised under a pre-Christian one-sex regime still has traction today. In doing so we also respect the cultural specificity of the dynamic relationship between specific types of masculinity and specific classes of impairment. The significance of ‘able-bodiedness’ for our hero is confirmed early on when we learn of how Hrólfr came to have his pedestrian cognomen: ‘Hrólfr Sturlaugsson var manna mestr, bæði at digrð ok hæð, ok svá þungr, at engi hestr fekk borit hann allan dag, ok var hann því jafnan á göngu’ (Hrólfr Sturlaugsson was the largest of men, both with regards to stoutness and height, and so heavy that no horse could carry him for an entire day, and thus he was always afoot).29 Hrólfr is clearly invested in his legs even more than the average individual. It is perhaps curious to note, moreover, that Hrólfr’s excessive able-bodiedness also functions as something of a mild impairment. His size and stature, characteristics which are usually assumed to be positive and associated with masculinity, have surprising and perhaps not fully positive consequences. It is for this reason that the focus of Hrólfr’s nickname is not on his prodigious size as such but rather the peculiar inconvenience

and Disability Studies’, History Compass 9.1 (2011), 45–60, and Richard Godden and Jonathan Hsy, ‘Analytical Survey: Encountering Disability in the Middle Ages’, New Medieval Literatures 15 (2013), 318–39. For disability studies and medieval West Scandinavia see Todd Michelson-Ambelang, ‘Outsiders on the Inside: Conception of Disability in Medieval Western Scandinavia’ (doctoral thesis, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2015). 27 Metzler, ‘Disability in the Middle Ages’, p. 45. 28 Russell Shuttleworth, Nikki Wedgwood, and Nathan J. Wilson, ‘The Dilemma of Disabled Masculinity’, Men and Masculinities 15.2 (2012), 174–94. 29 Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 173.

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Vulnerable Masculinities in Göngu-Hrólfs saga that results from it: his walking is a touch odd if not embarrassing for a man of his ilk and so bears commenting on.30 With such emphasis being placed on Hrólfr’s walking, his later loss of that ability takes on a particular significance. Having rescued Ingigerðr from her unpleasant predicament in Garðaríki, the pair are returning to Denmark when Vilhjálmr accosts them. After completing the challenges demanded of Vilhjálmr, Hrólfr found himself no longer under any obligation and thus free to escape. Unfortunately for Vilhjálmr, however, Hrólfr’s elopement with Ingigerðr exposed his previous deception. The only way that he could avoid a grisly fate was to swear to right the wrong and put an end to Hrólfr. Upon finding the hero and his rescued princess he thus enters upon a new round of intrigues, falsely swearing to be completely loyal and faithful to Hrólfr now. Hrólfr accepts, claiming not to have the heart to kill the rogue. This acceptance allows Vilhjálmr to bide his time and plot his next move, which comes while Hrólfr is sleeping. Vilhjálmr pricks him with a ‘sleep-thorn’ and proceeds to amputate his feet, before leaving Hrólfr bleeding, mutilated, still unconscious, and alone in the forest.31 This is the moment when Hrólfr is at his lowest ebb and certainly at his most vulnerable. As such it presents a particularly interesting moment for considering how Hrólfr performs his masculinity. Following Vilhjálmr and Ingigerðr’s departure, Dúlcifal nuzzles up to the catatonic Hrólfr thus shaking the sleep-thorn loose: Hrólfr vaknar við þat, at undan váru báðir fætrnir [...] Hrólfr þótti nú mjök harkast um, en þó hreyfir hann sik ok tekr lífsteinana ok skefr í stúfana. Tók þá skjótt sviða ór sárunum. Hrólfr skreið at hestinum, en hann lagðist niðr. Fekk Hrólfr þá velt sér í söðulinn.32 (Hrólfr wakes up to find that both his feet were gone […] He felt that things had taken a significant turn for the worse, but he picks himself up and takes the healing stones and scrapes them on the stumps. The sting quickly went out of the wounds. Hrólfr crawled over to the horse, which lay down. Then Hrólfr was able lift himself into the saddle.)

30

See John P. Sexton, ‘Difference and Disability: On the Logic of Naming in the Icelandic Sagas’, in Disability in the Middle Ages: Reconsiderations and Reverberations, ed. Joshua R. Eyler, 2nd edn (Abingdon, 2016), pp. 149–63, for a discussion of how nicknames can have varied functions in relation to leg injuries and mobility issues. See also Diana Whaley, ‘Nicknames and Narratives in the Sagas’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 108 (1993), 122–46, for a discussion of the difficulties of interpreting nicknames and the role of explicit naming narratives. In Hrólfr’s case, however, we are told nothing of who gave him his name or under what particular circumstances. 31 It should be noted that the word for feet, fætr, can also refer to the whole of the leg below the knee. 32 Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 228.

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Philip Lavender It is important to note here that despite being suddenly deprived of his legs, Hrólfr has a number of magical or fantastic accoutrements that leave him far from powerless: his almost sentient horse, the magic healing stones, and the impenetrable cloak Vefryejunaut.33 In spite of all this, however, Hrólfr’s response to a horrific mutilation is rather restrained, to say the least. Even the stoic first-named protagonist of Egils saga einhenda ok Ásmundar berserkja­bana is said to have suffered ‘mikinn verk’ (great pain) on account of his amputated hand.34 We may note Hrólfr’s almost immediate ability to see the potential of his situation, as if he knew by heart the verse in Hávamál which proclaims ‘haltr ríðr hrossi’ (the lame man rides a horse).35 Perhaps the strain that his previous stature would have placed upon a horse has now even been mitigated as a result of his misfortune (his weight, we must assume, has decreased). Hrólfr certainly seems to be a character along the lines of Önundr tréfótr from Grettis saga who Todd Michelson-Ambelang has characterised as ‘a character with an impairment, who is not disabled’.36 The nearest safe haven, to which Hrólfr heads, is the house of his friend Björn. Upon arriving, however, he does not find the expected sanctuary, but rather his friend in fetters while a usurping dwarf named Möndull abuses Björn’s bewitched wife. Björn, in his moment of need, thinks of his friend Hrólfr and imagines salvation from that quarter, but Möndull attempts to quash such hopes with his statement that ‘Aldri mun hann þér hjálpa né þín hefna heðan frá [...] undan honum eru báðir fætrnir ok ódauðr at eins’ (From now on he’ll never help you or avenge you […] both his feet have gone out from under him and he is practically dead).37 Möndull’s assumption of Hrólfr’s being powerless once deprived of his legs makes him, in a way, the voice of a disabling discourse, one which categorises amputees as incapable of masculine imperatives such as revenge and thus marginalises them socially. But Hrólfr is clearly not ready to see himself as out of the game, not pandering to expectations surrounding his impairment and moreover taking advantage of Möndull’s misapprehension and underestimation of his capabilities in order to get close enough to throttle him. Hrólfr’s snappy rejoinder as he squeezes Möndull’s neck is ‘enn lifa hendr Hrólfs, þó fætrnir sé farnir’

33

34 35 36 37

One could imagine that it is the presence of the cloak which prevents Vilhjálmr from dealing a mortal blow to the heart, although he later mentions that he also feared what Dúlcifal would have done to him had he taken such direct action (Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 235). The intersection of masculinity and magic would be yet another fruitful avenue for future investigation, particularly since traditionally scholars have claimed that magic (normally referring to seiðr [approx. ‘shamanic magic’]) is harmful to masculinity. Romance-influenced texts show frequent examples of heroes making use of magic objects without any necessary negative consequences. Egils saga einhenda, p. 348. Hávamál, p. 53. Michelson-Ambelang, ‘Outsiders on the Inside’, p. 114. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 229.

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Vulnerable Masculinities in Göngu-Hrólfs saga (Hrólfr’s hands are alive and kicking even if his feet have gone walkabout).38 With his humour intact, Hrólfr reminds us of one of the key tenets of the saga, that apparent deficits are often accompanied by unexpected assets, that powerlessness can at times yield its own surprising forms of power. It is not just a question of Hrólfr’s having retained some of his previous abilities (strong hands) while losing others (sturdy feet/legs), but the irony of his lost abilities being intimately related to new unexpected ones (hands stand in – in a wider symbolic sense – for all kinds of skills, for example equestrian agility and the sly use of the element of surprise). It is the often unpredictable combination of these various factors which leads to an individual’s ability to stand or fall when confronted with challenges. The way in which Hrólfr deals with his impairment can be contrasted, moreover, with the response of another character in the saga, whose size and strength are comparable to our hero’s but prove to be a mixed blessing. At the grand battle at Aldeigjuborg we meet Röndólfr on the opposing side, presumably from Garðaríki like his half-brother Ími, and who ‘mátti vel tröll kallast fyrir vaxtar sakir ok afls’ (could well be called a troll on account of his size and strength).39 Once the battle gets underway Hrólfr and Röndólfr come to blows, the outcome being a somewhat gruesome dismemberment: ‘Hrólfr slæmdi sverðinu á hönd Röndólfs, ok tók af í úlfliðnum ok allar tær á öðrum fæti’ (Hrólfr swung his sword into Röndólfr’s hand, removing it at the wrist as well as all the toes on one of his feet).40 Hrólfr’s next blow removes Röndólfr’s other hand and the final cut deals an unpleasant wound to Röndólfr’s buttocks, of which it is said that ‘dró hann þá slóðina eftir sér ok hljóp beljandi upp í fylking Eireks konungs, svá at allt hrökk undan. Drap hann með því margan mann’ (he then turned tail and ran howling into King Eiríkr’s ranks, so that everyone fell before him. In this manner he killed many men).41 Röndólfr’s wound may be considered a klámhögg (shame-stroke), symbolically more shameful than a blow to an arm or leg but in terms of its immediate physical effects no more or less painful or traumatic.42 In stark contrast to Hrólfr’s cool-headedness, however, this big and powerful warrior ends up losing his wits and wreaking havoc on his own men, his size and strength backfiring when not accompanied by a suitable frame of mind. That Röndólfr and Hrólfr, despite their differing responses, are both subjected to similar bodily traumas is perhaps not surprising. In a narrative Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 229. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 242. 40 Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 245. 41 Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 245. 42 On klámhögg see Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983), pp. 68–70. Another example can be seen in Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 273. Cutting off an arm or a leg was also considered ignominious, of course: see the list of shameful mutilations which Þornbjörg subjects her failed suitors to in Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, p. 70. 38 39

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Philip Lavender so focused on conflict between men on the small (fights, duels, jousts) and grand (battles) scales, wounds and mutilations resulting from sharp weapons are to be expected. From a narrative perspective, the representation of this type of impairment is also comprehensible. Shuttleworth, Wedgwood, and Wilson, discussing acquired or post-childhood impairments (albeit in a very different context) affirm that they ‘present a stark example of how disabled masculinity can manifest as an identity crisis driven by disruption of their bodily proprioception and a challenge to their taken-for-granted embodiment of gendered power’.43 Having a limb violently amputated is a sudden and extreme challenge to one’s masculine identity, and from a narrative perspective can provide an opportunity for an arc of crisis and resolution. In this sense it can certainly be argued that Hrólfr’s (at-the-least) depeditation is a somewhat opportunistic use of impairment, similar to what David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder have called ‘narrative prosthesis’, whereby a disability is given to a character in a text merely for the sake of marking them out as exceptional (but without sensitivity to the realities of living with impairment).44 Hrólfr’s disability is hardly realistically portrayed, and the miracle cure which he receives means that Hrólfr can briefly experience physical impairment without having to live with more permanent consequences. In spite of these concerns, however, Hrólfr’s predicament does open up a space for imagining ‘a dynamic view of the articulation and interaction between masculinity and disability’.45

Promises and Power If Hrólfr’s experience of impairment shows that there were modes of masculinity which could coexist in an individual who might not easily fit the description of ‘able-bodied’, there are also a number of other restrictions upon individual agency within the saga which can likewise be seen to have a dynamic relationship to masculinity. These restrictions, namely oaths and promises of one sort or another, can at times be entered into as an alternative to suffering violence against one’s body (which may be impairing, disabling or even fatal), and could thus at times be seen as almost symbolic impairments. They can also be entered into without obvious coercion, but due to some sense of preexisting obligation. Whatever the cause, the oath and variants thereof are resorted to surprisingly frequently in Göngu-Hrólfs saga. The first example is when Eiríkr, having killed Ingigerðr’s father and conquered her kingdom, is moved by her tears and beauty, to offer her 43

Shuttleworth, Wedgwood, and Wilson, ‘The Dilemma of Disabled Masculinity’, p. 183. 44 David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse (Ann Arbor, 2014). 45 Shuttleworth, Wedgwood, and Wilson, ‘The Dilemma of Disabled Masculinity’, p. 174.

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Vulnerable Masculinities in Göngu-Hrólfs saga ‘hverja bæn, er þú vilt beðit hafa’ (any request that you want to make).46 She quickly warns him that no man may call himself a king who ‘eigi heldr þat, er hann lofar einni jungfrú’ (who doesn’t keep the promises which he makes to a maiden) and gives rather a long list of ‘skildagar’ (conditions) before they ‘bundu [...] þetta fastmælum’ (affirmed their agreement).47 Later on Hrólfr nominates himself for the job of fetching Ingigerðr from Garðaríki on behalf of Þorgnýr, a task which he refers to later as ‘jarlsins erindi’ (the earl’s mission).48 This obligation is interrupted and subverted by the arrival of Vilhjálmr. He, upon being beaten by Hrólfr in single combat, swears to ‘trúliga þjóna’ (faithfully serve) his subduer, but it is a mere day before Vilhjálmr breaks this promise and manages to trick Hrólfr into a position where his choices are either death or immediate subjugation himself.49 Hrólfr is now under double obligations, to fetch Ingigerðr for Þorgnýr and to aid Vilhjálmr in acquiring Gyða, but he makes his decision to submit to Vilhjálmr in the knowledge that if he were to die, the chances of him completing the first of the two would be zero. The possible conflicts of these dual imperatives must be negotiated, and the matter is not helped by the fact that Hrólfr must ‘eið at vinna’ (swear an oath) not to take revenge on Vilhjálmr.50 Having arrived at their destination, Vilhjálmr is presented with the opportunity he has been seeking: to perform three tasks which are stipulated by Eiríkr and win Gyða, and ‘áttu þeir at þessu handfestar’ (they shook hands on this).51 At this point Eiríkr is under obligation to marry his sister to Vilhjálmr, provided Vilhjálmr completes three tasks, which Hrólfr (unbeknownst to Eiríkr) is obliged to complete on Vilhjálmr’s behalf, in order that he (Hrólfr), in turn, may fulfil his obligation to Þorgnýr. The tasks are of course completed, and Hrólfr frees himself from his first obligation and then takes steps towards achieving his second by eloping, as we have seen, with Ingigerðr. The consequences of the princess’s disappearance lead to a veritable volley of vows as Vilhjálmr attempts to minimise fallout through a formal heitstrenging (‘formal oath’, namely ‘stíg ek á stokk ok strengi ek þess heit’, ‘I stand on this block and swear this oath’) to kill Hrólfr.52 He thus finds Hrólfr and Ingigerðr and promises to be ‘hollr ok trúr heðan frá’ (loyal and faithful from now on), but immediately breaks his promise, pulling the trick with the sleepthorn and giving Ingigerðr an ultimatum (‘tveir [...] kostir’), either to die or to accompany him to Þorgnýr’s court and confirm all his lies (she chooses the latter).53 From this point on until the end of the saga, as the culminating battles take centre stage, the urge to make or enforce promises cools off, 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53

Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 171. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 172. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, pp. 191–92 and 195. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 193. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 195. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 199. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 220. Göngu-Hrólfs saga, pp. 224 and 226.

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Philip Lavender although we do learn of Vilhjálmr’s original deal (‘kaup’) with the ‘devil’ (Grímr ægir) and see Möndull subordinating himself to Hrólfr in order to save his skin (but also stipulating that he must be allowed to make all the decisions on their war-expedition to Garðaríki).54 The variety of terms used in referring to an abundance of oaths, promises, conditions, and pledges implies a number of shades of distinction, but in each case one party is ostensibly agreeing to limit their personal freedom by submitting, wholly or partially, to certain stipulations (normally laid out by the other party).55 In many of these cases it becomes clear that the promises made draw heavily on an ideology of gender and in particular masculinity. As already mentioned, Ingigerðr jumps at the opportunity when Eiríkr offers to grant her any request and decisively blocks off the possibility of him reneging by alluding to both his gender and rank. Eiríkr is not the only character to be cajoled in such a way, as we see when Vilhjálmr directs similar words at Hrólfr: ‘mér þykkir þú skyldr at […] vinna allar þrautir fyrir mik eftir skildögum, ef þú ert maðr til’ (it seems to me that you are obliged to perform all these feats for me according to our agreement, if you are man enough).56 We may note that Hrólfr is no king or earl, so the incitement bypasses concerns about rank and goes straight to questions of gender identity. While Vilhjálmr manipulates others through the threat of loss of status, his failure to follow the ethical code of promises exposes him to gender criticism: Eiríkr, on finding out about Vilhjálmr’s deception says that Hrólfr ‘var stórra mann, en þú ert dáðlaus svikari, ragr í hverja taug’ (was a greater man, but you are a good-for-nothing traitor, queer in every fibre of your being).57 Of course, not only men make promises, as we see in the case of Ingigerðr’s agreement to keep her mouth shut about Vilhjálmr’s treachery in return for him sparing her life. But a comparison between Ingigerðr and Hrólfr’s motivations in accepting Vilhjálmr’s conditions instead of death are enlightening: she reasons that it would be silly to choose death while there is the possibility of life, while Hrólfr chooses life only because the opposite would prevent him from keeping his promise to Þorgnýr. To explicate in full the ramifications of all these examples is beyond the scope of the present study, and the paucity of research into promises in Old Norse does not help the matter. It seems that speech-acts which introduce limitations upon the sphere of influence of characters was a favourite expedient of the author(s) of this particular saga. Oaths and promises draw, for their enforcement, on a social system of ethics which, as we have seen, is in many ways linked to gender.58 They thus emphasise the relegation of individual power, gendered or otherwise, to wider societal Göngu-Hrólfs saga, pp. 234, 230, and 237. I use the word ‘ostensibly’ since Vilhjálmr’s actions show that he, alone among the characters in the saga, makes promises without any intention of keeping them. 56 Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 199. 57 Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 219. 58 For one attempt to explain the ethical system of the fornaldarsögur see M. C. Van 54 55

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Vulnerable Masculinities in Göngu-Hrólfs saga structures of power. For a hero like Hrólfr, who shows a predisposition to go it alone, oaths and promises are the means by which he reluctantly ends up socially entangled. But if making a promise limits one’s autonomy (and thus power), potentially forcing one down the sliding scale of masculinity, subsequently ignoring its terms (which should technically provide one with more autonomy and power) is yet more damaging for one’s gender status. Put another way, oaths impose limitations on the freewheeling individual, but ignoring them is ignominious and harmful to the masculinity of an individual embedded in a social network. As obligations become imbricated further conflicts can and will arise. Is it, for example, more honourable, more masculine, for Hrólfr to present himself as a servant and subjugate himself to Vilhjálmr’s will, even knowing that Vilhjálmr broke an oath to him and that it could jeopardise his own sworn mission to retrieve Ingigerðr for Þorgnýr? There is no simple answer. Thus in a literal sense, oaths and promises allow us to recognise the system of expectations and obligations which individuals must adhere to in order to maintain their gender and power status in the world represented. In a wider symbolic sense, they point towards the challenges attendant but upon, and the dispersed nature of, power more generally. Old Norse literature has a tendency to articulate power as if it were a quality possessed by an individual. Early, albeit post-medieval, theories of power also saw it in this way, as ‘a simple capacity to act’, yet ‘the fundamental problem with the conception of power as quantitative capacity lies in its inability to allow for the indeterminacy of conflict. In effect it treats the outcome of conflict not as something produced in the course of conflict itself’.59 Such a deterministic view of power not only goes against common sense but also against the demand for the unexpected which vitalises narrative.60 Aside from being deterministic, such theories also have a tendency to treat the individual’s capacity to act as unfolding on a level playing field, but modern theories of power emphasise how the impetus to act (or not to) in the first place is often influenced by preexisting power structures. It is important to remember that ‘both structural and agentic accounts can shed light on human events’,61 because the spectrum of power of the one-sex/one-gender model is often presented as if individual agency is the primary causal factor.62 This is especially so in

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den Toorn, ‘Über die Ethik in den Fornaldarsagas’, Acta Philologica Scandinavica 26 (1963–64), 19–66. Barry Hindess, Discourses of Power: From Hobbes to Foucault, 2nd edn (Oxford, 2001), pp. 2 and 32. There are many examples within the saga which challenge a deterministic view of power. The saga starts, for example, with King Hreggviðr, described as ‘mikill at vexti, sterkr at afli, manna vænstr ok vápndjarfastr, hugarfullr ok bardagamaðr mikill, vitr ok ráðugr’ (of great stature, powerful, extremely handsome, and skilled with weapons, doughty and a great warrior, wise and shrewd) (Göngu-Hrólfs saga, p. 164) being suddenly and summarily defeated. Jonathan Hearn, Theorizing Power (New York, 2012), p. 9. Clover does not expand upon her conception of power, but the way in which she

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Philip Lavender cases where the elision and downplaying of biological sex suggests that there are no preexisting constraints which influence the gender/power binary. However, if we take structural factors (for which there is ample evidence) into account, then we must recognise that individual agency is circumscribed even prior to the first move in any interaction. Masculinities, for example, are not merely performed by individuals free of any prior constraint, boldly asserting themselves. Even if on the face of it saga-heroes are tagged as charged with power like batteries, the intricacies of narrative belie the idea of unfettered agents ascending and descending a gender spectrum by sheer power of will. In fact the sagas are brimming with the effects of power structures. Göngu-Hrólfs saga is by no means unique in this respect, but through its preponderance of obligations it finds a way to make explicit these hidden structures and can thus well provide a springboard for further explorations.

Conclusion In the preceding discussion I hope to have shown that Göngu-Hrólfs saga is a particularly rich source of information for masculine identities, crises of masculinities, and relationships between men. I have also attempted to suggest various ways in which lessons learnt from this saga can complement preexisting approaches to early Scandinavian masculinity, in particular that of Carol Clover in ‘Regardless of Sex’. The discussion of Vilhjalmr’s desperate masculinity allows us to see commonalities between the world of the legendary sagas, thirteenth-century Iceland, and the present. In my analysis of Hrólfr’s mutilation I point towards the benefits of considering the intersection of masculinities and impairments. In the final section I use the trope of promises and obligations to illustrate that Göngu-Hrólfs saga does not show a world in which power grants status ‘regardless of sex’. All three examples highlight the vulnerability of masculinity to the influence of other aspects of identity and social power structures. In all of these discussions, Carol Clover’s work has been a useful point of departure. Her realigned power binary has been so fruitful precisely because of its relative simplicity, and there is ample evidence that the article served its purpose (a polemic and necessary challenge to complacency with regards to gender assumptions). Yet in moving forward we must risk muddying the waters by making use of more recent developments in the theories of gender, intersectionality, and masculinities.

describes the power spectrum seems to imply an agentic understanding. Theories of power are manifold, but one interesting application of power theory within Old Norse studies can be found in Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir’s use of Max Weber’s formulations: Women in Old Norse Literature, pp. 8 and 89.

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Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence Ásdís Egilsdóttir

Most scholars agree that masculinity is a complex social construct that varies between cultures and changes over centuries.1 Despite this variability, masculinity is usually linked with strength and power. According to the Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell, multiple types of masculinity coexist in every society. Linking masculinity with power produces a dominant, culturallyendorsed form of masculinity – a ‘hegemonic masculinity’ – through the marginalisation or subordination of other forms of masculinities as well as femininities.2 The conversion to Christianity in 999/1000 introduced a new type of masculinity to Iceland. Unlike their secular counterparts, men of the Church had to establish their authority without being able to adhere to many of the outward signs of a hegemonic masculinity such as carrying weapons or being sexually active. Nevertheless, control over women and their household was still a possible facet of clerical identities. In Iceland, clerical marriage and concubinage continued well into the thirteenth century. A formal ban against clerical marriage was included in the Christian law of Bishop Árni Þorláksson in 1275 but many clerics nevertheless continued to keep concubines.3 It was not just the conversion which affected masculinities in Iceland during this period. Imported, translated literature also brought new ideas about masculinity to Iceland and influenced the representation of masculinity in vernacular literature. In chivalric-inspired romances, knights were portrayed as brave, elegant and also able to control their sexual desires, whereas the urges of heathen characters could not be subdued.4 In translated hagiographic literature, male martyrs show physical strength and endurance 1

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Clare A. Lees, ‘Introduction: Men’s Studies, Women’s Studies, Medieval Studies’, in Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages, ed. Clare A. Lees (Minneapolis and London, 1994), pp. xv–xxvi; Bjørn Bandlien, ‘Man or Monster?: Negotiations of Masculinity in Old Norse Society’ (doctoral thesis, Universitetet i Oslo, 2005), pp. 2–22. R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Cambridge, 2005). Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Kristni á Íslandi II (Reykjavík, 2000), p. 51. For discussion of concubinage in Lárentíus saga biskups, see the chapter by Phelpstead, this volume. Henric Bagerius, ‘Mandom och mödom: Sexualitet, homosocialitet och aristokratisk

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Ásdís Egilsdóttir similar to these chivalric heroes, and their female counterparts are admired for acting in a manly way: for example, in Margrétar saga, St Margrét conquers a demon by pulling him by the hair and stepping on him. The demon expresses his surprise that a young virgin has overpowered him and says: ‘Mér þætti ekki til koma ef karlmaðr hefði þetta gert’ (I would not have been surprised if a man had done this).5 Strength is not just related to physical ability in hagiography, as overcoming sexual desire and lust was also seen as a sign of strength. Since the masculinity of the clergy could not be defined by their bravery in battle or their sexual virility, religious literature emphasized that their staying chaste also required strength.6 This chapter will demonstrate these differences between secular models of masculinity and those evinced by the clergy by drawing on a wide range of textual examples. The Miles Christi (soldier of Christ) and those who fought bravely for the right cause are described with admiration in many texts, such as Karlamagnús saga, translated and compiled in the thirteenth century. God is described as supporting Charlemagne in all his battles: ‘féngu kristnir menn mikla hugdirfð, en Affrikamenn hrukku allir saman ok taka á flótta, en Frankismenn eptir drepandi þá sem vargar er sauði elta’ (the Christians were endowed with great courage, the Africans became frightened and fled, but the Franks killed them like wolves chasing sheep).7 In this saga, Archbishop Turpin is both a man who prays and a man who fights, combining both spiritual and secular ideals of power and masculinity. But Christianity also introduces priests and bishops as arbitrators and peacemakers, and advocates reconciliation instead of revenge. This latter view is more in accordance with Grágás, which suggests that priests in medieval Iceland were not allowed to carry weapons.8 Priests were generally granted sanctuary, but there are a few examples that indicate that they did sometimes take part in fights with weapons.9

Masculinities in Secular Texts Around the year 1000, the inhabitants of Iceland were divided into two factions: pagan worshippers and those who had accepted Christianity. When both groups rode to the Alþingi it seems that they were likely to

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identitet på det senmedeltida Island’ (doctoral thesis, Göteborgs universitet), pp. 130–44. Heilagra manna søgur, vol. 1, p. 479. For discussions of other female characters who act in ‘manly’ ways, see the chapters by Evans and by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, this volume. Jacqueline Murray, ‘Masculinizing Religious Life’, in Holiness and Masculinity in the Middle Ages, ed. P. H. Cullum and Katherine J. Lewis (Cardiff, 2004), pp. 24–42, at p. 27. Karlamagnús saga, p. 354. Grágás, p. 18. Gunnar F. Guðmundsson, Kristni á Íslandi II, p. 51.

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Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence fight. Íslendingabók emphasizes that the pagans were fully armed: ‘En enir heiðnu menn hurfu saman með alvæpni’ (The heathen men, however, gathered together fully armed).10 The Law-speaker Þorgeirr Ljósvetningagoði was chosen by both parties to settle the matter of which religion should be practised. His verdict was that the country would accept Christianity because it would guarantee peace if all inhabitants of the country were of the same religion: ‘hǫfum allir ein lǫg ok einn sið. Þat mon verða satt, es vér slítum sundur lǫgin, at vér monum slíta ok friðinn’ (let us all have one law and one faith. It will prove true that if we sunder the law we will also sunder the peace).11 As a law-speaker, pagan priest, and a chieftain, Þorgeirr was a respected and authoritative man. When he decided in favour of Christianity, the conflict was settled peacefully and without violence: the key words in Þorgeirr’s speech are law and peace. Peace is also endorsed in Þorgils saga ok Hafliða, probably written in the mid-thirteenth century, which relates events from 1120, therefore taking place in an established Christian society. In the saga, men of the church, Bishop Þorlákr Runólfsson and the priest Ketill Þorsteinsson, act as arbitrators to prevent a fight at the Alþingi between the chieftains, Þorgils Oddason and Hafliði Másson, and their men. Þorlákr and Ketill explain the benefits of peaceful solutions instead of violence. Significantly, Ketill tells Hafliði a story from his life. He had been married to Gróa, the daughter of Bishop Gizurr Ísleifsson, but she was unfaithful. He had assaulted the man she had an affair with but lost the sight in one of his eyes as a result of their fight. Ketill wanted to take revenge with the help of his kinsmen but realised that forgiveness would be a better solution. He notes that because of his decision he became highly respected.12 Through this story, the men of the Church demonstrate that non-violence can be a source of power and good reputation, and that there are viable alternatives to martial masculinity. Svínfellinga saga, also part of the Sturlunga saga compilation, dates from about 1300. It tells of a feud which took place in 1247–51 between two closely related men. Trouble begins when a popular chieftain, Ormr Jónsson, brother of Abbot Brandr Jónsson, dies of infection. Ormr was ‘vinsælastur af öllum vígðum höfðingjum á Íslandi í þann tíma því að hann leiddi mest hjá sér allra þeirra hernað og óöld þá sem flestir vöfðust í en hélt sínum hlut óskertum fyrir öllum þeim’ (most popular of all ordained chieftains in Iceland at that time, because he was the one who avoided most the warfare and troubles that most of the others were involved in, but his dignity was not harmed thereby).13 Svínfellinga saga has a clerical tone. The most influential character, and seemingly the most respected, is Abbot Brandr Jónsson. Significantly, Íslendingabók, p. 16; The Book of the Icelanders, ed. and trans. Halldór Hermannsson (Ithaca, 1930), p. 65. 11 Íslendingabók, p. 13; The Book of the Icelanders, p. 66. 12 Sturlunga saga, vol. 1, pp. 47–48. 13 Sturlunga saga, vol. 2, p. 88. 10

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Ásdís Egilsdóttir the ideal chieftain Ormr is ordained, avoids fights, but is respected. A feud starts between Ormr’s oldest son Sæmundr and his brother-in-law Ögmundr, who both seem to be unbalanced men and certainly not endowed with the late Ormr’s qualities. Instead, it is a cleric, Abbot Brandr Jónsson – who later became bishop of Hólar – who acts as an agent for peace and reconciliation, together with the two most important women in the saga, Álfheiðr, the widow of Ormr, and Steinunn, Ögmundr’s wife. Brandr almost succeeds in reconciling the feuding relatives, but the voice of mistrust and revenge, arising from one of Sæmundr’s men, becomes stronger. The saga ends tragically with the execution of Sæmundr and his younger brother Guðmundr. The saga describes Brandr as wise and popular and a good cleric, who does his best to avoid disaster. His authority is not questioned and he is shown respect. As a man of the church he does not lose his authority although he takes sides with women in this case. Yet a peaceful approach can also be depicted as detrimental to masculinity in other saga literature. The poet Þórarinn Máhlíðingr, a minor character in Eyrbyggja saga, is described as a peaceful man: ‘Svá var hann maðr óhlutdeilinn, at óvinir hans mæltu, at hann hefði eigi síðr kvenna skap en karla’ (Þórarinn was so impartial that his enemies said his disposition was as much a woman’s as a man’s).14 Þórarinn’s personality makes him unmanly, at least in the eyes of his enemies.15 The saga tells of Þorbjǫrn digri, who was ‘mikill fyrir sér ok ósvífr við sér minni menn’ (an unbalanced man who bullied weaker men). He had many horses grazing up on mountain pastures and used to choose a few of them for slaughter each autumn.16 One cold autumn day his horses could not be found. It is implied that the horses have been stolen and Þorbjǫrn accuses Þórarinn and his family of the theft.17 He establishes a so-called duradómr (door court) where the charges were brought against Þórarinn.18 At that moment his mother, Geirríðr, stepped out and said: ‘Ofsatt er þat, er mælt er, at meir hefir þú, Þórarinn, kvenna skap en karla, er þú skalt þola Þorbirni digra hverja skǫmm, ok eigi veit ek hví ek á slíkan son’ (That judgement is all too true, she said, that you, Þórarinn, have as much a woman’s disposition as a man’s, when you tolerate every disgrace from Þorbjörn the Stout. I do not understand why I have such a son).19 Þórarinn Eyrbyggja saga, p. 20. (All translations of Eyrbyggja saga are from ‘The Saga of the People of Eyri’, trans. Judy Quinn, in The Complete Sagas of the Icelanders, 5 vols (Reykjavík, 1997), vol. 5, pp. 131–218.) 15 Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Masculinity and/or Peace? On Eyrbyggja saga’s Máhlíðingamál’, in Fræðinæmi: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur, ed. Ármann Jakobsson, Gunnvör Karlsdóttir, Sif Ríkharðsdóttir, and Torfi Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2016), pp. 109–19. Þórarinn’s story, together with verses attributed to him, is told in Chapters 18–22 of the saga, according to the Íslenzk fornrit edition. 16 Eyrbyggja saga, p. 29. 17 Eyrbyggja saga, p. 34. 18 A duradómr is not mentioned in other sagas but is referred to in the Gulaþingslög. The door court was held at the home of the defendant. 19 Eyrbyggja saga, p. 36. 14

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Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence and his men ran out intending to break up the court and a fight followed. The women tried to separate the men and threw clothes upon their weapons. A woman’s hand was found in a hayfield near the farm where the battle had taken place. Þórarinn later found out that his own wife had been injured in that way: her hand had been cut off. When Þórarinn discovered this, he ran after Þorbjǫrn and his men. Þorbjǫrn remarked that Þórarinn had fought boldly and Oddr said that Þórarinn had accidentally cut off his wife’s hand, and they all laughed and ridiculed him. Þórarinn then killed Þorbjǫrn. Verses 4–10 describe the atrocities of the battle. When Þórarinn has told his kinsman Vermundr about the battle, by reciting the verses, Vermundr significantly asks: ‘Hvárt vissu þeir hvárt þú vart karlmaðr eða kona?’ (Have they found out yet whether you are a man or a woman?).20 His words express approval: by acting violently people will now have realized that Þórarinn behaved appropriately for a man and so will accept his masculinity – even those who had humiliated him with their laughter. He adds yet another verse to prove further that he had fought off any suggestion of cowardice.21 The verse that follows is difficult to interpret but the latter half tells that cowardly men, who abused the law, had accused him of having injured his own wife, but he also remarks ‘eggjumk hófs’ (my aim is moderation).22 As he is not a man of the Church, the peaceful Þórarinn cannot escape proving and asserting his masculinity by means of violence. When introduced into the saga, Þórarinn is described as ‘mikill ok sterkr’ (big and strong).23 It indicates that he had the acknowledged masculine qualities even if he did not want to use his able body and strength in battle. But his situation compelled him to do so. In this way he is similar to the so-called kolbítar, unpromising boys or young men who wait until the right moment, or when they are mature enough, to show their innate, masculine strength.24 Some time has passed when Þórarinn and Vermundr travel together to see Arnkell, Þórarinn’s uncle. While travelling, Þórarinn recites a verse.25 In the first half the poet addresses Vermundr and thinks back to the happy days they had together before the killing of Þorbjǫrn. An unidentified woman is addressed in the second part. Skaldic poetry is male-centred, often glorifying masculine pursuits, but Roberta Frank has drawn attention to skaldic stanzas where women are addressed in circumstances where no woman would be expected to be, such as at sea or on the battlefield. As interpreted by Roberta Frank, the skalds address women because men need their admiration and recognition. The women are the judges of their masculine qualities:

20 21 22 23 24 25

Eyrbyggja saga, p. 43. Eyrbyggja saga, pp. 43–44. Eyrbyggja saga, p. 44. Eyrbyggja saga, p. 27. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kolbítur verður karlmaður’, in Miðaldabörn, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Torfi Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2005), pp. 87–100. Eyrbyggja saga, p. 47.

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Ásdís Egilsdóttir the skalds’ “O lady” apostrophe is a kind of shorthand, a mnemonic of masculinity. When he says “O lady” he really means “Notice me. Admire me, advise me, advertise me. Look lady, how good I am at being a man”.26 Indeed, Máhlíðingavísur contain seven references to women. The poet begins by recounting that he ‘warded off reproaches from women’ and ends ‘with a plea to a woman that he did not break any law in killing his opponent’.27 All these references show the importance of fulfilling the expectations of women. As Roberta Frank has pointed out, the first half of the verse describes happy male bonding and in the latter half the poet turns to the judge of his action, a woman.28 The woman judges whether the man has behaved in a manly way so that the family’s honour is upheld. In the closing words of the verse he tells that he dislikes strife: ‘leið erum randa rauðra regn’ (the rain of the red shields is repugnant to me). In the beginning of the Máhlíðingamál narrative, Þórarinn is accused of neglecting his duties as a man. It is implied that he does not provide adequately for his family and he is said to have accidentally chopped off his wife’s hand, therefore seriously neglecting his duty to protect her. He was supposed to take care of the lives of his family and uphold the family’s honour, but their honour is endangered when he is accused of cowardice. Interestingly, Snorri goði, the central character of Eyrbyggja saga, acquires his chieftainship thanks to his intellectual qualities, not because of his physical strength. Arnkell, on the other hand, the man who recognizes Þórarinn as a man, is the ideal hegemonic masculine man who combines wisdom and valour. Víga-Styrr, an aggressive man and a fighter, became Snorri’s fatherin-law. It is stated in the saga that ‘þar sé sem einn maðr, er þeir eru Snorri goði ok Styrr, fyrir tengða sakar’ (Snorri and Styrr count as one man because of their kinship).29 They would count as one hegemonically masculine man, Styrr and Snorri, combining the strength of the strong man and the wisdom of the wise man. Both kinds of qualities seem to be respected and to be part of hegemonic masculinity here. As noted by Theodore M. Andersson, the sagas were influenced by Christian ethics, making the social ideal more peaceful than heroic.30 Moderation is seen as a virtue. But, that is not enough for peaceful Þórarinn. He is forced to fight to assert his masculinity. Tensions between peace and violence are also explored in Þorsteins þáttr stangarhǫggs (The Tale of Þorsteinn Staff-struck), where the protagonist

26

27 28 29 30

Roberta Frank, ‘Why Skalds Address Women’, in Poetry in the Scandinavian Middle Ages: Atti del 12o Congresso Internazionale di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, ed. Teresa Paroli (Spoleto, 1990), pp. 55–66, at p. 57. Frank, ‘Why Skalds Address Women’, p. 61. Frank, ‘Why Skalds Address Women’, p. 61. Eyrbyggja saga, p. 99; The Saga of the People of Eyri, p. 176. Theodore M. Andersson, ‘The Displacement of the Heroic Ideal in the Family Sagas’, Speculum 45.4 (1970), 575–93.

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Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence Þorsteinn took part in a horse-fight.31 He was struck on the head with a horse prod by a stable-groom on the estate of a nearby chieftain, named Bjarni. Þorsteinn is reluctant to seek revenge and tries to ask the stable-groom to apologize. He refuses and Þorsteinn kills him. The chieftain challenges Þorsteinn to a duel. Bjarni tempts Þórarinn twice to kill him, first when he stoops down to tie his shoelaces and then to drink from a small stream. The narrative ends with the reconciliation of the two men. The tale depicts two types of men, Þorsteinn’s aged father who regards Þorsteinn’s self-restraint as cowardice, and the more ‘modern’ Þorsteinn and Bjarni who both prefer reconciliation and forgiveness to revenge. Testing the old man, Bjarni tells him that Þorsteinn had been killed in their duel. To the father, it is more important to know if he had fought bravely rather than if he had survived. Still pretending, Bjarni offers to take his son’s place and invite him to live at his farm. The old man, blind and hardly able to stand on his own feet tries to strike Bjarni while they shake hands. His actions are ridiculous, compared with the younger men, who are shown to be the winners of the story and whose attitudes are thus endorsed by the narrative. It ends with an account of Bjarni’s pilgrimage to Rome and of his descendants. The younger men act in a Christian way as opposed Þorsteinn’s aged father’s ways, and this new model of non-violent masculinity is shown to be superior to the older, violent model. The narratives cited above demonstrate how some men can be authoritative without violence. Most of the events of Eyrbyggja saga take place towards the end of the tenth century and the early eleventh century. The Máhlíðingamál episode takes place before Christianity was adopted. Þórarinn was not a Christian but his personality resembles the Noble Heathen, described by Lars Lönnroth as ‘always slow to take revenge, careful not to break the law, and patient in his search for the most peaceful solution’.32 He is portrayed by a late thirteenth-century Christian writer who emphasizes how the saga’s central character, Snorri goði, permitted churches to be built and declared Christianity as the official religion of the country. There is a clear contrast between the parents of Þórarinn and Þorsteinn and the younger generation. Þórarinn’s mother and Þorsteinn’s father represent the older vengeful views. Both views seem to have merit in Eyrbyggja saga, but the peaceful way is endorsed in Þorsteins þáttr stangarhǫggs.

Masculinities in Religious Texts Throughout the commonwealth period (c. 930–1262) the Icelandic Church remained closely connected to the lay society. The majority of the bishops were descended from the country’s most powerful families or were related 31 32

Austfirðinga s˛ogur, pp. 69–79. Lars Lönnroth, ‘The Noble Heathen: A Theme in the Sagas’, Scandinavian Studies 41.1 (1969), 1–29, at p. 14.

