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Honor, Verbal Duels, and the New Testament in Medieval Iceland

Valentine A. Pakis

TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek, Vol. 26 (2005)

Introduction: In an article on preaching and insults in medieval Iceland, Siân Grønlie makes two excellent points: first, admonishments against the “potentially dangerous character of human speech” are common to both biblical and Old Icelandic literature and, second, Christian Icelanders, at the time of the conversion, were no less prone to slinging insults than their “heathen” opponents. In the end, however, Grønlie implies that it is Christian speech that “redeems” and heathen speech that “destroys,” and thus supports the conventional pagan-Christian binary that underlies a great number of studies. At the heart of both the “romantic” and humanist schools of saga scholarship, as Vilhjálmur Árnason notes, has lain the idea that Christian values were incompatible with the Icelandic ethos of honor and vengeance, and the notion of conflict also appears in works, old and new, of a more anthropological or historical sort. Here we read, for example, that the Icelandic sense of courage and manliness (drengskapr) is “bestimmt kein christliches Ideal,” and that medieval Icelandic society was “under strain,” “rifted,” or “facing a dilemma.”

Click here to read this article from the University of Amsterdam