Háskóli Íslands Íslensku-og Menningardeild Medieval Icelandic Studies: September (2011)
Was Icelandic outlawry exceptional? The legal and historical aspect of Icelandic outlawry has been widely studied and commented by scholars (Spoelstra, 1938), either by following indications from the Grágás or through the use of literary examples spread in the sagas (Frederic Amory, 1992). As main characters of a narrative, Grettir and Gísli were al- lusively compared through the theme of home and homelessness in medieval Iceland (Miller, 2004), or connected with other tales about outlaws from Europe gathered in the so- called « Matter of Greenwood » (Maurice Keen, 1987), or even supposed to belong to a large Anglo-Norse common tradition on outlaws (Joost De Lange, 1935). However, the two stories have been so far mainly discussed in connection with other tales on outlaws from Europe, but surprisingly not very often together. Grounded on historical, literary and an- thropological views, this thesis will attempt to relocate the two sagas in their specific Icelandic context and underline the specific nature of the Icelandic full outlawry as well as its consequences in the narrative. While being banned from the community in continental Europe allowed a man to start a new life in another place, Icelandic outlaws were excluded from the social space of the island, yet kept inside (oferjanði). Why keep trouble-makers inside the enclosed space of the island instead of forcing them to leave the place definitely, as it was the case with sentences to lesser outlawry?
The fact to be stuck on the island but out of the public scene leads to the creation of new original and individualized narrative spaces: the haunted wilderness for Grettir, the haunted dreams for Gísli. Through the analysis of the concepts of exile and liminality, this study defines the space the outlaw is forced to occupy (out and under) and teases out the picture of an “inner-exile”, both cause and consequence of outlawry. This inner exile is revealed through a contrastive narrative process, a common structure in the two sagas. From this analysis, the theory of the scape-goat (René Girard, 1982) is discussed and will help to understand the ambiguity held to- wards outlaws: hunted down and feared, they are nevertheless admired by and useful for the society.