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Ásdís Egilsdóttir to them.33 The authority and power of the bishops was similar to that of secular chieftains and in addition their offices had additional power because they were held to be sacred. The three recognized Icelandic saints were male, confessors and bishops.34 Þorlákr Þórhallsson, bishop of Skálholt, died in 1193. His cult was officially endorsed by the Alþingi in 1199. Jón Ögmundarson, bishop of Hólar, died in 1121. His cult began one year after Bishop Þorlákr had been recognized as a saint. Guðmundr Arason the Good, bishop of Hólar, who died in 1237, was also regarded as a saint. His relics were exhumed in 1315. The lives of St Þorlákr (Þorláks saga) and St Jón (Jóns saga) were originally composed in Latin. Remnants of Latin Þorláks saga texts are related to the vernacular verson but do also show some discrepancies.35 Sources indicate that a Latin life of St Jón did exist but it is now lost.36 No Latin life of Guðmundr Arason has been preserved. The oldest vernacular version of Þorláks saga was written shortly after 1200 and rewritten in the thirteenth century. Jóns saga exists in three versions, one early thirteenthcentury version (version S) and two from the fourteenth century (versions L and H). Four surviving biographies (versions A – D) of Guðmundr Arason were written in the fourteenth century. Version C has been attributed to hagiographer Bergr Sokkason. The youngest of the four (version D), by Abbot Arngrímr Brandsson, is dated to around 1340–50.37 Þorláks saga is the first life of an Icelandic saint. It is emphasized that his chastity distinguished him from previous bishops, but nothing is told of any struggle against temptations of the flesh, as in the youngest versions of the sagas of Guðmundr Arason. His relatives want him to marry and they take him to a farm where he is supposed to propose to a rich widow. While staying at her farm, Þorlákr is told in a dream that another and more noble bride is meant for him. His intended bride is, of course, the Church. By using this well-known analogy he is placed in the role of a spiritual husband, which can be compared to the holy virgins’ betrothal to Christ, their heavenly bridegroom. These two types of spiritual marital roles are, however, fundamentally different. The saintly virgins are submissive brides, but the symbolic role of a husband or a fiancé usually indicates the male saint’s power within the Church. Bishop Þorlákr, for example, introduced new and controversial ideas that were opposed by the secular chieftains. Individuals could build and run churches, and they usually lived on the farms where the church stood and acted as its owners; the chieftain-priest

Hjalti Hugason, Kristni á Íslandi I (Reykjavík, 2000), p. 281. Biskupa sögur I–II (1858–78); Biskupa sögur I (2003); Biskupa sögur II (2002); Guðmundar sögur. 35 Biskupa sögur II (2002), pp. 339–64. 36 Peter Foote, ‘Formáli’, in Biskupa sögur I (2003), p. ccxv. 37 Stefán Karlsson, ‘Guðmundar sögur biskups: Authorial Viewpoints and Methods’, in Stafkrókar: Ritgerðir eftir Stefán Karlsson gefnar út í tilefni af sjötugsafmæli hans, 2. desember 1998 (Reykjavík, 2000), pp. 153–71. 33 34

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Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence was also another characteristic of the Icelandic church.38 There are two main versions of Þorláks saga. The older version (early thirteenth century) alludes only vaguely to Bishop Þorlákr’s problems with secular chieftains. The younger version (late thirteenth-century) relates their disputes, especially in the so-called Oddaverjaþáttr. The younger version of Þorláks saga reports how Þorlákr, supported by Eysteinn, archbishop of Nidaros, demanded that all churches and their properties be handed over to the bishop. Þorlákr lost the battle after the chieftain Jón Loftsson refused to hand over the ownership of the church he saw as his and his family’s property. Jón Loftsson and Bishop Þorlákr also fought over moral issues. Jón kept Ragnheiðr, Þorlákr’s sister, as a concubine. He is described as a lustful man, ‘mjǫk fenginn fyrir kvenna ást’ (too fond of loving women), and so a contrast to the chaste Þorlákr.39 The introductory words of the Oddaverjaþáttr, in which Þorlákr’s disputes with chieftains are described, demonstrate that Þorlákr was one of the bishops who followed the laws of the Church and who ‘eigi hlífðu heldur sjálfs síns líkama undan ofsóknar sverði’ (did not protect themselves against the sword of persecution).40 Courage and strength of character are the bishop’s most prominent qualities in the narrative: Heimamenn lǫttu biskup út at ganga, hann, øruggr ok óskelfðr móti ótta vándra manna, svarar: ‘Ganga mun ek til kirkju sem eg em vanr. Ekki mun þessi maðr gera mér til meins.’ [...] En hann sjálfr var øruggr um sig ok gerði aðra út af sér ørugga, ok hvárki óttaðisk hann mannfjǫlða né vopnabúnað ok reið óskjálfandi til fyrirbúinna fyrirsáta. En allsvaldandi Guð leiddi enn sem fyrr þoku yfir þann veg sem hann fór ok hans menn, svá þó at þeir fǫtuðu vel veg sinn, sjáandi sína umsátarmenn.41 (The bishop’s men discouraged him from going out, but he, confident and fearless, confronting the fear of the inferior men, replies: ‘I shall walk to church as I am used to do. This man is not going to harm me.’ […] But he was so confident himself and because of that he made others confident, and neither did he fear crowd nor weapons, and rode without shivering towards the ambush that had been prepared for him. But almighty God drew fog over the road where he and his men were travelling in such a way that they found their way easily and could see those in ambush.) Because God is on his side, he does not fear his armed adversaries. Þorláks saga also has many parallels with Ambrosius saga. In this saga, St Ambrose is shown to be peaceful yet authoritative. Reacting to violent acts in Magnús Stefánsson, Staðir og staðamál: studier i islandske egenkirkelige og beneficialrettslige forhold i middelalderen (Bergen, 2000). 39 Biskupa sögur II (2002), p. 166. 40 Biskupa sögur II (2002), p. 163. 41 Biskupa sögur II (2002), pp. 176–77. 38

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Ásdís Egilsdóttir Thessalonia, he walks towards the emperor in full vestments and forbids him to enter a church.42 The hagiographer probably linked Þorlákr with Ambrose because he fought against secular power as Þorlákr did. Furthermore, St Þorlákr himself had included St Ambrose’s feast day in the Icelandic calendar of days of obligation. In both Þorláks saga and Ambrosius saga, the arms of the bishops’ enemies stiffen when they try to strike them with weapons.43 Both bishops are indeed helped by divine power, but their physical presence and courage makes them strong and victorious. As noted by Bjørn Bandlien, the hagiographer of Þorláks saga accentuates Þorlákr’s differences from other men and from other bishops. Being skǫrungr (a bold man) is an important feature in Hungrvaka, a chronicle telling of the first five bishops of Skálholt, and in Páls saga, the biography of Þorlákr’s successor as bishop of Skálholt. On his deathbed Þorlákr declares that he has been ‘lítill skǫrungr’ (a man of little ability), probably because he is being humble as a saintly bishop should be.44 St Þorlákr nevertheless acts in a manly way, and shows his power, albeit with divine help, when meeting his adversaries. Jóns saga displays differing ideas of the ideal bishop and masculinity to those portrayed in Þorláks saga. Þorlákr is stern and authoritative while Jón is gentle and compassionate. Bishop Jón’s gentle character is more apparent in the fourteenth-century L-version of the saga. This version is fuller than the older, early thirteenth-century version and expanded with stylistic features, such as alliterative parallels. It is created by a Benedictine hagiographer, possibly influenced by Cistercian writings and their imagery.45 Jón Ögmundarson was bishop during peaceful times and nothing is told of any conflict with secular power. He executes his authority mainly through kindness and compassion. Jóns saga says that Bishop Jón ‘elskaði alla sína undirmenn sem bræðr eða syni’ (loved all his subjects as brothers or sons).46 Both Þorlákr and Jón are constantly correcting the ways of their fellow men, Þorlákr with stern discipline, Jón with gentleness and compassion. Indeed, of Jón, we are told that ‘Svá var hann ástsæll við allt fólk et engi vildi náliga honum í móti gera, ok var þar meirr fyrir sakir guðligrar ástar þeirar er allir menn unnu honum en líkamlegrar hræðslu’ (He was so much loved by all people, that nobody would do anything against his will, and that was more because of the divine love that people felt for him rather than physical fear).47 Jón appears as a caring person, guiding people around him and gently leading the cathedral school at Hólar. He also differs from Þorlákr in that he 42 43 44 45

46 47

Heilagra manna søgur, vol. 1, p. 39. Biskupa sögur II (2002), p. 177; Heilagra manna søgur, vol. 1, pp. 33–34. Bandlien, ‘Man or Monster?’, p. 203. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kvendýrlingar og kvenímynd trúarlegra bókmennta á Íslandi’, in Fræðinæmi: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur (Reykjavík, 2016), pp. 180–202, at pp. 195–201. Biskupa sögur I (2003), p. 213. Biskupa sögur I (2003), p. 214.

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Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence had two marriages behind him when he became bishop. When telling of his marriages, the S-version of the saga says that he had had no children with either wife. The L-version adds: ‘ok er það margra manna ætlan at hann hafi með hvorugri líkamlega flekkast’ (and it is the belief of many that he was not bodily contaminated with either of them).48 As in the case of Þorláks saga, staying chaste is described as having been effortless. Guðmundr Arason was bishop during the tumultuous ‘Sturlung Age’ (c. 1220–62) when five chieftain families were vying for power in the country. It is stated that the chieftain Kolbeinn Tumason arranged that Guðmundr, a relative of his wife, was chosen to be bishop of Hólar. He is said to have believed that he could therefore have power over Hólar. The hagiographer, Arngrímr Brandsson, interprets their relationship by comparing them to King Henry II and Thomas Becket: Þótt tignar munr veri mikill með þeim Heinreki konúngi í Englandi ok Kolbeini Tumasyni, var lík þeira ástundan með undirhyggju; báðir vildu formann, sem þeir hugðu sér hlýðnastan, lömdu ok báðir þann sama mest til lægðar, sem áðr sýndust þeir lypta til virðingar. (Although King Henry of England and Kolbeinn Tumason were very different in terms of nobility, they were similar in their craftiness, both wanted a head [of the church] that they thought would be obedient to them, and both did strike the person low that they had seemed to glorify before.) 49 Both Kolbeinn and the king had chosen bishops they thought they could control. The youngest Guðmundar saga (Version D), by hagiographer Arngrímr Brandsson, is the only version that puts Guðmundr in a universal, historical context. In this interpretation, Guðmundr plays his role in the ongoing struggle between the sacred and the secular forces of the world. Three out of four of the fourteenth-century versions – B, C, and D – create an image of a saintly bishop, beginning with his childhood and youth. A future saint is frequently a puer senex, an elderly boy. He prefers studying and praying to playing games. If he plays at all, the games foretell his role as a grown-up person, suggesting the innate and inevitable nature of these characters’ clerical masculinities. By using this hagiographic commonplace, versions A and C show, by telling of the childrens’ games played by Guðmundr and his childhood friend Ögmundr Þorvarðarson, that different ways of life lay ahead for each of them. The children made a full bishop’s attire, church and an altar for Guðmundr, but weapons and a shield for Ögmundr. Version C interprets how the different children’s games should be understood, by comparing Ögmundr and Guðmundr. Version D, however 48 49

Biskupa sögur I, p. 191. Biskupa sögur II (1878), p. 42.

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Ásdís Egilsdóttir only mentions Guðmundr playing bishop as a child, comparing him to Archbishop Athanasius of Alexandria who played similar games in his youth; this accentuates the resemblance between both bishops who came into conflict with secular power: Líktist hann í þessu sælum feðr Athanasio erkibiskupi Alexandrino, þvíat hans upprás var þat til bækur ok skóla, at Alexander erkibiskup hans forverari sá uppá þann piltaleik, er úngr Athanasius stóð með bagal ok mítru, ok bauð at skírast lærisveina sína, þá sem at eins vóru prímsigndir áðr af kirkjunnar hálfu.50 (In this respect, he was like the blessed father Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria, because his ambition was turned towards books and schools, in that way that Bishop Alexander, his predecessor, saw boys playing, where young Athanasius stood with a crozier and a mitre, and offered to baptise his disciples, who had only been prime-signed before on behalf of the church.) This is to be understood as a prophecy in each case: Athanasius and Guðmundr will both become bishops. It also means that they thereby gain authority within the church and society. Ögmundr Þorvarðarson joined the chieftains Kolbeinn ungi and Órækja Snorrason against the attack of Sighvatr Sturluson in 1234. Íslendinga saga notes that the chieftain was brave and valiant for his age since ‘var hann þá á inum átta tigi vetra. Ok sögðu menn svá, at hann þætti þar þá maðr vígligastr í því liði’ (he was then about eighty years old but said to be the most valiant warrior in the company).51 Guðmundr was attached to another friend in his youth, Þorgeirr Brandsson, son of Bishop Brandr, who died soon after Guðmundr was ordained a priest. After his death, Guðmundr adopted an ascetic way of life.52 Version A describes Guðmundr’s reaction in the following way: ‘Marga hluti tók hann þá upp til trú sér er engi maður vissi áður að né einn maður hafi gert áður hér á landi’ (He took up many religious practices that nobody knew any person had done before in this country).53 Version C comments on Guðmundr’s chastity in this context, emphasizing that staying chaste is a continuous struggle which requires masculine strength. His self-denial showed his strength, as he was ‘karlmannlega stríðandi mót mörgum holdsins girndum’ (fighting in a manly way against many temptations of the flesh).54 In version D, chastity is also an important issue, illuminating Guðmundr’s firm character and disipline. Arngrímr describes the young and newly ordained Guðmundr in the following way: ‘hann samdi sínar lendar með linda skírlífis, Biskupa sögur II (1878), p. 52. Íslendinga saga, pp. 371–72. 52 Guðmundar sögur, p. 62. 53 Guðmundar sögur, p. 62. 54 Guðmundar saga C, ch. 22. I am grateful to the late Stefán Karlsson for allowing me to use his transcription of this version that has not yet been printed. 50 51

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Masculinity, Christianity, and (Non)Violence svo að ei um aldur var honum kona kennd né eignuð, því svá at hann lærði líkamann með föstum og fáheyrðu athaldi at þjóna andanum’ (he tied his loins with the girdle of chastity, so that no woman ever touched or belonged to him, because he trained his body by fasting and with rare restraint to serve the spirit).55 As bishop-elect, Guðmundr visited a nun who had refused to receive men as visitors – including her own son who was a priest – but who makes an exception in Guðmundr’s case. Here, she speaks to Guðmundr and encourages him: ‘Búðu hjarta þitt til mannrauna, ger karlmannliga, ok styrkst í drottni [...] ok set í frá þér allan ótta, berr þik æ glaðr í guðligt stríð, því at krúnan er æ því fegri sem sigrinn er frægari’ (Prepare your heart for battle, act in a manly way and grow strong in your faith. Leave all fear behind, be always happy to take part in a divine war because the crown becomes more beautiful with more glorious victories).56 Echoing St Paul’s epistles to the Ephesians (6. 10–18) and the Romans (13.12), this version emphasizes masculinity, courage, warfare and victory by employing military imagery. The nun’s advice is a prophecy of Guðmundr as a bishop and a male saint. Bishop Guðmundr and Kolbeinn fought mainly over two issues, the running of the see of Hólar and juridical power over clergymen. Guðmundr demanded full juridical authority over churches and members of the clergy, in accordance with canon doctrine. Their dispute continued for several years. Kolbeinn sentenced a priest that followed Guðmundr to outlawry and Guðmundr in turn excommunicated Kolbeinn and his men. Each party ignored sentences from the other. Finally Kolbeinn was killed in a battle between the two groups in 1208 when a stone was thrown at him, which was interpreted as divine intervention by Arngrímr Brandsson. Guðmundr’s problems did not end with the death of Kolbeinn, however, and he was repeatedly expelled from the episcopal see. Guðmundr’s fourteenth-century hagiographers continue to seek balance between the bishop who suffers and is subject to violence, and his courage and authority. The aggressiveness of his adversaries is condemned. The contemporary sources, preserved in the Sturlunga saga compilation, tell the story of the historical Guðmundr, his endless disputes and problems. He was away from his see for about half his term, variously travelling around the country with his band of followers; in Norway, summoned by the archbishop because of his disputes; and even held captive in Iceland. The clash between St Þorlákr and secular leaders by the end of the twelfth century was on a much smaller scale than Bishop Guðmundr’s conflicts. His attitude was a disappointment to the chieftains who had backed his election to the see of Hólar. The fourteenth-century hagiographers, who even saw him as a martyr for the just cause of the Church, accentuate his campaign for the Church. The masculine, military imagery perfects the picture.

55 56

Biskupa sögur II (1878), p. 13. Biskupa sögur II (1878), p. 46, emphasis added.

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Conclusions Christianity introduced a new type of masculinity to medieval Icelandic literature, represented in both religious and secular writings. More emphasis is placed on reconciliation and peaceful solutions to disputes in this new model. The voice of the Church repeatedly advocates peaceful solutions. The contemporary sagas, telling of the power struggle in thirteenth-century Iceland, are centred around chieftains that are anything but peaceful. The secular texts produced in this environment show various attitudes towards violence and aggression. A conflict between peace and violence is the subject of Eyrbyggja saga’s Máhlíðingamál. Reconciliation and peaceful solutions are endorsed in Þorsteins þáttr stangarhǫggs. The contemporary, and very clerical, Svínfellinga saga favours peace, with a bishop as an arbitrator. The tragic end does not indicate the bishop’s inability to settle disputes. The narrative shows what happens if the voice of peace and reconciliation is not listened to. The Icelandic saints were bishops, and therefore authoritative within society, but they executed their power in a peaceful way. They were not allowed to carry weapons and their hagiographers emphasise that they solve problems in a Christian manner. Jón Ögmundarson did not come into conflict with secular power during his episcopacy. When Þorlákr faces his adversaries, he appears courageous and steadfast in the narratives, especially in the late thirteenth-century version of his saga. Although he does not fight, his presence shows his strength of character and courage. Guðmundr Arason was bishop from 1203–37, the so-called ‘Sturlung Age’. His life contributes to this troublesome period: in his conflicts with secular chieftains he continually supports the rights of the church. Even in the most hagiographic in the four Guðmundar sǫgur of the fourteenth century – version D by Arngrímr Brandsson – the bishop’s strength of character is emphasized, while the aggressiveness of his adversaries is condemned. In the youngest versions, staying chaste is also part of Guðmundr’s masculine strength. If the secular characters discussed above, influenced by Christian ideology, show a preference for reconciliation over revenge, the tendency is towards emphasising courage and strength in the case of Bishops Þorlákr and Guðmundr in order to assert their masculinity, and thereby their power, in a society that, in spite of the efforts of the Church, was not at all peaceful.

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna and the Defusal of Kingly Aggression Thomas Morcom

The hirðir of Norwegian kings were sophisticated organisations, simultaneously functioning on martial, political, and social levels in support of the monarchs to whom they were bound. A hirðmaðr was, therefore, expected to fulfil a role more complex than that which the simple translations ‘retainer’ or ‘courtier’ may imply: in relation to their kings these men were often bodyguards, advisors, and friends concurrently.1 In both Íslendingasögur and konungasögur, the Norwegian hirð is portrayed regularly as the leading Scandinavian social network, in particular with regard to its ability to attract pre-eminent men through the lure of prestige and material reward, most notably, perhaps, in the case of Icelandic skalds.2 In placing so many formidable men in close proximity, the hirð can be understood as a zone of concentrated elite masculinity. Individuals who may elsewhere act as masculine exemplars, particular within their own households, must, within the hirð, amend their behaviour to coexist productively with similarly distinguished peers. It might be expected, therefore, that the figure of the presiding king would embody an apex form of masculinity to which his retainers could aspire. As this paper shall demonstrate, however, the depiction of gender within the konungasögur is more complex than a straightforward desire to emulate royalty, with a range of masculinities being present and, occasionally, at odds with the ideals embodied by the presiding king. Elsewhere in the sagas, the interactions of powerful men often end in violence, with one understanding of feud being as the mutual destruction of hyper-masculine figures from rival kin groups due to the irrevocably degenerative nature of their social interactions, with the cyclical nature of the

1 2

Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Viking Friendship: The Social Bond in Iceland and Norway, c. 900–1300 (Ithaca, 2017), p. 60. Randi Bjørshol Wærdahl, ‘Friends or Patrons? Powerful Go-Betweens in the Norwegian Realm in the High Middle Ages’, in Friendship and Social Networks in Scandinavia, c.1000–1800, ed. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson and Thomas Småberg (Turnhout, 2013), pp. 93–115, at p. 95.

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Thomas Morcom resulting bloodshed often driving the progression of saga narratives.3 It would be reasonable to expect, therefore, in the pressure-cooker environment of the hirð which is depicted as being almost solely populated by men, the sagas to present a culture of toxic masculinity surrounding the kings of Norway, in which constant violent clashes between proud men were inevitable and tactics of shaming were used to subordinate rivals.4 In Morkinskinna, the redactor of which had the greatest interest in depictions of social interaction between kings and hirðmenn amongst konungasögur compilers, however, this implosion into infighting never fully occurs. The hirðir presented within this text, while fractious, are preserved as productive homosocial spaces by the coexistence, and, indeed, encouragement, of a range of aggressive and reflective masculinities, which maintain a tense equilibrium. This chapter will demonstrate, with particular focus upon the co-rulers Eysteinn and Sigurðr Magnússon and their respective followers, that a variety of masculine performances, both orthodox and unconventional, are esteemed within the hirðir of Morkinskinna. This atypical situation will be discussed using current gender scholarship to productively analyse relationships between medieval men, making particular use of inclusive masculinity theory, an analytic framework that has become increasingly popular within modern gender studies. While by no means invalidating other scholarship on medieval masculinity that utilises different models, the application of a theory that stresses the possibility of productivity and positivity in interactions between different archetypes of masculinity is much needed in discussions of the wide variety of homosocial relationships depicted within saga literature. Hegemonic masculinity theory is the model that has been most productively employed elsewhere in discussions of medieval masculinities.5 This approach was first developed by Raewyn Connell in a sociological context, in which a dominant mode of enacting masculinity benefits those who conform most closely to it, while marginalising and suppressing those who demonstrate less closely related masculinities that may otherwise seek to challenge for a presiding social role.6 With regard to the sagas of Icelanders specifically, Gareth Lloyd Evans has argued for the existence of a ‘hegemonic masculine ideal’ with which all men maintain an aspirational,

3

4

5 6

For further analysis of the perpetuation of male violence in saga narrative as integral to the text’s narrative structure, see Jesse Byock, Feud in the Icelandic Saga (Berkeley, 1982), pp. 57–58. For a striking example of this tactic of deriding courtly figures’ masculinity, in this case the king himself, see the analysis of Matthew Paris’ attack on Henry III in John Carmi Parsons, ‘“Loved Him – Hated Her” Honour and Shame at the Medieval Court’, in Conflicted Identities and Multiple Masculinities: Men in the Medieval West, ed. Jacqueline Murray (New York and London, 1999), pp. 279–98. Dawn Hadley, ‘Introduction’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. Dawn Hadley (London, 2014), pp. 1–18. Raewyn Connell, Masculinities (Cambridge, 1995), p. 95.

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna if vexed, relationship.7 To extend this analysis to the depiction of the hirð in Morkinskinna, attaining a hegemonic gender ideal could readily be thought of as one of the central goals of this elite masculine-dominated cohort who, in their communal pursuit of authority, wealth and fame, seek to define the ‘most honoured way of being a man’.8 Considering the institution’s hierarchical nature, it may be expected, consequently, that the king be endorsed by his attendants as the most convincing performer of potent and celebrated masculinity within their community. The notion of the king as a masculine paragon has been noted in wider studies of medieval gender, with Jacqueline Murray succinctly summarising the symbiosis of kingly authority and hyper-masculinity: The manner in which duty and responsibility could influence and define gender was perhaps nowhere as central as in the role and image of the king. At this highest level of society, the expectations and imperatives of manliness, masculine prowess and bravery, patriarchal authority, sapiential wisdom and good governance all intersected.9 The importance of the king’s example to the men of the hirð and, simultaneously, the importance to the king of his followers emulating his masculine performance is also attested in Konungs skuggsiá, the Norse speculum principis: Lisa Wotherspoon notes that the imperative for the king to act as protector of his realm extends to responsibility for safeguarding the behaviour of his retainers, with a lack of refinement in the latter suggesting an unfitness to lead in the former.10 It would not be unreasonable to expect, therefore, a hirð to function as a zone of masculine orthodoxy, in which members strive to emulate the king as a peerless enactor of hegemonic masculine ideals made manifest. As Connell points out, however, any given hegemonic formulation of masculinity must be understood within its socio-historical context and, furthermore, is subject to change as it comes under pressure from revised forms of masculinity.11 Both these points prove critical with specific regard to the association between kingship and idealised masculinity in Morkinskinna and necessitate a revised approach more sophisticated than the simple model outlined above. Morkinskinna, as a compilation of kings’ sagas, inevitably centres rulers far more than the Íslendingasögur, but in its consistent focus on the Icelandic experience abroad, shares the later genre’s critical depiction Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019), pp. 15–26. 8 Raewyn Connell and James Messerschmidt, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept’, Gender and Society 19.6 (2005), 829–59, at p. 832. 9 Jacqueline Murray, ‘Introduction’, in Conflicted Identities, pp. ix–xx, at p. xix. 10 Lisa Wotherspoon, ‘“Let Each Man Show His Manhood”: Masculinity and Status in Medieval Norse and Irish Sagas’ (doctoral thesis, University of Aberdeen, 2014), pp. 53–57. 11 Connell, Masculinities, p. 76. 7

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Thomas Morcom of individual kings. Portrayals of monarchs intermingle nobility and fallibility to create complex characterisations far removed from straightforward exemplars of ‘correct’ masculine behaviour. This issue is further compounded by the juxtaposition between the variety of depictions of Norwegian kings within the manuscript, which would suggest a hegemonic masculinity in constant flux and a sophisticated interaction between these various types of monarchic masculinity. This chapter will demonstrate, therefore, that the degree to which a king’s masculinity is condoned or condemned is subject to sustained negotiation with the concurrent masculinities also present within the hirð.

Kingly Rivalry and Inclusive Co-Rule Within Morkinskinna, a fascination with periods of co-rulership in its narrated period 1030–1157 seeks to complicate idealised depictions of any given king or his attributes: the account of the single year of Haraldr harðráði and Magnús inn goði’s dual leadership dwarfs the brief account of the twenty-six years of Óláfr kyrri’s reign. The dilution of a king’s authority and destabilisation of his role as an unrivalled masculine paragon, both implied by the necessity of a monarch consenting to co-rule, are only further exacerbated by the Morkinskinna redactor’s technique of drawing pointed comparison between the characterisations of contemporary kings. While this clash in personalities is certainly present in the case of Magnús and Haraldr, with regard to depictions of masculinities in particular, the phenomenon is best enshrined in the relationship between Eysteinn Magnússon and his half-brother Sigurðr jórsalafari (Jerusalem traveller), who, alongside ruling the north and the east of Norway respectively, act as regents for their other half-brother Óláfr, who is in his minority.12 Sigurðr gains his sobriquet from his voyage to the Holy Land at the start of his reign, in which the sacking and looting of towns is interspersed with diplomatic overtures to the duke of Sicily, the king of Jerusalem, and the Byzantine emperor.13 While often referred to as the Norwegian Crusade, this expedition is presented in Morkinskinna somewhere

12

Óláfr’s lack of capacity in comparison to his brothers seems to have precluded him from not only participating in rulership of Norway, but also from attaining a nuanced masculine characterisation or significant narrative role to rival that afforded his two adult brothers. In the politically volatile context of a triad of ruling monarchs, however, Óláfr’s self-effacing dependence may be an astute act, to avoid conflict with his older siblings: see, in comparison, the discussion of the sixteen-year-old Hrafn Oddsson’s plea of immaturity to Þórðr kakali to avoid offering him support on an expedition in Oren Falk’s chapter in the present volume. Óláfr’s narrative presence is, regardless, too slight for him to feature prominently in the ensuing discussion. For a wider survey of medieval childhood, see Albrecht Classen, Childhood in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: The Results of a Paradigm Shift in the History of Mentality (Boston, 2011). 13 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, pp. 71–100.

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna between a viking raid and a royal progress, although the pretext of spiritual warfare does much to justify Sigurðr’s ruthlessness.14 Sigurðr’s aggression is not limited, however, to the culturally sanctioned heathen foe. When spurring his men to conflict with a French chieftain who is no longer willing to support the Norse army encamped on his land, Sigurðr produces something akin to a manifesto for the bellicose form of masculinity he typifies: ‘Nú þykki mér,’ segir hann, ‘sem hertoginn hafi brugðizk í málinu við oss fyrri ok sagt í sundr sættum. Sýnisk mér nú heimilt þó at vér sœkim eptir nǫkkverju meirr, ok þess munum vér ok þurfa at nauðsynjum. Munum nú verða at reyna hvé til takisk, ok jafnan vænti ek at þat reynisk, áðr vér komim aptr, hversu gott lið ek hefi með mér valit, ok grunar mik at vér munim koma nǫkkverjum sinnum í mannraun ádr en létti. Kann ok vera at lengi sé uppi ef oss teksk mannliga til ok verði nǫkkvet unnit, þat er frásagnar þykki vert. Ok segir mér gott hugr um liðit, þat er mér fylgir, ok mun þat vel reynask ef forystan væri eigi með minna móti.’ Allir rómuðu vel hans mál.15 (‘Now it seems to me,’ he says, ‘as if the chieftain has deviated from the prior agreement with us and has declared the accords at an end. It now appears justified to me, nevertheless, that we may attack him somewhat more after this and we shall also need to do this by necessity. Now it will come to pass that we shall test how to seize things for ourselves, and I even expect to prove to myself, before we come back, how good a force I have selected alongside me and I suspect that we shall come into danger several times before leaving off. And it can be that way for a long time forthwith if we take to it manfully and something will be achieved, that is thought to be worth recounting. I predict good things concerning the troops that follow me and that things will turn out well if the leadership is not lesser in return.’ Everyone warmly applauded his words.) Sigurðr’s repeated use of the reflexive forms of taka (to take) and reyna (to test) suggests that the king considers himself to be acting mannliga (manfully) when testing the extents of his aggressive acquisitiveness, both in relation to material goods and a famous legacy. It is also apparent that he expects his attendant men to amplify his aggressive masculine performance by mimicking it en masse. Nonetheless, a strong homosocial bond can also be observed in Sigurðr’s pride in his men’s qualities and his admission of responsibility for 14

Sigurðr’s retention of his violent martial identity despite the ostensible piety of his Christian mission is attested in other examples of European knights maintaining an aggressive masculinity despite ecclesiastical efforts to reconfigure the warrior identity during the Crusades: see Andrew Holt, ‘Medieval Masculinity and the Crusades: The Clerical Creation of a New Warrior Identity’ (doctoral thesis, University of Florida, 2013), pp. 133–67. 15 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 75.

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Thomas Morcom their welfare. The adulation that Sigurðr receives at his speech’s conclusion demonstrates his retainers’ reciprocal affection and respect for their warlord: in this martial context the ferocious mode of masculinity the king embodies is thoroughly approved. Warfare is not the only method by which Sigurðr makes a trial of his masculinity: he offers an aggressive performance of his own nobility to foreign monarchs, in what might be considered a display of calculated haughtiness. Ármann Jakobsson has produced an insightful reading of Sigurðr’s journey, stressing the effectiveness of the Norwegian king’s performance of aristocratic peerlessness in spite of the comparative poverty and marginality of the nation he rules.16 The episode in which Sigurðr suppresses his reaction to the vast wealth being bestowed on him by the Byzantine Emperor Kirjalax is indicative of this. The value of each of Kirjalax’s gifts increases incrementally three times, beginning with bags of gold and silver, and progressing to troughs of gold until, finally, the troughs are overflowing with purpuragull (purple gold, with the colour having connotations of regal costliness) and topped by two magnificent arm-rings.17 The emotiveness of Sigurðr’s response increases in tandem, from a refusal to look at the gift, to an acknowledgement of its worth, until, on putting on the arm-rings, he thanks his host in Greek for his generosity; in each instance, however, Sigurðr is careful to distribute the wealth amongst his men.18 Multiple, seemingly conflicting, elements of Sigurðr’s masculinity intersect here: his rapacious desire to accrue wealth combines with his munificence in freely redistributing it; his haughty pride in twice snubbing Kirjalax is tempered by the wisdom he exhibits in expressing gratitude in the third instance. During his youthful journeys Sigurðr’s masculinity is typified by its ferocity, in its association with his martial prowess or his unshakeable confidence in his noble quality, but the king retains a degree of moderation in his actions that allows him to be celebrated as a masculine paragon, rather than feared. As the Morkinskinna redactor is hasty to point out, as the episode recounting Sigurðr’s adventures concludes and the narrative focus returns to Norway, ‘Eysteinn konungr hafði ok eigi ekki at sýst í landinu meðan Sigurðr konungr var í útferðinni’ (King Eysteinn had also not been unoccupied in the land while King Sigurðr was abroad).19 Eysteinn’s domestic leadership is, however, very different from the foreign sorties of his half-brother, forming Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Image is Everything: The Morkinskinna Account of King Sigurðr of Norway’s Journey to the Holy Land’, Parergon 30.1 (2013), 121–40, at pp. 136–37. 17 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 96. 18 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, pp. 96–97. This episode could be seen as an inversion of the structure of Brands þáttr örva, where an Icelander must demonstrate his generosity by being willing to give expensive gifts on three consecutive occasions, with the manner in which the third is delivered also demonstrating his wisdom, see Morkinskinna, vol. 1, pp. 230–32. 19 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 101. 16

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna a pointed contrast between the two kings’ presentations. Eysteinn’s achievements are largely infrastructural and ecclesiastical as he commissioned impressive secular and religious building projects: a great wooden hall; several churches and a monastery in the Bjǫrgyn area; a fortress at Agðanes; a harbour and church at Vágar; a large dreki (dragon-prowed longship); and a church at Niðaróss.20 He also ‘aukaði konungdóminn’ (expanded the kingdom) through diplomatic overtures to the people of Jamtaland through which he convinced them to accept his overlordship in return for protection from the king of Sweden.21 The redactor stresses here that the integration of Jamtaland into the Norwegian sphere of influence was achieved through irenic wisdom: ‘Vann svá Eysteinn konungr Jamtaland með djúpsettu rádi, en eigi með ófriði né áhlaupum sem sumir hans forellrar’ (King Eysteinn, therefore, won Jamtaland with a deep-laid plan and not with warfare nor an invasion as some of his forefathers did).22 Eysteinn is also noted in this passage as a great lawmaker, renowned for his knowledge, munificence, and good cheer. Eysteinn’s actions invert the achievements of Sigurðr, with the construction of great buildings replacing the sacking of towns, peaceful negotiation taking the place of violent conquest, and genial wisdom supplanting impetuous nobility. Yet Eysteinn is, like Sigurðr, regarded as a just, praiseworthy king. Within Morkinskinna, a more passive, sapiential masculine performance can clearly gain social approbation alongside its proud and aggressive counterpart. It is, however, important to note that neither king is reduced to pure archetype in the saga: just as Sigurðr demonstrates his prudence when dealing with more powerful monarchs, Eysteinn gestures towards his martial capability in his construction of strongholds and warships. In this manner, it is not suggested that either king is unmanly in being devoid of a central masculine trait, but rather that the attributes given primacy in each characterisation are radically different. The presence of two praiseworthy masculine performances, so diametrically opposed to one another, proves difficult to integrate with an understanding of this period of co-rule as operating within the limits of hegemonic masculinity. It may be possible to amend the theory to contend that Eysteinn and Sigurðr’s hirðir operate as distinct social spheres wherein distinct forms of masculinity are privileged. This suggestion is countered, however, by the regular interactions between the two men and the sense of fraternal rivalry the redactor establishes, which point towards a single elite Norwegian society within which both men are situated. It is necessary, therefore, to suggest an alternative model that can

Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 101. For further information on Eysteinn’s building programme, see Knut Helle, Bergen bys historie: Kongssete og kjøpstad – fra opphavet til 1536 (Bergen, 1982), vol. 1, pp. 115–16. 21 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 101. 22 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 101. 20

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Thomas Morcom accommodate two opposing masculine performances productively balanced against one another.23 Inclusive masculinity theory provides a theoretical framework by which such interactions between differing high-status masculinities can be better understood. Originally formulated by Eric Anderson, the notion of inclusive masculinity was developed to account for the increasing tolerance and respect of homosexual athletes by their heterosexual teammates in the context of modern sports teams.24 Anderson argues that these competitive hyper-masculine spaces have recently moved from a ‘homohysteric’ form of orthodox masculinity in which the hegemonic standard brooks no challenge, to a more tolerant version whose members ‘demonstrate emotional and physically homosocial proximity’.25 This is not to say that the team as a whole loses its hegemonic masculine status, or that team sports lose their associations with aggression and proxy conflict, but rather that members who do not conform to heteronormative expectations continue to be accepted and included within the group.26 The rationale behind this shift in approach is not always fully accounted for by sociologists, but it has been posited that an increasing desire for ‘authenticity’, that is to say a willingness to sacrifice group conformity in favour of faithful reflection of self-identity, drives an acceptance of a variety of masculine performances in addition to those considered orthodox.27 While the strongest adherents to the hegemonic model continue their patriarchal behaviours unabashed, the group as a collective shifts the manner in which its gender identity is reflected with positive results for all its members. Inclusive masculinity, as applied to contemporary western society, has met with some criticism, not least due to its lack of reference to the pressure that external feminist activities have exerted on toxic masculine groups to force their shifts in behaviour.28 Anderson’s theory is, furthermore, somewhat reductive in presenting sports teams as closed Foucauldian systems, where neither positive external influence nor the exit of disenfranchised members 23

Carl Phelpstead has argued for a similar attempt to amalgamate different modes of masculinity in the depiction of St Óláfr in Heimskringla as he matures from an arrogant viking into a pious saint, see Holy Vikings: Saints’ Lives in the Old Icelandic Kings’ Sagas (Tempe, 2007), p. 156. In Morkinskinna the manners of performing masculinity are united temporally rather than through shifts in characterisation. 24 Eric Anderson, Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinities (New York, 2009), pp. 93–104. 25 Anderson, Inclusive Masculinity, p. 96. 26 Adi Adams, ‘“Josh Wears Pink Cleats”: Inclusive Masculinity on the Soccer Field’, Journal of Homosexuality 58.5 (2011), 579–96. 27 Max Morris and Eric Anderson, ‘“Charlie Is So Cool Like”: Authenticity, Popularity and Inclusive Masculinity on YouTube’, Sociology 49.6 (2015), 1200–17, at pp. 1204–05. 28 Rachel O’Neill, ‘Whither Critical Masculinity Studies? Notes on Inclusive Masculinity Theory, Postfeminism, and Sexual Politics’, Men and Masculinities 18.1 (2015), 100–20.

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna have significant effects. This potentially fails to encapsulate the complexity of a group’s interactions with the wider community but, conversely, synthesises well with the literary project of the Morkinskinna redactor. The Norwegian hirð is presented within the manuscript as an insular hyper-masculine sphere with external and feminine perspectives being consistently suppressed: the unwavering narrative focus on the exploits of an exclusive masculine group produces a literary space that can be better understood through Anderson’s model. All regulation of masculine behaviour must, necessarily, be the result of internal group dynamics when depictions of destabilising counter-communities are simply neglected: Morkinskinna, by design, offers a reductive depiction of medieval Norwegian society. Anderson considers examples of continuing homophobia as inconsequential in comparison to the perceived shifting intentionality of group members, an assertion that ignores the damage such language can cause, even when dismissed as ‘banter’.29 In this manner, the application of inclusive masculinity theory in modern sociological contexts risks over-crediting those who subscribe to an orthodox form of masculinity as positive champions of alternative masculinities, irrespective of their harmful behaviours. Due to this, as well as Anderson’s primary focus on homophobia and its dissolution in his formulation, inclusive masculinity theory must be slightly amended in its application to Morkinskinna and its medieval context. Anderson’s argument for inclusive masculinity occasioning a positive psychological shift in all group members, including those who continue to act oppressively towards individuals performing alternative masculinities, will not be adopted here. This is primarily due to the difficulty of extrapolating personal interiority onto actions which are not explicitly invested with them in the saga style. It is also the case, however, in the context of the hirð, that inclusive masculinity can be understood as a pragmatic decision to maintain socio-political cohesion. In this context, the theory can be considered with a degree of abstraction: rather than focusing on the shifting emotive responses of individuals, as in Anderson’s concept of ‘homohysteria’, this chapter will instead more broadly consider the power dynamics resultant from the reconciliation of differing masculinities, and the productive social spaces that are consequently produced. To consider inclusive masculinity as the result of a desire for political stability within an intimately connected group of powerful men, however, extends the theory’s usage beyond Anderson’s original sense, which was strictly limited to the acceptance of gay teammates by their heterosexual counterparts. Morkinskinna is, however, primarily concerned with depicting homosocial, rather than homosexual, relationships, but the community portrayed within the manuscript can be productively understood within Anderson’s general framework.30 In both cases, an acclaimed form of mascuInclusive Masculinity, pp. 123–26. This is not, however, to say that the text never deals with homoerotic themes. See,

29 Anderson, 30

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Thomas Morcom linity, associated with hyper-masculine aggression, is tempered by interaction with alternative masculine identities that come to receive similar amounts of social respect. Morkinskinna dramatizes this very phenomenon in an episode set after Sigurðr’s return to Norway and the establishment of his authority alongside his half-brother. Eysteinn is alerted to Sigurðr’s increasing arrogance by one of his companions: the latter king, described as ‘fálátr’ (silent) and ‘ókátr’ (gloomy), honours only those who accompanied him on his previous adventures.31 The traits that were, previously, essential to Sigurðr’s celebrated masculinity, specifically his homosocial care for the men he commands and his haughtiness, are taken to oppressive extremes as they are converted into unjust favouritism and distant aloofness. Implicit to his rejection of members of Eysteinn’s hirð is Sigurðr’s belief that his nobility exceeds that of his half-brother, as attested by Eysteinn’s remonstrative appeal: ‘Erum vit eigi synir Magnúss konungs jafnbornir?’ (Are we not King Magnús’s sons of equal birth?)32 It falls, therefore, to Eysteinn to moderate his co-ruler’s behaviour by reasserting the validity of the alternative masculine archetype he champions, thereby forcing Sigurðr to compromise in his hyper-masculine performance.33 This confrontation takes the form of a mannjafnaðr, a boasting contest in which both kings wittily recount their past achievements in a manner consistent with the portraits of their masculinity established above. Sigurðr stresses his physical strength and martial achievements in far-off lands while Eysteinn emphasises his domestic legacy and legal acumen before offering these words as a final, stinging rejoinder: ‘Fórt svá fyrst ór landinu at þér var féfátt, ok gerðum vit Óláfr konungr þik í brot sem systur okkra, en eigi náir þú svá landinu at ek leysa þann knútinn. Líti nú vitrir menn á hvat þú hefir umfram. Ok vita skulu þér þat, gullhálsanir, at menn munu enn jafnask við yðr í Nóregi.’34

31 32

33

34

for example, Haraldr harðráði’s innuendo-laced first conversation with SnegluHalli, Morkinskinna, vol. 1, pp. 270–71. Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 131. Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 132. This notion of masculine traits becoming overbearing and being subverted by alternative masculine performances has been utilised by Ármann Jakobsson in his treatment of masculinity in Njáls saga, although his discussion deals with the interaction between hegemonic and subordinate masculinities rather than the equally well-respected masculine performances described here, see ‘Masculinity and Politics in Njáls saga’, Viator 38 (2007), 191–215. Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 134. The (un)tying of knots is referenced throughout the mannjafnaðr and appears to be an idiomatic signifier of one-upmanship. See Morkinskinna, The Earliest Chronicle of the Norwegian Kings (1030–1157), ed. and trans. Theodore M. Andersson and Kari Ellen Gade (Ithaca and London, 2000), p. 457.

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna (You were short of money when you first travelled from the country, and King Óláfr and I gave you away like you were our sister, and you will not gain control of the country so that I will loosen that knot. Now wise men behold what you have done to surpass me. And you and your gold-necks shall know that men may be equal to you in Norway.) The boasts and counter-boasts of Sigurðr and Eysteinn demonstrate the amount of disparity between the attributes each individual prioritises in a great ruler. Yet Eysteinn’s equation of his funding of Sigurðr’s expedition with providing a dowry for a sister cautions either king against asserting the dominance of his personal masculine performance.35 Sigurðr’s voyage is formative to the aggression and pride central to his identity, but Eysteinn reconstrues his co-ruler’s exploits in an overtly passive and feminine mode, humorously revealing the fragility and subjectivity of martial masculine identity in a manner somewhat analogous to Þórr’s cross-dressing in Þrymskviða.36 While Eysteinn’s taunt is more muted than this mythological comparison, not least because it is rhetorical rather than dramatic, both serve to stress that even gruff epitomes of hyper-masculinity are reliant on how others perceive them as a means of authenticating their gender identity: whether through the gormlessness of Þrymr or the mockery of Eysteinn, a character’s masculinity can be revoked if others are unable or unwilling to acknowledge its presence. Politically, the contest asserts, as Marianne Kalinke has argued, that the traits embodied by both kings are necessary to ensure a golden age in Norway: ‘What Morkinskinna depicts in Sigurðr saga Jórsalafara is an ideal monarchy – but one that achieves its greatness only through the combined talents of the brothers. Either ruler, had he been charged with sole responsibility for the realm, would have been deficient.’37 A similar effect is visible in the portrayal of the differing philosophies of masculinity embodied by the two men that form a fraught harmony with one another. Neither king is able to attain hegemonic masculine authority while his rival continues to serve as a reminder of the partial nature of any given masculine performance and rulership. This, in turn, curtails the excesses either king might be susceptible 35

Carolyne Larrington has discussed the particular risk associated with utilising effeminising insults in Eysteinn and Sigurðr’s mannjafnaðr, albeit in the distinct variant of the episode present within Heimskringla, see Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature (Woodbridge, 2015), p. 126. It is of note that, in the Heimskringla account, Sigurðr is the first to accuse his brother of effeminacy, claiming to Eysteinn that he stayed at home ‘sem dóttir fǫður þíns’ (as your father’s daughter); Heimskringla III, p. 261. 36 Þrymskviða, pp. 424–25. 37 Marianne Kalinke, ‘Sigurðar saga Jórsalafara: The Fictionalization of Fact in Morkinskinna’, Scandinavian Studies 56.2 (1984), 152–67, at p. 164. Larrington similarly argues for a ‘successful strategy of counter-identification’ as the productive end point of the two kings’ sibling rivalry, see Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature, 127.

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Thomas Morcom to. In the period of co-rule, Sigurðr does not degenerate into a furious berserkr type combatant and Eysteinn does not retreat into a less potent clerical identity – both men are kept within the limits of sanctioned kingly masculinity by the counter example of the other monarch.38 Morkinskinna’s redactor argues that idealised kingship and unchallenged masculinity are unattainable by actual men: inclusive masculinity instead allows individuals to cooperate through an acceptance of the validity of alternative male identities, even at this pre-eminent level. In this manner compromise and comparison between noble men forms the basis for success on both a national and personal level.

