Note on Supplemental Readings

Readings are not optional, and she checks D2L to make sure you've read it.

Map of Iceland (see Olafsvik to the West)



  • Gudrun's First 2 Marriages (from last time)
    1. Gudrun is given to Thorvald
      • Does not consent
      • Husband slaps her, "rosy cheeks, just what every woman needs", promise of vengeance
      • How does Gudrun justify a divorce? Makes him a really low-cut shirt, shows his nipples, he wears it, and that's grounds for divorce.
    2. Gudrun marries Thord
      • How does he divorce Aud - says she wears pants.
      • How does Aud get revenge (335) - Gets slandered, starts wearing pants anyway, attacks Thord with a sword. Thord accepts this.
      • Gudrun & Thord have happy relationship as far as we know
      • Thord killed by Kotkel's sorcery at sea (336) - further discussion of sorcery next week
      • Gudrun has a son, Thord, fostered by Snorri Goddi
  • Gudrun's Dreams and Gest
    • Dreams?
      1. Headdress that didn't suit her, thrown into river
      2. Silver ring, suited her, treasured it, fell into lake
      3. Gold ring, broke and bled, felt more grief than regret, better care
      4. Gold helmet with jewels, fell into Hvammsfjord
    • Interpretation (329)
      • 4 husbands, each dream corresponds to each husband (in order)
      • Foreshadowing
      • Her reaction - she's upset, turns red, feels strong emotion
  • Icelanders are proud of their horses
    • Icelandic horses are descended from Norway horses
    • 5th gait, instead of just 4
    • Shorter, but don't call them ponies
  • Thorleik and Kotkel
    • Thorleik aids Kotkel in exchange for horses (bad call)
      • Eldgrim at the Thing (338)
        • Tries to buy horses, refused
        • Threatens to steal horses
        • "Would end up with no more than they deserved"
      • Eldgrim steals the horses; Hrut? - Hrut (old man now) stops the theft, and kils Eldgrim
      • What is Thorleik's reaction? He gets really really mad, sees it as an attack on his honour (340)
        • Hrut rose in esteem
        • Thorleik feels like he should have been able to take care of it, but was asleep at the time.
        • It could be shameful, but there is no reason to interpret it as a dishonour
        • Asks Hoskuld to bring dishonour upon Hrut
          • They cast magic around Hrut's house at night
          • Kill his son Kari
          • Olaf is upset
    • Hrut asks Olaf for support against Thorleik
      • "Kinsmen should not come to blows"
    • Thorleik leaves Iceland at Olaf's request
      • Olaf promises to treat Bolli as his own son (had been fostering for a while)
      • Foreshadowing? Is Bolli going to die? Conflict between blood-son and foster-son upcoming.

