Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Sagas and old Iceland

In my medieval courses I tended to give short shrift to the Vikings as their incursions in Western Europe were so destructive. But there are positive sides as well. I have always liked the art, and now I have gone on to tackle the Icelandic sagas, which I find on the whole to be a pleasant and easy read (in translation of course). 

Strictly speaking these tales are not realistic, but still they tell us something about early Icelandic society, which at first seems a kind of egalitarian, quasi-libertarian paradise. There were no cities in old Iceland, just a network of farms and small holdings. In principle there was no monarch - just the annual meeting of the Althing, in which disputes could be settled. 

Yet there was a dark side as well. There was a lot of violence, based on perceptions that one's honor was violated. One way this could be triggered was to label someone an argr, or passive homosexual. 

The most disturbing feature was the pervasiveness of slavery, the slaves having been obtained via the predatory raids. Slaves did most of the work on the farms. And if they had babies their master did not want, the infants were exposed. So the upshot is that one can have equality for a few if one deprives others of it.


Anonymous The Untempered Schism said...

Greaat read thank you

10:23 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home