Moderating Hyper-Masculinity in the Twilight Years of Sigurðr jórsalafari After Eysteinn’s death, Sigurðr’s characterisation shifts markedly, becoming more negative and unstable, a transformation that the redactor has foreshadowed several times throughout the more productive period of co-rule: ‘Ok þó var þat er á leið ævi hans at varla fekk hann gætt skaplyndis síns né hugar at eigi yrði þat stundum með miklu áfelli ok þunglingum hlutum’ (And yet it came to pass in his lifetime that he could hardly control his temper or mind so that it would not at times become troubled with great hardship and heavy oppression).39 Critics have traditionally viewed this as a comparatively sensitive depiction of the king’s deterioration into a psychotic form of mental illness, a diagnosis that fits the frequent references to Sigurðr’s depression and emotional instability.40 In addition to this medical prognosis, which should be regarded with caution as a modern psychological reading of a medieval literary characterisation, the king’s instability during his sole rulership can be viewed as a phase in which the traits that typified his masculinity previously are warped to dangerous excess.41 It is, therefore, fitting that Sigurðr’s condition is referred to as vannstilli (lack of moderation or self-control): the death of Eysteinn has destroyed the moderating force on Sigurðr’s type of masculinity and, without this limiting factor, the surviving

38

For further discussion of clerical masculinity as a subject of suspicion and potential associations with effeminacy in the medieval period, see Pat Cullum, ‘Clergy, Masculinity and Transgression in Late Medieval England’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. Dawn Hadley (London, 2014), pp. 178–96. 39 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 131. 40 Ármann Jakobsson, ‘The Madness of King Sigurðr: Narrating Insanity in an Old Norse Kings’ Saga’, in Social Dimensions of Medieval Disease and Disability, ed. Sally Crawford and Christina Lee (Oxford, 2014), pp. 29–35. 41 The dangers of extending heroic masculinity to an excessive extreme are also depicted in Norse legendary material, particularly in a case such as Gunnarr urging the death of Högni, his brother and rival: see Jessica Clare Hancock’s chapter in the present volume. It is of interest that, in this case, Sigurðr’s excessive masculine performance threatens to harm Eysteinn’s socio-political legacy rather than his actual person.

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna king’s aggressive and proud traits become ungovernable.42 In a style typical of the manuscript, the redactor provides four þættir (short narratives) which each dramatize a separate instance of Sigurðr’s instability: 1) On Whitsunday, Sigurðr belittles a valuable book he brought back from his travels, before casting it onto the fire. While doing so, he mocks his queen and strikes her on the side of her face. 2) Sigurðr engages in some horseplay when he goes swimming with his men but nearly drowns one of his followers by repeatedly holding him under water for increasing lengths of time. 3) Sigurðr demands to be served meat on a Friday, despite the discomfort of his attendants. 4) Sigurðr wishes to abandon his queen, remarry, and to celebrate the occasion with a large feast.43 What is fascinating about each of these instances is that they are entirely consistent with the masculinity embodied by the younger Sigurðr on his travels abroad: the crucial difference being that the king’s actions have now become reckless and threaten intimate members of his hirð. In the first example, Sigurðr’s dismissal of his queen and ornate book, which he admits he once considered the ‘tvá hluti þá er mér þóttu baztir’ (two things that seemed best to me),44 amounts to a rejection of dear treasures, which, ironically, evokes the king’s earlier performance of apathy when faced with the extraordinary wealth offered to him by the Byzantine emperor, discussed above. Here, however, a dismissive attitude to people and objects of extreme value is not tempered, as in the earlier instance, by an ensuing display of gratitude or respect, and culminates in damage to the king’s treasures rather than their further multiplication. In the second þáttr, Sigurðr’s martial prowess and daunting strength are critiqued, as they are turned against his own hirðmaðr, Jón, and take the form of an unrelenting aggression that invalidates the king’s previous concern for his men’s welfare. The three-fold submersion of his retainer also evokes the king’s own baptism in the River Jordan, but here the situation is recast as deadly rather than pastoral, warping a holy ritual into a demonstration of the king’s belligerence.45 In the third and fourth þættir, Sigurðr’s pleasure in feasting is referenced, which was previously established in his ability to organise memorable banquets despite the attempts of the Byzantine empress to hinder his progress.46 The specific desire to eat meat has long had critical associations with aggressive masculine virility but the association between the unusually Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 146. Morkinskinna, vol. 2, pp. 138–40, 141–42, 144–45, and 150–51. 44 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 139. 45 For staged baptismal scenes elsewhere in the konungasögur, see Siân Grønlie, The Saint and the Saga Hero: Hagiography and Early Icelandic Literature (Cambridge, 2017), p. 64. 46 Grønlie, The Saint and the Saga Hero, pp. 98–99. 42 43

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Thomas Morcom frequent depictions of Sigurðr feasting and his masculine aggression is paralleled in the chansons de geste, in which feasting serves to strengthen homosocial bonds between knights and an ‘aspect of outward display by the noble warrior was his voracious appetite’.47 Sigurðr, in his unstable hypermasculinity, exceeds this noble characterisation, and instead contravenes religious and social limits on the consumption of food by partaking on days set aside for fasting, or in celebration of an adulterous liaison. The king’s simultaneous increase in contempt for women and his adulterous intentions are not as obviously informed by his youthful exploits and may partly derive from medieval associations between an unbalanced mind and unbridled desire.48 These actions may, initially, appear to signal Sigurðr’s establishment of a more overtly hyper-masculine form of hegemonic masculinity following Eysteinn’s death. In the absence of alternative masculinities, the hirð’s inclusive status would appear to collapse and the previous strictures on Sigurðr’s excesses are removed. Considering the loyalty demanded of members of a hirð and the expectation for retainers to emulate their king’s qualities, as discussed above, it would seem reasonable for an aggressive, unconstrained monarch to foster a courtly milieu typified by similar values. Yet, under further investigation, it is apparent that the moderating effects crucial to the presence of inclusive masculinity continue to be present in the hirð Sigurðr presides over within Morkinskinna. The first of the four þættir that document Sigurðr’s instability serves as a preliminary example. After Sigurðr tosses his book onto the fire and strikes the queen, the episode’s narrative focus shifts to Óttarr birtingr, a farmer’s son who serves as a kertissveinn (‘candle-boy’), a comparatively menial role within the hirð. Óttarr seizes the book from the flames and remonstrates gently with the king, urging him to cast off his dejection for the sake of his friends and queen, who have become similarly depressed at the king’s imbalance.49 Sigurðr is predictably outraged and responds threateningly: Þá svaraði konungr: ‘Hvat muntu kenna mér ráð, inn versti kotkarlsson ok innar minnstu ættar?’ – hljóp upp þegar ok brá sverði ok lét sem hann myndi hǫggva hann. Óttarr stóð réttr ok brásk øngan veg við, en konungr brá flǫtu sverðinu er ofan kom at hǫfðinu. En fyrst reiddi hann

47

Matthew Bennett, ‘Military Masculinity in England and Northern France c.1050– c.1225’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. Dawn Hadley (London, 2014), pp. 71–88, at pp. 73 and 81. For a comprehensive discussion of the association between meat and masculine potency, see Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (New York and London, 1990), pp. 47–92. 48 Danielle Jacquart, ‘Medical Explanations of Sexual Behaviour in the Middle Ages’, in Homo Carnalis: The Carnal Aspect of Medieval Human Life, ed. Helen Rodnite Lemay (New York, 1990), pp. 1–21. 49 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, pp. 139–40. There may be some humour present in the king’s ‘candle-boy’ so strictly managing the proper use of fire in the king’s company.

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna báðum hǫndum, en sletti nú flǫtu á síðu honum. Þá þagnaði konungr ok settisk niðr í sætit, ok þǫgðu ok allir aðrir.50 (Then the king answered: ‘What can you, the worst son of a cottager and of lesser pedigree, know to advise me?’ He leaped up immediately and drew his sword and made as if would strike him. Óttarr stood upright and did not yield from that position in any way, but the king quickly turned the sword to its flat side when it came down towards his [Óttarr’s] head. And at first, he [the king] swung with both hands, but he now slapped the flat of the sword at his [Óttarr’s] flank. Then the king was silent and sat down in his seat and all others were also silent.) Sigurðr is then mollified and makes a speech condemning the eminent members of the hirð who let him act unjustly and praising Óttarr for his bravery and wisdom in defusing the king’s rashness. He concludes by rewarding Óttarr in promoting him to the distinguished rank of lendrmaðr, a member of the Norwegian landed gentry.51 Óttarr’s characterisation is deftly balanced, with the interplay between his low status traits and praiseworthy qualities being stressed: ‘svart á hárslit, lítill ok vaskligr ok kurteiss, døkklitaðr ok þó vel um sik’ (dark in hair colour, small and valiant and courteous, dark-complexioned and nevertheless fine in and of himself).52 Óttarr – small, swarthy, and of low status – is clearly depicted as subordinate to Sigurðr, but is not, however, effeminised in failing to emulate the form of masculinity embodied by his lord: the word vaskligr, in particular, is strongly associated with manliness and can be used to suggest approval of a gender performance as well as of a display of bravery.53 Óttarr is praised within the court despite his clear failure to conform to Sigurðr’s masculine model, which, as implied by their lack of outrage at the king’s actions, more pre-eminent members of the hirð have accepted or assimilated into. Indeed, the strength of the commendation Óttarr receives stems directly from his resistance to the excessive manner in which his king performs masculinity and from the contrast his own behaviour, as a faithful retainer, provides. In his gentle chiding of his lord and non-resistant but unflinching acceptance of what he expects to be his death-blow, Óttarr intermingles respected traits of elite masculinity (bravery and a sense of justice) with an inability or unwillingness to defend himself and disobedience, features usually associated with lesser men, to offer an alternative masculine performance that while disruptive to the ethos of Sigurðr’s hirð is, nevertheless,

Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 140. Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 140. 52 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 139. 53 It has been noted that the root word vaskr not only can be translated as ‘manly’ but may also have initially been derived from verr (a man). See Cleasby-Vigfússon, s.v. vask-ligr. 50 51

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Thomas Morcom respected enough by the king for him to both tolerate and reward its continued existence and to moderate his own aggression.54 Sigurðr enacts a form of masculinity that is simultaneously dominant and destructive and, in his authority, establishes this as the orthodox gender expression amongst his most intimate followers. Óttarr’s masculinity, typified by respectful non-violence, does not seek to overthrow the masculine norm championed by his lord, and his actions remain deferential and even submissive. Crucially, however, Óttarr refuses to conform to the hegemonic values embodied by Sigurðr and the king is able to overcome his contempt for this defiance and praise a form of masculinity alien to his own. The combination, during Sigurðr’s sole rule, of unrivalled political authority and clear moral transgression on the part of the king validates the generation of an alternative masculine status within the hirð: subservient but pointed, it re-establishes a point of contrast against which Sigurðr can reorient his own identity. The values Óttarr embodies are not dissimilar to those that Eysteinn espoused except, crucially, that the self-consciously subordinate Óttarr, unlike a rival king, cannot coerce Sigurðr into accepting an alternative form of masculinity through the threat of civil war. Rather than employing political machination or legal intrigue, Óttarr’s protest is effective on a symbolic level, utilising his physical vulnerability to remind Sigurðr of how far he has strayed from just lordship, which implicitly demands the protection of the men under a king’s command. In this manner, the hirð remains inclusive, as the membership of individuals with counter-normative masculine traits is acknowledged to have a preservative effect on the group as a whole. The validity of applying inclusive masculinity theory to the later period of Sigurðr’s reign is readily reinforced by two other þættir in which instances of Sigurðr’s descent into hyper-masculine instability are countered by figures who are depicted in a manner commensurate with Óttarr. The episode with the deepest similarities concerns Áslákr hani, who confronts Sigurðr when the king demands to eat meat on a Friday. Like Óttarr, Áslákr is described in mixed, but clearly subordinate, terms: ‘Ekki var hann ættstórr maðr, hvatr ok lítill vexti’ (he was not a high-born man, but swift and small in stature).55 Áslákr’s interaction with Sigurðr lacks the dramatic structuring of the Strategically deployed disobedience should not, however, be considered a de facto unmanly trait: Sigvatr Þórðarson’s Bersöglisvísur, in the Morkinskinna version at least, is an accomplished piece of diplomacy that effectively protests and remedies King Magnús’ tyranny, see Gareth Lloyd Evans, ‘The Construction of Diplomacy in the Various Accounts of Sigvatr Þórðarson’s Bersöglisvísur’, Saga-Book 38 (2014), 49–60, at pp. 51–56. Several crucial differences exist, however, to make Sigvatr’s actions more acceptable than Óttarr’s, as the former is compelled to remonstrate with the king through the drawing of lots and is widely supported in his criticisms by other notable men; see Morkinskinna, vol. 1, pp. 31–42. Óttarr, conversely, confronts Sigurðr willingly and despite a lack of approval from other hirð members. In this manner, he fails to make the gestures of persisting loyalty that frame Sigvatr’s intervention. 55 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 145. 54

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna þáttr concerning Óttarr, since the retainer’s resistance in this case is purely dialogic and the king’s threat of violence is reflected in Áslákr’s refusal to flee following his disobedience despite his expectation that his king may kill him. Both Óttarr and Áslákr share, therefore, the passive and static variety of courage that is used to signify an alternative masculine mode within Morkinskinna. The speech Áslákr gives to curb Sigurðr’s voraciousness evokes Christian temperance as exemplified in the king’s youthful travels and concludes with the following lines rebuking the king’s behaviour: ‘Ok ef smæri menn gerði slíkt væri stórrefsinga fyri vert, ok eigi er svá vel skipuð sveitin sem glíkligt er, er engi verðr til nema ek, einn lítill maðr, um slíkt at rœða’ (And if lesser men did that it would be worth severe punishments, and the band of men is not as well formed as is expected, that no one except I, a small man, comes to speak about that).56 Here a direct link is depicted between the king’s hegemonic position and his ability to act without restraint, while Áslákr’s self-identification as socially and physically diminutive is associated with his resistance to Sigurðr’s hyper-masculine excesses. Áslákr may wonder at why no men of higher status intervene when the king contravenes those behaviours which the retainer, due to his association with an alternative form of masculinity, considers to be just. The majority of the hirð, likely through a mixture of fear and awe, continue to perform a muted rendition of their king’s masculinity and, as such, are incapable or unwilling to challenge their lord. Sigurðr himself, over the course of the episode, again shifts from a furious response at this deviation from hirð norms, to an acceptance of the wisdom of an alternative masculine performance and an adjustment to his own behaviour in response to the issues a social inferior has raised. This shift, which in modern terms it might be tempting to label as ‘progressive’, is described positively within the manuscript with Sigurðr’s reward of Áslákr’s actions with three farms celebrated as the best suited response.57 In the þáttr in which Sigurðr seeks to marry Cecilía, despite his current queen still being alive, the figure of resistance is ecclesiastical rather than secular: the Bishop Magni.58 While the medieval understanding of the dichotomy between clerical and martial masculinities makes Magni’s opposition to Sigurðr’s desire more predictable, the fact that a bishop is a central figure in this þáttr is singular within Morkinskinna, which is strongly secular in content by the standard of the konungasögur, and reinforces the theme of alternative masculinities needing to be brought into close proximity with the king to Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 145. Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 145. 58 A bishop should not, however, be considered a figure exterior to the hirð necessarily, as elsewhere archbishops are frequently depicted as having close relationships with Norwegian monarchs and functioning as their most trusted advisors. See Sverre Bagge, From Viking Stronghold to Christian Kingdom (Copenhagen, 2010), pp. 74–75. For a more detailed discussion of episcopal masculinities, see Ásdís Egilsdóttir’s chapter in the present volume. 56 57

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Thomas Morcom temper his impulses. Furthermore, similarities with the king’s treatment of Óttarr and Áslákr consolidate this episode as a variation on the same topos: a movement from hegemonic to inclusive masculinity. After Magni forbids the king to remarry, the bishop is depicted in a manner almost identical to Óttarr in the face of the king’s wrath: ‘Ok meðan hann mælti þá stóð hann réttr ok sem hann rétti hálsinn ok væri búinn ef hann reiddi ofan sverdit’ (And while he spoke he then stood upright and stretched out his neck as if he were ready if he [the king] swung down the sword).59 Like Áslákr, Magni refuses to flee from the king’s likely violent reprisals, as predicted by his friends. The bishop’s response proves even more idiosyncratic, as following his altercation with the king he laughs with children and plays with his fingers.60 This performance of naivety and nonchalance that associates the cleric with young children, a group also distinct from the hirð and its masculine ethos, accentuates Magni’s attempts to disassociate himself from Sigurðr’s style of rule, defusing its aggression through a display of pacifistic moral innocence. Sigurðr does not eventually come to reward Magni, as was the case in the previous two þættir, but the clergyman is unharmed, and when the less moral bishop of Stafangr (Stavanger) agrees to the king’s request in return for a large payment, the narrative explicitly states that the king was no happier with this arrangement than with his dealings with Magni.61 This suggests that, in the quandary of facing an irascible king, Magni’s behaviour, which is extremely far removed from hegemonic norms, is considered at least as valid as other, more conventional, masculinities. Furthermore, as Sigurðr’s behaviours contravene social norms in an increasingly serious manner, to the point of threatening his spiritual welfare, as in this example, the alternative masculinities that seek to correct and counter his behaviour become increasingly extreme in response. While the juxtaposition between Sigurðr and Eysteinn was between two differing modes of productive kingship, in the comparison with Magni a behavioural schism has opened between the bishop’s piety and the king’s unrepentant sinfulness. This attempt to mediate Sigurðr’s ungovernable masculinity through an appeal to the fundamental necessity of adhering to the Christian faith marks the terminal point of the attempts to moderate the king’s behaviours through exposure to forms of masculinity increasingly far removed from his own. It is not surprising, perhaps, that after this episode all that is recounted concerning Sigurðr in Morkinskinna is his unhappy and angry death: no further descent into anti-social behaviour can be countenanced.

Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 150. Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 151. Playing with one’s fingers was associated with being happy and at ease. See Kari Ellen Gade, ‘On the Recitation of Old Norse Poetry’, in Studien zum Altgermanischen: Festschrift für Heinrich Beck, ed. Heiko Uecker (New York, 1994), pp. 126–51, at p. 137. 61 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, p. 151. 59 60

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Inclusive Masculinity in Morkinskinna

Conclusions This chapter has demonstrated the utility of inclusive masculinity theory in studying elite homosocial interactions in Morkinskinna, and has discussed the effectiveness of various alternative masculinities in response to the aggressive and impetuous actions of King Sigurðr Magnússon. This is first apparent in the period of joint rule between Sigurðr and his half-brother Eysteinn, in which the two men embody extremes of just rulership, with Sigurðr’s martial prowess abroad contrasting with Eysteinn’s wisdom and political acumen in ruling Norway. Both men, despite the fraught tensions between them, are forced to acknowledge the limits of their ability to emulate a hegemonic masculine ideal, due to the clear positivity of the opposing values their rival embodies. This leads to a highly productive period of co-rule, which fosters the prestige and prosperity of Norway and places productive limitations on the extremes of each king’s masculine identity. Following Eysteinn’s death, however, Sigurðr’s increasingly unstable masculinity threatens to prove destructive to his hirð, as traits previously considered positive are enacted without moderation. The king’s instability, coupled with his propensity for violence, means that attempts to alter the culture of the Norwegian hirð cannot take the form of outright challenges to the monarch. Rather, low status or peripheral retainers enact clearly subordinate masculinities that, while often passive, nevertheless resist and subvert the form of masculinity Sigurðr has made dominant within the hirð. Sigurðr, critically, shifts from an impulse towards violence, to acceptance and praise of those men who confront him utilising an alternative masculine mode. Inclusive masculinity theory is well suited to accounting for this social dynamic, as it provides a model by which those who champion an aggressive, dominant masculinity can tolerate, and even celebrate, men who prove unwilling or unable to emulate their behaviour. In Morkinskinna, even a king’s aggression must be constrained, and the integration into the hirð of figures displaying subordinate versions of masculinity widens the range of behaviours available to elite men and creates an inclusive zone that defuses, although never corrects, the destructive behaviours arising from Sigurðr’s hyper-masculinity.

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking: Negotiations of Masculinity in Egils saga Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir

Egill Skalla-Grímsson, the hero of the thirteenth-century Egils saga, sometimes feels like a caricature of extreme Viking masculinity. Set in the ninth and tenth centuries, the saga draws a picture of Egill as exceptionally big and strong, a powerful chieftain and skilful warrior who wins every battle, a protector of women and slayer of subordinate men and berserkir – as well as being an outstanding poet. In these aspects, Egill conforms to the hegemonic masculine ideal held within the saga, a concept which refers to ‘culturally exalted’ gender practices that are placed at the top of a hierarchy, based on the subordination of other masculine types.1 In this sphere, to be passive undermines one’s masculinity, while action and agency reinforce it. Thus, we find the grand men of the saga reprimanded when they stray from this ideal: Egill’s grandfather Kveld-Úlfr is scolded for not taking revenge and for lying in bed overcome with sorrow for the loss of his son,2 and Egill himself receives friendly advice that it is not manly to sit passively in grief.3 Indeed, when it comes to masculine displays of feelings, especially of sorrow and grief, the hegemonic male’s ‘emotive script’, as defined by Sif Rikhardsdottir, prescribes that such emotions ‘should be suppressed and rearticulated into action’.4 1

2 3 4

‘Hegemonic masculinity’ is coined and defined by the sociologist R. W. Connell, see Masculinities, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 76–77. Gareth Lloyd Evans adopts this model and applies it to Old Norse masculinities, see his Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019). See also Bjørn Bandlien, ‘Man or Monster?: Negotiations of Masculinity in Old Norse Society’ (doctoral thesis, Universitetet i Oslo, 2005), pp. 133–36. Egils saga, p. 60. The Íslenzk fornrit edition is based on Möðruvallabók. All translations in this essay are mine unless indicated otherwise. Egils saga, p. 148. Sif Rikhardsdottir, Emotion in Old Norse Literature: Translations, Voices, Contexts (Cambridge, 2017), p. 89. Sif defines ‘emotive script’ as referring to the ‘literary representations of emotions’ that ‘dictate the rules for emotional behaviour within any given text, utilising narrative structures, verbal or behavioural cues and context’ (p. 28). Egill’s loss of agency due to his decrepitude falls outside the

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir And as a rule, it is surely through fierce action and brutal physical force that Egill handles obstacles and adversaries. He viciously asserts his dominance over childhood playmates and refuses to be subordinate to anyone, be they his father, brother, fellow chieftains, or kings and queens. He is a dark saga hero, raw and unruly, a descendant of half-trolls and shapeshifters, ugly and swarthy, and a master of the magic of runes. While he is extremely loyal to his friends and allies – many of whom show deep respect for him – and follows the ethical codes of the honour-based society of the saga world, he is also liminal, cruel, and animalistic: biting a man’s throat, plucking out another’s eye, and burning people alive.5 He is thus certainly far from the Christian ideal of ‘rational, tempered and civilized’ masculinity,6 instead conforming to what has been described as the Old Norse ‘aggressive masculine ethic’.7 There is thus an intriguing paradox in the fact that when it comes to Egill’s emotions, this forceful, dominant hero and master of words repeatedly becomes speechless, helpless, and incapacitated – even to the point of death – on account of being overcome by his feelings. It is this paradox that is the topic of this essay. It will be argued here that these seemingly contradictory ideals held within the same saga are mediated by the specific literary methods that are employed to communicate Egill’s emotional vulnerability. It will be reasoned that the aesthetic choices and imagery used in the saga to convey Egill’s most defenceless state are adapted from the artistic representations of love and melancholy found in medieval European art and literature, where they were utilised to underline the nobility, depth, intelligence, and prowess of characters. By employing this imagery in describing Egill’s feelings, and thus aligning his emotional life with that of nobility, the saga negotiates between the helplessness of Egill and his depiction as the epitome of the aggressive viking masculine ethic. The simultaneous application and reconciliation of the latter with the non-native emotive script results in Egill’s masculinity not being undermined but, instead, augmented and reinforced.8 In the literary analysis that follows, the saga will be examined as a thirteenth-century composition.9 The depiction of the emotional life of this

5 6 7 8

9

scope of this essay, but see, on the effeminisation of Egill in his old age, Ármann Jakobsson, ‘The Specter of Old Age: Nasty Old Men in the Sagas of Icelanders’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 104 (2005), 297–325, at pp. 317–21; Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Representations 44 (1993), 1–28, at pp. 15–16. Egils saga, pp. 210, 228, and 117–18, respectively. As discussed by Bandlien, ‘Man or Monster’, p. 162. Preben Meulengracht-Sørensen, The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983), p. 21. On the reconciliation of multiple ideals of masculinity in Morkinskinna, see Thomas Morcom’s essay in this volume. On Njáls saga’s critical treatment of masculine roles, see Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Masculinity and Politics in Njáls Saga’, Viator 38 (2007), 191–215. There is general consensus that the saga’s time of writing is the first half of the

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking tenth-century Viking warrior will thus be analysed as a thirteenth-century expression of it. Furthermore, while taking into account that arguably some of the poetry is correctly attributed to the tenth-century poet Egill, the context of the poetry in the prose will be considered as a product of the thirteenth century.

Diseases and Emotions of Black Bile In this analysis of the vulnerable emotional state of Egill, I will focus on two scenes: one which relies on the imagery of melancholy, the other concerning the literary use of the related illness of love (amor hereos, lovesickness), which is firmly tied to the aristocratic masculine sphere within medieval European texts. Before turning to these scenes of the saga, it is necessary to sketch out the concepts of melancholy and lovesickness, as represented in European medieval learned literature and romances transmitted in Old Norse in the thirteenth century. The roots of the concept of melancholy lie in Hippocratic writings and the humoral theory derived from Galen (129–c. 200 ce) which dominated learned ideas on physiology for centuries.10 The term has in many modern languages become synonymous with depression and sadness, while the word stems from ancient Greek, literally meaning ‘black bile’.11 According to the ancient theories, an imbalance between the four humours of the body (blood, red or yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm) was thought to cause ill health. A proper balance could be restored by regulating the humours with methods such as the intake of medicaments and particular foods, bloodletting, vomiting, sexual intercourse, and bathing. As the theory developed, each humour came to be associated with character types and dispositions, different periods of life, the four elements, and the four seasons. Consequently – as stated in an Old Norse learned treatise on the humours, which is representative of thirteenth century. See arguments in, for example, Sigurður Nordal, ‘Formáli’, in Egils saga, pp. v–cv, at pp. liii–lxx; Jónas Kristjánsson, ‘Egils saga og konunga­ sögur’, in Sjötíu ritgerðir helgaðar Jakobi Benediktssyni 20. júlí 1977, ed. Einar G. Pétursson and Jónas Kristjánsson, 2 vols, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar á Íslandi, rit 12 (Reykjavík, 1977), vol. 2, pp. 449–72. The main manuscript, on which most editions of Egils saga are based, is AM 132 fol. (Möðruvallabók), dated to c. 1330–70. The oldest fragment of Egils saga, AM 162 A θ fol., is dated to c. 1250. 10 Accounts of the symptoms and development of melancholy in the Middle Ages are here based on Stanley W. Jackson, Melancholia and Depression: From Hippocratic Times to Modern Times (London, 1986), pp. 46–64; Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky, and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy and Art (London, 1964), pp. 67–123; see also Jennifer Radden, ed., The Nature of Melancholy: From Aristotle to Kristeva (Oxford, 2000), pp. 3–14; Donald A. Beecher and Massimo Ciavolella, ‘Jacques Ferrand and the Tradition of Erotic Melancholy in Western Culture’, in A Treatise on Lovesickness, ed. Donald A. Beecher and Massimo Ciavolella (Syracuse, 1990), pp. 1–202, at pp. 63–65. 11 Melan- (μελαν-, ‘black’) + kholē (χολή, ‘bile’). See OED, ‘melancholy, n.1’, .

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir similar treatises circulating in medieval Europe12 – the melancholic character type was ‘þungr ok þỏgull. sínkr ok svefnvgr. styggr. ok prettugr. aúfund siukr ok af kalldri nátturu ok þurri’ (heavy and silent, miserly and sleepy, hasty-tempered, and deceitful, envious, and of a cold and dry nature).13 Considering Egill’s swarthy appearance, it is noteworthy that people with a dark complexion were considered especially predisposed to melancholy.14 Furthermore, black bile was thought to be strongest in the autumn, and people thus more sensitive to melancholy in that season. A subtype of melancholy, and also a disease of black bile with similar symptoms and cures, was the disease of love – sometimes termed as lovemelancholy, erotic melancholy, amor hereos, or lovesickness. Lovesickness became a literary symbol in the expression and imagery of noble love as displayed by knights and kings in the courtly literature of the twelfth century, such as Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain and other Arthurian romances, the lais of Marie de France, and Thomas de Bretagne’s Tristran.15 These are all thought to have been translated into Old Norse in the early thirteenth century, as Ívens saga, Strengleikar, and Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar, respectively.16 A key text instigating the appropriation of the symptoms of lovesickness in depictions of love in courtly literature was Constantine the African’s translation of an Arabic medical handbook, the Viaticum (late eleventh century).17 It became one of the fundamental texts in European medicine in the long twelfth century, and the basis of a definition of lovesickness.18 This text, along with the Old Norse translations of the romances and lais mentioned above, supplies a useful tool in the following sketch of the symptoms of lovesickness, and an insight into the literary use of the disease in thirteenth-century Old Norse texts. In these literary texts, it is noble knights and kings who suffer most from the disease of love. Although it was acknowledged that women could become lovesick, 12

13

14 15

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17 18

See, on the origins and context of this treatise (Af natturu mannzins ok bloði), Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir, ‘Humoral Theory in the Medieval North: An Old Norse Translation of Epistula Vindiciani in Hauksbók’, Gripla 29 (2018), 35–66. The treatise forms a part of Hauksbók (see pp. 180–82). Hauksbók, p. 181. See, for example, Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy, p. 59. On the interaction of love and lovesickness in courtly literature, see Mary Frances Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The ‘Viaticum’ and Its Commentaries (Philadelphia, 1990), pp. 166–73. This date of translation is generally considered reliable but rests mainly on the naming of King Hákon Hákonarson (r. 1217–63) as the instigator of the translation in the prologue or epilogue of the translations, and the translation activity at his court. The oldest manuscripts are younger, Strengleikar c. 1270, Ívens saga c. 1400–1425, and Tristrams saga late seventeenth century. On the reliability of Old Norse epilogues and prologues, see Sverrir Tómasson, Formálar íslenskra sagnaritara á miðöldum: Rannsókn bókmenntahefðar (Reykjavík, 1988). Published with an extensive and thorough analysis of medieval lovesickness, along with the Viaticum’s medieval commentaries, in Wack, Lovesickness. On the dissemination and influence of the Viaticum, see ibid., pp. xiii–xiv; Beecher and Ciavolella, ‘Erotic Melancholy’, pp. 67 and 70.

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking the disease was considered to affect them much less severely. Women are furthermore largely absent in the medical texts on lovesickness of the long twelfth century, which were principally concerned with male ailments.19 ‘Love makes me sick both night and day’ The symptoms of lovesickness primarily present themselves as extreme frailness, pallor, a dry and emaciated body, deep worry, obsession, and an unstable mood. Furthermore, the patient would suffer insomnia, be inclined towards isolation and solitude, express death wishes, and typically would not want to name the woman who was the cause of his grief.20 One representative example of many is the state of the noble and courageous knight Guiamar (in the Old Norse translation of Marie de France’s Guigemar), who lies sleepless with all the typical symptoms: he is pale and sighing, with piercing pain in his heart and obsessive thoughts about his lady’s speech and appearance.21 Indeed, the romances and lais frequently describe love as an injury or liken it to sickness – such as we read in Tristram’s painful cry in Tristrams saga: ‘þín ást gerir mik sjúkan bæði nætr ok daga’ (your love makes me sick both night and day).22 Descriptions of Tristram’s lovesick state are prominent throughout the romance, where he is often left completely incapacitated: ‘Svá mikinn harm ok ógleði hefir nú Tristram, at hann er nú allr megnlauss, andvarpandi, en stundum vissi hann ekki til sín, sakir Ísöndar dróttningar’ (Tristram now suffers so much grief and sadness that he is enfeebled and sighing, and he sometimes fell unconscious, because of Queen Ísönd).23 Madness, and even death, could be the eventual consequence of the sickness if treatment were not successful. Medieval medical treatises describe the potential risk of the lover losing all self-control. The body became overheated and dehydrated, the blood ran dry, the skin darkened, and all this could lead to pure frenzy.24 Tristram repeatedly swings between anger and grief during his torments, and the king in the lai Equitan loses his wits, sleepless and thoroughly obsessed with his lady.25 A crucial part of Ívens saga, the Old Norse translation of Chrétien’s Yvain, is precisely the description of Íven’s madness. His lady ends their relationship, resulting in his loss of both 19 20

21

22 23 24 25

See Wack, Lovesickness, pp. 13 and 174. However, this would change in the late Middle Ages, see Wack, Lovesickness, p. 123. Constantine the African, Viaticum I.20, ed. and trans. Mary Frances Wack, in Lovesickness, pp. 179–93, at p. 189; Gerard of Berry, Notule (Glosule) super Viaticum, ed. and trans. Wack, in Lovesickness, pp. 198–205, at p. 201; Beecher and Ciavolella, ‘Erotic Melancholy’, pp. 66 and 81. Strengleikar. An Old Norse Translation of Twenty-one Old French Lais. Edited from the Manuscript Uppsala De la Gardie 4–7 – AM 666 b, 4to, ed. and trans. Robert Cook and Mattias Tveitane (Oslo, 1979), p. 24. Tristrams saga, p. 196. Tristrams saga, p. 218. See Beecher and Ciavolella, ‘Erotic Melancholy’, p. 82. Strengleikar, p. 68.

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir sense and speech: ‘badí huarf honum ord ok vizska’ (both words and wisdom departed from him).26 Subsequently, Íven flees into a forest and loses his mind completely.27 He tears his clothes and lives on raw game like a wild man or a beast: ‘fell suo mikil ædí ahann at hann uilldí hefna asjialfum sier þuiat hann efir nu tynt allrí sínee huggan’ (such frenzy fell upon him that he wanted to hurt himself, because he had now lost everything that comforted him).28 The longest section on lovesickness in the Viaticum describes how to cure the illness. The principal remedies were sexual intercourse, drinking wine, bathing, conversing with friends, and enjoying music and poetry.29 Distractions in the form of entertainment and projects were highly recommended to divert the patient’s attention and break any self-appointed isolation.30 Discussions with the patient about the object of his affection, preferably in a defamatory way about her ‘stinking dispositions’, were also thought to be of benefit in making the patient disaffected with his beloved.31 However, the principal and best method was considered to be the patient’s enjoyment of his particular female object of desire. As that was usually not possible (hence the lovesickness), he was encouraged to meet other women, preferably many.32 This is the method primarily used in the literary texts mentioned here. Tristram desperately tries to cure himself by taking another woman, but his overwhelming desire for Ísönd prevents him from consummating the new marriage, and the cure fails.33 Íven, however, has better luck. His health is immediately restored when he has retrieved his lady: ‘alldri sidann hann var fædr vard hann Jafn fegínn. [...] ok gleymir hann nu aullum volkum ok vandrædum’ (he had never been so happy since he was born [...] and he now forgets all his hardship and troubles).34 Guiamar is similarly instantly cured when he has won his lady ‘með fogrum sigri ok miklum

26 27 28 29

30 31

32

33 34

Ívens saga, p. 85. Ívens saga, p. 86. Ívens saga, p. 86. Constantine the African, Viaticum, pp. 192–93. See Wack, Lovesickness, p. 45. In the commentary of Gerard of Berry, Glosule super Viaticum, p. 202 (‘fetidas dispositiones’). See, on a similar note, Ovid’s Remedia amoris, lines 299–356. On Ovid’s writings on love being known in medieval Iceland, see Astrid Salvesen, ‘Ovid’, in Kulturhistorisk leksikon fra nordisk middelalder fra vikingetid til reformationstid, ed. Johannes Brøndsted et al., 22 vols (Copenhagen, 1958), vol. 13, pp. 63–66. See, for example, Gerard of Berry, who recommends as a cure ‘embracing girls, sleeping with them repeatedly, and switching various ones’, Glosule super Viaticum, p. 203; Beecher and Ciavolella, ‘Erotic Melancholy’, pp. 69 and 186. This is also the primary advice in Ovid’s Remedia amoris, where he recommends meeting other women (lines 441–44), distractions (lines 135–40 and 197–200), and conversations about the lady’s defects (lines 299–356). Tristrams saga, p. 168 ff. Ívens saga, p. 147.

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking fagnaðe. ok stæig sua yvir alla sina harma’ (in beautiful triumph with great rejoicing, and by that he overcame all his griefs).35 The courtly literature emphasises the sufferings of males, while women are mainly mentioned as the means of cure. However, the symptoms rendered the male patients overpowered by desire for women, who held an inferior position in the patriarchal hierarchy.36 Mary Wack suggests in her analysis of lovesickness in the Middle Ages that the rationalisation of men’s desire as a physical illness was applied in the courtly literature as a part of the solution to this culturally problematic loss of masculine autonomy.37 In other words – and as can be seen in the Old Norse translated courtly literature mentioned above – men’s vulnerability accompanying erotic desire was not seen as testifying to their mental weakness, but rather it was externalised and explained as a physical condition.38 As a malady whose genesis was thought to be external to its victim, lovesickness was not viewed as an individual failing and thus did not result in a loss of masculine status to the patients. An Occupational Hazard Not only was male heteroerotic desire conceptualised as an illness, but also a high-status one. Lovesickness was primarily considered a disease of the aristocracy, as Gerard of Berry writes in his commentary to the Viaticum: ‘Heroes are said to be noble men who, on account of riches and the softness of their lives, are more likely to suffer this disease.’39 Wack notes that the disease ‘became another marker of precedence, like wealth and leisure’: it was ‘an occupational hazard of the nobility’.40 It is thus not surprising to find kings described in the Old Norse konungasögur as having thorough knowledge of this noble illness, or suffering dearly from it. The lovesick anguish and 35 36

37 38

39 40

Strengleikar, p. 40. On the matter of overpowering love, Sarah Kay argues in her analysis of troubadour poetry that the ‘threat of the feminine’ is evaded in the poems by portraying the female object of male desire as having a semi-masculine identity. Sarah Kay, Subjectivity in Troubadour Poetry (Cambridge, 1990), p. 91. See also on gender roles and love in Old French romances in Roberta L. Krueger, ‘Questions of Gender in Old French Courtly Romance’, in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 132–49. Wack, Lovesickness, pp. 169–75. However, even though the idea of love as a disease is clearly and vividly transmitted in the Old Norse translations, the descriptions are somewhat toned down compared to the French originals. Although not addressing lovesickness in her volume, the mitigation of emotional depiction in Old Norse translations of French romances, when compared to their originals, is well documented by Sif Rikhardsdottir in Medieval Translations and Cultural Discourse: The Movement of Texts in England, France and Scandinavia (Cambridge, 2012). Sif argues that the changes reflect how the material was adapted to a new audience using different cultural markers of emotions (see, for example, pp. 7 and 109). Gerard of Berry, Glosule super Viaticum, pp. 202–03. Trans. Wack. Wack, Lovesickness, pp. 60–62 and 166–73, quotation from p. 61.

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir heartaches of King Óláfr helgi Haraldsson in the different versions of Óláfs saga helga has been thoroughly analysed by Anne Heinrichs.41 In Morkinskinna, thought to be composed around 1220, King Eysteinn Magnússon displays his close knowledge of the remedies for lovesickness in the þáttr of Ívarr Ingimundarson.42 King Eysteinn sees that his much-esteemed and noble poet is deeply troubled but, characteristically, the lovesick Ívarr does not want to reveal the cause of his unhappiness. The king eventually succeeds in getting Ívarr to admit that the reason for his torments is his love for a woman. Eysteinn begs him not to be ‘hugsjúkr’43 (lit. mind-sick), and subsequently his advice follows, in detail, the remedies for lovesickness discussed above. The king’s first recommendation is the primary cure: he offers to help Ívarr to get the woman he loves. When that turns out to be impossible, Eysteinn resorts to the second-best remedy, and proposes that he introduce Ívarr to many courtly women. Ívarr reveals that each time he sees a beautiful woman it only deepens his grief as it reminds him of his beloved lady. The king then offers him distractions – all according to the book – in the form of entertainment and travel, but Ívarr refuses. Lastly, the king offers to discuss the woman with Ívarr, which he accepts. The text does not inform us if the discussions were on the ‘stinking disposition’ of the lady, but after a few sessions Ívarr has regained his health. This þáttr is a fine example of the relevance of the context of lovesickness as detailed in Latin and other medieval texts, where it is placed within the masculine aristocratic realm. While the account undoubtedly serves to testify to King Eysteinn’s generosity and wisdom, it also underlines the nobility of having detailed knowledge of lovesickness and its cure, while portraying the illness as a component of a prestigious modality of masculinity.

Lovesickness in Egils saga Egils saga is much like other Íslendingasögur when it comes to emotional expression. Characteristically, emotions need to be inferred as they are described in a sparse, indirect, and often formulaic way from an external perspective44 – a far cry from the often long and explicit elucidations of the 41

Anne Heinrichs, ‘Wenn ein König liebeskrank wird: Der Fall Óláfr Haraldsson’, in Die Aktualität der Saga: Festschrift für Hans Schottmann, ed. Stig Toftgaard Andersen (Berlin, 1999), pp. 27–52, see esp., pp. 37–44. 42 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, pp. 102–06. On the dating, see vol. 1, p. xvii. 43 Morkinskinna, vol. 2, pp. 103–04. See also Marianne E. Kalinke, ‘Sigurðar saga Jórsalafara: The Fictionalization of Fact in Morkinskinna’, Scandinavian Studies 56 (1984), 152–67, at p. 161. For a reading that emphasises the ‘friendship and the confidant relationship’ between the king and Ívarr, see Joseph Harris, “Speak Useful Words or Say Nothing”: Old Norse Studies, ed. Susan E. Deskis and Thomas D. Hill (Ithaca, 2008), pp. 105–06. 44 Daniel Sävborg thoroughly analyses the methods used for expressing love in Íslendingasögur in his Sagan om kärleken. Erotik, känslor och berättarkonst i norrön litteratur (Uppsala, 2007), pp. 29–84 and 339–544.

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking passions of characters in the medieval romances and lais.45 Only in some of Egill’s poetry do we get an internal monologue with the self-expression of his feelings. Apart from that, as a rule, Egill’s emotions must be inferred. Egils saga is a highly complex work with many layers; it is the biography of a poet and a story of generations, honour, power-struggles, family dynamics, and conflicts with royalty. It is also the story of Egill’s love for Ásgerðr, which can be regarded as a deep undercurrent in the saga, spanning almost the whole of Egill’s life and having decisive effects on crucial events in the narrative.46 If we consider Ásgerðr’s backstory, she is the fruit of forbidden love resulting from the lovesickness of her father, Bjǫrn, towards Þóra hlaðhǫnd.47 Her parents flee and end up at Borg, the household of Egill’s family, where Ásgerðr is born. She is subsequently fostered by Egill’s parents. It is never said explicitly that Egill has feelings for Ásgerðr as they grow up together. The earliest indications are his vehement reactions when his older brother Þórólfr plans to take Ásgerðr to Norway. Þórólfr furthermore implies that he is going to ask Ásgerðr’s father for her hand and refuses Egill’s wish to accompany them.48 As Torfi Tulinius and Thomas Bredsdorff have argued, Egill’s rage, sabotage, and violent threats in reaction to this can be taken as the first sign of Egill’s love for Ásgerðr.49 When Þórólfr gets Ásgerðr’s hand, it is noted that the relationship between the two brothers has become frosty, or strained.50 Egill becomes incapacitated by an illness and is unable to attend their wedding. Regardless of whether Egill is faking his illness or not, Sif Rikhardsdottir compares the veiled expressions of female lament in Laxdœla saga and Njáls saga to the French tradition in her ‘Translating Emotion: Vocalisation and Embodiment in Yvain and Ívens saga’, in Emotions in Medieval Arthurian Literature: Body, Mind, Voice, ed. Frank Brandsma, Carolyne Larrington, and Corinne Saunders (Cambridge, 2015), pp. 161–80. 46 On the importance of the erotic in Egils saga, see Thomas Bredsdorff, Chaos and Love: The Philosophy of the Icelandic Family Sagas, trans. John Tucker (Copenhagen, 2001), pp. 23–34; Torfi H. Tulinius, Skáldið í skriftinni: Snorri Sturluson og Egils saga (Reykjavík, 2004), pp. 50–51. 47 See Egils saga, ch. 32. On the similarities of the love story of Ásgerðr’s parents and Tristram’s parents in Tristrams saga, see Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir, ‘Elskhuginn Egill Skallagrímsson’, Skírnir 189 (2015), 360–97. This essay furthermore discusses the lovesickness of Egill, of which parts of this analysis are based. Regarding structural similarities between Egils saga and Tristrams saga, see Paul Schach, ‘Was Tristrams saga the Structural Model for Egils saga?’, American Journal of Germanic Linguistics and Literatures 2 (1990), 67–86. On similarities between Egils saga and Chrétien’s Yvain, see Torfi Tulinius, Skáldið í skriftinni, pp. 99–100. 48 Egils saga, chs. 38 and 40. 49 Bredsdorff, Chaos and Love, pp. 27–29; Torfi Tulinius, The Matter of the North: The Rise of Literary Fiction in Thirteenth-Century Iceland, trans. Randi C. Eldevik (Odense, 2002), pp. 232–33. Ármann Jakobsson traces Egill’s reactions first and foremost to his unbearable family circumstances and his strained relationship with his father, see his ‘Egils saga and Empathy: Emotions and Moral Issues in a Dysfunctional Saga Family’, Scandinavian Studies 80 (2008), 1–18, at pp. 11 and 16. 50 Egils saga, p. 105. 45

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir this imagery and the comment on the coldness in the relationship between the brothers give clear indications of the adverse effect of this wedding on Egill’s feelings. Reference has already been made to how the symptoms of lovesickness could be weakness and debility, along with an unstable mood that could lead to madness and frenzy,51 such as in the case of Íven and other noble men. A possible expression of such frenzy can be inferred from Egill’s actions that take place at the same time as the wedding. Instead of attending the celebration, Egill goes to a feast in Atley that quickly turns violent and is marked by gloom, animosity, provocation, and death.52 This gruesome scene concludes with Egill killing three men and slicing a leg off a fourth.53 Here, Egill’s emotional torments are depicted with aggressive action, vengeance, and brutal force – an expression that conforms to the traditional Old Norse masculine ethic of the saga world. Egill Marries Ásgerðr We now come to the part of the saga where Egill becomes incapacitated by his feelings, in a scene which one can describe as the high point of the love story. Time has passed, and Egill and Þórólfr are mercenaries in England at the court of King Athelstan, when Þórólfr tragically dies in battle. Ásgerðr has thus become widowed. Egill rejects all honours from the English king, who pleads with him to stay, and instead heads to Norway where he goes ‘sem skyndiligast inn í Fjǫrðu’ (as hastily as he could to Firðir), which is where Ásgerðr resides with Egill’s best friend Arinbjǫrn.54 Egill informs Ásgerðr of the death of her husband and offers her his care.55 Here we see for the first time a description of Ásgerðr’s feelings, although it is very sparse. She becomes ‘mjǫk ókát [...] en svaraði vel rœðum Egils ok tók lítit af ǫllu’ (very joyless [...] she answered Egill’s words politely but gave little and indefinite answers).56 Her muted reactions indicate that Egill’s love is unrequited, and they possibly explain Egill’s resulting state: ‘er á leið haustit, tók Egill ógleði mikla, sat opt ok drap hǫfðinu niðr í feld sinn’ (as autumn progressed, Egill became very unhappy. He often sat and bowed his head down into his cloak).57 These lines offer an image of a man who sits stooping for long hours, in the autumn season of black bile, deprived of all joy on account of 51 52 53

54 55 56 57

Beecher and Ciavolella, ‘Erotic Melancholy’, p. 82; Wack, Lovesickness, p. 63. Egils saga, ch. 44. Jón Karl Helgason analyses the transgressive nature of the events in Atley and how the narrative divides into two threads: the visible one in Atley and the hidden thread of the wedding. He concludes that together they form one ‘“erotic” plot’. See his ‘Bloody Runes: The Transgressive Poetics of Egil’s Saga’, in Egil, the Viking Poet: New Approaches to Egil’s Saga, ed. Laurence de Looze, Jón Karl Helgason, and Russell Poole (Toronto, 2015), pp. 197–215, at p. 209. Egils saga, p. 147. Egils saga, ch. 56. Egils saga, p. 148. Egils saga, p. 148.

