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Judging Vikings: Ethics and morality in two Icelandic family sagas, Laxdaela saga and Vatnsdaela saga

Judging Vikings: Ethics and morality in two Icelandic family sagas, Laxdaela saga and Vatnsdaela saga

By Alice Spruit

Master’s Thesis, Utrecht University, 2011

Introduction: Medieval literature is very diverse, but there is one kind of literature that can hardly be compared to any of the others, and that is the literature of the Icelanders. Coming from a field concerned mainly with Arthurian legend, where moral and ethics are heavy topics, it immediately occurred to me that the Icelandic family sagas did not have such a strong moral or ethical message. The characters seemed to behave irrational, even though it was clear that these characters were the heroes of the story. Finding out what kind of ethics these sagas had, and if they even had a moral message seemed like an interesting challenge for this thesis.

To discern these ethics it seemed to be the right way not to look at the religious aspects of the saga, but just by looking at how the people behaved and how they are judged. For this purpose, one needs sagas that have interesting conflicts. One such saga is the Laxdaela saga, and to have a bit of a broader spectrum another saga, the Vatnsdaela saga will be treated. As the Laxdaela saga has many dramatic conflicts, the conflicts in the Vatnsdaela saga are smaller and less dramatic. This maybe gives an interesting comparison, and if not, it might give a greater knowledge of the ethics and morals in the family sagas.

Click here to read this thesis from Utrecht University

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