“Ek Skal Hér Ráða”: Themes of Female Honor in the Icelandic Sagas
Rivenbark, Susan Elizabeth
Master of Arts, Department of History, Appalachian State University, May (2011)
There was a separate and unique code of honor and ethics for women living in Iceland during the Viking Age. What was female honor? Were Icelandic women expected to abide by a code of honor just like men? What were some main themes in this female code of honor? The aim of this thesis is to uncover the answers to these questions and present a new and informative contribution to the fields of medieval history, the history of Scandinavian women, and Icelandic literary history.
This thesis limits the subjects of study to women within The Saga of the People of Laxardal, Njal’s Saga, Grænlendinga Saga, Eirik’s Saga, and The Saga of the Volsungs. These Icelandic sagas in the English translations and in the original Old Norse and the laws of early Iceland Grágás I and Grágás II are the major primary evidence in this research. The female code of honor is different from the male code of honor in these sagas. Men gain honor in these sagas mostly by physical fighting, traveling abroad, and leading successful political and legal careers. The sagas rarely describe women as fighting or traveling, and they are never directly involved in political life. Kinship, marriage, and the supernatural are all realms that medieval Icelandic men took part in, but the sagas describe women as the main actors within these areas. Since women were the main focus in the areas of kinship, marriage, and the supernatural, they stood to gain more honor or dishonor from their actions within these realms than men.