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking his longing for a woman, as he a little later confides to Arinbjǫrn. As we have seen, the symptoms of lovesickness are sad thoughts, the patient sitting idle in isolation, gloominess and languor. Furthermore, Egill’s posture – a bent head – was listed among the signs of melancholy in medical treatises.58 A bowed head is also firmly linked with the aesthetics of melancholy found in ancient and medieval artwork, where a melancholic man sits hunched over or drooping his head, sometimes with his face in his palms.59 Interestingly, in the oldest fragment of Egils saga, the theta-fragment,60 the description of Egill’s lovesick state is more detailed: ‘er aleið haustit þa geyrðiz egill ukátur. þaugull oc drack optast litt. En sat opt oc drap haufðino niðr ifelld sinn’ (as autumn progressed, Egill became unhappy, silent and did not drink much. He often sat and bowed his head down into his cloak).61 Here, we see two symptoms of lovesickness that are not in the text of the main manuscript, the fourteenth-century Möðruvallabók: Egill becomes silent and does not drink, and the picture of the symptoms of Egill’s lovesickness becomes even fuller. This added description of Egill’s lack of interest in drinking is intriguing, as both melancholy and lovesickness were connected with the dryness of the body. Egill becomes vulnerable, speechless, and incapacitated. He exhibits clear symptoms of having too much black bile in his body. The narrative offers lucid connections between Egill’s symptoms of lovesickness and his feelings for Ásgerðr, his helplessness, and reluctance to speak. Arinbjǫrn approaches Egill and asks why he is so sad, assuming that the cause is the death of Egill’s brother Þórólfr. Arinbjǫrn remarks that even though his brother is dead, ‘þá er þat karlmannligt, at bera þat vel’ (it is manly to bear it well).62 But that is not what troubles Egill. Prompted by Arinbjǫrn, Egill expresses his feelings in a stanza: Ókynni vensk, ennis ungr þorðak vel forðum, haukaklifs, at hefja, Hlín, þvergnípur mínar; verðk í feld, þás foldar faldr kømr í hug skaldi berg-Óneris, brúna brátt miðstalli hváta.63 58

59

60 61 62 63

See Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy, pp. 50 and 59–60. See a selection of illustrations at the back of Saturn and Melancholy. For examples from antiquity, see Peter Toohey, Melancholy, Love and Time: Boundaries of the Self in Ancient Literature (Ann Arbor, 2004), pp. 15–16. This imagery seems to have reached its height in the art of the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, see Radden, Nature of Melancholy, pp. 5–17. AM 162 A θ fol, dated to c. 1250, published in AM 162 A θ fol (Reykjavík), ed. Alex Speed Kjeldsen, in Opuscula 12 (Copenhagen, 2005), pp. 198–206. AM 162 A θ fol (Reykjavík), p. 198. Egils saga, p. 148. Egils saga, p. 148.

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir (The goddess of the hawk-cliff [> wrist > woman] has to live with my aloofness; once, when I was young, I easily dared to lift the athwart cliffs of my forehead [> eyebrows]. I hastily have to stick the mid-ledge of my brows [> nose] into my cloak, when the head-dress of the rockgiant’s earth [> Ásgerðr?]64 comes to the poet’s mind.) Viewing this stanza as presumably a tenth-century composition, it feeds ripe imagery into the saga’s thirteenth-century expression of lovesickness. A common symptom of the disease is to be reluctant to speak and name the woman who is the cause of one’s grief, also present in the example of Ívarr the court poet in Morkinskinna, previously discussed. Egill hides the name of Ásgerðr in a kenning in this stanza so well that Arinbjǫrn does not understand it. The stanza produces a portrait of Egill’s sad appearance, as he hides his face when he thinks of Ásgerðr but does not dare to convey his feelings to her. It is in this entire account, and in the context in which the stanza is placed in the prose, that the symptoms of Egill’s lovesickness appear most clearly. The symptoms are prominent and directly connected to his feelings towards the woman, and it is here that the reader realises that Egill has probably loved Ásgerðr since his teens. He finally tells Arinbjǫrn that the woman that causes his grief is Ásgerðr. He asks for Arinbjǫrn’s support to secure her hand in marriage, which concludes with an engagement. Ásgerðr’s feelings towards Egill, however, remain obscure. When he asks her to marry him, she does not disclose her opinion but simply refers the matter dutifully twice to her father and uncle to decide.65 Her failure to express approval when repeatedly given the chance can be taken to indicate that she is not too keen on marrying him, but she does not assert an opposition to it either. Within the narrative, Ásgerðr’s figure functions as the focus of Egill’s desire, but she herself is almost invisible. She does not have an opinion or a voice, she never has direct speech in the entire saga, and her feelings are implied only in relation to Egill’s reactions to them. In this sense, she plays a narrative role similar to that of many idealised ladies in the courtly romances: she exists only in the form of a passive object of Egill’s longing and his means of a cure. After the marriage, Egill is finally cured of his lovesickness, since the best remedy was considered having the desired woman:66 ‘var hann þá allkátr, þat er eptir var vetrarins’ (he was very joyful for the rest of the winter).67 Egill’s 64

Sigurður Nordal has explained the name of Ásgerðr in this stanza thus: Another word for head-dress (faldr) could be gerða; the rock-giant’s earth (fold berg-Óneris) can be a hill, or áss, resulting in Ás-gerða, see Egils saga, p. 149n. This technique in the composition of skaldic poetry is known as ofljóst, a poetic device where word-play is used for the riddling of proper names. See ch. 74 of Skáldskaparmál (p. 109). 65 Egils saga, ch. 56. 66 Wack, Lovesickness, p. 68; Beecher and Ciavolella, ‘Erotic Melancholy’, pp. 69 and 186. 67 Egils saga, p. 150.

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking remedy echoes the feelings and cure of the noble knights in the translated romances and lais. As quoted above, when Íven had married his lady ‘he had never been so happy since he was born’, and Guiamar ‘in beautiful triumph with great rejoicing [...] overcame all his griefs’ after wedding his beloved. The metaphors and aesthetics of lovesickness form a frame around the whole love story of Egils saga, all the way from the courting of Ásgerðr’s parents to the wedding of Egill and Ásgerðr. By the application of this imagery to convey Egill’s feelings of love, the otherwise aggressive Old Norse masculine ethic that Egill follows is adapted by incorporating medieval European ideas of lovesickness. Egill’s emotional life is framed within a literary trope that brings with it connotations of masculine nobility. Thus, Egill’s emotional vulnerability appears in a context that does not undermine his masculine status but rather accentuates his place within the aristocratic realm. Melancholy and Poetic Abilities After the wedding, many eventful years pass in the narrative before Bǫðvarr – Egill’s most promising son, whom he loves dearly – drowns.68 Characteristically, the whole account is narrated from an external perspective, and not a word is said about Egill’s inner state. His feelings need to be inferred from his actions and bodily expressions. After swelling up with grief so that his clothes tear off him while he buries his son,69 he closes himself off and lies down in sorrow: ‘gekk hann þegar til lokrekkju þeirar, er hann var vanr at sofa í; hann lagðisk niðr ok skaut fyrir loku’ (he immediately went to the bed-closet he normally slept in; he lay down and locked the door).70 Nobody dares to speak to Egill, who lies silent in his bed and neither eats nor drinks for three days. Descriptions of melancholy in medieval treatises include a feeling of fear along with deep sadness and mistrust. The main symptoms were a loss of appetite, sleeplessness, languor, idleness, and love of solitude, which Egill clearly exhibits in this scene. The patient would often express deep despair and a wish to die, both of which are echoed in Egill’s words to his daughter,

Egils saga, ch. 78. Egils saga, p. 244. This imagery is found in other Old Norse works, indicating that it would not have been an unfamiliar signifier of grief to a medieval Icelandic audience. See Sigurðr Fáfnisbani’s grief: ‘svá þrútnuðu hans síður, at í sundr gengu brynjuhringar’ (his sides swelled so, that the rings of his armour burst apart). Völsunga saga, ed. Guðni Jónsson, in Fornaldar sögur Norðurlanda, 4 vols (Reykjavík, 1954), vol. 1, pp. 107–218, at p. 187. In Laxdœla saga, Bolli Bollason is described as swollen with sorrow (‘þrútinn [...] af trega’, ch. 63), and Hrefna Ásgeirsdóttir bursts from grief (ch. 50). 70 Egils saga, p. 243. 68 69

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir Þorgerðr, on the third day: ‘Hver ván er, at ek muna lifa vilja við harm þenna?’ (How can I be expected to want to live when I suffer such grief?).71 According to the medieval medical literature, attempts to lift the spirit of the patient should be made, whether by conversation, encouragement, or exhilaration and diversion of the patient’s mind. More powerful remedies were required if the condition was serious or chronic, such as purging by bloodletting and vomiting.72 In the case of Egils saga, Þorgerðr ruins her father’s plans to starve himself to death by gently tricking him into eating sǫl (dulse) and drinking milk. She then encourages Egill to compose a poem. This results in the masterpiece Sonatorrek, in which he expresses his grief and anger towards the gods. The pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata physica 30.1 states that all men who excel in poetry, art, philosophy, or statesmanship are melancholic.73 The author provides examples of Heracles, Plato, Socrates, and other distinguished males, and classifies their personality as either melancholic in nature or sensitive to diseases of the black bile.74 Interestingly, this is connected directly to poetic talents by stating in particular that most of these outstanding males possessed such talents.75 The idea that melancholy was related to deep thought and intellect was transmitted in early and high medieval Latin treatises and encyclopaedic works.76 In light of this, it is worth noting that in Egils saga the poetic abilities of Egill are highlighted at the same time as his melancholic personality traits are emphasised. The first time this happens is when he confesses his love for Ásgerðr in a poem, in a scene that is full of melancholic imagery of a stooping body, reticence, and solitude. The second time is when he composes Sonatorrek, in a scene also loaded with symbols of melancholy. In the first two stanzas of this poem, Egill speaks of how hard it is to express himself – a theme that is also prominent in his poem about Ásgerðr.77 As he communicates in the first verse, the words seem beyond his reach, hiding deep in his mind. The first two lines crystallise this: ‘Mjǫk erum tregt /

Egils saga, p. 245. On medieval cures of melancholy, see, for example, Jackson, Melancholia, pp. 50–59; Klibansky, Panofsky, and Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy, p. 85. 73 In antiquity and up to recent times, Problemata physica was attributed to Aristotle. It is now considered to be by one of Aristotle’s followers. See Aristotle, Problems, ed. and trans. Robert A. Mayhew and David C. Mirhady (Cambridge, MA, 2011). 74 Aristotle, Problems, 30.1, 953a10–34. 75 Aristotle, Problems, 30.1, 953a27–34. 76 Including the writings of Paul of Aegina on melancholy appearing in Latin early in the Middle Ages; Constantine’s treatise on melancholy; and the encyclopedia of Bartholomeus Anglicus. See Jackson, Melancholia, pp. 54–55 and 60–64. A Latin translation of Problemata was extant in French universities before 1210, see Wack, Lovesickness, p. 12. 77 See also Sif Rikhardsdottir, who analyses the voicing of ‘the emotive interior’ in Sonatorrek in her Emotion in Old Norse Literature, pp. 85–97. 71

72

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking tungu at hrœra’ (It is very arduous for me / to move my tongue).78 This theme continues in the second stanza, where we additionally find a rare depiction of a male weeping: Esa auðþeystr, þvít ekki veldr hǫfugligr, ór hyggju stað fagnafundr Þriggja niðja, ár borinn ór Jǫtunheimum79 (It is not easily spurted out – heavy sobbing causes that – from the place of thought [> breast], the find cherished by Óðinn’s descendants [> gods > mead of poetry] that was carried long ago from the world of giants.) Heavy, beclouding sobbing (ekki hǫfugligr) make it difficult for him to articulate his thoughts and drag the poem from his breast. Interestingly, the word used for composing the poem is þeysa, which means to spurt or gush out. It is used once previously in the saga, in the context of Egill vomiting in the face of Ármóðr: ‘þeysti Egill upp ór sér spýju mikla’ (Egill spurted out of himself a big gush of vomit).80 This verb evokes imagery from the Old Norse myth on the origins of poetic craft in Skáldskaparmál, in which Óðinn regurgitates the poetic mead.81 At the same time, purging through vomiting was considered an effective therapy for melancholy – and indeed one can view the composition of the poem as a metaphorical purgative for Egill’s grief. During the composition he gradually begins to heal, as is noted in the prose: ‘Egill tók að hressask, svá sem fram leið at yrkja kvæðit’ (Egill started to get better as the composition of the poem progressed).82 When the poem is finished, Egill has completely recovered. In this scene as a whole, an Aristotelian connection between poetic talents and melancholy is manifested: the composition (vomiting) of the masterpiece purges the great poet of his

Egils saga, p. 246. Egils saga, pp. 246–47. In this edition Sigurður Nordal amends ‘Þriggja’ to ‘Friggjar’. On this point I follow Bergljót Kristjánsdóttir and Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir’s edition, Egils saga með formálum, viðaukum, skýringum og skrám, Sígildar sögur 2 (Reykjavík, 2008), p. 197. 80 Egils saga, p. 226. On vomit and poetry in this scene, see Laurence de Looze, ‘Poet, Poem and Poetic Process in Egils Saga Skalla-Grímssonar’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 104 (1989), 123–42, at p. 134. 81 Skáldskaparmál, p. 5. Furthermore, this imagery conforms to the theme of Egill’s relationship to Óðinn reverberating through the whole poem. See, for example, de Looze, ‘Poet, Poem and Poetic Process’, pp. 134–35. 82 Egils saga, p. 256. 78 79

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Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir melancholy; Egill rises from his bed, gives the poem to his family, and returns to his rightful place at the high seat. The absolute helplessness that accompanies Egill’s emotional anguish in this scene – which does not conform to the aggressive Viking masculine ethic – is mediated with imagery originating in learned ideas about the nature of melancholy. Read in this context, the scene manifests an adaptation of the aggressive masculine ideal; an adaptation that is formed by incorporating elements of emotion practice associated with noble and outstanding masculine heroes from the non-native tradition, who on account of their excellence and prowess were considered particularly prone to melancholy.

Conclusion In medieval European texts, diseases of the black bile are situated within the masculine realm. Lovesickness was thought primarily to afflict males and was associated with nobility: it was a marker of status and an ‘occupational hazard’ of the aristocracy. One can see from the Old Norse translated romances and konungasögur that these ideas, and the emotive scripts embodied in them, were presumably not unfamiliar to thirteenth-century Icelandic audiences. These sagas depict noble knights, kings, and distinguished court poets falling victim to the illness of love, and often their symptoms and cure are described in some detail. Similarly, melancholy was specifically thought to befall great men of deep intellect in medieval European learned writings. The imagery accompanying the depiction of these diseases of black bile in the Old Norse and other European texts – as well as their bearing on status and masculinity – serves to inform our reading of the paradoxical representations of Egill’s masculinity. It is a truism that constructions of masculinities are not static or fixed, but culturally and historically contingent.83 Masculinities are reproduced and adjusted, and are subject to social and cultural factors. When it comes to Old Norse literary representations of masculinity, one such cultural factor is the influx of translated romances in the early thirteenth century and Latin-learned texts brought by the expansion of Latin Christendom to the north. The case of Egill’s emotional vulnerability represents an adaptation of the Old Norse aggressive masculine type by incorporating knowledge and literary tropes transmitted through these non-native texts. The emotional defencelessness, passivity, and helplessness that Egill periodically displays do not adhere to the conventional masculine ethos of the saga. At Egill’s most vulnerable moments, his emotions are depicted by drawing on contemporary European cultural symbols and imagery from another masculine sphere – namely, royal and noble expressions of the feelings of lovesickness and melancholy. Thus, Egill’s display of his sufferings is aligned with those of kings and other noblemen. The association between Egill’s vulnerability and his superior 83

See Connell, Masculinities, pp. 44 and 77; Evans, Men and Masculinities, pp. 15–22.

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Emotions of a Vulnerable Viking poetic skills, and the imagery of the noble lovesick melancholic applied in these scenes, allow for a display of emotions that falls outside the constraints of the conventional model of aggressive masculinity, which is otherwise valued in the saga. These literary methods of emotional depiction serve to mediate between the contradictory ideals of masculinity that are held in the saga: by drawing on the imagery of melancholy and lovesickness, Egill’s masculinity is not undermined by his soft emotional defencelessness; rather, his helplessness becomes a positive trait through the artistic amalgamation of these modalities. This fusion generates a reinforcement of Egill’s magnitude as a character, by emphasising his superior poetic skills, nobility, prestige and intellect – resulting in the eventual augmentation of his masculine status.84

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I wish to thank Judy Quinn, Oren Falk, Jón Karl Helgason, Thomas Grant, and the editors of this volume for insightful and helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay.

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men’s relationships

ʻÞat þótti illr fundr’: Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa Alison Finlay

Among the insults traded by two rival poets in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa is the raising of a ‘carved’ or ‘wooden’ níð (tréníð), a graphic version of the most serious kind of insult proscribed by the Old Icelandic and Norwegian law codes.1 It falls into a small group of examples of níð that, rather than having a single target, have the potential to implicate two men. Instances of níð involving two male figures are not as unusual as is sometimes implied; what is exceptional in Bjarnar saga is the fact that the perpetrator of the níð seems to involve himself in what apparently alludes to a shameful male-on-male sexual act. Owing to the gravity of the insult, the saga’s description of it is euphemistic to the point of coyness, and its implication must be investigated in the context of other such references in saga texts. This chapter analyses the image as it appears in Bjarnar saga in the light of comparable examples of visual and verbal insult, and attempts to tease out its implications for the saga’s representation of the relationship of Bjǫrn Hítdœlakappi and his older rival, the well-known poet Þórðr Kolbeinsson. The question it attempts to answer is whether, and how far, the shame of níð, involving as it does an explicit attack on masculinity, can be seen to extend to the perpetrator as well as the target of the insult, when the former appears to be involved in its imagery. The image in Bjarnar saga is not described in detail, nor is its perpetrator explicitly identified; it is a ‘hlutr’ (thing), that ‘fannsk’ (appeared) ‘í 1

Níð appears in Old Norse legal and saga texts as a particular category of insult, attracting, in the most serious cases, a penalty of death. As this chapter will illustrate, it attacks the target’s masculinity usually through means of a slur on his sexual performance by alleging impotence or perversion, in either a realistic or fantastic vein; in particular, likening him to a woman or a female animal confirms the gendered focus of the attack. In either case the sexual taunt stands in a symbolic relationship with more general imputations of physical cowardice, treachery, or dishonour, covered by the related term níðingr (villain, shamed man). For classic studies of níð see Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983) and works cited there.

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Alison Finlay hafnarmarki’ (on the harbour boundary) of Þórðr Kolbeinsson.2 Although this apparition begins a new chapter of the saga, it is fixed in the context of a sequence of escalating exchanges of hostility by the comparative adjective used to refer to the ‘hlutr […] er þvígit vinveittligra þótti’ (which seemed by no means more friendly).3 This suggests a comparison with the immediately preceding act of aggression in the saga, a verse spoken by Þórðr for which he has been prosecuted by the target of the insult, Bjǫrn Arngeirsson, at the Alþing, the first time their mutual hostility had led to legal proceedings. Surprisingly the penalty subsequently awarded for the effigy and accompanying verse is considerably lower than for Þórðr’s earlier verse; we will only note here, though, that the power of the graphic version of níð is comparable to that of offensive verse, in the currency of aggression piled up on either side by the contestants in this saga. The image represents two male figures: karlar rather than menn, a choice of word that emphasises their gender and the sexual implication of their positioning: ‘þeir stóðu lútir, ok horfði annarr eptir ǫðrum’ (they were standing bending over, one facing the other’s back).4 This is clearly not a realistic or detailed description of an artefact: it may be implied that the figures represent Bjǫrn and Þórðr (though critics, as will be seen below, have had their doubts about this), but it is not specified which is which, whether the effigy is in the form of two separate pieces or a single image, or even which man is wearing a hǫttr blár (blue/black hood), whatever this garment might signify. The image is referred to as níð, a word that could cover both verbal insult and that in visual form; for examples of the latter the word tréníð (wooden níð) is used in legal texts,5 but in Bjarnar saga there is no detail of its material, or whether it is carved or painted. The saga gives more prominence to public reaction to the image than to its configuration, again in rather veiled terms: ‘Þat þótti illr fundr, ok mæltu menn, at hvárskis hlutr væri góðr, þeira er þar stóðu, ok enn verri þess, er fyrir stóð’ (That seemed an ill meeting [or ‘ill discovery’], and people said that the situation of neither of those standing there was good, and yet that of the one standing in front was worse).6 This judgement makes clear that the graphic representation of the insult renders it a public statement, in a way that the stanzas exchanged earlier in the saga, in the domestic setting of Bjǫrn’s increasingly hostile winter lodging with Þórðr and his wife Oddný, were not. In the context of a saga entirely structured on a conflict between two men – even the beginning of the saga, truncated in its surviving form, records that Bjǫrn had been a victim of Þórðr’s aggression even before the definitive betrayal of Þórðr’s deceitful marriage to Oddný, to whom Bjǫrn had been betrothed – it 2 3 4

5 6

Bjarnar saga, p. 154. Bjarnar saga, p. 154. Bjarnar saga, pp. 154–55. It occurs in Grágás (p. 273) and in the Norwegian Gulaþingslǫg; see Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, pp. 15–17 and 28. Bjarnar saga, p. 155.

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Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa is difficult to avoid the assumption that the two figures of the effigy represent the two poets themselves. At this point in the saga, Bjǫrn has spent a disastrous winter lodging with Þórðr, in the course of which – it later emerges – Bjǫrn has fathered a son on Oddný. Further in the past, but also significant, is an encounter in the Brenneyjar, a meeting-place for ships travelling along the coast of Sweden, during their travels abroad, where Bjǫrn humiliates Þórðr by robbing him of his ship and cargo. This is followed by a settlement made between the two poets by King Óláfr Haraldsson (later the saint), for whom Bjǫrn expresses an extravagant devotion; Bjǫrn considers Þórðr’s meagre hospitality during his winter lodging to have shamefully breached the king’s settlement. Nevertheless, critics have been cautious in identifying the figures in the effigy with Bjǫrn and Þórðr, considering it unlikely that a man would endanger his own masculine honour by implicating himself in the representation of such a shameful act. Thus Folke Ström, in his classic lecture on níð, put forward the identification apparently as a last resort: ‘Such an interpretation may seem paradoxical, but can it be excluded?’,7 a caution echoed by another influential commentator, Preben Meulengracht Sørensen: In the Danish edition of this essay [Meulengracht Sørensen 1980] I found it improbable that Bjǫrn should have rigged up a níð situation which brought shame on himself, and I concluded that the effigy was only meant to show Þórðr in the humiliating position that marks him out as argr. I am now inclined to give up this opinion in favour of the interpretation of Folke Ström. It is possible to read the “people’s” opinion as a commentary on ergi in the case of Þórðr and on phallic aggression in the case of Bjǫrn. The aggression is then disapproved, not only because it is thought to be shameful, but also because it is uncivilised, savage.8 The problem arises partly because some accounts of incidents involving níð are coloured by the medieval Church’s condemnation of homosexuality which, as Meulengracht Sørensen points out, did not distinguish ‘between the passive and active roles’.9 Frequently cited is an anecdote in Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla, preserved in various versions in manuscripts of Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta and in Kristni saga, in which the Christian missionaries to Iceland, Bishop Friðrekr and Þorvaldr víðfǫrli, are the subjects of a níð verse that alleges that they have had children together: Hefir bǫrn borit byskup níu, þeira er allra Þorvaldr faðir.10 Folke Ström, Níð, ergi and Old Norse Moral Attitudes (London, 1974), p. 14. Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 57. 9 Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 26. 10 Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla I, p. 79.

7 8

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Alison Finlay (The bishop has borne nine children; Þorvaldr is the father of all of them.) As Meulengracht Sørensen points out,11 both the content and syntax of the verse echo the flyting in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I in which the hero Sinfjǫtli boasts of having fathered nine wolves on his adversary, Guðmundr, who was in repulsive female form.12 In Þorvalds þáttr, however, far from boasting, Þorvaldr kills the authors of the níð, explaining ‘Ek þolða eigi at þeir kǫlluðu okkr raga’ (I would not tolerate their calling us ragr), making it clear that, in his eyes at least, the insult applies to both men.13 The bishop’s alternative interpretation exalts Christian humility over revenge, and deflects the insult by calling on the double meaning of the verb bera – to give birth, but also to carry in one’s arms; he would be willing, he says, to carry any children Þorvaldr might have fathered. This is a neat inversion of the general perception of the ambiguity of níð, that a shameful imputation might lurk behind an apparently innocent formulation. This understanding must underlie the proscription in legal texts against composing poetry of any kind about anyone, presumably because of the ambiguous potentialities of skaldic verse for ‘lof það er hann yrkir til háðungar’ (the kind of praise that he composes as insult).14 The locating of the ambiguity in the word bera is particularly loaded since the related noun berendi, meaning ‘being that can give birth (ɔ: female being), ? female animal’,15 is included in Gulaþingslǫg and other Norwegian laws among fullréttisorð (full penalty words), as is the word ragr, used by Þorvaldr of the bearing of children, in the Icelandic Grágás (see below).16 In his study of níð Preben Meulengracht Sørensen identifies numerous instances in the sagas where a crouching posture, with the buttocks elevated, carries the suggestion of humiliation, with the implication that the victim is exposing himself, willingly or not, to penetration from behind.17 Of the examples of illegal insult cited in the Old Icelandic law code, Grágás, the most serious is accusing a man of having been sexually penetrated by another man:

11

12 13

14 15

16

17

Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 54. Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, sts. 38–39. Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla I, p. 80. There is no suggestion in Þorvaldr’s words that the role of either man is more shameful, and the motivation for the slander is said to be the hatred of heathens directed against both indiscriminately: ‘við þá byskup ok Þorvald’ (against the bishop and Þorvaldr) (Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla I, p. 79). Grágás, p. 274. ONP, s.v. berendi. Ström’s claim that berendi ‘really refers’ to ‘the sexual parts of a female animal’ (Níð, ergi and Old Norse Moral Attitudes, p. 9, n. 3) is overstated, since this is not its only sense, but ONP’s examples of its (non-insulting) use for a woman’s sexual parts are interesting in light of the parallel with ‘cunt’ in English. Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, passim.

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Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa Þau eru orð þrjú, ef svo mjög versna málsendar manna, er skóggang varða öll, ef maður kallar mann ragan eða stroðinn eða sorðinn, og skal svo sækja sem önnur fullréttisorð, enda á maður vígt í gegn þeim orð þrimur.18 (There are three words – should exchanges between people ever reach such dire limits – which all have full outlawry as the penalty: if a man calls another ragr, stroðinn or sorðinn. And they are to be prosecuted like other fullréttisorð and, what is more, a man has the right to kill in retaliation for those three words.)19 Stroðinn and sorðinn are past participles of the verb streða / serða, which corresponds to ‘fuck’ in English (that is, denoting the active, male, role in a sexual act),20 and with similarly negative connotations. Its usage is not confined to sex between men; it is used in the obscene poem Grettisfœrsla, as Meulengracht Sørensen points out, of Grettir’s sexual acts ‘with maidens and widows, everyone’s wives, farmers’ sons, deans and courtiers, abbots and abbesses, cows and calves, indeed with near enough all living creatures’ – though this poem in its current form is no older than the late fourteenth century, and may reflect more modern usage.21 The past-participle forms, however, with their masculine adjective endings, indicate both male-on-male action, and passivity. It is clear enough that the scenario depicted in Bjǫrn’s carving represents a graphic incarnation of these damning words. The third proscribed word, ragr, is both more common and more general in its application, encompassing cowardice and fear as well as the more specifically sexual charge, and thereby confirming these as part of the same complex of ideas as sexual perversion; sexual submission and / or perversion are equated with cowardice as the antithesis of a hegemonic ideal of masculinity. While the carving is not explicitly said to have been produced by Bjǫrn (although this is assumed by Þórðr, and confirmed by the subsequent lawsuit), it is accompanied by a stanza that the hero does unambiguously own; in the prosecution the verse is treated as of a piece with the carving, as Þórðr ‘stefndi honum til alþingis um níðreising ok vísu’ (summonsed him to the General Assembly for the raising of níð and the verse).22 The stanza is incomplete, missing two and a half lines, and scholars have had little hesitation in assuming that ‘a copyist omitted the missing lines because he found them too obscene’.23 Kari Ellen Gade goes further in assuming that the stanza must actually have included one or more of the legally proscribed 18 19 20 21

22 23

Grágás, p. 273. Trans. Joan Turville-Petre in Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 17. OED, s.v. fuck, v. Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 18. For a text and translation of Grettisfœrsla, see: Kate Heslop, ‘Grettisfærsla: The Handing-on of Grettir’, Saga-Book 30 (2006), 65–94. Bjarnar saga, p. 155. Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 56.

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Alison Finlay words and, moreover, that the taboo on these persisted well into the period of composition of the saga: ‘There is no reason to believe that a medieval sense of modesty prevented the recording of those lines; the poem must have contained those words which would incur severe legal penalties. Since the descendants of the saga characters might still be alive in Iceland at the time the saga was composed, the poem was censored’.24 This suggestion ignores the fact that, as Meulengracht Sørensen says, ‘it was common practice to conceal níð in ostensibly innocent stanzas’, exploiting the creative ambiguities of skaldic versification.25 This, after all, may have been part of the point of expressing níð both visually and in an accompanying verse: the visual image could drive home the essence of an insult that might otherwise be only hinted at. It can still be discerned that the stanza, when complete, replicated the situation depicted in the prose account. In fact, given the indications that the composition of the stanzas cited in Bjarnar saga, though probably not genuinely composed by the saga characters themselves, predated that of the prose,26 enough of this stanza survives to suggest that it may have been the source for the configuration of the figures outlined in the prose. It begins with the verb standa, which is echoed by the repeated stóðu, stóð of the prose text, and the gist of the last two lines, which name Þórðr, suggesting that his situation is the worse of the two – probably the source of the disapprobation expressed by observers, according to the prose – uses an idiom which, though metaphorical, can be seen as a play on words suggesting him standing in front of his opponent: Standa stýrilundar staðar . . .; 24

Kari Ellen Gade, ‘Homosexuality and Rape of Males in Old Norse Law and Literature’, Scandinavian Studies 58.2 (1986), 124–41, at p. 135. 25 Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 70. 26 Bjarni Einarsson’s thesis, put forward in his 1961 Skáldasögur: Um uppruna og eðli ástaskáldasagnanna fornu, that the stanzas in Bjarnar saga (as in the other poets’ sagas) are late inventions by the prose author himself has been undeservedly influential, being taken up most recently by Bjarni Guðnason in his 1994 article ‘Aldur og einkenni Bjarnarsögu Hítdælakappa’, an article I have contested elsewhere – see Finlay, ‘Interpretation or Over-Interpretation? The Dating of two Íslendingasögur’, Gripla 14 (2003), 61–91. The case for the age of this stanza in particular is strengthened by the citation of its last two lines in The Third Grammatical Treatise (ed. Finnur Jónsson [Copenhagen, 1927], p. 17), which records the use of the old, disyllabic form of Þórðr’s name, Þórrøðr. It is notable that Guðbrandur Vigfússon considered this to be among the only genuine stanzas in the saga: ‘Biorn’s Saga, like Gretti’s Saga, has been adorned with spurious verse, attributed to him and Thorrod Kolbeinsson, but none of them can be supposed genuine, save two satirical staves, one in court-metre, which has been maimed by the copyist, for its coarseness, and one called Gramaga-flim, the Rock-perch-flyting, which is in a rhyming-ditty metre’ – see Corpus Poeticum Boreale: The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue from the Earliest Times to the Thirteenth Century, ed. Guðbrandur Vigfússon and F. York Powell (Oxford, 1883), vol. 2, p. 108.

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Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa glíkr es geira sœkir gunnsterkr at því verki; stendr af stála lundi styrr Þórrøði fyrri.27 (The steering-trees . . . stand . . . of the place . . .; the battle-strong seeker of spears [warrior] is fit for that deed; trouble awaits Þórðr more from that tree of weapons [warrior].) There are too many uncertainties to reconstruct the verse with any confidence. E. A. Kock normalised staðar to stǫðvar and proposed the completion of the second line with the words skútu lútir,28 which yields, first, a kenning skútu stǫð (boat’s harbour) to correspond to the reference in the prose to Þórðr’s hafnarmark (harbour boundary), a reference which is otherwise unmotivated,29 and second, the lútir (stooped) posture of the figures. But this leaves incomplete the kenning for ‘men’ that would have included stýrilundar (steering-trees). In the stanza as it stands, the genitive form staðar (of the place) has too general a sense to complete the kenning. If it is correct that the stanza’s incompleteness is the result of censorship, the kenning may have been completed by reference to an activity that the figures are described as steering or controlling, one of the unmentionable elements removed by later scribes. R. C. Boer and Finnur Jónsson both surmised that, besides the remainder of the second line, it was the fifth and sixth lines that were omitted, but it seems more likely that whatever offensive reference these lines contained would be placed before the reference to því verki (that deed) in the (surviving) line 4.30 Bo Almqvist further detected an obscene subtext to the overtly conventional warrior kenning geira sœkir (seeker of spears),31 citing the seventeenth-century Laufás Edda as evidence that the penis could be conceptualised as a weapon (usually a sword) in poetic language: ‘Vápn þat, er stendr meðal fóta manni, heitir sverð eða brandr ok öllum sverðs heitum […]; þat skal kenna við spjót ok örvar’ (The weapon that is located between a man’s legs is called a sword or blade and all heiti for a sword […]; it is to be referred to as “spear” and “arrows”).32 In the overt context of the kenning, sækir would mean ‘attacker [of an opponent’s weapons]’, but it could also be 27

28 29

30 31 32

Bjarnar saga, p. 155. E. A. Kock, Notationes norroenae. Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning (Lund, 1923–44), § 755. Ström (Níð, ergi and Old Norse Moral Attitudes, p. 14) suggests plausibly that the reference to Þórðr’s boundary marks him out as the target of the insult, in the context of imprecations such as that recounted in Vatnsdœla saga (p. 91), where a níðstǫng is erected and turned towards the farm where the two targets of the curse are staying. Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa, ed. R. C. Boer (Halle, 1893), p. 37; Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning 800–1200, ed. Finnur Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1912–15), B.I, p. 280. Bo Almqvist, Norrön niddiktning. Traditionshistoriska studier i versmagi. I: Nid mot furstar (Stockholm, 1965), p. 177. Edda Snorra Sturlusonar / Edda Snorronis Sturlæi, ed. Jón Sigurðsson et al.

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Alison Finlay construed ‘desirer, seeker-out’, denoting a willing partner in the obscene act. This would suggest a suitably contemptuous comment on Þórðr’s posture, if this was elaborated on in the missing two lines. Clerical disapproval of homosexuality may well have strengthened the expression of public disapproval of the hlutr (situation) of both figures in Bjarnar saga (though this was probably intended to heighten the drama of the scandal for the enjoyment of the audience, rather than carrying the pious overtones of Þorvalds þáttr). Blame is more overtly attached to both figures in the closest analogue to the níð in Bjarnar saga, which is found in one version of Gísla saga, where a similar níð is proposed (but never actually erected) to shame two men who have failed to come to a duel at the appointed time: Refr hét maðr, er var smiðr Skeggja. Hann bað, at Refr skyldi gera mannlíkan eptir Gísla ok Kolbirni,—‘ok skal annarr stand aptar en annarr, ok skal níð þat standa ávallt, þeim til háðungar.’33 (There was a man called Refr, who was Skeggi’s workman. He ordered Refr to make an image [or images] of Gísli and Kolbjǫrn,—‘and one is to stand behind the other, and this níð is to remain forever, to their shame.’) Meulengracht Sørensen may be right to identify in the rivalry for a marriage that forms the background to this dispute the sexual component inevitably present in accusations of níð, but his attempt to distinguish between the two men depicted as targets of the insult, with reference to other instances including that in Bjarnar saga (‘[t]he first [i.e. the man standing in front] is accused of effeminacy, the second is a base fellow because he misuses a friend’) is not justified in the confused, probably truncated version in which the passage survives in Gísla saga.34 It is clear that both men are implicated in shame, a fact that led Folke Ström to suspect later interference with the report of ‘what actually happened’, since it is difficult to see why the shame of failing to attend a duel should be shared by the second figure in the assemblage – the saga’s hero, Gísli: ‘Our suspicions are particularly aroused by Skeggi’s speech […] The context seems to indicate that we here have a secondary addition’.35 The parallel in Gísla saga does give us a clearer idea of the configuration saga-writers envisaged for an image like this. The commissioning of a smiðr (craftsman) suggests that it is to be carved in wood (and smiðr is widely rendered as ‘carpenter’ in translations of the saga). The word mannlíkan (likeness[es] of a man / human [or men/humans]) intriguingly evokes accounts in Conversion narratives of the graven images of idols; it is used in Heimskringla for the image of a god encountered by Óláfr helgi, ‘merkðr (Copenhagen, 1848–87), vol. 1, p. 543 n; note too that Grettir Ásmundarson refers to the penis as ‘sverð í hári’ (the sword in hair) (Grettis saga, p. 240). 33 Gísla saga, p. 10. 34 Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, pp. 57–58. 35 Ström, Níð, ergi and Old Norse Moral Attitudes, p. 12.

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Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa eptir Þór,—“ok hefir hann hamar í hendi ok mikill vexti ok holr innan ok gǫrr undir honum sem hjallr sé […] Eigi skortir hann gull ok silfr á sér”’ (made in the likeness of Þórr,— “and he is holding a hammer in his hand and is very large and hollow inside and under him there is made something like a scaffold [. . .] There is no lack of gold and silver on him”).36 The word also occurs in Vǫluspá 10, in a sequence generally dismissed as an interpolation, for the creation of the dwarfs out of earth.37 Mannlíkan being a neuter noun, it could be either singular or plural, leaving unanswered the question whether the construct in Gísla saga consisted of a single image or two separate figures. What is significant is their posture ‘one behind the other’. If Skeggi’s speech is not ‘a secondary addition’ – and after all we are hardly in a position to pick and choose which of the meagre details of níð that the texts provide we give weight to – it is worth noting the emphasis on the lasting quality of the visual representation, that is intended to standa ávallt (remain forever). It is important to bear in mind the essentially symbolic nature of níð. The sexual undertones of the insult in Bjarnar saga may loosely echo the sexual basis – competition for a woman – of the quarrel between the two poets, but should not be taken to reflect an actual sexual encounter. In this respect Gade’s argument that the níð episode contains an allusion to the confrontation earlier in the saga between the two men on the Brenneyjar, which she implies to have involved an act of male rape, is over-literal: ‘there is no doubt that the níðstengr were meant to disgrace Þórðr and imply that he had been used as a woman, and the content of the níð suggested a connection with the previous encounter on the island’.38 The suggestion of rape is not supported by the saga, although it is said that Bjǫrn ‘gerði […] sem hrakligast ráð hans allt’ (made his [Þórðr’s] situation as humiliating as possible), and Þórðr and his companions are set adrift in a boat ‘með klæðum sínum’ (with their clothes), which could be taken to suggest that they had previously been stripped.39 Verses spoken by Bjǫrn after their return to Iceland certainly allude to Þórðr’s undignified posture hiding under a bush. But Meulengracht Sørensen’s survey of instances of sexual humiliation in Sturlunga saga and elsewhere reveals that this generally took the form of castration rather than male rape. This act of deprivation of masculine identity was motivated by political domination rather than simply symbolic humiliation, and included the aim of rendering the victim unable to father children, a highly practical purpose that rape would not serve: ‘making them […] unable to beget sons to act as new claimants and avengers.’40 This emphasis is recalled also in the Heimskringla II, p. 187. Vo˛luspá, p. 294; see‚ ‘Introduction’, in Eddukvæði I, pp. 105–08. This instance of the word suggests that, like the images of pagan gods, other non-human beings could be conceptualised as likenesses of men. As an interpolation in Vǫluspá, however, it is uncertain how old the idea may be. 38 Gade, ‘Homosexuality and Rape of Males’, p. 134. 39 Bjarnar saga, pp. 129–30. 40 Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man, p. 81. 36 37

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Alison Finlay more antique environment of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, where Sinfjǫtli’s boast that he and Guðmundr have had offspring together is capped by his target’s reply claiming he has been gelded: Faðir varattu fenrisúlfa, ǫllum ellri, svá at ek muna, síz þik geldu fyr Gnipalundi þursa meyjar á Þórsnesi.41 (You were not the father of fierce wolves, though you were older than them all, as I remember, after giant maidens gelded you on Þórsnes off Gnipalund.) The symbolic expression of níð involving two men is perhaps at its most abstract in an instance in Vatnsdœla saga, where two men are mocked for failing to turn up for a duel. Their opponents take a pole, carve a man’s head at one end of it, and inscribe it with an insult in runes; the pole is then inserted into the body of a mare and turned to face the farm of one of the targets of the insult.42 Almqvist produces examples where poles themselves bear phallic connotations to support his argument that the assemblage represents two men who are jointly shamed in a symbolic sexual act – one, the chief target of the insult, represented by the whole body (not, as in other instances of níð, the head alone) of the female animal, the other by the pole that penetrates it.43 There is precedent for níð in verbal form against two men in the stanza cited in the longest and oldest version of Jómsvíkinga saga and in Heimskringla, directed by the Icelandic people against the Danish king Haraldr Gormsson and his steward Birgir, who is said to have seized the property of some Icelanders – shipwrecked, according to Heimskringla – which the king refused to restore to them. While Jómsvíkinga saga simply attributes the níð to ‘allir landsmenn’ (all the people of the land),44 Heimskringla extravagantly claims that it had been laid down in Icelandic law that a níðvísa was to be composed against King Haraldr ‘fyrir nef hvert, er á var landinu’ (for each nose [i.e. each individual] that was in the land), which looks like an impudent subversion of the kingly practice of imposing nefgildi (poll-tax) on subject peoples.45 The introduction to the stanza, ‘Þetta er í níðinu’ (This is part of the níð), upholds Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, p. 254. Vatnsdœla saga, p. 91. 43 Almqvist, Norrön niddiktning, pp. 96–111. 44 Jómsvíkinga saga, p. 39. 45 Heimskringla I, p. 270. See Almqvist, Norrön niddiktning, pp. 165–66. Finnur Jónsson took the putative length of the original níð seriously, commenting that we can conclude that ‘digtet har været overordenlig langt’ (‘the poem must have been 41 42

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Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa the fiction that the slander was initially longer, and it is stated explicitly that this stanza at least implicated both the king and his steward Birgir: ‘Var níð ort um þá báða’ (Níð was composed about both of them), while Jómsvíkinga saga says it was ‘gert um konunginn Harald’ (made about King Haraldr). There is some textual variation in the stanza, but for brevity it is quoted here in the form in which it appears in Heimskringla: Þás sparn á mó mǫrnis morðkunnr Haraldr sunnan, varð þá Vinða myrðir vax eitt, í ham faxa, en bergsalar Birgir bǫndum rækr í landi, þat sá ǫld, í jǫldu óríkr fyrir líki.46 (When Haraldr, famous in battle, braced himself against Mǫrnir’s heath [? a mare’s rump] from the south, the killer of Wends, in a stallion’s form, turned into nothing but wax; and Birgir, fit to be driven from the land by giants – people saw that – helpless, in front, in a mare’s likeness.) The association of horses with níð is frequent, as already suggested by the example from Vatnsdœla saga; the representation of both men as horses clearly emphasises the symbolic nature of the accusation. Clearly both men – both named explicitly in the verse – are tarnished by the image, though Almqvist suggests that ‘[i]t may be that Birgir, who was originally responsible for the illegal action, gets the worst treatment, since he is the party depicted as a mare. As the laws […] indicate, it was more criminal to compare a person to a female than to a male animal’.47 The persistent association of níð with horses in particular is not understood, but legal prohibitions against representing a man as a female of any species make it clear that the insult is primarily against his masculinity. More realistically, Birgir’s óríkr (powerless, helpless) position emphasises his ignominious role in the symbolic situation, but also his real-life status as a ‘lackey’ (Almqvist’s term). On the other hand, the king comes in for an additional sneer in the accusation that Haraldr/the stallion ‘varð þá vax eitt’ (turned into / was nothing but wax), suggesting, as Folke Ström pointed out, that the insult ‘ligger i anspelningen på Haralds sexuella misslyckande, hans vaxmjuka impotens i det avgörande ögonblicket’ (lies in the allusion to Haraldr’s sexual extraordinarily long’) – see Finnur Jónsson, Den oldnorske og oldislandske litteraturs historie, 2nd edn (Copenhagen, 1920–24), vol. 1, p. 633. 46 Heimskringla I, p. 270. For details of the interpretation and textual variants, see Diana Whaley, ed., ‘Anonymous: Lausavísa from Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar in Heimskringla’, in Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035 (Turnhout, 2012), p. 1073. 47 Almqvist, Norrön niddiktning, p. 234.

