The role of the trouble-maker in the Íslendingasögur
Þriðjudaginn 6. maí 2014 kl. 16.30 Lögberg 101
This paper forms part of my doctoral research into ‘trouble-makers and the making of trouble in the Íslendingasögur’. In it I intend to air my present evaluations of the role of a particular sub-set of characters in the Íslendingasögur; namely the ójafnaðarmenn. These ‘inequitable men’ appear in nearly every one of the ‘family sagas’, although their social position and role varies. In evaluating the different types of ójafnaðarmaðr found in the Íslendingasögur, the paper will emphasise the literary function of such characters using pertinent case studies. These will largely be drawn from regional Íslendingasögur and political narratives such as Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða. The emergence of conflict in these sagas will be examined and the role of the trouble-maker in instigating conflict and feud will be questioned.
Of course, no literary study can wholly overlook its associated social implications, so this paper will also put the ójafnaðarmenn discussed into the social context given for them by William Ian Miller, amongst others. The importance of ‘equity’ and balance to many aspects of saga society—and the inherent ambiguity of such a balance—provides fertile ground on which to build a study of these characters. Ultimately, this paper seeks to revise the assumption made by Theodore Andersson in his article on the heroic ideal, that ‘the ójafnaðarmaðr is always harshly judged’, and that any attempt to explore this would result in ‘overkill’. The former statement is not strictly true, and this paper will dispel thoughts of the latter by emphasising the individual priorities of each particular narrative.
Jo Shortt Butler is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge, working on the literary function of trouble-makers in the Íslendingasögur. She has also worked on the character of Snorri goði, the narrative of Heiðarvíga saga, and the skaldic poem Húsdrápa.
This paper is based on my 2013 doctoral thesis “A late medieval scribal community: Nidaros archdiocese 1458–1537”, where I discussed language and linguistic practices at the Nidaros archdiocese in a social, cultural, and political context. Following the union with Denmark, the archdiocese became the most important national institution and the Norwegian milieu with most written output. It is therefore a suitable window on the linguistic and cultural situation of the period. The paper will focus on two main topics:
(1) The writing culture: What was written, how much, and how does it correspond to the development in Europe and Iceland? Important points are new text types like accounts, the use of printing for liturgical books, and a book collection which testifies to strong cultural contact with continental Europe.
(2) The social value of language: Danish replaced Norwegian as the written language of Norway during the Late Middle Ages. I propose a less nationalist interpretation of this language shift than (some) previous accounts, as there are no reliable examples of the differences between Norwegian and Danish being exploited as a sign of national identity. On the other hand, the use of Latin by the clergy seems to be part of their identity, thus expressed in language.
Ivar Berg is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Trondheim. He has worked on late medieval Norwegian from both grammatical and sociolinguistic point of view, always with focus on the primary sources. He is currently studying the 19th-century research history of Old Norse.