Sex, lies and the Íslendinga sögur

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Dokumentart: ConferenceObject
Date: 2002
Language: English
Faculty: 5 Philosophische Fakultät
Department: Sonstige - Neuphilologie
DDC Classifikation: 839 - Other Germanic literatures
Keywords: Saga , Island
Other Keywords:
Icelandic family sagas , pre-Christian Germanic customs and morality
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Past scholars used to look upon the Icelandic family sagas as ideal witnesses to pre-Christian Germanic customs and morality. The sagas were believed to contain unbiased accounts of how men conducted their lives nobly and simply before the conversion to Christianity. More recent scholarship however has argued for, and in some cases shown, direct Christian influences informing the action and stories of the sagas. In my paper, I consider the perception of lying as it is described in the family sagas within this scholarly framework. In particular I focus on the lies told in the sagas between men and women in sexual relationships. In doing so, I demonstrate that in these situations the narrators of the sagas do not condone lying, as the clearly pagan Eddic poem Hávamál does when it recommends, among other things, “Ef þú átt annan, / þannz þú illa truir/ vildu af hánom þó gott geta:/ fagrt scaltu við þann mæla,/ enn flátt hyggia/ oc gialda lausng við lygi.” (Stanza 45).” Rather in the sagas often we find condemnation of lying, especially situations involving men and women, not by the characters within the stories, but by the often hidden voice of the narrator. In particular, I examine an incident in Njáls saga where the condemnation of lying in one situation is so subtle as to have been overlooked by scholars. By this investigation, I add evidence to the argument against the idea that the morality of the sagas is free from Christian influence and suggest that close readings of saga incidents can lead to a better understanding of the moral system at work.

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