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Alison Finlay failure, his impotence, soft as wax, at the crucial moment).48 One of Egill Skalla-Grímsson’s last verses refers similarly to impotence among the humiliations of his old age: ‘blautr erum bergis fótar / borr’ (soft is my dripping borer of the leg);49 blautr, literally meaning ‘damp, soft, fresh’ often carries the sense ‘effeminate’.50 Some readers, though, have seen the reference to softness as signifying a successful sexual act; thus Whaley’s interpretation, ‘The sense could be that Haraldr was pliant – spineless and feeble, but more likely is a sexual reference, to ejaculation or flaccidity after ejaculation’.51 The most recent editors of Jómsvíkinga saga take a different route to a similar affirmation of Haraldr’s virility, normalising the form varþá in AM 291 as varða (was not) and glossing ‘varð harka þessa vígamanns Vinda ekki lítil’ (the hardness of this killer of Wends did not become slight).52 The variation in the texts may reflect uncertainty as to who exactly was being insulted and for what, although there is hardly enough evidence to be sure of this. Most likely the insulting of both participants in an image of níð is a function of the special category of níð against rulers, against which specific provisions exist in the laws (and which is the chief focus of Almqvist’s study). Of their nature, kings have agency and are unlikely to be represented as passive; their actions, nevertheless, may render them níðingr, deserving of contempt, and suitable for representation as both violently oppressive of their underlings and colluding with them in their shameful actions. It is significant that this níð episode appears only in the AM 291 4to version of Jómsvíkinga saga, since this version also preserves the full account of the shameful death of Haraldr at the hands of Pálna-Tóki, who thereby avenges not only Haraldr’s shameful killing of Pálna-Tóki’s uncle Áki far in the past – before Pálna-Tóki’s own birth – but also his wilful refusal to acknowledge his illegitimate son Sveinn, whom Pálna-Tóki has fostered. The circumstances of Haraldr’s death are not explicitly marked as níð, but strongly evoke its conventions in their positioning and penetration of the king’s body:

48 49

50

51 52

Folke Ström, Diser, nornor, valkyrjor. Fruktbarhetskult och sakralt kungadöme i Norden (Stockholm, 1954), p. 29 n. The kenning is obscure, but is taken by medieval and later interpreters to refer to ‘penis’; this is the translation of Bjarni Einarsson in Egils saga (London, 2003), pp. 179 and 196. For further analysis of this stanza see Carl Phelpstead, ‘Size Matters: Penile Problems in Sagas of Icelanders’, Exemplaria 19.3 (2007), 420–37, at pp. 424–27. ONP, s.v. blautr, 5 and 6; for the connotations of the closely related blauðr, see Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Speculum 68 (1993), 363–87 (passim). Whaley, ed., ‘Anonymous: Lausavísa from Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar in Heimskringla’, pp. 1074–5. Jómsvíkinga saga, p. 40. Both Ólafur Halldórsson in his earlier edition ([Reykjavík, 1969], pp. 99 and 210–11) and Whaley, however, read varþá as var þá, in agreement with Heimskringla.

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Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa Pálna-Tóki gengr upp til merkrinnar ok gagnvert þar sem konungr bakask við eldinn ok stendr þar of hríð. En konungrinn í annan stað bakask við eldinn ok bakar bringspǫluna á sér, ok er kastat undìr hann klæðum, ok stendr hann á knjánum ok ǫlbogunum, ok lýtr hann niðr mjǫk við er hann bakask við eldinn. Hann bakar ok við axlirnar, ok berr þá upp við mjǫk stjǫlinn konungs. Pálna-Tóki […] nú leggr […] ǫr á streng, ok skýtr hann til konungsins, ok er svá sagt af flestum frœðimǫnnum at ǫrin flýgr beint í rassinn konunginum ok eftir honum endilǫngum ok kom fram í munninn, ok fellr konungrinn þegar á jǫrð niðr ørendr, sem ván var.53 (Pálna-Tóki goes up to the forest and opposite where the king is toasting himself by the fire, and stands there for a while. But the king, on the other hand, toasts himself by the fire and is warming his lower chest, and his clothes have been cast off under him and he is on his elbows and knees and is bending down low as he toasts himself at the fire. He also toasts his shoulders, and then the king’s backside is sticking up high as he does that. Pálna-Tóki […] now lays […] an arrow on the string and shoots at the king, and, so it is said by most learned men, the arrow flies straight into the king’s arse and right through him and came out into his mouth, and the king at once falls lifeless to the ground, as was to be expected.) The symbolism of níð can be seen in the strong parallels in this passage with Bjarnar saga. The king’s stooping posture by the fire – lýtr hann niðr mjǫk – recalls the two figures who stóðu lútir.54 The meticulous positioning of the king, and his apparent isolation from his eleven companions, suggest a stylisation reminiscent of visual representation. Although the attack is not a sexual one, there are sexual overtones in the intimate details of the victim’s body – stjǫlinn, rassinn – and the reference to his nakedness.55 The arrow that penetrates his body so completely may carry the suggestion of a penis in a sexual attack – see the suggestion above in relation to geira in Bjǫrn’s verse – but this is a literal rather than a sexual attack, and so no sexual imputation attaches to the attacker. Rather, Pálna-Tóki – like Bjǫrn – is justifiably avenging a wrong against an opponent who has acted shamefully. Þórðr is not a king, but according to the saga he is fifteen years older than Bjǫrn, an established Jómsvíkinga saga, pp. 58–59. For a further example of the possible sexual implications of the word lútr, see Michael P. Barnes’s discussion of one of the twelfth-century runic inscriptions at Maeshowe (The Runic Inscriptions of Maeshowe [Uppsala, 1994], pp. 95–102). 55 In contrast to the postures of the effigy in Bjarnar saga, but in line with other imagery associated with níð, it has been suggested that Haraldr’s on-all-fours posture conjures up that of a female animal in mating: ‘it is suggestive that, at the moment of death, his posture when the arrow enters his body is that of a female, four-legged animal when penetrated by a male’ – see The Saga of the Jómsvikings: A Translation with Full Introduction, ed. and trans. Alison Finlay and Þórdís Edda Jóhannesdóttir (Kalamazoo, 2018), p. 56. 53 54

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Alison Finlay figure who instigated the feud in the first place and has always had the upper hand – until he is repeatedly taken down by Bjǫrn’s impudence. Also relevant is the declarative nature of the king’s shaming. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the emphasis is on secrecy: it takes place in darkness – ‘þá er myrkt orðit af nótt er þetta er’ (it has got dark, as night has fallen at this point) –– and the witnesses agree to pretend that the king has been killed in battle, since it would bring shame upon them (skemmd ok svívirða) to be known to have stood by and failed to prevent the atrocity. But when Pálna-Tóki’s responsibility is discovered by the identification of the arrow, his avowal to Haraldr’s son Sveinn is explicit and precise, emphasising the public nature of the declaration and its implication for the (new) king’s honour: ‘Oft hefi ek þér eftirlátr verit, fóstri, ok ef þér þykkir þat þinn vegr meiri at ek segja þér þat í allmiklu fjǫlmenni heldr en svá at færi sé hjá, þá skal þat veita þér. Ek skilðumk við hana á bogastrengnum, konungr, […] þá er ek skaut í rassinn fǫður þínum ok eftir honum endilǫngum, svá at út kom í munninn.’56 (I have often been obedient to you, foster-son, and if you think it does you more honour that I tell you in the presence of a large crowd rather than with few present, then I must grant you that. I parted with [the arrow] from my bowstring, King, […] when I shot it into your father’s arse and all the way through him until it came out into his mouth.) The initial secrecy of the killing, under cover of darkness, prepares for the drama of the announcement, when it comes. More seriously, Pálna-Tóki has compromised his honour with the shameful deed of náttvíg – a concealed killing, taking place at night – for ‘þat stendr hér í lǫgum várum ok landsrétti, at engi maðr hefir svá fyrirgǫrt sér, at eigi heiti þat níðingsverk eða morðvíg, ef menn drepask um nætr’ (it stands here in our statutes and the law of the land that no man is so degenerate that he does not call it a shameful deed and a murderous killing if people are killed by night).57 His foster-son Sveinn, now king, immediately renounces their former friendship, although Pálna-Tóki’s deed had been prompted at least in part by Haraldr’s failure to acknowledge Sveinn as his son: ‘nú er niðr slegit allri vináttu milli okkar Pálna-Tóka ok ǫllum góða, þeim er með okkr hefir verit’ (now all the friendship between Pálna-Tóki and me is destroyed, and all the good feeling that has been between us).58 Pálna-Tóki simultaneously visits vengeance on a tyrannical king, and brings shame and the king’s enmity on himself. This survey of incidents of níð, or those carrying connotations of níð, confirms that instances involving two male figures are not as unusual as has Jómsvíkinga saga, pp. 64–65. Heimskringla III, p. 387. 58 Jómsvíkinga saga, p. 65 56 57

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Phallic Aggression in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa been implied in discussions of the scene in Bjarnar saga. The symbolic potentialities of níð make it infinitely variable, depending on the circumstances and relative status of the individuals targeted; so, for instance, the níð against Haraldr Gormsson and his steward appears to characterise the relationship between master and subordinate at the same time as hurling shame on each; it may be seen as shaming them both discriminately. Comprehension of the implications of níð may have changed with the passing of time; Almqvist’s discussion of the níðstǫng (slander-pole) in Vatnsdœla saga suggests that its significance as an image of sexual penetration may have been misunderstood in accounts of other such apparitions. Finally, the example of Þorvalds þáttr suggests that a Christian perspective inevitably changed any sense that níð might be socially approved as a means of redressing an attack on a man’s honour. The níð episode in Bjarnar saga is unique in that Bjǫrn appears actually to represent himself visually involved in a shameful act, but the example of the flyting of Sinfjǫtli and Guðmundr shows that this concept was current in verse from an early stage. The killing of Haraldr Gormsson by Pálna-Tóki replicates the scene on a literal plane rather than in the symbolic mode of níð, making plain the parallel that always existed between acts of shaming – creating níð in either visual or versified form – and physical attack. Elsewhere I have described the symmetrical exchange of insults in Bjarnar saga, building to a point where physical exchanges take over, following the pattern of feud familiar in many other sagas.59 Each assault, however justified by the previous injury, requires the assailant to put himself in the wrong in forcing redress on his enemy, though in the process he may be able, like Pálna-Tóki, to reveal his opponent’s shame to the world. In saga narrative an accusation of níð, like an act of physical violence, is part of a continuum: it is prompted by behaviour that, in the eyes of the accuser, requires calling out as morally shameful. The accusation of sexual perversion represented by the image in Bjarnar saga, and persistent in the other examples of níð discussed here, draws out the complex of ideas inherent in the Old Norse conception of masculinity: the man represented as a níðingr is branded as everything that a man ought not to be. The surface imagery of sexual submission, whether implied to be willing or not, expresses the permanence of the degeneracy of the shamed individual: it is thought of as an unchangeable part of his being – in much the same way as, in these texts, physical sex is thought of as fixed – hence the seriousness of being likened to a woman or female beast. The perspective of the accuser – the creator of the níð – was always that of someone wronged by its target (or a proxy, as in the cases where it is delegated to a poet or craftsman), although his stance might be relatively detached or collective (as is that of the Icelanders who create the níð against Haraldr Gormsson). But the symbolic representation of sexual submission 59

Alison Finlay, ‘Níð, Adultery and Feud in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa’, Saga-Book 23 (1990–93), 158–78.

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Alison Finlay at the heart of níð inevitably had its corollary in the participation of a sexual aggressor, as is brought home by the figurative representation of the penis as a weapon; this is underlined by the ‘real-life’ re-enactment of níð in PálnaTóki’s attack on King Haraldr. The moral victory achieved by a counter-attack against an enemy who had not played by the rules imposed by the norms of masculinity no doubt outweighed the implication that the creator of níð had involved himself in a dubious (if figurative) sexual situation; but it must be borne in mind that níð is conceptualised in the laws as a deadly crime, and in saga texts may lead to the same kinds of reprisals as do vengeful acts of violence. The perpetrator of níð is inevitably in an equivocal position, exposing his enemy at some risk to himself, and this is particularly evident when, as in Bjarnar saga, the two participants are visually represented in a graphic manifestation of níð.

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’: rekkjufélagar and vífs rúnar David Ashurst

‘Vaki æ ok vaki’ (Awake! Oh, but awake!) cried Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld Bersason, declaiming the ancient Bjarkamál, to the slumbering army of King Óláfr helgi Haraldsson on the morning of the day that would see the king’s death and his own at the battle of Stiklastaðir: vekka yðr at víni né at vífs rúnum, heldr vekk yðr at hǫrðum Hildar leiki.1 (I do not wake you to wine, nor to the intimacies of a wife; rather I wake you to the hard sport of Hildr [i.e. to action in battle].) Thus Þormóðr gives voice to a warrior’s rueful, bordering on contemptuous, juxtaposition of the hard manly work of warfare and the soft pleasures of sex.2 1

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Heimskringla II, pp. 361–62, lines 141.5 and 142.5–8. The implied contrast between hard manly pursuits and soft women calls to mind a dichotomy proposed by Clover in a much-cited article, where it is suggested that the adjective hvatr (brisk) is associated primarily with men whereas blauðr (soft, weak) is primarily associated with women: Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, Representations 44 (1993), 1–28. Although Clover (p. 1) cites Cleasby and Vigfusson as noting that blauðr is ‘answering Latin mollis’ (soft), she does not take the opportunity to observe that the hvatr/blauðr dichotomy was widespread in earlier cultures, particularly in the Latin world. Isidore of Seville, for example, asserts in his Etymologiae (at least parts of which were well known in medieval Iceland) that ‘Vir nuncupatus, quia maior in eo vis est quam in feminis […] Mulier vero a mollitie’ (‘Man’ is so called because strength (vis) is greater in him than in females […] ‘Woman’, in fact, is from ‘softness’ (mollitia)): (San) Isidoro de Sevilla, Etimologías, ed. and trans. (Latin and Spanish) José Oroz Reta and Manuel-Antonio Marcos Casquero, 3rd edn, 2 vols. (Madrid, 2000), XI.2.17–18. Clover’s proposition that a person, regardless of their sex, could increase or diminish their masculinity in accordance with the extent to which their behaviour was hvatr or blauðr, has been subjected to much

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David Ashurst Similar sentiments are encountered elsewhere in Old Norse literature, for example in Fóstbrœðra saga, when Þorgeirr Hávarsson meets his end while putting up a stout defence against Þorgrímr trolli Einarsson and overwhelming odds, and the saga writer remarks, with notable contempt for the men who have sex with women, in contrast with the celibate Þorgeirr, ‘Nú fyrir því at þeim Þorgrími reyndisk meiri mannraun at sœkja Þorgeir heldr en klappa um maga konum sínum, þá sóttisk þeim seint, ok varð þeim hann dýrkeyptr’ (Now because it proved a greater trial for Þorgrímr and his men to attack Þorgeirr than to slap against the bellies of their women, they were slow in attacking, and he was dearly bought by them).3 This theme of the warrior’s contempt for sex is by no means peculiar to Old Norse; in fact, it is widespread across many languages and cultures, and across many centuries. In Renaissance England, for instance, Shakespeare gives especially piquant expression to it in All’s Well that Ends Well, when Paroles urges the newly-wed Bertram to flee the perils of married life:  To th’ wars, my boy, to th’ wars! He wears his honour in a box unseen That hugs his kicky-wicky here at home, Spending his manly marrow in her arms, Which should sustain the bound and high curvet Of Mars’s fiery steed.4

3

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criticism and adjustment (not to be summarised here), but it is certainly the case, in the wider cultural context, that a man lost masculinity if he became mollis. This is neatly exemplified by a remark of Isidore’s concerning such a man (X.179): ‘Mollis, quod vigorem sexus enerviati corpore dedecoret, et quasi mulier emolliatur’ (He is ‘soft’ because he dishonours the vigour of his sex by his weakened body, and is made soft like a woman). One way in which a man can become blauðr/mollis, and hence lose masculinity, is through having sexual intercourse with women, as discussed below. Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 208. Zoëga glosses ‘klappa um’ as ‘to pat’, but also notes that klappa can indicate stronger actions such as to chisel and to hammer; Fritzner offers ‘klappe eller stryge’, citing ‘klappa um kviðinn á konu’, as the second meaning of klappa but gives the primary meaning as slaa, banke. If ‘pat the bellies of their women’ is the accurate translation in the above context, the strongly pejorative nature of the comment suggests that it is being used euphemistically; ‘slap against’ is therefore proposed as seeming to catch the connotations. For Þorgeirr’s celibacy, note the remark that ‘sagði hann þat vera svívirðing síns krapts, at hokra at konum’ (he declared it to be a dishonour to his strength, to crouch over women), Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 128. For a further example of a contemptuous reference to sex with women as an indicator, or cause, of unmanliness, see the sailors’ words to Grettir Ásmundarson when their ship is in urgent need of bailing out while Grettir is spending time with the skipper’s wife: ‘“Þikkir þér betra,” sǫgðu þeir, “at klappa um kviðinn á konu Bárðar stýrimanns en at gera skyldu þína á skipi”’ (‘It seems better to you,’ they said, ‘to slap against the belly of the wife of Bárðr the captain than to do your duty on board ship’). Grettis saga, pp. 51–52. For a parallel analysis of the subject, although the discussion above was produced independently of it, see Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019), pp. 98–99. William Shakespeare, All’s Well that Ends Well, in William Shakespeare: The Complete

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ In the Classical world, furthermore, Alexander the Great is said to have used the topos as part of his address to his mutinous forces when they demanded to be discharged and sent home from Asia: ‘Bonis vero militibus cariturus sum, pelicum suarum concubinis’ (Truly I shall be losing fine soldiers, the male concubines of their mistresses!).5 The Shakespeare quotation highlights, among other things, the recognition that ejaculation (‘spending his manly marrow’) can temporarily, or cumulatively over a limited period, deplete a man’s strength and energy, an idea that, in Old Norse, underlies an insult in Njáls saga, when two men have been trying unsuccessfully to round up some sheep: ‘Ámælti þá hvárr þeira ǫðrum, ok mælti Þjóstólfr við Glúm, at hann hefði til engis afla nema brǫlta á maga Hallgerði’ (Then they blamed each other, and Þjóstólfr said to Glúmr that he had strength for nothing except to thrash about on Hallgerðr’s belly).6 Doubtless the same idea also underlies Alexander’s sarcasm towards his men in the Curtius quotation: they no longer have the strength to be proper soldiers, Alexander implies, because of constantly servicing their female camp followers. A different rendering of concubinis (nom. concubini), however, would be ‘bedpartners’, since the word is derived from concumbo ‘to lie with, to sleep with’ – and in fact the Loeb translator, Rolfe, renders the phrase pelicum suarum concubinis as ‘bed-mates of mistresses’.7 In the context, ‘male concubines’ and ‘bed-mates’ may amount to much the same thing, but the latter translation has the advantage that its connotations prompt the thought that, from the point of view of a demanding general such as Alexander, a soldier’s best bedpartner (though not usually sex-partner), for the avoidance of the supposedly enervating influence of women, is another soldier. Counterpointing, but not counterbalancing, the misogyny apparent in all the above texts, there is, in much Old Norse literature, a sense of ease and naturalness about men sharing beds, which has tended to be lost in the western world.8 As will be elaborated in the discussion below, the Works, ed. Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett, and William Montgomery (Oxford, 1988), pp. 855–82, II.iii, lines 275–79. 5 Quintus Curtius, History of Alexander, with trans. by John C. Rolfe (Cambridge, MA, 1946), X.ii.27. 6 Njáls saga, p. 49. 7 See note 5 above, and see the glosses for concumbo and concubinus in Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary (Oxford, 1879). 8 In the great literatures of Europe and America, the bedroom scenes between Ishmael and Queequeg, when they chance to become bedpartners at the Spouter-Inn in Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby-Dick, testify to a cultural period in which the routine sharing of beds has become freighted with homosexual connotations: the first of these scenes evidences a good deal of anxiety, partially covered by jocular allusions to marriage and comic ‘expostulations upon the unbecomingness of […] hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style’; yet the two men soon decide to go on sleeping together on future nights, establish a level of apparently non-erotic physical intimacy, and become firmly bonded, so that Ishmael later refers to Queequeg as ‘my poor pagan companion, and fast bosom-friend’. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale, intro. by Andrew Delbanco, notes by Tom Quirk

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David Ashurst naturalness of same-sex bedsharing visible in Old Norse literature goes beyond a merely neutral habit formed in response to the limited availability of sleeping places in farmhouses, halls, and on board ship: it occasioned intimacy and male bonding that could be socially recognised and powerfully emotional, and which, unless there is definite evidence to the contrary in particular cases, should not be construed as repressed or sublimated sexual desire, except insofar as all intimacy between males can be so construed.9 For unmarried men, or for soldiers and sailors away from their wives, the bond and the routine of bedsharing accommodated the opportunity for male bedpartners to have sex with women, and this opportunity could – but did not inevitably – lead to jealousy or envy, sometimes expressed in terms of misogyny; furthermore, the possibility of sleeping together as an expression of trust, commitment, mutual belonging, and unity between men could become a matter of keenly felt social or even spiritual aspiration. To return to Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld: aspects of his story encapsulate something of the last point above, though not in all accounts. In Snorri’s Heimskringla version, which has already been quoted from, King Óláfr gives Þormóðr a gold ring after the recitation of Bjarkamál, now renamed Húskarlahvǫt (Incitement of the Retainers) by the grateful army; Þormóðr responds by declaring that he and the other men have a good king, but he then adds that it remains to be seen how long-lived the king will be. This sounds like a wrong note in the context of the goodwill the poet has just received, but it represents a facing of facts amid the ‘hard sport of Hildr’, and it immediately becomes apparent that it forms the basis for a bold request that is simultaneously a courageous statement of loyalty, for Þormóðr continues: ‘Sú er bœn mín, konungr, at þú látir okkr hvártki skiljask lífs né dauða’ (It is my request, king, that you let the two of us be parted neither

9

(London, 1992), pp. 13–63 (p. 30), and p. 519. Compare this with the very different erotic content of Iago’s description of Cassio’s alleged dream of having sex with Desdemona, in Shakespeare’s Othello. Iago, simply to set the scene, notes factually, ‘I lay with Cassio lately,’ and then relates that Cassio, asleep and dreaming, would ‘kiss me hard, | As if he plucked up kisses by the roots, | That grew upon my lips, lay his leg o’er my thigh, | And sigh’. Shakespeare, Othello, in The Complete Works, pp. 819–53, III.iv, lines 418 and 426–29. Here Shakespeare is doubtless toying with his audience even as Iago is toying with Othello, who focuses entirely on what he takes to be evidence that his wife has committed adultery with Cassio, yet the whole speech depends for its effect on the normality of the two soldiers lying in bed together, and on the audience’s recognition of the fact that men who are bedpartners will become intimate with each other’s erotic dreams, and not be embarrassed by them. For a warning against examining medieval representations of social attitudes and behaviour through a heterosexual filter, see James A. Schultz, ‘Heterosexuality as a Threat to Medieval Studies’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 15.1 (2006), 14–29. The objective of the present discussion, however, is to draw conclusions from what is clearly present in the texts; it does not seek to suggest that characters experienced erotic longing or engaged in sexual activity where none is mentioned.

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ living nor dead).10 It is notable that Þormóðr here addresses the king in the singular, þú, which may be taken as an indication, or assertion, of familiarity; Óláfr, however, parries the request even while granting it, by pitching his response to all the men listening, using the plurals vér and þér rather than þú and the dual vit: ‘Allir munu vér saman fara, meðan ek ræð fyrir, ef þér vilið eigi við mik skiljask’ (We must all move together, while I am in command, if you [pl.] do not wish to be separated from me).11 Þormóðr, apparently both provoked and chastened, since he now addresses Óláfr with the honorific plural, yðr, takes a swipe at the rival poet, Sigvatr Þórðarson, who has gone away on pilgrimage and to whom Óláfr has given a more prestigious gift than the one Þormóðr has just received: ‘Þess vætti ek, konungr, hvárt sem friðr er betri eða verri, at ek sjá nær yðr staddr, meðan ek á þess kost, hvat sem vér spyrjum til, hvar Sigvatr ferr með gullinhjaltann’ (I expect, king, whether our friendship is better or worse, that I will be stationed close to you, while I have opportunity for it, whatever we hear about where Sigvatr is going with the golden-hilted sword).12 No answer on Óláfr’s part is reported. Thus Snorri, with characteristic deftness, sketches a revealing encounter between a king who is careful to spread his favours among his men, and a poet who is brave and staunch but jealous, but for whom proximity to his lord, even in death, trumps all gifts as an index of status. The same wording for the same story is also found in Snorri’s ‘Separate Saga of St Óláfr’.13 The account of the exchange between Þormóðr and Óláfr in Fóstbrœðra saga, Hauksbók text, however, is different in several revealing ways. There the exchange is exclusively between the poet and the king, and it is Óláfr himself who gives the new name Húskarlahvǫt to the ancient Bjarkamál; it is also Óláfr who first mentions Sigvatr, prompted by a non-specific reference, in a stanza recited by Þormóðr, to poets who are not present at the battle; the most significant difference, however, concerns the nature of Þormóðr’s request not to be parted from his lord: Þat er sagt, at Þormóðr var heldr ókátr um daginn fyrir bardagann. Konungr fann þat ok mælti: ‘Hví ertu svá hljóðr, Þormóðr?’ Hann svarar: ‘Því, herra, at mér þykkir eigi víst vera, at vit munim til einnar gistingar í kveld. Nú ef þú heitr mér því, at vit munim til einnar gistingar báðir, þá mun ek glaðr.’ Óláfr konungr mælti: ‘Eigi veit ek, hvárt mín ráð megu um þat til leiðar koma, en ef ek má nǫkkuru um ráða, þá muntu þangat fara í kveld, sem ek fer.’ Þá gladdisk Þormóðr.14 (It is said that Þormóðr was rather gloomy before the battle, during that day. The king noticed it and said, ‘Why are you so quiet, Þormóðr?’ He answers, ‘Because, lord, I don’t think it certain that the two of us will Heimskringla II, p. 362. Heimskringla II, p. 362. 12 Heimskringla II, p. 362. 13 Den store Saga om Olav den hellige, pp. 547–48. 14 Fóstbrœðra saga, pp. 262–64 (Hauksbók text, i.e. main text). 10 11

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David Ashurst both be in one resting place tonight. Now if you promise me that the two of us will both be in one resting place, I will be glad.’ King Óláfr said, ‘I don’t know whether my authority can bring that about, but if I can have my way at all, you will go tonight to the place where I go.’ Then Þormóðr cheered up.) That King Óláfr was accustomed, or was assumed in saga literature to have been accustomed, to sleep in close proximity to several other men is shown by Snorri’s anecdote concerning the Icelander Þórarinn Nefjólfsson: he visited Óláfr for a few days in Túnsberg, and the king ‘talaði við hann’ (talked with him); the natural progression of this friendly rapport, or part of the original invitation, was that ‘svaf Þórarinn í konungsherbergi’ (Þórarinn slept in the king’s chamber); one morning Óláfr found himself awake, ‘en aðrir menn sváfu í herberginu’ (but the other men in the chamber were sleeping), and he noticed that Þórarinn ‘hafði rétt fót annan undan klæðum’ (had stretched one foot out from under the bedclothes).15 There follows some banter in which Þórarinn draws the king into a bet over whether an uglier foot can be found; he claims to have won when he stretches his other leg into view and displays a foot that is no prettier than the first and has a toe missing, which makes it look worse; the king counters by claiming that the absence of an ugly toe makes the foot less repulsive than the other, which has five ugly toes. Points could be made here about the modes of masculinity indicated by the easygoing but competitive early-morning camaraderie between the king and his male subordinate, and by the evidently rueful delight that men can take in the ugliness of their own or one another’s bodies, but the chief relevance of the anecdote to the present discussion is that it illustrates the kind of intimacy and favour that Þormóðr probably has in mind when he asks Óláfr to promise that the two of them will be in one gisting after the battle. The fact that Þormóðr’s words and Óláfr’s response are freighted with ominous connotations of death should not distract the reader from the emotional urgency of the poet’s literal request: he wishes to sleep with his lord, not necessarily in the same bed but close beside him. In the event, the literal fulfilment of the request becomes impossible because Óláfr is cut down in the fight, whereupon Þormóðr moves on to rejoicing in its metaphorical fulfilment: he is pierced by an arrow immediately after saying that it would be better to die than to live, since he would not be in the same gisting as the king that night; then, ‘Því sári varð hann feginn, því at hann þóttisk vita, at þetta sár mun honum at bana verða’ (he grew happy on account of the wound, because he thought he knew that this wound would be the death of him).16 Thus, as the longed for sleep beside the beloved lord has served as a symbol and harbinger of death, so now death serves to confirm the importance and intensity of that longing for the bond of ordinary sleep shared by living men. Heimskringla II, pp. 125–26; see also Den store Saga om Olav den hellige, p. 184, which uses almost identical wording. 16 Fóstbrœðra saga, pp. 268–69 (Hauksbók text). 15

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ The near equivalent emotional pull of men sharing sleep and sharing death is implicit in the Hauksbók text of Fóstbrœðra saga discussed above, but it is made quite clear in the Flateyjarbók version of the same saga, which represents a conflation of a redaction of Fóstbrœðra saga material with Snorri’s ‘Separate Saga of St Óláfr’. Here, Þormóðr’s initial request is reported thus: ‘En sú er bœn mín, konungr, at þér látið okkr hvárki skilja líf né dauða, því at ek vilda fara til einnar gistingar ok þér í kveld’ (but it is my request, sire, that you let the two of us be parted neither alive nor dead, because I would go to one and the same resting place with you tonight).17 This wording shows unmistakably that, for Þormóðr in this moment of existential crisis, there are only two tolerable options: for the king and him to live and sleep in one another’s company, or to die together. The latter is no doubt a consummation, but both are devoutly to be wished.18 It has to be asked whether what is envisaged by Þormóðr here involves something akin to a ‘homosexual Liebestod’ such as that found in Alexanders saga, where two young soldiers die clasping each other, ‘sva var asten heit orðen með þeim’ (so hot had the love between them grown).19 The question is especially reasonable since issues concerning Þormóðr’s sexual behaviour have been a recurrent topic in Fóstbrœðra saga, surfacing briefly in the reference to the rógsmenn (slanderers) who tried to cause trouble between the sworn brothers, according to a verse composed by Þormóðr after Þorgeirr’s death, and re-emerging in the account of the poet’s killing of Falgeirr Þórdísarson, which is redolent of male rape.20 The matter is made overt when King Óláfr asks Þormóðr why he has killed so many people in Greenland, and Þormóðr answers, ‘Illr þótti mér jafnaðr þeira vera við mik, því at þeir jǫfnuðu mér til merar, tǫlðu mik svá vera með mǫnnum sem meri með hestum’ (I took badly to a simile of theirs for me, because they compared me to a mare; they declared me to be among men like a mare among stallions).21 It would therefore be consistent to suggest, from a modern standpoint, that Þormóðr’s desire to be with the king includes an element of erotic longing, probably denied and possibly repressed. From a medieval Norse-Icelandic standpoint, however, Óláfr himself draws the authoritative conclusion to the saga’s 17 18

19 20

21

Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 264 (Flateyjarbók text, i.e. subsidiary text); see also Den store Saga om Olav den hellige, pp. 548 and 822. It is the idea of sleeping with one’s lord as an alternative to, or symbol of, dying with him that is the focus here. For a broader discussion of the ideal of dying with one’s lord as a common topos of medieval literature, see David Clark, ‘Notes on the Medieval Ideal of Dying with One’s Lord’, Notes and Queries 58.4 (2011), 475–84. David Ashurst, ‘The Transformation of Homosexual Liebestod in Sagas Translated from Latin’, Saga-Book 26 (2002), 67–96; Alexanders saga, p. 132. Fóstbrœðra saga, stanza 5, p. 152, and p. 240 respectively. For further discussions of the rógsmenn and their slanders, see Carolyne Larrington, Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature (Woodbridge, 2015), pp. 213–14, and Evans, Men and Masculinities, p. 55. Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 259.

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David Ashurst ‘slander’ theme when he responds to Þormóðr’s statement of the offensive comparison: ‘Várkunn var þat, at þér mislíkaði þeira umrœða; hefir þú ok stórt at gǫrt’ (It was allowable that their talk displeased you; you have also magnificently put things right).22 The poet’s actions, it is clear, speak louder than any words, including his own: that is the level on which the saga works overtly. By his acts of vengeance, Þormóðr shows that he is not like a mare among stallions, and the words of the sainted king confirm this fact; thus the saga goes out of its way to bring the slander theme to a conclusion. In view of this, and irrespective of whatever other voices or ironic undercurrents may be detectable in earlier parts of the saga, Þormóðr’s request to share with the king in sleep or death should be read as the saga’s endorsement of sleeping together as the expression, or cause, of what was primarily a supremely important social, rather than erotic, bond between men. One consequence of this custom and bond between men was that vífs rúnar – rendered above as ‘the intimacies of a wife’ but which could equally well be translated as ‘the secret things of a wife’ – were far from secret, and not even very private. At the highest level of Old Norse society, in the court of kings, this can be illustrated by a passage early in Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar, the life of the Norwegian king Hákon gamli, attributed to Sturla Þórðarson and apparently written by him under the watchful eye of Hákon’s son, King Magnús lagabætir.23 Hákon had been born out of wedlock and his paternity was challenged when he was put forward for the title of king; his mother, Inga, had been due to undergo the ordeal of the hot iron to prove that his father truly was King Hákon Sverrisson, but the standard versions of the saga cast doubt on whether she actually did so.24 The saga account of Hákon’s conception according to the testimony of witnesses is therefore especially important: ‘Inga var í herbergjum Hákonar konungs, ok samrekkði konungr hjá henni, svá at þat vissi Hákon galinn ok fleiri trúnaðarmenn hans’ (Inga stayed in King Hákon [Sverrisson]’s quarters, and the king lay in the same bed next to her, in such a way that Hákon galinn and more of his confidants were aware of it).25 In the context of a man being in bed with a woman, the verb samrekkja (to share a bed) is clearly a euphemism for having sex, similar to the one used by Sigurðr Fáfnisbani, for example, when trying to reason with the suicidal Brynhildr Buðladóttir in Völsunga saga: ‘Gjarna vilda ek at vit stigim á einn beð bæði ok værir þú mín kona’ (I would earnestly wish that the two of us might get into one bed together and you were my wife).26 Hákon galinn and King Hákon’s other confidants, furthermore, were quite Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 259. For the attribution and circumstances of composition, see Sturlunga saga, vol. 2, p. 234. 24 Hákonar saga, vol. 1, p. 194. 25 Hákonar saga, vol. 1, p. 172. 26 Völsunga saga, p. 56. The euphemism for sex is confirmed by the fact that Brynhildr replies with an innuendo: ‘Eigi mun ek eiga tvá konunga í einni hǫll’ (I will not have two kings in one hall). 22 23

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ probably in the same herbergi as the king, just as Þórarinn Nefjólfsson and other men were in the herbergi of Óláfr helgi, or at least they must have been within earshot of Inga and her royal lover, since being aware only that the man and woman shared a bed, and not knowing for certain that they actually had sex, would have weakened the claim that the future King Hákon gamli had been conceived at that time. Hákonar saga takes it for granted that its audiences would understand that Hákon galinn and his comrades could certify that Inga had sex with the king because they heard it, and possibly saw it, for themselves. At a lower level of the social range, sex in farmhouses must often have been something of a spectator sport. Bósa saga ok Herrauðs gives a particularly detailed and specific account of this in the famous quasi-pornographic episodes, the first of which explains that the foster-brothers, Bósi and Herrauðr, arrive at a farmstead and are entertained until everyone retires for the night: ‘Bóndi lá í lokrekkju, en bóndadóttir í miðjum skála, en þeim fóstbræðrum var skipat í stafnsæng við dyrr utar’ (The farmer lay in a bed-closet, but the farmer’s daughter in the middle of the room, and the foster-brothers were assigned a bed in the gable, farther out by the doorway).27 Note that the two young men share one bed. Establishing a pattern that will be repeated twice, with variations, Bósi soon gets up, wakes the farmer’s daughter, engages her in salacious chitchat, gives her a valuable present, has tumultuous sex with her repeatedly, gets her to impart some useful information, and finally goes back to Herrauðr (who is still in bed, it is assumed, before the farmer is up and about) to report on his findings.28 It is notable that the account of this first night-time sortie of Bósi’s gives a nod, at least, in the direction of according a measure of privacy to the sex-partners by saying that Bósi left Herrauðr only ‘er fólk var sofnat’ (when the household was asleep);29 it may be doubted, however, whether Herrauðr would continue to sleep as his companion climbs out of the bed they are sharing, and throughout hours of vigorous sex interspersed with conversation. In any case, for the second similar episode, Bósi does not wait for people to fall asleep, but gets up and goes to the (new) farmer’s daughter ‘þegar at ljós var slokit’ (as soon as the light had been extinguished).30 It must be likely, therefore, that Herrauðr is well aware of what his foster-brother is getting up to a few yards away, although the conventions of this kind of story oblige us to understand that the young woman’s elderly parents are oblivious inside their lokrekkja. There is undoubtedly something of the French fabliau in these episodes although the details of the sleeping arrangements are believably those of a farmhouse in the Old Norse world. A particularly masterful English Bósa saga, at p. 298. Bósa saga, pp. 298–300. For the later iterations, see pp. 308–10 and 315–16. The last iteration abridges the final part of the action. 29 Bósa saga, p. 298. 30 Bósa saga, p. 308. 27 28

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David Ashurst example of the fabliau genre, and one that points up the shared heritage of bed-hopping in a more or less communal sleeping space, in which one man knows that his friend is having sex whilst another does not, is Chaucer’s ‘Reeve’s Tale’; as with the Shakespeare, Melville, and Classical references above, a brief overview of this is appropriate as a means of setting the Old Norse treatment of the topos in its wider cultural context. Two young men are guests at a mill near Cambridge: initially they share a bed; later, one lies awake, aware that the other has gone to have sex with the miller’s daughter; stimulated by this, the less lucky one contrives to have sex with the miller’s wife – all of them being in the same room, where the miller is sleeping soundly. It all goes wrong when one of the young men returns to his friend’s bed, as he thinks, and gleefully crows over his sexual adventure – only to find that he has climbed into the miller’s bed in the dark and that the miller is suddenly wide awake.31 On one level, the comic mix-up over the beds in Chaucer’s tale serves to emphasise the importance of the idea, common also to Old Norse literature, that male bedpartners will split up to have sex with women but then return to each other, as indeed they must if they are to evade detection in circumstances where the sexual activity would be frowned on by the man of the house. In the case of Chaucer’s story, it is easy to imagine that, had there been no mix-up, the crowing of one bedpartner would have been followed by similar boasting from the other, and so the bond between the two young men would have been strengthened by their friendly rivalry over their exploits with women – a perspective on things that is quite recognisable in modern society. A slightly more sober version of this topos is also evident in Bósa saga, since Bósi leaves Herrauðr in their shared bed to go on his pleasureseeking fact-finding missions before returning to him there to report on what the supposedly grateful women had divulged post coitum. Herrauðr must understand the context in which the information has been gathered, even if he may have slept through the process, and is happy to make use of it in the endeavours he shares with his foster-brother. A much more serious French-derived Old Norse work that exhibits the separation-and-return topos between male bedpartners, and incidentally illustrates the conventional understanding that a king is likely to sleep with his wife or female concubine in a room full of other men, is Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar. The latter issue becomes apparent when King Markis has started to suspect his wife, Ísönd, of having an affair with Tristram. A plan is hatched ‘því kóngr vill enn freista þeira í svefnhúsi sínu leyniliga’ (because the king again wants to test them secretly in his bedroom).32 Night comes, and ‘þá lét kóngr engan þar vera nema Tristram einn’ (then the king allowed no man to be present

Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Reeve’s Tale’, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson et al., 3rd edn (Oxford, 1988), pp. 78–84, at lines 4168–270. 32 Tristrams saga, p. 142. 31

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ except Tristram alone).33 It is clear from this that the saga writer takes it for granted that Markis and his wife would frequently be surrounded by other men, and that he is thinking specifically of the king’s high-status warriors is implied by the fact that two other people do remain in the bedroom, namely Ísönd’s maid and ‘hinn illi dvergr’ (the evil dwarf) responsible for the plan of sprinkling flour on the floor so that it will be obvious whether Tristram goes to join Queen Ísönd in the king’s bed once Markis has slipped away.34 The former point, about male sleeping-companions, is well illustrated by an earlier passage, which also emphasises the powerfully emotional nature of the ties that can exist between such men: Tristram átti einn félaga, er hann unni mjök vel með öllum trúnaði ok fögrum félagskap, ok var hann ræðismaðr […] ok var hann kallaðr at nafni Maríadokk. Þeir fylgðuz jafnan, Tristram ok hann, ok höfðu báðir eitt herbergi. Ok bar svá til eina nátt, at þeir svávu báðir samt, ok er ræðismaðr var í sæng kominn í svefn, þá stalz Tristram braut frá honum.35 (Tristram had a certain associate whom he loved very well in all good faith and beautiful fellowship, and he was a counsellor […] and he was called Maríadokk by name. They always accompanied each other, Tristram and he, and the two of them had one room. And it so happened one night that they were sleeping both together, and when the counsellor had fallen asleep in bed, Tristram stole away from him.) Rather like Bósi slipping out of Herrauðr’s bed for one of his encounters, Tristram has slipped out of Meríadokk’s to spend quality time with Ísönd. Unfortunately Meríadokk, who is not at this stage aware of the liaison between his bedpartner and Ísönd, suffers a nightmare, to which he reacts in a way that indicates the easy intimacy between the men: he wakes up ‘af mæði ok angri’ (through exhaustion and grief), reaches for his friend because he wants to tell him about the dream but, finding him gone, gets up out of bed; thinking no ill but puzzled as to why Tristram would have gone out into the night without saying anything, he follows his footprints in the snow; guessing, true to the topos, that there is an erotic adventure involved, he imagines that his félagi is interested in Ísönd’s maid – so he carries on quietly in order to see.36 Thus he discovers the truth and returns silently to the shared room, divided in his loyalties and suffering great perplexity over what he should do. The separation-and-return theme is then completed with what looks like an overt negation of the final element of talking in bed: ‘Sem Tristram kom aptr, þá lagðiz hann í rekkju hjá honum, ok gat hvárrgi fyrir

Tristrams saga, p. 142. Tristrams saga, p. 142. 35 Tristrams saga, p. 132. 36 Tristrams saga, pp. 132 and 134. 33 34

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David Ashurst öðrum’ (When Tristram came back, he lay down in bed next to him, and neither spoke about this to the other).37 The emotional frankness displayed in this romance saga, as seen in the episode discussed above, is not typical of saga narratives in other genres; nevertheless, it is clear that men in native saga narratives not only develop emotional ties to their bedpartners but can also choose them on the basis of an emotional attraction. Snorri’s Heimskringla version of ‘Óláfs saga helga’ offers a good example of this in its account of the friendship that springs up between Ásmundr Grankelsson and Karli inn háleyski (Karli í Langey): Ásmundr has been appointed to a stewardship in Hálogaland by King Óláfr; going north on the business of his stewardship he arrives in Langey and for the first time meets Karli, a wealthy and much respected man whom Snorri says was ‘fríðr sýnum ok skartsmaðr mikill’ (handsome in appearance and a great lover of display); Karli wants to meet King Óláfr, so Ásmundr agrees to take him into his company and to sponsor him when they reach the king; as they sail south, they enquire about the movements of Ásmundr’s enemy, Ásbjǫrn Selsbani Sigurðarson.38 At this point Snorri makes an interjection: ‘Þeir Ásmundr ok Karli váru rekkjufélagar, ok var þar it kærsta’ (Ásmundr and Karli were bedpartners, and there was very great affection there).39 The purpose of this apparent non sequitur seems to be to indicate the motivation for Karli’s support, or at least acquiescence, when Ásmundr kills Ásbjǫrn as their ships chance to pass each other at sea.40 This action ultimately has terrible consequences in that Ásbjǫrn’s avenger, Þórir hundr Þórisson, uses the same spear with which Ásmundr had killed Ásbjǫrn to kill first Karli and then the king himself;41 nevertheless, Snorri is at pains to point out that Ásmundr and Karli themselves tell Óláfr about Karli’s part in the killing of Ásbjǫrn, that Karli becomes Óláfr’s retainer (in fact he later becomes a high-ranking official and business partner of the king’s), and above all that ‘Heldu þeir Ásmundr vel vináttu sína’ (Karli and Ásmundr maintained their friendship staunchly).42 The description of Karli as a skartsmaðr probably relates to the thick torque that he takes from a heathen idol and is wearing at the time of his death, and which is subsequently a source of contention.43 Karli’s love of display fulfils no other role in his story, unless it is that Ásmundr likes the company of flamboyant men. In any case, it is apparent that the two men take to each 37 38

39 40 41 42 43

Tristrams saga, p. 134; the final phrase, however, could be rendered as ‘and neither spoke about it in front of others’. Heimskringla II, pp. 211–12; see also Den store Saga om Olav den hellige, pp. 320–21. In what follows, references will be to the Heimskringla text, but the treatment in the ‘Separate Saga’ is the same. Heimskringla II, p. 212. Heimskringla II, p. 212. Heimskringla II, pp. 233 and 385. Heimskringla II, p. 213; for Karli’s later status, see p. 227. Heimskringla II, pp. 231 and 251.