Notes on Servitude and Sexuality in Medieval Iceland

  • Why might a serving woman have perceived sexual involvement with her master as a good thing?
    • Moving up in the world
    • Good thing for any children that come as a result (see Olaf)
    • This is not implying that all master-slave sexual relations were consentual.
    • Coercion erodes consent
    • Skeptical about any textually presented consent
  • Slaves are tricky, they never wrote things down, their perspective is never recorded.
  • In Karras' opinion, how would Melkorka (Laxdaela) have appealed to 13th c Icelanders, some of whome were descended from slaves?
    • She turned out to be a princess ("fairy tale")
    • Stigma against slaves, took generations to be forgot
    • Melkorka is something to dream about
  • Did slaves ever have the right to vengeance?
    • Yes, in very particular cases
    • If a male slave's woman was assaulted, the male slave would have the right to take vengeance for the transitive dishonour on him.
  • Higher standing men would sexually dominate lower status women, and it wouldn't reflect poorly on anything.
    • Could also dominate lower class men by limiting their access to women.
    • Similar to primate groups (innate behavior?)
    • Shows the power of the top-standing individual
  • Owning a lot of slaves demonstrated wealth and power
  • Owning many female slaves demonstrated wealth and power over both genders (I have things that you want)
  • What affect might the alleged/relative scarcity of sexually available women have on masculine violence?
    • Men could literally fight over women
    • If you can't prove your masculinity by having sex with a woman, then you have to prove it by being violent.
    • Any assertion that a man wasn't being masculine enough led to violence
      • It's not that they can't help themselves, it's that there are only two avenues to show masculinity - siring children and violence.
  • If a young man in Iceland, going abroad to gain honour was a reasonable thing to do, especially if no women were available.
  • Stigma to marry below social class? Men freeing and marrying slaves was fine. Extramarital sex was also fine.
  • Icelandic men could not defend slave women
  • The Sagas don't say much about sexual exploitation of women - what conclusions can we draw from this?
    • In sagas, since Iceland converted to Christianity, the times that extramarital sex, etc. occurred could have been whitewashed out.
    • Could be that it's not directly relevant to the story therefore not included
    • Could be implied that this happens a ton, and just assumed that this happened (frustrating for historians)
    • Maybe it just didn't happen, and that's why it wasn't talked about (irresponsible to assume, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence")
    • If men saw subordinate women as avenues for sex, they wouldn't have thought twice about status/etc. Women on the other hand would think about it. More reasons for Laxdaela to have been written by a woman.
  • We don't see male masters exerted sexual dominance over male slaves, even though the dominant role takes virtually no dishonour
    • Maybe they didn't write about it
    • Maybe the "penetrator" is more dishonoured than we assume
    • Maybe it didn't happen (irresponsible again)
  • Do you agree with Karras' arguments? (Student thoughts)
    • "Appreciate how they put in examples of American slavery... to see the connection between the two"
    • "As biology major... I see so many parallels to the animal kingdom"
    • "As a woman, I don't have any intention to ever have children, is my value as a woman less?" (prof)


  • What aspects do you find particularly interesting?
  • Why did the author include it? What purpose does it serve in the saga? What do we learn from it?

Thorolf (290-95)

  • Kills Hall for the fishing incident
  • First time you see a woman in control "Vigdis was made of sterner stuff than her husband"
  • Exciting scene

Harri the Ox (326-7)

  • First time we've seen them describe an animal
  • Not many named animals
  • Parallels between what happened to Ox and future events - lose son Kartan
  • Woman threatened him, not man
  • Example of supernatural events in text

Hrapp (285-6, 297-300, 315-317)

  • Evil guy who owned the farm
  • Authorship less important here
  • Representative of xenophobia of the time
  • Fertile land is haunted, and unusable. Land becomes deserted.
  • Direct reason why his son goes insane and dies - not very Icelandic of him
  • Olaf eventually takes care of the ghost - physically wrestles him down.
  • Hrapp is a Draugr (sp?)

Kotkel (333, 335-8, 340-41, 343-4)

  • Foreign sorcerer, unpopular, easily employable tool for revenge
    • Disliked
    • Cursed people to die (nice and sneaky)
  • Sorcery is bad because it can be hidden, not direct like a sword
  • Can't just kill them, dismember or burn and scatter the ashes
  • Adds new element other than just hacking limbs off

Gest (328-31, 333, 337)

  • Gudrun tells her dreams to Gest
  • Primary purpose is foreshadowing
  • If male author, wouldn't have even been mentioned - Women dreams "less important"
    • Male dreams we've seen usually imply upcoming demise
    • Gudrun's dreams foreshadow deaths of husbands
  • Not shameful that Gest sheds tears

Bersi and Halldor at Home (321)

  • Halldor falls out of crib
  • Parallels between youth and old age
  • Foreshadowing to conflicts between old and young
  • Motherly aspect to caring for child
  • Details about events in the home are arguments for female authorship, women would have known these events
  • First time we've seen child be vulnerable
  • Foster-daughters were a thing
    • Less important to sagas (mostly male heroes)

Geirmund Thunder (322-6)

  • Travels back to Iceland with Olaf
  • Giermund curses sword and it's given to Bolli
    • "Death of man who will be most liked, and least-deserved"
  • Origin story for sword

Pay attention to...

  • Kjartan and Bolli in Norway
  • Bolli and Gudrun
  • Olaf react to Kjartan death?
  • Thorgerd kills bolli?
  • Gudrun and her sons? Revenge?
  • This week was just intro...