TROUBLESOME CHILDREN IN THE SAGAS OF ICELANDERS
Saga Book, Vol. XXVII, VIKING SOCIETY FOR NORTHERN RESEARCH UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON (2003)
1. Medieval Children?
Did children exist in the Middle Ages? It seems a silly question, but for some time it was a commonplace in historical scholarship that childhood as a notion was alien to the medieval mentality. Philippe Ariès expressed this view thus (Ariès 1962, 128): In medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist; this is not to suggest that children were neglected, forsaken or despised. The idea of childhood is not to be confused with affection for children: it corresponds to an awareness of the particular nature of childhood, that particular nature which distinguishes the child from the adult, even the young adult. In medieval society this awareness was lacking.
Ariès was not himself a medievalist, but this particular statement, though based on superficial scholarship, proved extremely seductive and has often been repeated. More fruitfully, it spurred medieval scholars to enter into intensive research on childhood. In the last few decades many medievalists and renaissance scholars have done so, and in general have found that, contrary to Arièss claim, people in the Middle Ages did indeed recognise childhood and distinguish it from adolescence and adulthood in many and varied ways.