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ other rapidly and, given their status, are not forced by circumstances to become rekkjufélagar but choose to do so as an expression and deepening of their friendship. The terminology of Snorri’s interjection, together with his approving remark about the friends’ continued staunchness at the royal court, indicates that the relationship between the rekkjufélagar was recognised and accepted for what it was, whilst Óláfr helgi’s acceptance of the men, his subsequent promotion of Karli, and his avenging of Karli’s death, confirm that neither Karli nor Ásmundr was, according to the values of the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, like ‘a mare among stallions’. For this reason, a subsequent interjection by Snorri, quoting the saying that ‘hverr á vin með óvinum’ (every man has a friend among enemies, or alternatively ‘a friend along with enemies’) should not be understood as reflecting badly on the friendship, and on Óláfr’s approval, but as affirming the reality, especially in a feud based society, that every friendship that is faithful and true comes with responsibilities and unpredictable consequences; in this case, the particular consequence is that news of the friendship and of Karli’s supporting role in the killing of Ásbjǫrn reaches Þórir hundr, Ásbjǫrn’s avenger, thus making Karli a target.44 A fine example of a faithful and true friendship that is acted out to the death, in all sober fact, during the thirteenth century, can be found in Hákonar saga (it occurs in 1222, to be precise): a Norwegian ship carrying Ívarr útvík, one of the king’s sýslumenn (stewards), is overwhelmed and capsizes in strong currents and high seas: ‘Jógrímr hét maðr er Ívari kom á kjöl, ok hinn þriði maðr komsk á kjölinn’ (Jógrímr was the name of the man who got Ívarr on to the keel, and a third man got himself on to the keel); a nearby ship puts out a rescue boat, ‘ok kom Jógrímr þeim í bátinn. Ok þá lézk Jógrímr eigi sjá Þorsteinn, félaga sinn, ok hljóp þá enn á sund í röstina. Ok þar lézk hann ok allir þeir er á váru skipinu nema þeir tveir einir, Ívarr ok annarr maðr’ (and Jógrímr got them into the boat. But then Jógrímr said he did not see Þorsteinn, his partner, and then leapt back into the water, into the currents. And there he died with all those who were on the ship except those two alone, Ívarr and the other man).45 Neither Jógrímr nor Þorsteinn is mentioned anywhere else in the saga, so their appearance at this point can have only two functions: first to explain the circumstances of Ívarr’s survival thanks to Jógrímr’s strength and dutifulness towards his superior, and then to impress the reader with Jógrímr’s fidelity to the bond he shares with Þorsteinn, for he does not lose his life on account of general heroics or the desire to save anyone he can find, but because he is seeking that one man, his félagi.46 He accepts the responsibilities and the unpredictable consequences of the bond he has entered Heimskringla II, p. 213. Hákonar saga, vol. 1, pp. 252–3. For the date of these events, see p. 251. 46 As it happens, the saga’s account of Ívarr útvík gives an example of a friendship that is not lived up to: Ívarr becomes sworn brothers with a man called Guðólfr blakkr, ‘ok váru góðir félagar’ (and they were good partners); he shares the stewardship of Oslo with him, ‘ok varði engis nema góðs’ (and expected nothing 44 45

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David Ashurst into, even though it costs him his life – and who can doubt that a powerful emotional commitment is part of this? Given that they are at sea together, it is likely that Jógrímr and Þorsteinn are húðfatsfélagar, a húðfat being literally a ‘hide-vessel’, hence a kind of leather travel bag, especially a sea-bag that could partly be used to sleep in as well as to carry goods in, and the term húðfatsfélagar being used as an equivalent to rekkjufélagar (or indeed hvílufélagar, another obvious term for bedpartners).47 It is so used, in fact, in Hákonar saga just a page or two after the anecdote of Jógrímr’s death has been narrated: Skúli jarl, stationed mostly in Túnsberg¸ has received intelligence about the Ribbungar, the opponents of the king and him, and decides to send a force against them; he orders that ‘þar sem húðfatsfélagar váru tveir skyldu þeir hluta með sér hvárr fara skyldi. Þeir váru rekkjufélagar, Þórir flík ok Játgeirr skáld, ok hlaut Játgeirr at fara’ (where there were two húðfatsfélagar, they were to cast lots between them as to which was to go. Þórir flík and Játgeirr the poet were bedpartners, and Játgeirr drew the lot to go).48 The félagar duly split up, Játgeirr goes off with the army, there is a battle on Kýrfjall in which the Ribbungar are killed or put to flight, Skúli’s men return to Túnsberg, and Þórir asks his old mate how the expedition has gone. At this point Játgeirr recites a scornful verse, which will be the last passage to be discussed here; it returns to the theme enunciated by Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld in his recitation of Bjarkamál and encapsulates several of the issues elaborated above: Rjóðr, sá ek hlækinn heðna, hjaldrdrifs, á Kýrfjalli, stirðaurriða storðar, stórfjarri mér Þóri. Þat frá ek líkn, þá er lékum, lungtorgs, við Ribbunga, dásinn lá at við dísi dvergranns í Túnsbergi.49 (Reddener of the sword [battle-drift > flight of arrows, ground of the flight of arrows > shield, stiff trout of the shield > sword], on Kýrfjall I saw the snuggly Þórir furry-tunic a very long way from me. I heard it was his heart’s [lung market-place > breast = heart] comfort, as we but good); however, he is attacked and robbed by Guðólfr and his men. Hákonar saga, vol. 1, p. 229. 47 See Fritzner, s.v. húðfat and húðfatsfélagi. Þorleifur Hauksson, Sverrir Jakobsson, and Tor Ulset regard the primary function of a húðfat as being that of a sleepingbag: ‘svefnpoki úr skinni, sem men notuðu einkum á ferðalögum’; Hákonar saga, vol. 1, p. 254, n. 1. 48 Hákonar saga, vol. 1, p. 254. 49 Hákonar saga, vol. 1, stanza 16, p. 254. See also Játgeirr Torfason, ‘Lausvísa’, ed. Kari Ellen Gade, in Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2, ed. Kari Ellen Gade (Turnhout, 2009), pp. 652–53.

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ sported with the Ribbungar, that the loafer lay with a woman [dwarfhouse > stone, goddess of stone > woman] in Túnsberg.) This is the sole surviving stanza by the Icelander Játgeirr Torfason, but he is listed in Skádatal as having composed poems for several rulers in Norway and Denmark;50 the anecdote above marks his first appearance in Hákonar saga, but he goes on in the subsequent account to be a valued retainer of Skúli jarl, siding with him against King Hákon and meeting his death as the eventual result of a failed diplomatic mission on Skúli’s behalf.51 Here one can observe a variation of the separation-and-return topos where, in this case, it is the male bedpartner remaining in the shared bed who has sex with a woman while the other partner goes off on the manly pursuits of war, and it is the one who does not have sex who gives a report on sexual activity to the one who does. The warrior’s disdain for sex with women, as outlined at the start of this discussion and visible in the lines quoted from Bjarkamál, is clearly present in Játgeirr’s second helmingr, as is the misogyny that is bound to underlie such sentiments: it is not certain whether the kenning for ‘woman’ used here is pejorative in its connotations although it does, in a manner, link Þórir’s sex-partner with dwarfs; however, it is unmistakable in any case that Játgeirr’s gibe depends on the idea that Þórir, who used to sleep with a proper man who goes soldiering, now lolls in bed with a mere woman – a ‘kicky-wicky’, as Shakespeare puts it.52 The concern about a male ‘spending his manly marrow’ is also present:53 the designation of Þórir as dásinn is a double-edged insult. Taken as a noun, dásinn means ‘the lazy man’ (hence ‘loafer’, as translated above, or, as Gade suggests, ‘sluggard’);54 taken as an adjective, it means ‘lazy’ or ‘sluggish’.55 Játgeirr’s insult gets its twofold force partly from the idea that a layabout is exactly the kind of man who will waste his time in dalliance with women, which informs the insult against Grettir Ásmundarson quoted above, and partly from the alleged fact that even a brisk man will become sluggish if he is too often in the company of women, expending his ‘marrow’ – which informs the abovementioned insult against Glúmr Óleifsson.56 There may, furthermore, be a certain level of seepage between the connotations of the stanza’s adjective dásinn (spelled dasinn by Guðbrandur Vigfússon in his dictionary and his edition of Hakonar Saga [sic.]) and the term dasaðr (exhausted, spent), which are linked semantically by the concept of enervation.57 50

Játgeirr Torfason, ‘Lausvísa’, p. 652. Hákonar saga, vol. 2, pp. 35, 45, 59, 70, and 118. 52 See note 4 above. Shakespeare, All’s Well, II.iii, line 277. 53 Shakespeare, All’s Well, II.iii, line 278. 54 Játgeirr Torfason, ‘Lausvísa’, p. 652. See also Lexicon poeticum, s.v. dási. 55 See Lexicon poeticum, s.v. dásinn. 56 See notes 3 and 6 above. 57 Cleasby-Vigfússon, sv. dasinn; Hakonar Saga and a Fragment of Magnus Saga, ed. Gudbrand Vigfusson (London, 1887), p. 72. 51

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David Ashurst It will be apparent from the above that Játgeirr’s second helmingr is largely conventional in substance. Likewise, in the first helmingr, the phallic imagery of the ‘stiff trout’ is standard fare although its use in the present context is especially appropriate.58 If it is asked whether there was any real animus on Játgeirr’s part – and, if so, why – it would be easy to imagine that it stemmed from envy: the poet has risked his life in battle and suffered the discomforts of active service in the field, so he envies the ease and sexual gratification that his old mate has been enjoying, and he expresses that envy by hitting out with the usual hostile tropes. In addition to envy, however, could Játgeirr have been motivated by a species of jealousy? Could he have felt that Þórir was ‘his’ and that the woman was taking him away? Given the Christian social conventions of Iceland and Norway at the time (again, this was happening in 1222) and the importance of ergi as a concept, it is unlikely that a poet would imply that he had sexual relations, or wanted to have them, with another man, so the possibility that Játgeirr was expressing a lover’s jealousy should be discounted.59 Men who regularly shared a bed, nevertheless, must also have shared a level of intimacy that would seem odd, or even erotic, to many people in the modern world, especially in the West: unless medieval Scandinavian men were physiologically and psychologically different from Renaissance and modern men in radical ways, they must have been aware of one another’s erotic dreams, as illustrated by the Othello quotation above; they must have seen or felt one another’s morning erections; they would not habitually have slept without touching, like Brynhildr and Sigurðr with a sword between them as a preventative measure that would have been redundant between men.60 There is no reason to believe that 58

For a discussion of aspects of the use of phallic imagery in Old Norse skaldic verse, see Kari Ellen Gade, ‘Penile Puns: Personal Names and Phallic Symbols in Skaldic Poetry’, Essays in Medieval Studies: Proceedings of the Illinois Medieval Association 6 (1989), 57–67. 59 For the date, see Hákonar saga, vol. 1, pp. 251 and 255. Concerning ergi, see Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983), pp. 18–20. 60 See note 8 above: Shakespeare, Othello, III.iv, lines 418 and 426–29. Völsunga saga, pp. 50 and 61. It is possible, or even likely, that particular pairs of bedpartners were lovers and/or that they engaged in sexual intercourse. Given the heavy emphasis on the shame a man would be subjected to on account of ergi, and in particular of being supposed sorðinn (sexually penetrated – see Sørensen, Unmanly Man, pp. 17–18), it is also possible that men, whom the modern world would see as primarily heterosexual, engaged in non-penetrative activities, such as mutual or communal masturbation, without regarding them as ‘real’ sex. Some slight evidence for communal masturbation may be detectable in stanza 2 of Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa, in which Björn contrasts the activities of himself, and possibly the crew of the ship he is on, with the sexual intercourse enjoyed by his beloved Oddný and her husband: Oddný is vigorously bounced on the feather-bed, ‘meðan vel stinna vinnum […] ǫ́r’ (while we [or ‘I’, since the skaldic plural may be in use here] labour to make the soft oar properly stiff); Bjarnar saga, stanza 2.5 and 6. For a well-evidenced discussion of the likelihood that men in an Early Modern

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ such routine intimacies were an embarrassment to rekkjufélagar, and every reason to suppose that they were a part of the special bond, both comfortable and comforting, between the particular men who shared them; therefore it is reasonable to conclude that they could, in themselves, be the basis for jealousy if they were shared with another person, especially a woman, over a period of time. In the case of Játgeirr’s stanza, there may be a hint of this. The use of the term hlækinn (translated above as ‘snuggly’) as an epithet for Þórir is striking. Gade suggests ‘cuddly’ as the translation, whilst Finnur Jónsson, in Lexicon poeticum, gives kælen, umandig (affectionate or amorous, unmanly).61 Finnur catches the complexity of the potential insult, since to be ‘affectionate’ or ‘amorous’ can, in some circumstances, be ‘unmanly’, but Gade catches the physical reality: if Játgeirr’s intention is to disparage Þórir at this point in the stanza, then hlækinn implies that he is a soft unmanly man who enjoys caresses and the comfort of sleepy physical contact like a child or pet dog; in the context of the saga narrative, however, it is impossible not to notice that, if Þórir is indeed a cuddler, Játgeirr is the person best placed to know. The nickname-epithet heðni, from heðinn, furthermore, is intriguing because it implies some kind of hairy covering (or lack of it) on the upper body: Lexicon poeticum gives skind, skindpels (skin, fur); Fritzner gives laaden Skindkjortel (leather skin-tunic); Zoëga gives ‘jacket of fur or skin’; Gade suggests ‘woolly-shirt’.62 Lexicon poeticum and Gade note that the term relates to Þórir’s nickname, flík, which signifies a part, or flap, of clothing;63 this is certainly the case, but it does not explain why Játgeirr’s term is associated with a pelt or hide. In the context of bedsharing, an obvious answer would be that it is a reference to Þórir’s hirsute (or, alternatively, glabrous) body, with which Játgeirr would be intimately acquainted. Although they look like a couple of taunts, therefore, hlækinn and heðni can be read together as an angry proclamation of intimacy, an indignant claiming of knowledge and hence of the person, an expression of a recognised and acceptable jealousy. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson above all others – but also Durrenberger and Gísli Pálsson, Gaskins, Auður Magnúsdóttir, Miller, and Byock – has written

context could fail to recognise as real sex the activities they engaged in while in bed together, see Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London, 1982), pp. 67–69. The present discussion does not seek to argue that any sexual activity, whether recognised as such or not, actually took place between male bedpartners; nor would the analysis above be affected if it did. It has already been argued that, if Játgeirr had what was recognised as sex with Þórir, he would not have drawn attention to the fact; on the other hand, if he and Þórir engaged in activities that did not count as real sex, they would simply be numbered among the standard intimacies. 61 Játgeirr Torfason, ‘Lausvísa’, p. 652; Lexicon poeticum, s.v. hlœkinn. 62 Lexicon poeticum, s.v. heðinn; Fritzner, s.v. heðinn; Zoëga, s.v. heðinn; Játgeirr Torfason, ‘Lausvísa’, pp. 652 and 653. 63 Lexicon poeticum, s.v. heðinn; Játgeirr Torfason, ‘Lausvísa’, p. 653.

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David Ashurst extensively on friendship in the Old Norse world.64 In general the focus has been on the practical and political benefits of friendship, how friendship intersected with kinship, how it was facilitated and regulated by law or mitigated the law, how it affected or informed relations between Icelandic chieftains or Norwegian rulers and men of lower status, how it was drawn into the teachings of the Church, how it related to the formation of networks and how these contributed to the establishment of state-like social entities, and how it helped keep those entities in a condition of evolution or dynamic stability.65 The above discussion, in contrast, has focused on saga representations of shared sleeping arrangements between men, primarily the sharing of beds, and has sought to show how these practices were both the basis and the expression of powerful bonds, pragmatic and emotional, that informed the behaviour, attitudes, and aspirations of the individuals who entered into them. Laws and other binding norms were, of course, a part of these bonds – men who went on seafaring expeditions and became huðfatsfélagar, for example, made legal agreements and incurred legal responsibilities – but they have not been discussed here; rather it has been shown that the anecdotes represented above make complete sense on their own terms, and that legal considerations, whilst relevant, are not essential. At the same time the discussion has foregrounded kinds of masculine performance that are no longer current, at least in the forms investigated here, and which are not always fully recognised by modern readers, who are apt to think in terms of modern hetero-normativity and of actual or repressed homosexuality. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Viking Friendship: The Social Bond in Iceland and Norway, c. 900–1300 (Ithaca, 2017); Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, ‘Friendship in the Icelandic Free State Society’, in From Sagas to Society: Comparative Approaches to Early Iceland, ed. Gísli Pálsson (Enfield Lock, 1992), pp. 205–15; Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, ‘Forholdet mellom frender, hushold og venner på Island i fristatstiden’, Historisk tidskrift 74 (1995), 311–30; Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, ‘The Changing Role of Friendship in Iceland, c. 900–1300’, in Friendship and Social Networks in Scandinavia, c. 1000–1800, ed. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson and Thomas Småberg (Turnhout, 2013), pp. 43–64; E. Paul Durrenberger and Gísli Pálsson, ‘The Importance of Friendship in the Absence of States, According to the Icelandic Sagas’, in The Anthropology of Friendship, ed. Sandra Bell and Simon Coleman (Oxford, 1999), pp. 59–77; Richard Gaskins, ‘Political Development in Early Iceland: Applying Network Theory to the Sagas’, in Applications of Network Theories, ed. Susanne Kramarz-Bein and Birge Hilsmann (Berlin, 2014), pp. 10–33; Auður Magnúsdóttir, ‘“Þeir Kjartan ok Bolli unnusk mest”: Om kärlek och svek i Laxdæla saga’, in ‘Vi ska alla vara välkomna!’ Nordiska studier tillägnade Kristinn Jóhannesson, ed. Auður Magnúsdóttir, Henrik Janson et al. (Gothenburg, 2008), pp. 65–81; William Ian Miller, ‘Justifying Skarphéðinn: Of Pretext and Politics in the Icelandic Bloodfeud’, Scandinavian Studies 55 (1983), 316–44; William Ian Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland (Chicago, 1990), p. 107; Jesse L. Byock, Feud in the Icelandic Saga (Berkeley,1982), pp. 42, 75, and 217; Jesse L. Byock, Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power (Berkeley, 1988), pp. 131–32; Jesse L. Byock, Viking Age Iceland (London, 2001), p. 135. 65 For a discussion of friendship in an ecclesiastical context, see also Carl Phelpstead’s chapter in the present volume. 64

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Male Bedpartners and the ‘Intimacies of a Wife’ That a man can cease to be manly through having sex with women, as implied by Játgeirr’s stanza and in other passages featured above, remains counter-intuitive to many people; that a soldier such as Játgeirr, in a society deeply anxious about any loss of masculinity, can publicly express irate jealousy over the cuddles of a hairy man in bed, and yet not be confessing to homosexual desires, will seem odd, or preposterous, to many who have just read the argument here; and that male bedpartners would typically split up in order to have sex with women before returning to the shared bed to reaffirm the primacy of the male bond – as again touched on in Játgeirr’s stanza and elsewhere in this discussion – will strike many as being either a male fantasy or, if real, just yet another manifestation of masculine hegemony and the depersonalising of women (as indeed it was). The kinds of expected male practice, and hence the form of masculinity, that have been teased out of the various texts discussed here display some limited similarities to several masculinities that can be observed in current society, but the differences are profound. The primacy of the male bond that is reaffirmed after the male-bonded pairs, or groups, have split up to have sex with relatively depersonalised women finds a correlative in the modern stereotype of lad or frat boy culture, but the routine sharing of a bed, and all the intimacy that goes with it, plays no part in the stereotype. The easy-going and normally non-sexual sharing of beds is to some extent paralleled by the habits of modern sportsmen, especially in their university days, when their teams or clubs travel to an away match or race, and the choice of who shares a bed with whom can be recognised and articulated as having emotional resonance: ‘You pick someone you trust, and it deepens your friendship.’66 This is not so very far removed in spirit from the medieval bedsharing discussed above, but it is profoundly different in that it is occasional behaviour that fulfils a specific purpose, and there is no expectation that the bedpartners will continue to sleep together every night unless their friendship turns into a love affair; rather, there is a strong expectation that they will not. In fact, none of the masculinities observable in the modern cultures of the western world makes a good fit, despite some parallels, with the forms of expected masculine behaviour displayed by male bedpartners as portrayed in Old Norse literature: their masculinity appears as something very rich but strange. Possibly strangest of all to many modern readers but familiar to medieval audiences is a matter not expressed by Játgeirr, and that is the religious aspect of bedsharing. No medieval Christian could hear the story of how Jógrímr hurled himself back into the deadly currents in order to search for his félagi without thinking of Christ’s saying, in John’s Gospel, that ‘greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.67 The understanding they would take from the story is that the bond between male 66

Max Robinson, Men’s Captain of Durham University Boat Club 2016–17, in conversation with the author. Quoted with permission. 67 John 15:13.

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David Ashurst partners, especially but not exclusively between male bedpartners, could inspire the greatest of all loves. The reply of King Óláfr helgi to Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld’s request before the battle of Stiklastaðir, ‘muntu þangat fara í kveld, sem ek fer’ (tonight you will go to the place where I go), would also have unmistakable biblical resonance for a medieval audience, for whom the words of the soon to be martyred saint would parallel those of Christ on the Cross to the thief who was about to die with him: ‘To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’68 Nothing could say more about the importance of the subject of this discussion for an Old Norse audience than that the author of Fóstbrœðra saga should take a poet’s desire to be with his lord in paradise and affirm as its earthly symbol and correlative the wish to be beside him in the here and now, sleeping with him.

68

Fóstbrœðra saga, p. 264 (Hauksbók text, i.e. main text); Luke 23:43.

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Companions, Conflicts, and Concubines: Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups Carl Phelpstead

In the Middle Ages, as today, there were a number of different ways in which one could be a man.1 Some medieval men, in Iceland as elsewhere in Europe, performed their gender as clergymen. Scholarship on clerical gender identity has, however, ‘lagged behind other studies of medieval gender’, as Jennifer D. Thibodeaux has noted.2 The relatively small amount of work so far done on Old Norse masculinities has, with only a few exceptions, focused on genres other than the biskupasögur (bishops’ sagas) and has consequently neglected specifically clerical masculinities.3 As Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir has recently remarked, ‘The topic of masculinity in the bishops’ sagas has been studied somewhat, but the corpus as a whole offers new readings for future scholars’.4 Old Norse-Icelandic literary studies in general have neglected the fourteenth century in comparison with earlier periods, though that situation has been changing in recent years: Erika Sigurdson’s characterization of the study of fourteenth-century Icelandic literature as a ‘nascent field’ stands 1

2

3

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Note, for example, the emphasis on multiple masculinities – different expectations of men in different walks of life – in Ruth Mazo Karras’s From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (Philadelphia, 2002), especially pp. 1 and 3. Jennifer D. Thibodeaux, ‘Introduction: Rethinking the Medieval Clergy and Masculinity’, in Negotiating Clerical Identities: Priests, Monks and Masculinity in the Middle Ages, ed. Jennifer D. Thibodeaux (New York, 2010), pp. 1–15, at p. 2. See, however, Ásdís Egilsdóttir’s contribution to this volume. Although the bishops’ sagas provide the most extensive evidence for clerical masculinities in the Norse-speaking world, other kinds of text can also be revealing, especially of lay attitudes towards clerical masculinity: see, for example, the use made of evidence from Orkneyinga saga and other texts in my discussion of the tonsure and clerical effeminacy in Carl Phelpstead, ‘Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Hair Loss, the Tonsure, and Masculinity in Medieval Iceland’, Scandinavian Studies 85.1 (2013), 1–19, at pp. 10–14. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘Gender’, in The Routledge Research Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas, ed. Ármann Jakobsson and Sverrir Jakobsson (London, 2017), pp. 226–39, at p. 239, n. 83.

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Carl Phelpstead despite the contribution of her recent monograph to the field’s development.5 In the study of Old Norse masculinities, therefore, both the bishops’ sagas and the fourteenth century have been relatively neglected in comparison with other genres and earlier periods. This essay addresses both areas of neglect by examining masculinity in Lárentíus saga biskups, a life of Bishop Laurentius Kálfsson of Hólar, who was born in 1267, was consecrated bishop of the northern Icelandic see in 1324, and died there in 1331.6 Two vellum manuscripts of Lárentíus saga, survive: AM 406 a I 4to, from c. 1530 (known as A), and an abbreviated version in AM 180 b fol., from c. 1500 (the B text). The end is missing in both manuscripts, but some other lacunae can be filled from the paper manuscript AM 404 4to (referred to as Þ).7 The prologue to the saga states that its author was in Laurentius’s service and that he drew both on the bishop’s own words and on Icelandic annals. He is thought to be Einarr Hafliðason (1307–93), who appears frequently in the saga as a close friend of Laurentius and who was the author of a set of annals closely related to the saga text, the Lögmannsannáll.8 The saga covers the period 1267–1331 and was probably written in the third quarter of the fourteenth century, certainly after 1346.9 As a fourteenth-century text, Lárentíus saga offers insights into a somewhat different clerical milieu from that encountered in earlier texts. Erika Sigurdson has pointed out that the Icelandic Church underwent a transformation in the late thirteenth century as bishops reformed the systems of church ownership and canon law and, from 1275 onwards, enforced clerical celibacy.10 She also notes that Lárentíus saga is the only full-length bishop’s saga written about the fourteenth-century Church. As such it is an important source of

Erika Sigurdson, The Church in Fourteenth-Century Iceland: The Formation of an Elite Clerical Identity (Leiden, 2016), p. 1. 6 I follow the Íslenzk fornrit edition of the saga in writing its title as Lárentíus saga but spelling the eponymous bishop’s name as Laurentius. Árni Björnsson’s earlier edition, on which the Íslenzk fornrit edition (ed. Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir) is based, used the same spelling in the title as it used for the bishop’s name: Laurentius saga biskups (Reykjavík, 1969). 7 Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir’s Íslenzk fornrit edition prints the A and B versions one above the other. Quotations from the saga in this essay are from the A text (in the Íslenzk fornrit edition). 8 Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir summarizes both the arguments in favour of Einarr’s authorship and what is known of his life (Biskupa sögur III, pp. lxiv–lxxv). She also details the saga’s intertextual relations with annals, letters, and other bishops’ sagas (pp. lxxxiv–xciii) and compares the two surviving versions of the saga, listing material in only one or other of the two versions (pp. xciii–c). 9 On the dating see Árni Björnsson, Laurentius saga, pp. ix and lxvii; Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir, Biskupa sögur III, pp. lxvii; Sigurdson, Church, p. 33. 10 Sigurdson, Church, pp. 10 and 21 and Orri Vésteinsson, The Christianization of Iceland: Priests, Power, and Social Change 1000–1300 (Oxford, 2000), pp. 234–37. 5

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Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups information both about the clerical society it describes, and about the preoccupations of its influential writer.11 The earliest bishops’ sagas, devoted to the saint bishops Þorlákr of Skálholt (d. 1193) and Jón of Hólar (d. 1121), were written very shortly after the sanctity of Þorlákr and Jón was recognised by the Alþing in 1198 and 1200 respectively. The earliest versions of Þorláks saga helga and Jóns saga helga were soon followed by accounts of Þorlákr’s predecessors and successor at Skálholt (in Hungrvaka and Páls saga biskups respectively). Further redactions of the sagas of Þorlákr and Jón were produced in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and Árna saga biskups, about Bishop Árni Þorláksson of Skálholt (d. 1298), was written early in the fourteenth century. Following the translatio of his bones in 1315, four different versions of a saga of Bishop Guðmundr Arason of Hólar (d. 1237) were composed in the first half of the fourteenth century, all drawing on material in earlier contemporary sagas, including the so-called Prestssaga Guðmundar biskups written soon after Guðmundr’s death.12 Several other bishops’ sagas were thus written in the fourteenth century, but only Lárentíus saga (the latest of the bishops’ sagas) recounts the life of a bishop who himself lived in that century.13 As a text both by and about clerics who lived in the fourteenth century, Lárentíus saga is therefore a unique source of evidence for late medieval Icelandic and Norwegian clerical masculinities and it has has not yet received the attention it merits.14 Church, p. 35. On the bishops’ sagas in general see: Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Eru biskupasögur til?’, Skáldskaparmál 2 (1992), 207–20; there is an overview of the genre and a study specifically of Lárentíus saga in Jørgen Højgaard Jørgensen, Bispesagaer – Laurentius saga: Studier i Laurentius saga biskups, indledt af overvejelser omkring biskupa sogur som litterar genre, Udgivelsesudvalgets samling af studenterafhandlinger 12 (Odense, 1978). On the whole, critics have neglected the bishops’ sagas written in the fourteenth century; these sagas have recently begun to attract more attention, but not, as yet, from the perspective of gender studies: on the sagas of Guðmundr Arason see Joanna A. Skórzewska, Constructing a Cult: The Life and Veneration of Guðmundr Arason (1161–1237) in the Icelandic Written Sources (Leiden, 2011); on Árna saga biskups see Richard Cole, ‘Árna saga biskups / Kafka / Bureaucracy / Desire’, Collegium Medievale 28 (2015), 37–69 and Haki Antonsson, ‘Árna saga biskups as Literature and History’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 116.3 (2017), 261–85; a rare recent article on Lárentíus saga is Fulvio Ferrari, ‘La Lárentíus saga biskups nel sistema letterario antico nordico’, in Intorno alle saghe norrene: 14° Seminario avanzato in filologia germanica, ed. Carla Falluomini (Alessandria, 2014), pp. 3–24. 13 A brief þáttr survives about a fourteenth-century bishop of Skálholt, the Norwegian Jón Halldórsson (bishop 1323–39), but Lárentíus saga is the only full-length account of a fourteenth-century Icelandic bishop. For Söguþáttur af Jóni Halldórssyni biskupi see Biskupa sögur III, pp. cii–cxiv and 443–56. 14 Neither of the studies of masculinity in the bishops’ sagas to which Jóhanna Friðriksdóttir refers in her account of research on gender in Icelandic sagas makes any mention of Lárentíus saga: see Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Með karlmannlegri hughreysti og hreinni trú’, in Hugvísindaþing 2005: Erindi af ráðstefnu Hugvísindadeildar og 11 Sigurdson,

12

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Carl Phelpstead Scholars have disagreed about whether medieval clerics are appropriately regarded as masculine. R. N. Swanson proposes that they are better regarded as an ‘emasculine’ third gender, given that they were forbidden the two typically masculine activities of bearing arms and having sex.15 P. H. Cullum more convincingly argues that there were different masculinities, different ways of being male, appropriate to lay men and clerics.16 In any case, though late medieval clerics were certainly meant to abstain from sex and violence, Lárentíus saga reveals that both conflict and copulation were common occupations of clergy in northern Europe. The world that Laurentius inhabits is an almost completely masculine one – or it might be more accurate to say that he inhabits a set of almost completely masculine environments in which almost all the people with whom he interacts are male. The following exploration of his world assumes that gender is performative (it is something that people do rather than something they are or have and is therefore not something given once for all, but is continually (en)acted).17 It also assumes that gender is socially constructued (performance of gender takes place in relation to other people and the contingent gender repertoire capable of performance within any given culture is created in community).18 At one or two points, my analysis of Lárentíus saga also draws on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of the homosocial and her insight into the ways in which patriarchal cultures use women to create or strengthen bonds between men.19 Gender is thus here regarded as an inescapably social phenomenon. Sigurdson has similarly noted that ‘social networks were an integral part of

15

16 17

18 19

Guðfræðideildar Háskóla Íslands 18. november 2005, ed. Haraldur Bernharðsson, Margrét Guðmundsdóttir, Ragnheiður Kristjánsdóttir, and Þórdís Gísladóttir (Reykjavík, 2006), pp. 31–40, repr. in Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Fræðinæmi: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur (Reykjavík, 2016), pp. 146–56, and Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Hinn fullkomni karlmaður: Ímyndarsköpun fyrir biskupa á 13. öld’, Studia theologica islandica 25 (2007), 119–30. R. N. Swanson, ‘Angels Incarnate: Clergy and Masculinity from Gregorian Reform to Reformation’, in Masculinity in Medieval Europe, ed. Dawn Hadley (London, 1999), pp. 160–77. P. H. Cullum, ‘Clergy, Masculinity and Transgression in Late Medieval England’, in Masculinity, ed. Hadley, pp. 178–96; cf. Karras, Boys to Men, pp. 161–62. A performative theory of gender is most influentially articulated in Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Tenth Anniversary edition (New York, 1999). Compare also the focus on becoming male in medieval Europe in Karras, Boys to Men, and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler, eds, Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (New York, 1997). See the introduction to this volume for fuller discussion of these theoretical axioms. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York, 1985). I have previously made use of Sedgwick’s work in interpreting an Icelandic saga in my ‘The Sexual Ideology of Hrólfs saga kraka’, Scandinavian Studies 75.1 (2003), 1–24.

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Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups the clerical identity’ in fourteenth-century Iceland.20 The following exploration of clerical masculinities in Lárentíus saga is accordingly organised around three types of relationship. First, I consider the importance of one-toone male friendships involving Laurentius. I then look at his involvement in different kinds of male homosocial community. Finally, I examine the way in which the few women who attain any prominence in the saga are presented in terms of their relationships to men.

Companions: Male-Male Friendship Throughout his adult life Laurentius forms a series of warm friendships with other men who in almost all cases are also clerics. When he is ordained priest Laurentius becomes good friends with séra Hafliði Steinsson, the father of the saga’s probable author.21 Hafliði is the steward at Hólar and it is said that ‘Laurentius váttaði oftsinnis síðan at hann hefði honum verit traustastr maðr í vínáttu’ (Laurentius often afterwards testified that he [Hafliði] had been a most trusty friend to him).22 Later in life, when he finds that Brother Björn, his fellow emissary to Iceland from the archbishop of Trondheim (Niðarós), is in league against him with Bishop Jörundr of Hólar, Laurentius turns to Hafliði for advice, though he rejects Hafliði’s suggestion that he should return to Norway with Björn.23 Returning to Norway after Björn has poisoned the atmosphere against him, Laurentius is imprisoned by the cathedral chapter. He is sent back to Iceland in some disgrace after the accession of the new archbishop but is warmly welcomed back by Hafliði, who treats him like a bishop and correctly predicts that he will become bishop of Hólar.24 Laurentius’s friendship with Hafliði must have enabled him to get to know Hafliði’s son, Einarr, from an early age and the two men become close friends. The saga’s Prologue makes clear that its author, believed to be Einarr, had close links with the bishop, spending night and day in his service at Hólar. On his first appearance as a character in the narrative Einarr is introduced as the son of Laurentius’s great friend, Hafliði.25 After Laurentius becomes bishop of Hólar in 1324 he always has Einarr as his deacon at mass; Einarr is described as the man ‘hvern hann elskaði framast af öllum sínum klerkum ok helt hann fyrir sinn sannan trúnaðarmann’ (whom he loved beyond

Church, p. 118. Séra is an honorific given to clergymen. It corresponds to English ‘Sir’, a title commonly used for priests in medieval England. The equivalent in modern usage would be ‘Father’ or ‘Reverend’. Lárentíus saga, p. 232. Translations are my own, but are indebted to the only published English translation of the saga: Oliver Elton, trans., The Life of Laurence Bishop of Hólar in Iceland (Laurentius saga) by Einar Haflidason (London, 1890). Lárentíus saga, pp. 284–85. Lárentíus saga, p. 309. Lárentíus saga, p. 309.

20 Sigurdson, 21

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23 24 25

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Carl Phelpstead all his clergy and held to be his true and trusty friend).26 The emotional nature of the bond (elskaði) is particularly noteworthy here, especially in the context of recent claims, to be considered below, about the utilitarian rather than affective nature of friendship in the Norse-speaking world prior to the fourteenth century. Einarr is entrusted with oversight of the episcopal cellar and he is said to read to the bishop in the evenings.27 During his final illness Laurentius leans on Einarr when he goes to High Mass each day. In his final recorded speech to his deacon Laurentius expresses regret that he has not been able to ordain Einarr priest as he intended: ‘Er hann ok svá af mínum lærisveinum at ekki hefir mér í móti gert meðan hann hefir verit í minni þjónustu’ (he is the one pupil of mine who has never done anything against me while he has been in my service).28 During his first visit to Norway Laurentius befriends a Flemish canon lawyer who had arrived in Trondheim shortly before him, Jón flæmingi.29 Jón is described as a great scholar and Archbishop Jörundr tells Laurentius to stop composing verse and turn instead to the study of canon law with Jón. Emphasizing that medieval masculinity involved proving oneself superior to other men, Ruth Mazo Karras has shown how university education was one way of achieving this; a similar strategy is in play here, with Sigurdson noting that in late medieval Iceland and Norway ‘the clerical elite made particular use of canon law as a marker of learning and identity’.30 Humour is an important aspect of the close friendship that develops between the two clerics: Laurentius makes fun of Jón’s inability to speak Norse when the Fleming asks for his help in obtaining a Trondheim benefice and later when he wishes to greet an Icelandic visitor: ‘Laurentio þótti mikit gaman at Jóni ok sagði: “Heilsaðu honum svá: Fagnaðarlauss kompán!”’ (Laurentius thought he would make great fun of Jón and said, “Greet him in this way: Joyless companion!”).31 The Icelandic visitor is not amused. Humour also figures in the friendship between Laurentius and a certain herra Pétr af Eiði (Lord Peter) who becomes close friends with Laurentius when he visits Iceland,32 and who makes fun of Laurentius’s seasickness when the future bishop accompanies him back to Norway. When he is released from prison in Norway and is sent back to Iceland Laurentius becomes a monk. At this time he befriends the Icelandic monk and Lárentíus saga, p. 374. Lárentíus saga, p. 379. 28 Lárentíus saga, p. 438. 29 Jón is, incidentally, not the first Fleming whom Laurentius befriends: during the same visit he becomes friends with Þrándr fisiler, Thrand Cracker (pp. 237–38). 30 Sigurdson, Church, p. 27. Cf. Karras, Boys to Men, pp. 10–11 and chapter 3: ‘Separating the Men from the Beasts: Medieval Universities and Masculine Formation’. 31 Lárentíus saga, p. 244. 32 ‘Kom sira Laurentius sér í kærleika ok vináttu viðr herra Pétr’, p. 234 (Sir Laurentius became dear friends with Lord Peter). 26 27

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Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups hagiographer, Bergr Sokkason. When he later becomes bishop-elect of Hólar, Laurentius makes Bergr head of Þverá monastery, confirming him as Abbot of Munkaþverá after his own consecration as bishop.33 Bergr and Laurentius are said to be ‘dearest friends’ (‘í kærligri vináttu’). A number of common factors emerge from this survey of Laurentius’s most significant friendships. Most obvious, perhaps, is that almost all the men who are said to be great friends of Laurentius are clerics of one kind or another: secular clergy or monks. These friendships are established and fostered within a shared clerical culture which values scholarship, learning, and (at least some kinds of) literary endeavour: Jón flæmingi is a scholar of canon law, Einarr Hafliðason and Bergr Sokkason are saga-writers, and Laurentius himself, like other men in the saga, is a teacher as well as a cleric, though he is exhorted to give up writing poetry. The strikingly hierarchical nature of these friendships reflects the hierarchical organisation of the Church. Unlike the aristocratic friendships between equals documented from the riddarasögur by Henric Bagerius, the friendships in Laurentius saga are typically (if not always) between men of unequal status: teacher and pupil, bishop and deacon, bishop and monk/abbot.34 Humour is a notable characteristic of these friendships too. The jokes friends play upon each other seem to demonstrate the warmth of affection between the men involved; they perhaps also enable hierarchical relations to be negotiated more comfortably. The jokes also at times depend upon learning, as in the exchanges between Laurentius and Jón flæmingi which depend upon linguistic knowledge; such exchanges affirm their common membership of an educated elite culture. Friendship as portrayed in Lárentíus saga can be compared with friendship in other kinds of Old Norse text and with pan-European traditions of clerical and monastic friendship. I have noted a contrast between the saga’s hierarchically organised friendships among clerics and Bagerius’s account of more egalitarian friendships among the artistocratic elite in late medieval Iceland. There are also significant differences from Icelandic and Norwegian friendships in the immediately preceding period 900–1300, as these are described in Jón Viðar Sigurðsson’s book Viking Friendship.35 The picture that Jón Viðar paints of friendship in the period before the fourteenth-century is of a pragmatic partnership based on utility and involving strong reciprocal bonds, rather than an affective relationship (the question of whether friendship is an emotion is not even considered until page 129 of his book). Yet we have seen strongly emotive language, such as the verb elska, ‘to love’, used of at least Lárentíus saga, pp. 356 and 382. Henric Bagerius, ‘Mandom och mödom: Sexualitet, homosocialitet och aristokratisk identitet på det senmedeltida Island’ (doctoral thesis, Göteborgs universitet, 2009). 35 Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Viking Friendship: The Social Bond in Iceland and Norway, c. 900–1300 (Ithaca, 2017). Norwegian original published as Den vennlige vikingen. Vennskapets makt i Norge og på Island ca. 900–1300 (Oslo, 2010). 33 34

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Carl Phelpstead some friendships in Lárentíus saga. Moreover, the playful quality of some of Laurentius’s friendships implies that they give pleasure rather than, or at least as much as, they provide pragmatic benefits. If we accept the accuracy of Jón Viðar Sigurðsson’s characterisation of friendship before 1300, the different picture presented by Lárentíus saga might be due to a historical change between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, or to differences between clerical and lay culture. Perhaps the former is more likely, as Jón Víðar’s brief chapter on ‘Clerics and Friendship’ (ch. 4) argues that in the period up to 1300 it was important for church leaders, like kings and chieftains, to use friendships to build up political support.36 The fact that he makes a couple of brief references to Lárentíus saga as an exception to the patterns described in his book further suggests that the saga reflects an historical shift in the nature of friendship (e.g. Lárentíus saga includes the only example of ‘a friendship between a monk and a person outside the cloister’).37 Especially in the Carolingian and twelfth-century renaissances, friendship among monks and other clerics found expression in treatises, letters, and other texts consciously indebted to a Ciceronian-Augustinian tradition of writing about friendship; these texts have received sustained scholarly attention in recent years.38 It is possible that clergy in Laurentius’s circle could have encountered some of this literature and that it might have influenced their performance of friendship. However, although the Ciceronian-inspired reflections on friendship of Aelred of Rievaulx and Richard of St Victor were widely read in the thirteenth century, they were falling out of favour by the fourteenth.39 Moreover, there is little direct evidence of knowledge of this tradition in Iceland and Norway. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson notes that Alcuin’s De virtutibus et vitiis was translated into Norse in the second half of the twelfth century and is extant in Icelandic and Norwegian manuscripts;40 he also draws attention to some possible evidence for knowledge of Ciceronian friendship traditions in the fragmentary prologue to Historia Norwegie and a saga of Bishop Guðmundr.41

Conflict: All-Male Communities Laurentius’s many warm friendships with individual men remain essentially one-on-one relationships, but Laurentius also becomes a member of several different all-male communities. Without fail, these homosocial 36 37 38

39 40 41

Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Viking Friendship, p. 72. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Viking Friendship, pp. 83–84. See, for example, J. P. Haseldine, ‘Love, Separation and Male Friendship: Words and Actions in Saint Anselm’s Letters to his Friends’, in Masculinity, ed. Hadley, pp. 238–55. See Douglass Roby, ‘Introduction’, in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, trans. Mary Eugenia Laker SSND (Kalamazoo, 1977), pp. 3–40, at pp. 38–40. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Viking Friendship, p. 102, cf. p. 155, n. 61. Jón Viðar Sigurðsson, Viking Friendship, p. 155, n. 62.

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Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups environments feature conflict between men. Whereas many of the other biskupa sögur describe conflict between the clergy and powerful laymen, Laurentius Kálfsson is opposed by senior clergy. He becomes involved in what Ferrari calls ‘una concatenazione di conflitti tra poteri ecclesiastici’ (a chain of conflicts between ecclesiastical powers).42 The first male homosocial community to which Laurentius belongs is his school. He is said to have been a dedicated scholar who continued at his studies when other boys were playing. The other boys therefore mock him, prophetically deriding his behaviour as that of a bishop-elect.43 This sets up a pattern that we see repeated throughout Laurentius’ life: his membership of all-male communities repeatedly brings him into conflict with the other members of those communities. When Laurentius first visits Trondheim the archbishop there, Jörundr, is at odds with his cathedral chapter.44 The archbishop, however, befriends Laurentius and he endows him with a desirable parish in the city.45 Archbishop Jörundr is also said to be ‘manna sæmiligastr at sjá til hans’ (the most beautiful of men to look at).46 If this is the description that Laurentius himself gave to the saga’s author, Einarr Hafliðason, then it intriguingly hints at the possibility of homosocial bonds taking on an erotic charge, as recognised in Sedgwick’s hypothesis of the ‘potential unbrokenness of a continuum between homosocial and homosexual’ encapsulated in her concept of ‘homosocial desire’.47 Laurentius antagonises the cathedral chapter when he reads Archbishop Jörundr’s letter of excommunication to them.48 He is then twice ambushed or attacked by supporters of the chapter and has to be rescued by ‘sveinar erkibyskupsins’, nicely translated by Oliver Elton in 1890 as the ‘Archbishop’s lads’.49 Envious of the eminence given to Laurentius, his enemies have him sent as the archbishop’s emissary to Iceland. Against the archbishop’s advice, Laurentius insists that he share equal status on the mission with a Dominican friar, Brother Björn.50 When Laurentius and Björn arrive in Hólar, the bishop there (confusingly sharing the name Jörundr with the archbishop in Trondheim), befriends Björn, but does not invite Laurentius to stay with him.51 In a dispute over the burial of a woman at the monastery of Munkaþverá the monks obtain the support of Jörundr and Björn against Ferrari, ‘La Lárentíus saga’, p. 12. Lárentíus saga, pp. 228–29. 44 Lárentíus saga, p. 239. 45 Lárentíus saga, p. 241. 46 Lárentíus saga, p. 238. 47 Sedgwick, Between Men, p. 1. 48 Lárentíus saga, ch. 14. 49 Lárentíus saga, p. 251; Elton, Life of Laurence, p. 25. 50 Lárentíus saga, p. 266. 51 Jörundr and Laurentius had previously fallen out when Jörundr denied to a man called Sigurðr that he had ordered Laurentius to excommunicate him (Lárentíus saga, ch. 8). 42 43

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Carl Phelpstead Laurentius. Bishop Jörundr plans for Björn to return to Norway before Laurentius does, so that he can defame Laurentius before the archbishop. The archbishop, however, has become so ill that Laurentius’s opponents in the cathedral chapter take over the archdiocese and have Laurentius seized when he returns to Norway.52 He is tried before the canons and put under house arrest. After the death of Archbishop Jörundr, Laurentius is sent back to Iceland by his enemy, the new archbishop Eilíf. However, the bishop of Hólar becomes mortally ill while abroad in Norway and recommends to Archbishop Eilíf that Laurentius be appointed as his successor at Hólar. Despite his former differences with Laurentius, the archbishop insists on following this advice.53 He sends a letter forgiving Laurentius’s previous actions against him, arguing that as Laurentius has now become a monk, his entry into the cloister is like a new baptism and washes away all previous sins.54 When Laurentius arrives in Trondheim for his consecration he falls before the archbishop craving forgiveness and the two are fully reconciled. This long-running and at times violent conflict between Laurentius, ever loyal to his friend Archbishop Jörundr, and the cathedral chapter in Trondheim thus comes to a peaceful resolution, though notably not in a way that integrates Laurentius into the community: peace is established by establishing him in Iceland, not in Trondheim. As mentioned above, after Laurentius is sent back to Iceland by Archbishop Eilíf he takes monastic vows (as does his son, Árni, about whom more shortly). It is at this point that Laurentius deepens his friendship with his fellow monk, Bergr Sokkason, who had previously been his pupil and who joins the monastery at the same time as Laurentius.55 The strongly affective bond between the two men is clear from the statement that ‘Unnuz þeir bróðir Bergr ok Laurentius með hjartaligri elsku, því at allan þá sem Laurentius sá at gott vildu nema ok til góða vildu hafa sína mennt, elskaði hann’ (Brother Bergr and Laurentius loved one another with heartfelt love because Laurentius loved all those whom he saw were willing to learn good, and use their learning for good).56 As bishop, Laurentius becomes involved in a dispute with the Augustinian canons of Möðruvellir over control of the monastery’s income. He is accused of breaking an agreement he had made and this leads to conflict with Jón, bishop of Skálholt. When Jón’s deacon, Þórðr, tries to read a letter from Jón to Laurentius he is ejected from the church: ‘Hlupu þá klerkarnir at alla vega ok Lárentíus saga, p. 292. Lárentíus saga, pp. 345–47. 54 Lárentíus saga, p. 352. 55 Bergr was a prolific hagiographer, as the saga-writer recognises (Lárentíus saga, p. 333): ‘hann setti saman margar sögubækr heilagra manna í norrænu máli með mikilli snilld’ (he very eloquently composed many histories of the saints in the Norse language). 56 Lárentíus saga, p. 333. 52 53

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Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups stökuðu þeim út af kirkjunni með olbogum ok læstu síðan aftr kirkjudyrum’ (the clergy ran at them from all directions, and pushed them out of the church and locked the door behind them).57 Eventually Laurentius allows the canons control of their secular affairs, provided that the archbishop in Trondheim agrees; he assumes (correctly as it turns out) that the archbishop will not give his consent: it is easier to win in the end by appearing to back down. Both Laurentius and Bishop Jón of Skálholt send envoys to Trondheim, but whereas Laurentius’s man Egill presses his case with the archbishop, Jón’s envoy, Arngrímr Brandsson, spends his time in Trondheim taking organ lessons! The two men do, however, become good friends: the archbishop accommodates them in the same loft: ‘Var svá kært með þeim sem þeir væri kjötligir bræðr’ (and there was such love between them that it was as if they were brothers of the flesh).58 As a result of Egill’s pleading with the archbishop the dispute between Laurentius and Möðruvellir is resolved in Laurentius’s favour. Although he becomes a monk, we see little of Laurentius in a monastic community. On the contrary, as discussed above, once he has become bishop of Hólar he is involved in a dispute with a religious community. Whether scholastic, canonical, or monastic, all-male groups in the saga become settings for conflict – in marked contrast to the comfort and companionship to be obtained from individual same-sex friendships.59

Concubines: Women in a Men’s World There are very few women mentioned in Lárentíus saga and those few do not figure very prominently in the saga narrative. Their roles are determined by relationships with men, notably as the sexual partners of clerics who ought, by the fourteenth century, to be celibate.60 Laurentius’s friend, Jón flæmingi, has a hideously ugly mistress (lags-konu): Jón flæmingi hafði sér lagskonu svá ljóta ok leiðiliga at varla fannz ferligri ásjóna en sú sem hon bar. Síra Laurentius sagði meistara Jóni einn tíma hvar fyrir at hann vildi hafa svá forljóta konu í bland við sik. Jón svarar: ‘Ek er bráðlyndr maðr, ok þyldi ek ekki vel ef nokkorr ginnti mina þjónustukonu frá mér, ok því tók ek þessa at ek veit hennar girniz enginn’.61

Lárentíus saga, p. 399. Lárentíus saga, p. 413. Arngrímr Brandsson composed the D version of Guðmundar saga biskups. 59 On threats of violence against Laurentius and the use of laymen to bully him see further Sigurdson, Church, pp. 140–43. 60 Clerical marriage was abolished in Iceland between c. 1237 and the 1270s: see Sigurdson, Church, p. 130 and Orri Vésteinsson, Christianization, p. 234. 61 Lárentíus saga, pp. 244–45. 57

58

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Carl Phelpstead (Jón the Fleming had a mistress so ugly and loathsome that one could scarcely find a more monstrous appearance than she had. Sir Laurentius once asked Master Jón why he wished to have so very ugly a woman in his company. Jón answers, ‘I am a hot-tempered man, and I should not take it well if any one were to entice my serving-woman away from me, and so I took this one because I know that no man wants her’). The saga prose is quite clear that the woman is Jón’s lags-kon[a] (‘concubine’), but Jón himself refers to her as his serving woman (þjónusukon[a]), a euphemism that was common in this sense across Europe, but which perhaps indicates some embarrassment about his personal circumstances.62 When Laurentius is under house arrest in Trondheim the saga mentions, without any further introduction or explanation, that a woman named Þuríðr Árnadóttir, by whom Laurentius had had a son called Árni, often came to Laurentius’s window bringing food and comfort: Kom sú kona til hans, er Þuríðr hét Árnadóttir, ok hann átti með pilt einn er Árni hét, oftsinnis til gluggsins ok færði honum nokkot til kostar eða hjálpar þat sem hún mátti.63 (The woman named Þuríðr, daughter of Árni, by whom he had had a boy who was called Árni, often came to the window to him and brought him whatever she could for food or assistance.) A reference to this relationship and its offspring had earlier been slipped into the saga in one of the extracts from Icelandic annals that are incorporated at various points: Þuríðr Árnadóttir af Borgundi kenndi síra Laurentio pilt er Árni hét. Átti sú sama kona pilt með síra Salomoni er Bárðr hét.64 (Þuríðr, daughter of Árni of Burgundy, bore a boy to Sir Laurentius, called Árni; the same woman afterwards bore a boy to Sir Salomon, called Bárðr.)65 There is no overt commentary on Laurentius’s relationship with Þuríðr in the saga, but there seems to be a hint of Laurentius’s own unease with the Lárentíus saga, p. 245. Cf. Sigurdson, Church, p. 133. Sigurdson notes that lagskona is a hapax legomenon, that the most common Norse word for a mistress is barnamóðr (‘mother of [his] children’), and that, as noted below, Lárentíus saga refers to Þuríðr as ‘that woman […] whom he [Laurentius] had a boy with’ (‘sú kona […] hann átti með pilt einn’, p. 300, cf. p. 259). 63 Lárentíus saga, p. 300. 64 Lárentíus saga, p. 259. 65 Salomon Torvaldson was a cathedral canon at Trondheim (Sigurdson, Church, p. 132). Another cleric in the saga, Bishop Auðunn rauði Þorbergsson has a grandchild, and Sigurdson notes that the saga’s author, Einarr Hafliðason, also had a son (p. 132). 62

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Clerical Masculinities in Lárentíus saga biskups situation later in the text. After he has become bishop of Hólar, Laurentius sends Árni to the southern see of Skálholt to be priested because he believes it is better if a father does not ordain his own son.66 The fact that Árni is named after Þuríðr’s father perhaps reveals something about the nature of the relationship between Þuríðr and Laurentius, but the reference to her having a second son by another priest suggests that she may not have lived an exemplarily monogamous life. Despite his own irregular situation and his apparent acceptance of Jón flæmingi’s mistress, there are occasions in the saga where Laurentius takes a strictly uncompromising line on sexual behaviour. On his visitation to Hólar at the bidding of Archbishop Jörundr, Laurentius makes a speech condemning the sins of the diocese, especially ‘hórdómi ok frændsemisspellum’ (adultery and incestuous relationships).67 As bishop, he takes firm action against sexual sin even when committed by his ‘dearest friends’ (‘hinir mestu vinir hans’).68 It appears that his own behaviour may not have matched the high standards he otherwise insisted upon. Alternatively, given that Laurentius forgoes a sexual partner once he is a bishop, it may be, as Sigurdson has suggested, that concubinage was regarded as more acceptable for priests than for bishops.69 There was more than one way to perform clerical masculinity. Lárentíus saga portrays a world in which a cleric’s most significant relationships are with other men. The inconvenient fact that even supposedly celibate men sometimes sought female company is acknowledged in the text, but those women are very much on the margins and the narrator seems to share some of the embarrassment displayed by Jón and Laurentius concerning their sexual partners.

Conclusions In this essay I have explored ways in which fourteenth-century clerical masculinity is performed in Lárentíus saga biskups. This gendered identity is expressed or manifested in relation to others, whether in one-to-one male friendships, homosocial male groups, or relationships with women (or through women in the case of male-male family relationships). Lárentíus saga, p. 382. Árni Lárentíusson later wrote Dunstanus saga, the Icelandic version of the life of St Dunstan of Canterbury. 67 Lárentíus saga, pp. 287–88. 68 Lárentíus saga, p. 386. 69 Sigurdson, Church, p. 132. Bjørn Bandlien points out that seven of the thirteen native Icelandic bishops were married when consecrated and did not subsequently separate from their wives: Strategies of Passion: Love and Marriage in Old Norse Society (Turnhout, 2005), p. 172 and n. 57. For the wider European context of changing views on episcopal celibacy during the eleventh and twelfth centuries see Megan McLaughlin, ‘The Bishop in the Bedroom: Witnessing Episcopal Sexuality in an Age of Reform’, Journal of the History of Sexuality 19.1 (2010), 17–34. 66

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Carl Phelpstead Lárentíus saga biskups is a product of clerical culture: both its subject matter and its author are clerical. By analogy with Henric Bagerius’s reading of the riddarasögur as providing a mirror for aristocratic self-understanding in late medieval Iceland,70 one can see Lárentíus saga as a text in and through which late medieval Icelandic clerics could understand their own identity, including their gendered identity. This self-understanding involved them seeing themselves as participating in a series of networks with other men of their own kind: both individual friendships with other clerics and membership of larger same-sex clerical communities. Whereas Bagerius argues that the ‘otherness’ of women was integral to the definition of aristocratic masculinities, women are not simply other but almost completely marginalized in Lárentíus saga: their rare appearances in fact only highlight bonds between men, as in the the good-humoured friendship between Laurentius and Jón flæmingi which allows them to joke about Jón’s ugly mistress, or the fatherson relationship between Laurentius and Árni which requires the existence and involvement of Þuríðr but otherwise calls for no explanation of her role in Laurentius’s life. The women in Lárentíus saga only emphasize how much the world of the saga is a man’s world.

70

See note 34.

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‘That which a hand gives a hand or a foot gives a foot’: Male Kinship Obligations in the Heroic Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga Jessica Clare Hancock

Storytelling is a primary way that families are produced, maintained, and perhaps transformed […] Stories and storytelling both generate and reproduce ‘the family’ by legitimating meanings and power relations.1 The heroic Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga foreground male kinship. These texts interrogate what it means to be a father, son, uncle, nephew, or brother, and what is then owed to the others in this relationship: support, vengeance, education, or love. In the opening of the Poetic Edda, Vǫluspá warns that fraternal conflict is a sign of imminent apocalypse,2 and the heroic Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga fully explore the consequences of breaking implied or explicit obligations, examining the prioritisation of conflicting responsibilities.3 These issues are also closely related to masculinity: the expression of a family identity intersects with the performance of gender. As male kinship forms a complex web of connections established by biology, marriage, and fostering, the texts also raise questions about the innate or acquired nature of identities.4 Addressing masculinity through the lens of male family relations is thus both a novel and productive approach to analysing gender in the heroic Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga, and to illuminating the possibilities for Old Norse masculinities more widely. The Poetic Edda is a collection of poems, compiled in the Codex Regius manuscript (GKS 2365 4to), c. 1270, with the texts themselves thought to 1

2 3

4

Kristin M. Langellier and Eric E. Peterson, ‘Family Storytelling as a Strategy of Social Control’ in Narrative and Social Control: Critical Perspectives, ed. Dennis K. Mumby (London, 1993), pp. 49–76, at p. 50. Vǫluspá, st. 44. David Clark suggests that in the Poetic Edda, ‘human strife, primarily characterized by kin-slaying and revenge, is […] linked to the archetypal cosmic strife’: Gender, Violence and the Past in Edda and Saga (Oxford, 2012), p. 67. Oren Falk’s chapter in this volume also addresses ways in which masculinity can be transmitted through socialisation.

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Jessica Clare Hancock originally be oral compositions of different ages, and the earliest dating from the ninth century.5 A rubricated letter at 20r demarcates two parts of the Codex Regius: the first mainly concerns mythological characters and the second (the subject of this chapter) predominantly involves heroic, legendary protagonists. Völsunga saga, from NKS 1824 b 4to, c. 1400, retells, adds to, and removes narratives from the heroic Poetic Edda (which itself includes alternative versions of the same events in different poems); it is important to examine both together (something that has not been done in previous analyses of gender) as each can, in our current critical context, illuminate the other – demonstrating through similarity and difference the ways in which family and masculinity are constructed for male characters. It is impossible to ascertain the access of the author of Völsunga saga to the Codex Regius, despite that manuscript’s contemporaneity with the estimated composition date of Völsunga saga, between 1200 and 1270; some form of the poems (possibly oral), however, must have been available as they are reproduced within Völsunga saga.6 This chapter will not, therefore, investigate why changes might consciously be made, but will address the effect of differences on the construction of family relationships and masculinity.7 As the other chapters in this section, by Finlay, Ashurst, and Phelpstead, demonstrate, masculinity is reinforced and challenged by relationships with others. Carolyne Larrington has observed that there is an ‘excessive focus on siblings’ in these texts, but male family relationships of all types prove crucial for the construction of masculinity.8 Larrington has extensively explored sibling relationships in medieval literature, including the heroic Poetic Edda; what this chapter adds to her insightful work is analysis of the ways in which family roles and endorsed behaviours are not just differentiated according to sex (thus reflecting differences between men and women) but also construct masculinities.9 Masculinity is similarly affected by the attitudes to heroism expressed or implied in the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga. Although Florian Deichl contends that heroic literature ‘does not encourage ethical judgement’, the exploration of both revenge and the resulting grief, particularly in the Poetic Edda, means that, as David Clark argues, several poems ‘undermine 5

6 7

8

9

For example, Scott Mellor maintains that the evidence supports the existence of an oral antecedent: Analyzing Ten Poems from the Poetic Edda: Oral Formula and Mythic Patterns (New York, 2008), p. 168. For a summary of the dating debate, see Bernt Ø. Thorvaldsen, ‘The Dating of Eddic Poetry’, in A Handbook to Eddic Poetry: Myths and Legends of Early Scandinavia, ed. Carolyne Larrington, Judy Quinn, and Brittany Schorn (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 72–91. R. G. Finch, ‘Introduction’, in Völsunga saga, p. ix. Nor will it take a psychoanalytic approach; the chapter will analyse the effect of the portrayal of relationships rather than establishing psychological motivations for fictional characters. Carolyne Larrington, ‘Sibling Drama: Laterality in the Heroic Poems of the Edda’, in Myth, Legends, and Heroes: Studies in Old Norse and Old English Literature in Honour of John McKinnell, ed. D. Anlezark (Toronto, 2011), pp. 169–87, at p. 169. Carolyne Larrington, Brothers and Sisters in Medieval Literature (Woodbridge, 2015).

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Male Kinship Obligations the heroic ideal of vengeance’.10 Yet it is specifically retribution that involves violence against kin that these poems problematise, eliciting consideration of how the responsibilities of revenge can be reconciled to commitments to family. Retaliation is constructed as a particularly male duty, as, apart from Guðrún, only men avenge and, except for Svanhildr, only the deaths of men are avenged. The Poetic Edda’s endorsement of combat constructs heroic masculinity as hegemonic (this is maintained, although somewhat modified by courtliness, in Völsunga saga) and I define this as involving battle prowess, courage, and duty.11 Yet, as Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir emphasise in relation to the Poetic Edda, ‘the poems also show the cracks and fissures in such strenuous performances of masculinity’.12 The interrogation of heroic masculinity enables the potential for different kinds of gender identities. This chapter will begin by exploring the responsibilities of cross-generational male kinship and how these can become problematic. Although William Ian Miller argues that family strife is inevitable, as ‘only people who do not deal with each other do not fight’, the second section demonstrates that the obligations of heroic masculinity are particularly connected to fatal violence.13 The final section addresses same-generation kinship and how inherent similarities in fraternal connections (both natal and affinal) can increase rivalries.

Provision Across Generations Men father but do not necessarily assume the responsibilities of fatherhood.14

10

11

12 13

14

Florian Deichl, ‘The Very Image of the Volsungs: The Killer in Wolf’s Clothing’, in Bad Boys and Wicked Women: Antagonists and Troublemakers in Old Norse Literature, ed. Daniela Hahn and Andreas Schmidt (München, 2016), pp. 215–39, at p. 216; David Clark, Gender, Violence, and the Past, p. 13. David Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir offer a related definition of ‘outstanding physical ability and military prowess, extensive knowledge, and/or sexual conquest’: ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’, in A Handbook to Eddic Poetry: Myths and Legends of Early Scandinavia, ed. Carolyne Larrington, Judy Quinn, and Brittany Schorn (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 331–48, at p. 334. Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’ p. 347. William Ian Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland (Chicago, 1990), p. 140. Indeed, Miller notes that ‘in the entire saga corpus there is no patricide, nor […] fratricide’ with the exception of the foster-brother murder mentioned in Njáls saga (p. 160) – one must assume that he means the Íslendingasögur by ‘the corpus’, but this still demonstrates the differences between the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga and other Old Norse-Icelandic literature. Barbara Hobson and David Morgan, ‘Introduction’, in Making Men into Fathers, ed. Barbara Hobson and David Morgan (Cambridge, 2009), pp. 1–21, at p. 1.

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Jessica Clare Hancock We say very little about the longing for father love.15 The opening poem of the heroic Poetic Edda, Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, introduces the first paternal relationship of this section of the manuscript. Sigmundr physically moves from a warrior to paternal role as he leaves the battlefield to provide his son with the tools of war and authority.16 This enhances Sigmundr’s own heroic masculinity – bestowing land reinforces him as powerful and the sword he gives his son connects him to Helgi’s early warrior behaviour (in stanza 6, he is described as battle-ready at one-dayold).17 Moreover, Sigmundr names his son, emphasising their hierarchy and establishing Helgi’s identity.18 Yet, as Clark and Jóhanna state, ‘the male figures of the heroic world […] seem to be challenged in fulfilling certain aspects of maleness, such as […] modelling successful fatherhood’; within the Poetic Edda, this connection between a father and son is unusual given the frequent depictions of absent fathers.19 In Völsunga saga, there is more emphasis on paternal relationships. This text includes background narrative not in the Poetic Edda, and begins with the story of Sigi, who is outlawed after murdering a slave. Óðinn is Sigi’s father, but he does not reject his son after his wrongdoing, as society has done, despite, as Rebecca Merkelbach notes, outlawry ‘subject[ing] all kinship relations to particular strain’.20 Sigi’s outlawry means that: ‘má hann nú eigi heima vera með feðr sínum’ (he now cannot be at home with his father).21 In Völsunga saga, it is being outside of the paternal relationship that is troubling, rather than being removed from society, thus accentuating the importance of 15 16 17

18

19 20

21

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (London and New York, 2005), p. 4. Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, sts. 7–8. As P. David Marshall observes, ‘the family patriarch is represented as the benevolent leader whose power is tempered by his responsibilities for others’: Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture (Minneapolis, 1997), p. 217. Fjodor Uspenskij argues for the importance of names in forming identity, particularly in the context of being named after relations: ‘The Category of Affinity (Mágsemð) in the Old Norse Model of Family Relations’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 122 (2007), 157–80, at p. 159. Philadelphia Ricketts states that ‘naming a son for a kinsman, especially for a grandfather, was the most common occurrence’, demonstrating this passing on of male familial identity: ‘“Spoiling them Rotten?”: Grandmothers and Familial Identity in Twelfth and Thirteenth-Century Iceland’, in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, ed. Shannon Lewis-Simpson (Leiden, 2008), pp. 167–204, at p. 179. Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in Eddic Poetry’, p. 347. Rebecca Merkelbach, ‘Engi maðr skapar sik sjálfr: Fathers, Abuse and Monstrosity in the Outlaw Sagas’, in Bad Boys and Wicked Women: Antagonists and Troublemakers in Old Norse Literature, ed. Daniela Hahn and Andreas Schmidt (München, 2016), pp. 59–93, at p. 62; it is possible that Óðinn’s status as a god means that this burden is felt less. Völsunga saga, p. 1.

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Male Kinship Obligations male family connections. Indeed, Óðinn’s continued commitment to his son’s wellbeing is emphasised: Óðinn flygir honum nú af landi brott, svá langa leið at stóru bar, ok eigi létti hann fyrr en hann kom honum til herskipa.22 (Óðinn now flees with him, leaving the country, and brought him a very long way, and did not leave him before he had taken him to warships.) After many fruitful expeditions, Sigi establishes a kingdom, and then marries and has his own children, which is depicted as a sign of success. As Ármann Jakobsson’s analysis of Óðinn concludes that ‘the patriarch god does as he pleases’, it is particularly significant that he demonstrates such paternal dedication in this text.23 The importance of a father’s support to ensure prosperity and family continuity is clear. A father also provides identity. Fáfnir’s first question to Sigurðr in Fáfnismál is about his paternity.24 In Guðrúnarkviða II, Grímhildr comforts Guðrún after the death of Sigurðr, her husband, with the concept of substitution: Svá skaltu láta sem þeir lifi báðir, Sigurðr ok Sigmundr, ef þú sonu fœðir.25 (You will act as if both Sigurðr and Sigmundr were alive, if you bore sons.) As Guðrún’s offspring would have little experience of Sigurðr, and none at all of Sigmundr, this suggests that identity is inherited. Despite obvious issues with a son straightforwardly replacing his father or grandfather (particularly in the context of his father’s relationship with his mother!), similarity is also implied in Guðrúnarhvöt where Guðrún criticises her sons for not replicating their uncles’ heroism;26 again, they are relatives that her sons have had no contact with, implying that these characteristics are expected to be innate. A hereditary heroic masculinity may be emphasised because of the prevalence of absent fathers, in order to demonstrate their continued influence (which is reinforced by the patrilineal nature of the genealogies provided in this text). Yet not all fathers appear to encourage association with their male offspring. Sigmundr’s visit to his son in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I occurs only after Helgi’s martial prowess has been exhibited, indicating the contingent Völsunga saga, p. 2. Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Óðinn as Mother: The Old Norse Deviant Patriarch’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 126 (2011), 5–16, at p. 11. 24 Fáfnismál, st. 1. 25 Guðrúnarkviða II, st. 28. 26 Guðrúnarhvöt, st. 3. 22 23

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Jessica Clare Hancock nature of his support. In Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, Hjörvarðr and Helgi’s problematic paternal relationship is indicated by the prose that states that Helgi is not named by his father (in the poem, Sváva gives Helgi his name in st. 7) possibly as his childhood is less impressive than Helgi Hundingsbani’s (who is named by Sigmundr in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I). In Völsunga saga, Sigmundr’s relationships with two of his nephews are brief and catastrophic – he immediately sets the first a test and kills him when he fails, on the instructions of Signý (his sister and the boy’s mother).27 The narrative does not even include the story of the second nephew, as ‘for sem samt sé’ (it went the same).28 This disrupts the idea that blood ties are necessarily stronger than those that are chosen (such as through marriage or fostering).29 As Ruth Mazo Karras demonstrates, ‘kinship networks were up for negotiation’;30 the concept of family is extended and heroic masculinity is not necessarily inherited. Teaching similarly challenges the innate nature of heroic masculinity. Both Sigurðr’s uncle and his foster-father provide him with knowledge: Grípir prophesys Sigurðr’s life in Grípisspá (and offers a model for the performance of heroic masculinity through the depiction of Sigurðr avenging his father) and Reginn is described as educating Sigurðr in the prose introduction to Reginsmál.31 This instructional duty is extended in Völsunga saga: Hann kenndi honum íþróttir, tafl ok rúnar ok tungur margar at mæla, sem þá var títt konungasonum, ok marga hluti aðra.32 (He [Reginn] taught him skills: chess, runes, and to speak many languages, as was then customary for kings’ sons, and many other things.) Courtly masculinity is also explicitly learned. Additionally, Sigmundr teaches his nephew/son Sinfjötli to be a warrior, revealing that he does not see it as an instinctive ability.33 The portrayal of education in Völsunga saga demon27 28 29

30 31

32 33

Völsunga saga, p. 9. Völsunga saga, p. 9. Preben Meulengracht Sørensen suggests that the concept of choosing one’s own kin was well established: ‘Murder in Marital Bed: An Attempt at Understanding a Crucial Scene in Gísla Saga’, in Structure and Meaning in Old Norse Literature, ed. John Lindow (Odense, 1986), pp. 235–63, at p. 258. Yet Uspenskij argues that ‘the Old Norse category of affinity (non-blood relation) is distinctly opposed to the category of blood relation’: ‘The Category of Affinity’, p. 162. Ruth Mazo Karras, ‘Marriage and the Creation of Kin in the Sagas’, Scandinavian Studies 75.4 (2003), 473–90, at p. 488. This fostering appears to benefit Sigurðr more than Reginn or Hjálprekr; more usually, fostering benefitted the status of the (step)father and foster-father: Anna Hansen, ‘Fosterage and Dependency in Medieval Iceland and its Significance in Gísla Saga’, in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, pp. 73–86, at p. 75. Völsunga saga, p. 23. Völsunga saga, p. 10; for most of their time together, Sigmundr thinks that Sinfjötli is his nephew rather than his son.

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Male Kinship Obligations strates an anxiety about the younger generation’s prowess: the opposite of the Poetic Edda’s emphasis on sons who exceed their fathers, such as the Helgis and Sigurðr. The potential for a son’s behaviour to indicate a deficiency in his elders is also expressed by Völsungr, implying a symbiotic relationship between the identities of different generations, and that heroic masculinity can be constructed through others.34 Education is more comprehensively portrayed in Völsunga saga, perhaps because the changing nature of masculinity, through the inclusion of courtly attributes, enables further consideration of gender as performative. Love is potentially an even more transformative form of provision than knowledge. In Reginsmál, the prose states that Reginn ‘elskaði hann [Sigurðr] mjök’ (loved him much).35 This is the only explicit mention of paternal love in the Poetic Edda, perhaps because of the fostering relationship – it may not need articulating for biological fathers.36 In Völsunga saga, this affection is accentuated, and Hjálprekr’s love for his step-son Sigurðr is also described.37 In the Poetic Edda, an emotional attachment between natal fathers and sons is only expressed when this relationship ends. As Bjørn Bandlien argues, the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda ‘are far more taken up with women’s emotions than those of men’; Kristen Mills similarly observes that in ‘the heroic Eddic poems, women are still the primary weepers’.38 Yet there are affecting references to a father’s grief. When Sinfjötli is poisoned in Frá dauða Sinfjötla, Sigmundr’s love for his son, and the literal weight of his anguish, is physically expressed through his dedication to carrying his corpse: he ‘bar hann langar leiðir í fangi sér’ (bore him a long way in his arms).39 In Völsunga saga, after Sinfjötli dies: Sigmundr ríss upp ok harmr sinn nær bana.40 (Sigmundr gets up, and his grief nearly killed him). 34 35 36

37

38

39 40

Völsunga saga, p. 6. Reginsmál, p. 296. Hansen notes that fostering is often portrayed as loving in the sagas: ‘Bonds of Affection between Children and Their Foster-Parents in Early Icelandic Society’, in Emotions in the Household, 1200–1900, ed. Susan Broomhall (Basingstoke, 2008), pp. 38–52, at p. 45. See also Hansen, ‘Fosterage and Dependency in Medieval Iceland’, p. 85. Völsunga saga, p. 23. Joanna A. Skórzewska argues that ‘examples of unconditional parental love’ are rare outside of the Icelandic miracle stories: ‘“Sveinn einn ungr fell í sýruker”: Medieval Icelandic Children in Vernacular Miracle Stories’, in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, pp. 103–26, at p. 119. Bjørn Bandlien, Strategies of Passion: Love and Marriage in Old Norse Society, trans. Betsy van der Hoek (Turnhout, 2005), p. 33; Kristen Mills, ‘Grief, Gender, and Genre: Male Weeping in Snorri’s Account of Baldr’s Death, Kings’ Sagas, and Gesta Danorum’, The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 113.4 (2014), 472–96, at p. 477. Frá dauða Sinfjötla, p. 284. Völsunga saga, p. 8.

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Jessica Clare Hancock Sigmundr’s love is more pronounced, possibly connected to the influence of courtliness on Völsunga saga; Sif Rikhardsdottir, argues that ‘romance brought an alternative emotive script to Scandinavia, one in which the emotive sensibility previously associated with female gendered performance was transposed and re-signified to signal masculine nobility.’41 This different portrayal of emotion enables an alternative performance of fatherhood. Nevertheless, love between fathers and sons is implied in the Poetic Edda, through the prioritisation of paternal relationships. In Sigurðarkviða in skamma, Sigurðr’s last words focus on his son and are similar to his own father’s dying concerns in Völsunga saga.42 Additionally, in Guðrúnarkviða II and Völsunga saga, when Atli recounts his prophetic dreams, he describes his own death in a straightforward manner.43 In contrast, his visions of his sons’ deaths take place in metaphor.44 This indicates that the horrific loss of his sons is beyond direct representation, even in a dream, and its repetition also represents its trauma, which is far beyond that of his own death. Atlakviða indicates the intimacy of this relationship through Guðrún’s words: Kallaraðu síðan til knjá þinna Erp né Eitil.45 (After that you will summon neither Erpr nor Eitil to your knee.) This is the only example within the Poetic Edda of a father playing with children or, indeed, being physically close (whilst alive, and not fighting).46 Affection signifies a different identity from heroic masculinity: one which has the potential for family relationships that do not include cycles of violence. Nevertheless, as the next section illustrates, competition has a recurrent presence in cross-generational relationships.

Cross-Generational Revenge and Rivalry There is no possibility to keep the kin out of discussions of revenge.47 41 42 43 44

45 46

47

Sif Rikhardsdottir, Emotion in Old Norse Literature: Translations, Voices, Contexts (Cambridge, 2017), p. 176. Sigurðarkviða in skamma, st. 25. Völsunga saga, p. 21. Guðrúnarkviða II, st. 39. Völsunga saga, p. 64. Guðrúnarkviða II, st. 41–43. Völsunga saga, p. 64. David Clark has discussed similar metaphors of family trees being ruptured; see Gender, Violence and the Past, pp. 71–73. Atlakviða, st. 39. It is also revealing that Guðrún both destroys and enhances this closeness when, in revenge, she makes her husband consume his children (thus becoming literally physically more connected whilst terminating their relationship) before she kills him; she thus ‘defile[s] [Atli] as a father and a king’: Ursula Dronke, ed. and trans., The Poetic Edda, Vol 1: Heroic Poems (Oxford, 1969), p. 28. Miller, Bloodtaking, p. 178.

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Male Kinship Obligations Patriarchal fathers cannot love their sons because the rules of patriarchy dictate that they stand in competition with their sons.48 The previous section established a father’s role as provider, which is recognised from the outset of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I. Yet the poem begins: Nornir kvómo, þær er öðlingi aldr um skópu; þann báðu fylki frægstan verða.49 (The Norns came, they who controlled life for that nobleman; they enabled him to become the most famous king.) The Norns are depicted as being more crucial in forming Helgi’s identity than Sigmundr. Furthermore, Helgi is described as growing up with friends rather than his family, and indeed Sigmundr plays no further part in this poem.50 The significance of a paternal relationship is thus questioned; it is revealing that Helgi is later identified as Hundingsbani and Sigurðr as Fáfnisbani rather than Sigmundsson. Indeed, in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, Sigmundr has no presence at all except in the initial prose added by the compiler that confirms him as Helgi’s father. This erasure of a father’s role happens throughout the Poetic Edda. There are few paternal interactions and the majority are problematic, most commonly being followed by the death of the father or sons involved.51 In Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, Helgi’s sole communication with his father Hjörvarðr is to chastise him.52 Helgi directly criticises his father, firstly for not being ‘heilraðr’ (well advised) and then for not avenging Hróðmarr’s assault on his family.53 Helgi’s greater desire for revenge indicates a stronger heroic masculinity than his father’s inaction. Indeed, Hjörvarðr does not suggest that a peaceful attitude is more sensible. In the added prose text: Hjörvarðr svaraði at hann mundi fá lið Helga ef hann vill hefna móðurföður sins.54 The Will to Change, p. 47. Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, st. 2. Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, st. 9. Clark notes that this demonstrates the importance of homosocial bonds in the Helgi poems (Gender, Violence, and the Past, p. 50). Yet these poems more clearly interrogate kinship than homosocial friendships. Sigmundr dies before Sigurðr’s birth; Gjúki is mentioned in Sigurðarkviða in skamma but does not appear in the narrative. The only other times fathers are shown interacting with their sons are Hjörvarðr in Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, Sigmundr in Frá dauða Sinfjötla, Hreiðmarr in Reginsmál, and Atli in Atlakviða. Larrington notes that ‘vertical relations, the bonds between parent and child, are suppressed by and large in heroic material’: ‘Awkward Adolescents: Male Maturation in Norse Literature’, in Youth and Age in the Medieval North, pp. 145–60, at p. 148. Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, st. 12. Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, st. 12. Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, p. 262.

48 hooks, 49 50

51

52 53 54

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Jessica Clare Hancock (Hjörvarðr replied that he would provide Helgi with support if he would avenge his mother’s father.) This clarification of Hjörvarðr’s affinal relationship implies a reduced obligation to avenge. Yet although Hjörvarðr fulfils the responsibilities of provision, he does not accompany his son; he is not depicted as someone to emulate. Similarly, the prose of Reginsmál describes Reginn forging a sword for Sigurðr, but like Hjörvarðr he does not fight (possibly because the foster relationship implies a lesser imperative to support Sigurðr, but this still undermines Reginn’s heroic masculinity).55 In Fáfnismál, Sigurðr states that: Hugr er betri en sé hjörs megin, hvars vreiðir skulu vega.56 (Courage is better than a powerful sword for one who shall fight angrily.) This challenges the importance of provision and establishes the necessity of a paternal role model. Although few fathers interact with their sons, they often provide narrative progression through a son’s duty to avenge their deaths. This becomes a measurement of worth. In Reginsmál: Hátt munu hlæja Hundings synir, […] ef meirr tiggja munar at sœkja hringa rauða en hefnd föður.57 (Hundingr’s sons will laugh loudly if the noble one must seek the red-gold rings [wealth] more than avenging his father). Revenge is prioritised over wealth and the absence of vengeance is a potential source of humiliation. Indeed, in Sigrdrífumál, Sigrdrífa’s advice constructs this kind of violent reaction as expected. She warns Sigurðr not to trust the relation of anyone he kills, indicating that: Úlfr er í ungum syni, þótt hann sé gulli gladdr.58 (There is a wolf in the young son, although he happily accepts gold.) Reginsmál, p. 296. Fáfnismál, st. 30. 57 Reginsmál, st. 16. 58 Sigrdrífumál, st. 36. See also Völsunga saga, p. 40. 55 56

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Male Kinship Obligations Here, revenge is inevitable despite the arrangement of a peaceful solution. Similarly, in Sigurðarkviða in skamma, Brynhildr suggests that a son should be slain alongside his father to prevent later vengeance, although this seems to be about saving compensation money as much as securing a safer future.59 The duty for sons to avenge their fathers becomes a crucial facet of heroic masculinity. Yet the potential for vengeance to cause discord amongst kin is acknowledged by Sigrdrífa’s advice to Sigurðr to instead forgive relatives’ actions.60 This guidance is prioritised by its primacy and constructs an alternative to heroic masculinity. Yet Sigurðr will later be murdered by relations, although affinal rather than blood, leaving him unable to either take retribution or pardon them – revealing the impracticality of her counsel. Indeed, the timing of this advice in the narrative (as it is compiled in the manuscript of the Poetic Edda, or in Völsunga saga) is incongruous, as Sigurðr has just murdered Reginn, his foster-father (although there is less opprobrium surrounding this killing that does not rupture a natal bond).61 The frequent destabilising of the utility of wisdom prioritises heroic masculinity, which is instinctive and violent. Yet at the beginning of Völsunga saga, when Rerir avenges the uncles who killed his father, Sigi, his position as retaliator is acknowledged but he is still criticised: ‘óskapliga væri fyrir alls sakir’ (it was considered unfitting by everyone).62 From the outset of this text, vengeance is not admirable when it involves injury to other relations, producing a clearer stance on the prioritisation of family connections over revenge than that found in the Poetic Edda. The responsibility for vengeance is not the only potential difficulty in a cross-generational relationship. Competition can result in physical violence, such as in Völsunga saga when Sigmundr bites Sinfjötli in the throat after he has shown his battle prowess by refusing to ask for Sigmundr’s assistance in a skirmish.63 The relationship between Hreiðmarr and his son Fáfnir is problematic to a devastating extent. Both the prose of Fáfnismál and Völsunga saga (directly), and the verse of Reginsmál (indirectly), describe Fáfnir killing his father because he will not share the compensation for his brother’s murder. Even if we assume that the contemporary rules of recompense would replicate later medieval laws, such as Grágás K113, killing your father because he has not complied with this is clearly excessive.64 Although it is not directly Sigurðarkviða in skamma, st. 13. Sigrdrífumál, st. 23. See also Völsunga saga, pp. 39–40. 61 Ármann argues that Fáfnir is also a paternal figure for Sigurðr, meaning that he has committed a double murder of father figures: ‘Enter the Dragon: Legendary Saga Courage and the Birth of the Hero’, in Making Histories: Essays on the Fornaldarsögur, ed. Martin Arnold and Alison Finlay (London, 2010), pp. 33–52, p. 48. 62 Völsunga saga, p. 2. 63 Völsunga saga, p. 11. 64 See Laws of Early Iceland: Grágás vol. 1, trans. and ed. Andrew Dennis, Peter Foote and Richard Perkins (Winnipeg, 1980), pp. 175–86. 59 60

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Jessica Clare Hancock narrated, Hreiðmarr’s death-speech implies that Reginn is also involved. Yet when Reginn asks Sigurðr to avenge Fáfnir’s hoarding of the spoils of this patricide, Sigurðr does not question the suitability of Reginn’s involvement in the murder, thus implying that it is reasonable. In Völsunga saga, Fáfnir’s crime is directly related to his transformation into a dragon; permanently breaking the paternal bond places him beyond humanity as well as outside of the family.65 Furthermore, Reginn’s involvement is erased from the narrative (and so he does not suffer the same punishment); this text depicts patricide as unambiguously malevolent, perhaps demonstrating a concern for contemporary conflicts such as those documented in Sturlunga saga. In the Poetic Edda, family killings occur in an underhand manner.66 In Reginsmál, the prose reveals that: ‘Fáfnir lagði sverði Hreiðmar fœður sinn sofanda’ (Fáfnir thrust his sword into his father, Hreiðmarr, when he was asleep).67 Fáfnir avoids an open fight either because he fears defeat or would be confronted by the reality of his actions. The method thus signifies the particularly troubling nature of the killing. Indeed, the murder of Reginn by Sigurðr, his foster-son, is so problematic that it is almost erased from the text in the Poetic Edda. Sigurðr merely declares that: Þvíat þeir báðir bræðr skulu brálliga fara til heljar heðan.68 (Then both brothers shall henceforth hastily go to hell.) It is only in the compiler-added prose that it is mentioned that ‘Sigurðr hjó höfuð af Reginn’ (Sigurðr cut off Reginn’s head).69 In Völsunga saga, their relationship is depicted as more confrontational. Sigurðr is ungrateful when Reginn forges him a sword and openly insults him: ‘þú munt líkr vera inum fyrrum frændum þínum ok vera ótrú’ (you are like your forebears and are disloyal).70 Nevertheless, despite this dispute, Sigurðr’s lack of hesitation in killing him for a potential crime (Fáfnir and some nuthatches state that Reginn will betray him) seems curious given their earlier emotional connection, and the potential untrustworthiness of this advice. Yet the murder is described straightforwardly, and there is no sign of it being troublesome – indeed, Sigurðr is rewarded with treasure and the promise of women, although his own violent death is perhaps a narrative retribution.71 Fáfnir’s and Sigurðr’s homicides are 65 66

67 68 69 70

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Völsunga saga, p. 26. Later medieval-Icelandic penal codes, such as Grágás, reveal that a murder that is not openly declared is punishable by outlawry in recognition of its disruptive nature; Laws of Early Iceland, pp. 139–74. Reginsmál, p. 26. Reginsmál, st. 39. Reginsmál, p. 311. See also Völsunga saga, p. 34. Völsunga saga, p. 27. Clark argues that ‘the deaths of Sigurðr and Baldr may be linked as parallel

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Male Kinship Obligations portrayed very differently. This may be because Reginn is Sigurðr’s fosterfather.72 Yet this dissimilar treatment, without clear-cut repercussions, still challenges the idea of the murder of a father figure as an ultimate taboo. It is not just sons who kill fathers. In Guðrúnarhvöt, the prose explains that Jörmunrekkr kills his son, Randvér, because of a rumoured relationship with his wife. In Völsunga saga, a more obviously moral stance is taken and this is explicitly criticised as ‘ill ráð’ (wicked advice) and Jörmunrekkr himself repents (too late) after his son uses hawk feathers to point out the dishonourable nature of the killing.73 Similarly, Sinfjötli kills a step-uncle over a woman whom they both wish to marry.74 Cross-generational rivalry over a woman leads to death, prioritising a threat to sexual prowess over kinship. Non-natal bonds are more easily ruptured, but strife in all kinds of crossgenerational relationships is portrayed as problematic. Examining masculinities in a different context, Hannah Hamad argues that ‘paternity is a universalizing discourse of masculinity’.75 In the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga, cohesion emerges from the centring of fatherhood around heroic masculinity. In both these texts, the heritability of characteristics is often emphasised; fathers in particular provide identity as well as material goods. Yet a cross-generational similarity can have devastating consequences when it leads to competition. Although a son’s prowess may enhance his father’s masculinity, it can also lead to jealousy and rivalry. This tension between male family members reveals the potential toxicity of heroic masculinity, although a loving relationship is occasionally shown as a viable alternative. This becomes even more evident in kinship in the same generation, which is explored in the next section.

Fraternity From siblings one learns, or fails to learn, that one is not the same child as the one who came before or as the next baby who follows.76 Feminist masculinity tells men that they become more real through the act of connecting with others, through building community.77 In the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga, brotherhood implies clear obligations, including uniting to fight an enemy. Helgakviða Hundingsbana I depicts a murders of two paragons’ yet as Sigurðr murders his foster-father he is not innocent like Baldr: Gender, Violence, and the Past, p. 79. 72 Hansen explains that in fostering, like Reginn’s, ‘biological parents […] remained the final authority’, thus denoting a hierarchy between the two: ‘Fosterage and Dependency in Medieval Iceland’, p. 79. 73 Völsunga saga, pp. 75 and 76. 74 Völsunga saga, p. 18. 75 Hannah Hamad, Postfeminism and Paternity in Contemporary U.S. Film: Framing Fatherhood (Abingdon, 2014), p. 1. 76 Juliet Mitchell, Siblings: Sex and Violence (Cambridge, 2003), p. 150. 77 hooks, The Will to Change, p. 121.

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Jessica Clare Hancock battle between Helgi and Höðbroddr. Before the physical violence, there is a flyting, or a verbal exchange of insults, between Helgi’s half-brother, Sinfjötli, and Höðbroddr’s brother, Guðmundr. As in many flytings, the insults attack the masculinities of the interlocutors.78 Here, the obligation of a brother is to replace one’s sibling as well as defend them, so identities blur: it does not appear to matter whether it is Helgi or Sinfjötli, or Guðmundr or Höðbroddr, who participates. Later, the replicability of even brothers-in-law is explored in the physical shape-shifting that takes place between Sigurðr and Gunnarr. When this is described in Grípisspá, there is no sense in which the internal identity that remains will be problematised by this external exchange: one brother-in-law is depicted as a straightforward substitute for another.79 Yet the insults used in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I’s flyting are personal and refer to alleged incidents involving the actual interlocutor; the brothers are proxies but not identical. Furthermore, the flyting itself is undermined by Helgi: Væri ycr, Sinfjötli, sœmra myclo gunni at heyia oc glaða örno, enn sé ónýtom orðom at bregðaz.80 (It would befit you more, Sinfjötli, to do battle and delight eagles, than to taunt with useless words.) Helgi suggests that physical action is more masculine than verbal combat, thus establishing his pre-eminence.81 Larrington argues that ‘counter-identification [...] [which] lies between complementarity and deidentification, often mediates competition successfully’, but here success in different areas is still subject to a direct comparison where one is found lacking.82 Helgi’s assertion also depicts masculinity as malleable, and always vulnerable to being deemed insufficient by others. Fraternal rivalries are repeatedly explored in the Poetic Edda and fratricide is portrayed as cyclical. Fáfnir tells Sigurðr that: Reginn mik réð, hann þik ráða mun83 (Reginn betrayed me, he will betray you.) 78

The most serious threats to masculinity were accusations of sexual penetration by another man, which were expressly forbidden by later medieval Icelandic laws of níð. For a detailed discussion of níð, see Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, trans. Joan Turville-Petre (Odense, 1983), pp. 28–32, and also Alison Finlay’s chapter in this volume. 79 Grípisspá, st. 39. 80 Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, st. 45. 81 Although later níð laws would counter the idea that words are useless. 82 Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, p. 8. 83 Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, st. 22.

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Male Kinship Obligations This crime is so serious that it becomes an identity; once that boundary has been crossed, it will be traversed again. Indeed, the seriousness of fratricide is depicted even between affinal brothers. Larrington observes that ‘brothersin-law, uninhibited by shared childhood and blood, turn readily to murder to recalibrate power differentials between families’, yet, despite its prevalence, this behaviour is depicted as troubling in both the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga – particularly in the former text which continually returns to this trope.84 In Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, Dagr kills his brother-in-law, Helgi. His confession to Helgi’s wife reveals coercion and regret, indicating his awareness of the damaging nature of this killing.85 Sigurðr’s murder by his brother-in-law Guttormr, in Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, is accompanied by uncanny bodily disturbances in Gunnarr: ‘fót nam at hræra’ (his foot began to move itself).86 In Sigurðarkviða in skamma, Guttormr is chosen because he has not sworn an oath of allegiance to Sigurðr but, despite this seeming like a viable loophole to Gunnarr and Högni, the absence of this bond is not portrayed as crucial – it is the affinal relationship that involves obligations.87 Pragya Vohra contends that blood-brotherhood invokes extra duties for vengeance, and so ‘removes the uncertainty of one’s own kinsmen failing to [avenge]’, but this is not the case in this text.88 In the Poetic Edda, this murder is repeated differently in several poems and the compiler acknowledges the alternate narratives, thus presenting this event as undecidable and too heinous to be accurately witnessed. The continued retellings of this and other instances of male familial betrayal is also suggestive of trauma. This connects it to other distressing events such as the loss of a son. Of course, Sigurðr’s protagonistic positioning in the narrative contributes to this treatment of his death; but the sense that his brothers-in-law have wronged him demonstrates that the rupture of affinal bonds is unacceptable. Although fraternal relationships are marked by competition from the outset, they can also be loving. In Atlamál hin groenlenzku, Atli’s loss of his brothers in battle is portrayed as particularly upsetting.89 In Völsunga saga, this bereavement is also described: ‘fjórir váru vér brœðr, ok em ek nú einn eptir’ (there were four of us brothers and afterwards, I am now alone).90 This statement echoes Guðrúnarkviða I,91 thus linking it to other expressions of grief, but it is the only instance that involves brothers, and one of the few Brothers and Sisters, p. 207. Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, st. 28. Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, st. 13. Sigurðarkviða in skamma, st. 20. See also Völsunga saga, p. 57. Pragya Vohra, ‘Creating Kin, Extending Authority: Blood-Brotherhood and Power in Medieval Iceland’, in The Palgrave Handbook of Masculinity and Political Culture in Europe, ed. Christopher Fletcher, Sean Brady, Rachel E. Moss, and Lucy Riall (London, 2018), pp. 105–31, at p. 119. Atlamál hin groenlenzku, st. 55. Völsunga saga, p. 69. Guðrúnarkviða I, st. 19.

84 Larrington, 85 86 87 88

89 90 91

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Jessica Clare Hancock examples that focuses on family rather than romantic love.92 Yet the pathos of this moment is weakened by knowledge that Atli has instigated this battle (in contrast to female mourning such as in Guðrúnarkviða I, which relates to their inability to control the situation). A fraternal bond can involve emotion but, as with paternal relationships, this is most commonly expressed at the moment of loss where the spectre of rivalry is diminished. Just as with cross-generational conflicts, such disputes can centre around women, as in Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, where Heðinn betrays his brother, Helgi, by pledging to marry his wife, Sváva. Helgi reacts pragmatically, by suggesting that the situation may be resolved if he is defeated in an upcoming duel.93 He prioritises his fraternal relationship above his marriage – unlike in the cross-generational rivalries. Although Larrington describes the incident as resolved when ‘fraternal love rises above mimetic desire’, Heðinn seems dissatisfied with this response and argues that his brother should punish him with violence – his reaction emphasises the importance of vengeance, even against kin.94 Heðinn’s disappointment might be that Helgi denies him a chance to accentuate his own warrior identity by fighting. Heðinn’s response, however, also suggests that Helgi’s reaction is unexpected and even improper. Nevertheless, the prose confirmation that Helgi and Sváva are resurrected together demonstrates that a heroic masculinity tempered by love for kin is ultimately rewarded.95 A contrasting attitude to a potential transgression by a brother is the indirect fratricide depicted in Atlakviða, Atlamál hin groenlenzku, and Völsunga saga. In Atlakviða, Gunnarr’s response to being asked by his battle rivals if he wishes to buy his life is: Hjarta skal mér Högna í hendi liggia, bróður míns, blóðukt.96 (Högni’s heart must lay in my hand, bleeding). When this request is eventually fulfilled (at first, another man’s heart is offered but Gunnarr notices that it quivers too much to belong to his brave brother), Gunnarr declares that the family hoard’s location will never be revealed now Högni is dead.97 In Atlamál hin groenlenzku, Gunnarr’s only reaction is musical, as he plays a harp song which induces weeping in his Guðrúnarkviða I, st. 19. Mills notes that there are only three occasions where men weep in heroic Eddic poetry, all involving a group of unidentified men: ‘Grief, Gender, and Genre’, p. 477. 93 As the duel is against Helgi’s mother’s would-be suitor, Clark reads the duel ‘as a displacement of the “real” sibling rivalry between Helgi and Heðinn’: Gender, Violence, and the Past, p. 62. 94 Larrington, Brothers and Sisters, p. 123; Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, st. 34. 95 Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, p. 269. 96 Atlakviða, st. 21. 97 Atlakviða, st. 26. 92

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Male Kinship Obligations audience.98 Gunnarr’s grief at his brother’s death is implied, but his request for the heart is unprompted – it may be that the author assumed knowledge of the plot, but as this poem has 105 stanzas to Atlakviða’s 43 it is surprising that the motivation is left out. Völsunga saga follows Atlakviða: after a demand for the location of his fortune, Gunnarr declares that: ‘fyrr skal ek sjá hjarta Högna, bróður míns, blóðugt’ (I shall first see my brother Högni’s bloody heart).99 Thus, Gunnarr’s only justification is doubting his brother’s ability to keep a secret, despite his bravery being inherent even in a bodily organ after death. His demand may relate to a desire for Högni to have a speedy demise. Yet it also demonstrates rivalry in his aspiration to be the last brother alive, as his brother’s death seems avoidable. Katherine Olley interprets Hǫgni’s murder as ‘a necessary sacrifice’ that ‘strengthen[s] the bond between the brothers’.100 But this scene indicates a complete absence of hope in Gunnarr’s inability or refusal to trust his brother and thereby enable an alternative solution (perhaps in a replication of Sinfjötli and Sigmundr’s escape from capture by Siggeir). The destruction of a brother, therefore, becomes another demonstration of the consequences of choosing violence over love. Similarly, at the end of the texts, two brothers, Hamðir and Sörli, kill their full101 or half102 brother Erpr: Finna þeir Erp, bródur sinn, ok spyrja hvat hann mundi veita þeim. Hann svarar, “slíkt sem hönd hendi eða fótr foeti.” Þeim þótti þat ekki vera ok drápu hann.103 (They found Erpr, their brother, and asked what help he would give them. He answered, ‘that which a hand gives a hand or a foot gives a foot’. They thought that would be nothing and killed him.)104 Soon afterwards, both trip over, with Hamðir steadying himself with a hand and Sörli with a foot, suggesting that Erpr’s help would have been valuable, and this is confirmed when they are one too few to defeat their enemy.105 98 99

100 101 102 103

104

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Atlamál hin groenlenzku, st. 63. Völsunga saga, p. 71. Katherine Olley, ‘The Icelandic Hǫgni: The Re-Imagining of a Nibelung Hero in the Eddic Tradition’, Scandinavian Studies 90.2 (2018), 237–64 at p. 242 and 244. Völsunga saga, p. 74. Hamðismál, st. 14. Völsunga saga, p. 77. See also Hamðismál, st. 14. Larrington comments that ‘the instigation of fratricide in this way, whether direct or indirect, is very rare in Eddic material’: ‘“I have long desired to cure you of old age”: Mothers, Siblings and Murder in the Later Heroic Poems of the Edda’, in Revisiting the Poetic Edda: Essays on Old Norse Heroic Legend, ed. Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington (London, 2013), pp. 140–56, at p. 143. Stefán Einarsson notes that a similar motif found in another medieval text, William of Malmesbury’s Chronicles of the Kings of England, has a villain as the protagonist, indicating even more strongly the problematic nature of the killing: ‘Hvat Megi Fótr Fœti Veita?’, Scandinavian Studies, 20.3 (1948), 113–28, at p. 124.

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Jessica Clare Hancock Their inability to understand their brother’s potential is a prioritisation of individuality and an extreme heroic masculinity where violence is enacted without consideration. As Clark argues, it is significant that the compiler chose to end with this poem, ‘throwing the final emphasis onto this text and its themes’.106 Furthermore, the bodily metaphor represents the crucial nature of each family member; the image demonstrates the strength gained from apparent duplication.107 The negative consequences are emphasised further in Völsunga saga which ends without the promises of fame after death present in the Poetic Edda – perhaps the crime is seen as more reprehensible because Erpr is depicted as a full brother, but this conclusion also provides a greater condemnation of kin killing. Just as with Gunnarr and Högni, when rivalry is prioritised, hopelessness ensues. The echoing nature of these two scenes reveals the trauma caused by a toxic heroic masculinity where family love is cast aside in favour of destructive competition.

Conclusion This chapter has outlined the masculine identities formed by family obligations in the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga. Family relationships have a key function in upholding hegemonic masculine identities and are even depicted as being contingent on an exhibition of heroic masculinity. Thus, paternal duties, primarily of provision, shape a son’s identity, indicating the importance of learned identity scripts. Yet tensions exist between a father enabling a son to fulfil a warrior identity and becoming jealous of him exceeding his own heroic masculinity. In the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga, the only lives considered fully ‘grievable’, in Judith Butler’s term, and thus fully recognised as human, are male family members.108 The violence of heroic masculinity is only portrayed as problematic when it is turned upon kin, demonstrating that it is these bonds, even between half siblings or in-laws, that should not be ruptured. If toxic heroic masculinity is condemned in the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga, what alternative form is possible? Each section of this chapter uses an epigraph from bell hooks, who articulates similar problems with the hegemonic masculinity of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.109 Many of the issues she raises accord with heroic masculinity in the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga – the tensions between a dominant masculinity arranged around heroism and violence, and the function of the family in constructing and idealising harmful models of masculinity, especially in their encouragement of competition. Her proposed solution is a focus on the Gender, Violence, and the Past, p. 70. Clark suggests that the lessons are applicable to the wider community (Gender, Violence, and the Past, p. 87), but this metaphor’s juxtaposition of sameness and difference clearly grounds the text within a family relationship. 108 Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London, 2008), p. 1. 109 hooks, The Will to Change. 106 Clark, 107

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Male Kinship Obligations kind of love that acts as a catalyst for change. Indeed, Victor Seidler warns of contemporary theorisations of masculinities that ‘threate[n] to forget men’s complex relationships with their emotions’.110 hooks argues that ‘we must […] reimagine family in all its diverse forms as a place of resistance’.111 This opportunity for the family to produce less harmful kinds of masculinities can be perceived in moments in the Poetic Edda and, more commonly, in Völsunga saga where love between male relations is given precedence.112 Love will not remove opposition; as Slavoj Žižek suggests, ‘the one measure of true love is: you can insult the other’, but an emotional connection can prevent disputes escalating into violence.113 Family relationships involve an ever-present conflict between shared and individual identities, particularly in these texts where bonds are rarely straightforward. Juliet Mitchell observes that kinship involves ‘the engendering of gender as a difference forged out of the matrix of sameness’.114 This tension is echoed in the structure of the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga: as retellings they will thus always involve variance, if only in form or context. But the presence of alternative versions of events demonstrates that apparent repetition can never be identical. In the same way, family members are not completely duplicated (even identical genotypes involve variant phenotypes) – as in Hamðismál’s metaphor, two hands will always be unlike enough for their coexistence to be valuable. Expressions of difference that lead to violent eradication are, therefore, unnecessary. Even so, in portraying narrative punishment of violence against relations (only Guðrún endures after murdering kin), the Poetic Edda and Völsunga saga themselves endorse and continue the cycle of retribution. The duties inherent in heroic masculinity are ultimately destructive and yet appear to be unavoidable within the framework of this gender script. Nevertheless, glimpses of a different form of masculinity, moderated by the expression of love, establish the possibilities for a less damaging identity.

Victor Seidler, Transforming Masculinities: Men, Cultures, Bodies, Power, Sex and Love (London, 2009), pp. 100–01. See also Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir’s chapter in this volume for an exploration of romantic love, in the form of lovesickness, and masculinity. 111 hooks, The Will to Change, p. 172. 112 See Sif Rikhardsdottir, Emotion in Old Norse Literature for a further exploration of the relationship between emotion and masculinity in Old Norse-Icelandic texts. 113 Sabine Reul and Thomas Deichman, ‘Spiked: Interview with Slavoj Žižek’, Lacan (15 November 2001; accessed 28 November 2019) . 114 Mitchell, Siblings, p. 225. 110

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Afterword: The Ethics and Urgency of Studying Old Norse Masculinities Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock

Writing on the academic study of masculinity in medieval literature, Ásdís Egilsdóttir has noted that, Oft má sjá í þessum skrifum að höfundum finnst ástæða til þess að útskýra, og jafnvel réttlæta, hvers vegna þeir taka fyrir karlmennsku og svara ímynduðum efasemdarmanni sem spyr, já en höfum við ekki alltaf verið að því? En kynjafræðingar svara því til að þeir séu ekki að stíga skref afturábak [...] heldur koma að karlmennsku og karlkyni á nýjan hátt fyrir áhrif kvenna- og kynjafræða.1 (Often one can see in these writings that the authors feel a need to explain, and even justify, why they deal with masculinity, and they answer an imaginary sceptic who asks, ‘OK, but have we not always done that?’ But gender studies scholars reply that they are not taking steps backward [...] but rather are approaching masculinity and maleness in a new way as a result of the influence of women’s and gender studies.) Ásdís is entirely correct that scholars exhibit an anxiety over writing about masculinity in medieval literature and that they frequently make a point of justifying their choice to do so.2 But it is nevertheless important that researchers continue to do this in order both to acknowledge their intellectual debts to the tradition of feminist research within which the scholarly study of masculinities is situated and to indicate how such analyses are inevitable, necessary, and logical applications of feminist theoretical insights. In particular, it is largely to Black feminist thinkers that we owe the 1

2

Ásdís Egilsdóttir, ‘Kolbítur verður karlmaður’, in Fræðinæmi: Greinar gefnar út í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Ásdísar Egilsdóttur, ed. Ármann Jakobsson, Gunnvör Karlsdóttir, Sif Ríkharðsdóttir, and Torfi Tulinius (Reykjavík, 2016), pp. 157–69, at p. 160. See, for example: Thelma Fenster, ‘Preface: Why Men?’, in Medieval Masculinities: Regarding Men in the Middle Ages, ed. Clare A. Lees (Minneapolis and London, 1994), pp. ix–xiii; Gareth Lloyd Evans, Men and Masculinities in the Sagas of Icelanders (Oxford, 2019), pp. 7–9.

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock indispensable insight that there are multiple modes of femininity and multiple ways of ‘being a woman’.3 It is by the extension of such theorisations that we reach the inevitable conclusion that there are also multiple ways of exhibiting masculinity.4 But the mere recognition of the logic of this position will be of little impact unless we draw on this insight in our scholarly explorations of masculinity. If we only examine the construction of femininities we, as a side effect, privilege – even reify – masculinity as an unimpeachable, ‘natural’ category. It is only by studying masculinities – their formation and operation – that we force masculinities, like femininities, to be recognised as socially constructed. And it is not until we acknowledge masculinities’ social construction that we may begin to critique them and consider their socio-political effects.5 Ultimately, examining the historical contours and modalities of masculinities enables a fuller challenge to patriarchal systems that are harmful as a result of their privileging of (and predication upon) one sole mode of masculinity and their denigration of femininities and alternative masculinities. Moreover, by explicitly articulating the ideological and political motivations that lie behind our decision to edit a collection on masculinities in Old Norse-Icelandic literature we are better able to resist the weaponisation of medieval literature and medieval masculinities against marginalised peoples. As Evans has noted, ‘Old Norse literature has historically been – and continues to be – misappropriated by the intolerant, who draw on the popular contemporary perception of it as unrelentingly and exclusively masculinist. Racists, xenophobes, misogynists, transphobes, ableists, and homophobes would all twist Old Norse sources to fit their exclusionary agendas.’6 These various modes of bigotry are not to be seen as independent of one another: Old Norse-Icelandic literature – or more accurately, a false conception of Old Norse-Icelandic literature and society – is frequently used to fuel and justify white supremacist views and atrocities, and these racist ideologies are very much linked with – indeed, inextricable from – conceptions of vikings as (hyper)masculine. Those exhibiting these ideologies often perform what Dorothy Kim has described as ‘a form of white toxic masculinity based on the belief that the “barbaric” warriors of medieval Northern Europe functioned as a violent warrior comitatus’.7 Indeed, the white supremacist terrorist responsible for the attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019 ended his repugnant manifesto by writing ‘I will see you in Rachel Alsop, Annette Fitzsimons, and Kathleen Lennon, Theorizing Gender (Oxford, 2002), pp. 3, and 74–79. 4 Alsop, Fitzsimons, and Lennon, Theorizing Gender, p. 75. 5 Jane Flax, ‘Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory’, Signs 12.4 (1987), 621–43, at p. 629; Evans, Men and Masculinities, p. 8. 6 Evans, Men and Masculinities, p. 145. 7 Dorothy Kim, ‘White Supremacists Have Weaponized an Imaginary Viking Past. It’s Time to Reclaim the Real History’, Time Magazine (12 April 2019; accessed 2 July 2019) . 3

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Afterword Valhalla’.8 He thus implicitly aligned himself with the einherjar, the warriors who go to Óðinn’s hall after death in battle, viewing them as emblematic of a violent, white, intensely homosocial masculinity. The accuracy (or otherwise) of this particular view of einherjar masculinity should not be our primary concern (although it can certainly be contested); what is most immediately and urgently of concern is the use to which such conceptions of Norse masculinity are being put. That Old Norse-Icelandic material, imageries, concepts – and masculinities – are being weaponised cannot be ignored. We have a responsibility to recognise that there is a danger that our scholarship – unless we specifically, loudly, explicitly reject bigoted ideologies within it – will quite possibly be used to fuel hatred and violence. As Kim has rightly suggested, as medievalists we must ‘Choose a side’ since ‘Doing nothing is choosing a side.’9 Our silence is complicity. We do not mean to claim that Old Norse-Icelandic sources present an explicitly feminist outlook, or that they do not contain elements that as modern readers we would label as misogynist,10 racist,11 and homophobic.12 But we cannot allow these elements to overshadow or obscure other narratives that are equally true. Saga texts are often critical of excessive – sociallyproblematic – masculinity, and demonstrate its burden.13 Óðinn – a figure whose image and associations are frequently weaponised by white supremacists who take him as an emblem of white, masculinist power – acts in ways that, were he human, would undoubtedly cause him to be coded as queer.14 Þórr cross-dresses, succumbs to personified old age in the figure of a woman, and often becomes the focus of laughter in Norse mythology.15 Loki’s gender – and sex – are mutable and fluid.16 Contemporary populist and masculinist 8

David D. Kirkpatrick, ‘Massacre Suspect Traveled the World but Lived on the Internet’, The New York Times (15 March 2019; accessed 2 July 2019) . 9 Dorothy Kim, ‘Teaching Medieval Studies in a Time of White Supremacy’, In the Middle (28 August 2017; accessed 2 July 2019) . 10 For a discussion of perhaps the most shocking example of misogyny in the saga corpus, see: Robin Waugh, ‘Misogyny, Women’s Language, and Love-Language: Yngvildr fagrkinn in Svarfdæla saga’, Scandinavian Studies 70.2 (1998), 151–94. 11 See for example: Richard Cole, ‘Kyn / Fólk / Þjóð / Ætt: Proto-Racial Thinking and its Application to Jews in Old Norse Literature’, in Fear and Loathing in the North: Jews and Muslims in Medieval Scandinavia and the Baltic Region, ed. Cordelia Heß and Jonathan Adams (Berlin, 2015), pp. 239–68. 12 See, for example: David Clark, ‘Heroic Homosociality and Homophobia in the Helgi Poems’, in David Clark, Gender, Violence, and the Past in Edda and Saga (Oxford, 2012), pp. 46–66. 13 Evans, Men and Masculinities. 14 Ármann Jakobsson, ‘Óðinn as Mother: The Old Norse Deviant Patriarch’, Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi 126 (2011), 5–16. 15 Declan Taggart, How Thor Lost His Thunder: The Changing Faces of an Old Norse God (London and New York, 2018), p. 68. 16 David Clark and Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, ‘The Representation of Gender in

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Gareth Lloyd Evans and Jessica Clare Hancock conceptions of Old Norse-Icelandic myth and literature focus on the elements that can be cherry-picked to support bigoted political and social views, but other narratives that cannot be used to reinforce these views – that in fact contradict such views – are also present. It is these counter-narratives that we must publicise and make known if we are to work against the far-right’s appropriation of Norse myth, legend, and literature. We hope that this book – by demonstrating the wide range of different masculinities that we find in Old Norse-Icelandic sources, indeed the diversity of masculinities that we encounter – will help contribute to this crucial goal.

Eddic Poetry’, in A Handbook to Eddic Poetry: Myths and Legends of Early Scandinavia, ed. Carolyne Larrington, Judy Quinn, and Brittany Schorn (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 331–48, at pp. 339–40.

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bibliography Icelanders with patronyms are listed alphabetically by forename.

Primary Material Alexanders saga, ed. Finnur Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1925). AM 162 A θ fol (Reykjavík), ed. Alex Speed Kjeldsen, in Opuscula 12, ed. Britta Olrik Frederiksen (Copenhagen, 2005), pp. 198–206. Áns saga bogsveigis, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 1, pp. 401–32. Aristotle, Problems, ed. and trans. Robert A. Mayhew and David C. Mirhady, 2 vols (Cambridge, MA, 2011). Austfirðinga sögur, ed. Jón Jóhannesson, Íslenzk fornrit 11 (Reykjavík, 1950). Bandamanna saga, in Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar, ed. Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 7 (Reykjavík, 1936), pp. 291–363. Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, in Harðar saga, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Íslenzk fornrit 13 (Reykjavík, 1991), pp. 99–172. Biskupa sögur I–II, ed. Jón Sigurðsson and Guðbrandur Vigfússon (Copenhagen, 1858–78). Biskupa sögur I, ed. Sigurgeir Steingrímsson, Ólafur Halldórsson, and Peter Foote, Íslenzk fornrit 15 (Reykjavík, 2003). Biskupa sögur II, ed. Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Íslenzk fornrit 16 (Reykjavík, 2002). Biskupa sögur III: Árna saga biskups, Lárentíus saga biskups, Söguþáttur Jóns Halldórssonar biskups, Biskupa þættir, ed. Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir, Íslenzk fornrit 17 (Reykjavík, 1998). Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa, ed. R. C. Boer (Halle, 1893). Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa, in Borgfirðinga sögur, ed. Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson, Íslenzk fornrit 3 (Reykjavík, 1938), pp. 109–211. The Book of the Icelanders, ed. and trans. Halldór Hermannsson (Ithaca, 1930). Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, in Fornaldar sögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson, 4 vols (Reykjavik, 1954), vol. 3, pp. 281–322. Bósa saga, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, 3 vols (Reykjavík, 1943–44), vol. 2, pp. 463–97. Bragða-Mágus saga með tilheyrandi þáttum, ed. Gunnlaugur Þórðarson (Copenhagen, 1858). Brennu-Njáls saga, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit 12 (Reykjavík, 1954). Chaucer, Geoffrey, ‘The Reeve’s Tale’, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson et al., 3rd edn (Oxford, 1988), pp. 78–84.

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index The index is limited to authors, titles, and manuscripts. Af natturu mannzins ok bloði 150 Agnes Arnórsdóttir 49 Alcuin 210 Alexanders saga 189 All’s Well that Ends Well 78, 184, 197 Almqvist, Bo 173, 176, 177, 178, 181 AM 132 fol. 149 see also Möðruvallabók AM 152 fol. 79 AM 162 A θ fol. 149, 157 n.60 AM 180 b fol. 204 AM 291 4to 178 AM 343 a 4to 39 n.9, 51 n.76 AM 404 4to 204 AM 406 a I 4to 204 AM 471 4to 39 n.9 AM 580 4to 79 AM 770 b 4to 71 Ambrosius saga 121–2 Anderson, Eric 134–5 Andersson, Theodore M. 118 Áns saga bogsveigis 51 Ariès, Philippe 23 Ármann Jakobsson 10–11, 24 n.11, 34-5 n.66, 35 n.67, 132, 136 n.33, 155 n.49, 221, 227 n.61 Árna saga biskups 205 Ásdís Egilsdóttir 9–10, 15–16, 41, 237 Ashurst, David 17, 218 Atlakviða 224, 225 n.51, 232, 233 Atlamál hin groenlenzku 231, 232–3 Auður Magnúsdóttir 49–50, 199 Bagerius, Henric 12–13, 49–50, 51, 56, 57, 209, 216 Bandamanna saga 33 Bandlien, Bjørn 12, 122, 215 n.69, 223

Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss 29 n.36, 30, 31 Barnes, Michael P. 179 n.54 Bartholomeus Anglicus 160 n.76 Bersöglisvísur 142 n.54 Bjarkamál 183, 186, 187, 196, 197 Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa 17, 21–22, 26, 31 n.52, 34 n.64, 167–82, 198 Bjarni Einarsson 172 n.26, 178 n.49 Boccaccio, Giovanni 78 Boer, R. C. 173 Bósa saga 42 n.29, 191–2, 193 Bragða-Mágus saga see Mágus saga jarls Brands þáttr örva 132 n.18 Bray, Alan 198–9 n.60 Brennu-Njáls saga see Njáls saga Brot af Sigurðarkviðu 231 Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir 16 Butler, Judith 3 n.7, 59–60, 91–2, 206 n.17, 208, 234 Byock, Jesse 199 Callow, Chris 24, 25 n.18, 26 Chaucer, Geoffrey 192 Chrétien de Troyes 150, 151, 155 n.47 Clark, David 2 n.3, 12, 13, 62, 65, 217 n.3, 218–9, 220, 228 n.71, 232 n.93, 234 Clover, Carol 5–6, 7, 15, 25 n.17, 26, 45 n.42, 60–1, 67, 75 n.61, 97–9, 100, 102, 103–4, 111, 112, 183 n.2 Clunies Ross, Margaret 8–9, 67 n.32 Codex Regius 217–8 Cole, Richard 81 Connell, Raewyn 4, 113, 128, 129, 147 n.1

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Index Constantine the African 150, 151, 160 n.76 Crenshaw, Kimberlé 4 n.9, 98 n.5 Cullum, P.H. 206 Curtius, Quintus 185 n.5 de Beauvoir, Simone 30 Decameron 78 Deichl, Florian 218 De virtutibus et vitiis 210 Dronke, Ursula 224 n.46 Droplaugarsona saga 29 n.32, 29 n.40, 32 n.58 Dunstanus saga 215 n.66 Durrenberger, E. Paul 199 Egils saga 16, 28, 29, 30 n.42, 31-2, 34, 46, 98, 147–63, 178 Egils saga einhenda ok Ásmundar berserkjabana 106 Einar Ól. Sveinsson 63 n.16 Eiríks saga rauða 14, 70–5 Ellis Davidson, Hilda 39 Elton, Oliver 211 Ephesians, Epistle to the 125 Epistula Vindiciani 150 n.12 Equitan 151 Etymologiae 183 n.2 Evans, Gareth Lloyd 13, 14, 98, 128, 238 Eyrbyggja saga 10, 32, 116–8, 119, 126 Fáfnismál 221, 226, 227 Falk, Oren 14, 72 Felski, Rita 48 Ferrari, Fulvio 211 Finke, Laurie 47 n.55 Finlay, Alison 17, 26 n.19, 179 n.55, 218 Finnboga saga 25 n.15, 25 n. 18, 29 n.33, 30, 32–3 Finnur Jónsson 173, 176 n.45, 199 Flateyarbók 189 Fljótsdæla saga 32 n.58, 33 n.62 Flóamanna saga 29 n.35, 32 n.58, 33 Flóvents saga 30 n.48 Foote, Peter 28, 34 Fóstbrœðra saga 32 n.58, 107 n.42, 184, 187, 188, 189, 190, 202

Foucault, Michel 134 Frá dauða Sinfjötla 223, 225 n.51 Frank, Roberta 7–8, 117–8 Gade, Kari Ellen 171–2, 175, 197, 199 Galen 149 Gaskins, Richard 199 Geirarðs rímur 79 Geirmundar þáttr heljarskinns 30 n.47 Gerard of Berry 151, 152 n.31, 152 n. 32, 153 Gesta Danorum 9, 68 Gísla saga Súrssonar 12, 32, 35 n.69, 65, 75 n.61, 98, 174–5 Gísli Pálsson 199 GKS 2365 4to 217 Göngu-Hrólfs saga 15, 97–112 Grágás 49 n.60, 59 n.3, 114, 168 n.5, 170–1, 227, 228 n.66 Grámagaflím 26, 172 n.26 Grettisfœrsla 171 Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar 28–9, 30 n.43, 31 n.49, 32, 33 n.61, 34, 75 n.61, 103, 106, 173–4 n.32, 184 n.3 Grípisspá 222, 230 Grœnlendinga saga 29 n.37, 73 Guðbrandur Vigfússon 172 n.26, 197 Guðmundar sögur biskups 120, 123–5, 126, 205, 210, 213 n.58 Guðrúnarhvöt 221, 229 Guðrúnarkviða I 231–2 Guðrúnarkviða II 221, 224 Guðrún Ása Grímsdóttir 204 Guigemar 151 Gulaþingslǫg 116 n.18, 168 n.5, 170 Gull-Þóris saga see Þorskfirðinga saga Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu 25 n.15, 56 n.90 Gylfaginning 41 Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar 190–1, 195–8 Halberstam, Jack 60, 62–3, 69, 91 Hálfdanar saga Brönufóstra 37, 38-9, 40, 44, 46–7, 48, 51, 52 Hallfreðar saga 33 n.60, 45 n.44 Hamad, Hannah 229 Hamðismál 233, 235 Hancock, Jessica Clare 12, 18

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Index Harðar saga 22, 29 n.40, 30 n.48, 32 n.58, 33 n.61 Harris, Joseph 26 Hastrup, Kirsten 23 Hauksbók 71, 72, 150, 187, 188 n.16, 189 Hávamál 106 Hávarðar saga Ísfirðings 30 n.43 Heide, Eldar 65 n.23, 66 Heimskringla 134 n.23, 137 n.35, 174–5, 176–7, 180, 183, 186–8, 194–5 Heinrichs, Anne 154 Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar 12, 222, 225, 230–1, 232 Helgakviða Hundingsbana I 12, 170, 176, 220, 221–2, 225, 229, 230 Helgakviða Hundingsbana II 12, 225, 231 Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 99 Hippocrates 149 Historia Norwegie 210 History of Alexander 185 n.5 Hobson, Barbara 219 Holm. Papp. 58 fol. 79 n.12 hooks, bell 220, 225, 229, 234, 235 Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða 34 n.64, Hrafns saga Sveinbjarnarsonar 29 n.35, 29 n.36, 29 n.39 Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar 87, 88 n. 35, 91, 107 n.42 Hrólfs saga kraka 11, 99 Hungrvaka 122, 205 Húskarlahvǫt 186, 187 Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra 42 n.29 Isidore of Seville 183 n.2 Íslendingabók 114–5 Íslendinga saga 26 n.22, 27, 28–9, 32 n.58, 33, 49, 124 Ívens saga 150, 151, 152 Jesch, Judith 34 Jochens, Jenny 44 n.40, 45, 48, 49, 50, 51, 56, 57, 63, 65–6 Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir 2, 12, 15, 52 n.81, 62, 99, 111–12 n.62, 203, 219, 220 John, Gospel of 201 Jómsvíkinga saga 176–80

Jón Karl Helgason 8, 156 n.53 Jónsbók 50 n.68, 57 Jóns saga helga 120, 122–3, 205 Jón Viðar Sigurðsson 199, 209–10 JS 28 fol. 39 n.9 Kalinke, Marianne 69, 79, 87 n.33, 137 Karlamagnús saga 114 Karras, Ruth Mazo 43 n.32, 203 n.1, 208, 222 Kay, Sarah 153 n.26 Ketils saga hængs 14, 37, 38, 39 n.9, 40, 44–5, 51, 52–57 Kim, Dorothy 238, 239 Kjalnesinga saga 10, 37, 39 n.9, 40, 42 n.26, 43–4, 46–7, 52 Kock, E.A. 173 Konungs skuggsjá 78, 80, 129 Kormáks saga 32 n.58 Kress, Helga 6–7 Kristni saga 169 Kroesen, Riti 39 Króka saga Refs 32 Lacan, Jacques 11, 68 Langellier, Kristin M. 217 Laqueur, Thomas 5 Lárentíus saga biskups 17, 203–16 Larrington, Carolyne 137 n.35, 218, 225 n.51, 230, 231, 232, 233 n.104 Laufás Edda 173 Lavender, Philip 15–16 Laxdæla saga 14, 27–8, 29 n.37, 31–2, 33 n.61, 33 n.61, 34 n.64, 54 n.86, 59, 63–7, 71, 74-5, 87, 159 n.69 Layher, William 68 Les Quatre Fils Aymon 78 Ljósvetninga saga 32 n. 56 Lochrie, Karma 62 n.13 Lögmannsannáll 204 Lönnroth, Lars 119 Luke, Gospel of 202 Mágus rímur 79 Mágus saga jarls 15, 52 n.13, 77–93, 99 Máhlíðingamál 10, 116–8, 119, 126 Margrétar saga 114 Marie de France 150, 151

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Index Marshall, P. David 220 n.17 Mayburd, Miriam 99 McKinnell, John 8, 38-9, 47 Mellor, Scott 218 Melville, Herman 185 n.8, 192 Merkelbach, Rebecca 220 Metzler, Irina 103–4 Meulengracht Sørensen, Preben 7, 169–71, 172, 174, 175, 222 n.29 Michelson-Ambelang, Todd 106 Miller, William Ian 33, 199, 219, 224 Mills, Kristen 9, 223, 232 Mitchell, David T. 108 Mitchell, Juliet 229, 235 Moby-Dick 185 n.8 Möðruvallabók 63 n.16, 64, 88 n.35, 147 n.2, 148–9 n.9, 157 Morcom, Thomas 16 Morgan, David 219 Morkinskinna 16, 31 n.53, 127–45, 154, 158 Motz, Lotte 39 Murray, Jacqueline 129 Ney, Agneta 12 Njáls saga 10–11, 26 n.22, 29 n.33, 30 n.41, 30 n.42, 33 n.61, 75 n.61, 78, 80, 81, 93, 136 n.33, 185, 219 n.13 NKS 1824 b 4to 218 Nordal, Sigurður 158 n.64 Notule (Glosule) super Viaticum 151, 152 n.31, 152 n.32, 153 Oddaverjaþáttr 121 O’Donoghue, Heather 75 n.61 Óláfs saga helga 28–9, 30 n.42, 32 n.59, 154, 194 Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta 169 Olley, Katherine 233 Orkneyinga saga 31 n.53, 203 n.3 Ormsbók 79 Örvar-Odds saga 37, 39 n.9, 41–4, 46–7, 48, 51, 99 n. 7 Othello 185–6 n.8, 198 Ovid 152 n.31 Páls saga biskups 122, 205 Paul of Aegina 160 n.76 Percivall, Nic 27, 48, 49, 51

Peterson, Eric E. 217 Phelpstead, Carl 11, 12, 13, 17–8, 47–8 n.55, 99, 134 n.23, 218 Poetic Edda 12, 18, 217–20, 223–25, 227–31, 243–5 Prestssaga Guðmundar góða 31 n.49, 32, 205 Problemata physica 160 Pseudo-Aristotle 160 Quinn, Judy 71 Ragnarsdrápa 67 n.32 The Reeve’s Tale 192 Reginsmál 222, 223, 225 n.51, 226, 227, 228 Remedia amoris 152 n.31, 152 n. 32 Renaud de Montauban 78 Reykdœla saga 35 Ricketts, Philadelphia 220 n.18 Rivière, Joan 91–2 Roby, Matthew 14 Rolfe, John C. 185 Romans, Epistle to the 125 Saxo Grammaticus 68, 69 see also Gesta Danorum Sayers, William 65 n.23 Schultz, James A. 186 n.9 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky 11, 12, 13, 206, 211 Seidler, Victor 235 Separate Saga of St Óláfr 187–8, 189, 194 n.38 Shakespeare, William 78, 184–5, 185–6 n.8, 192, 197 Shuttleworth, Russell 108 Sif Rikhardsdottir 9, 147, 153 n.38, 155 n.45, 160 n.77, 224 Sigrdrífumál 226, 227 Sigurdson, Erika 203–5, 206–7, 208, 214–5 Sigurðarkviða in skamma 224, 225 n.51, 227, 231 Skáldskaparmál 38 n.4, 158 n.64, 161 Skálholtsbók 71, 72 Skórzewska, Joanna A. 223 n. 37 Snorra Edda 81 Snyder, Sharon L. 108

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Index Söguþáttur af Jóni Halldórssyni biskupi 205 n.13 Sonatorrek 160–1 Stefán Einarsson 233 n.105 Strengleikar 150, 151, 152–3 Ström, Folke 169, 170 n.16, 173 n.29, 174, 177–8 Sturlunga saga 23, 49 n.60, 54 n.86, 115, 125, 175, 190 n.23, 228 Sturlu saga 31 n.49, 33 n.62 Svarfdæla saga 29 n.32, 30 n.48, 32 n.57, 32 n.58, 48 n.59 Sverrir Jakobsson 196 n.47 Svínfellinga saga 32 n.58, 115–6, 126 Swanson, R.N. 206 Tate, George 63 n. 16 Thibodeaux, Jennifer D. 203 Third Grammatical Treatise 172 n.26 Thomas de Bretagne 150 Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar 150, 151, 152, 155 n.47, 192–4 Tristran 150 Trójumanna saga 44 n.37 Ulset, Tor 196 n.47 Uspenskij, Fjodor 222 n.29 Valla-Ljóts saga 32 n.58 Vatnsdœla saga 30 n.41, 32, 173 n.29, 176, 177, 181 Viaticum 150, 151, 152, 153 Víga-Glúms saga 30 n.42, 32 n.58

Víglundar saga 14, 30 n.45, 31–2, 45 n.44, 67–70, 71, 74 Vohra, Pragya 7, 231 Volcano, Del LaGrace 69 Völsunga saga 12, 18, 159 n.69, 190, 198, 217–24, 226–9, 231–5 Vǫluspá 175, 217 Wack, Mary Frances 153 Weber, Max 111–12 n.62 Wedgwood, Nikki 108 Whaley, Diana 74, 178 Wilson, David 28, 34 Wilson, Nathan J. 108 Wolf, Kirsten 66, 71–2 Wotherspoon, Lisa 129 Yvain 150, 151 Žižek, Slavoj 235 Þórdís Edda Jóhannesdóttir 179 n.55 Þórðar saga hreðu 31, 32 n.56, 32 n.57 Þórðar saga kakala 27 Þorgils saga ok Hafliða 115 Þorláks saga helga 31, 120–3, 205 Þorleifur Hauksson 196 n.47 Þorskfirðinga saga 32 n.58 Þorsteins saga hvíta 32 n.57 Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns 41 n.23 Þorsteins þáttr stangarhǫggs 118–9, 126 Þorvalds þáttr víðfǫrla 169–70, 174, 181 Þrymskviða 8–9, 137

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