Allen, Richard F.. The Rhetoric of Njáls saga

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  • Author: Allen, Richard F.
  • Title: The Rhetoric of Njáls saga
  • Published in: Fire and Iron: Critical Approaches to Njáls saga
  • Place, Publisher: Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Year: 1971
  • Pages: 95-127
  • E-text:
  • Reference: Allen, Richard F.. "The Rhetoric of Njáls saga." Fire and Iron: Critical Approaches to Njáls saga. pp. 95-127. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971.

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In the penultimate chapter of Fire and Iron, Allen dissects the rhetoric of Njáls saga by examining the techniques of the “saga-man.” Allen argues that this reliable narrator has access to rhetorical abilities, which shape the audience’s judgments of the saga’s characters and events. In this way, Njáls saga’s narrator is a storyteller with narrative intent, rather than an impartial recounter of events. Allen points out that the saga-man’s intent and values reveal themselves through which events he has chosen to objectively narrate. The saga-man also provides information about characters’ qualities and right/wrongdoings that, in the cultural context of contemporaneous Icelandic values, allows the audience to form moral judgments. Allen explains that thusly, the establishment of a character can foreshadow conflict and direct the perception of those conflicts, and relay the significance of events, depending on how reliable the audience perceives the character to be. These techniques make the burning of Njáll a nuanced event where all characters involved are both sympathetic and condemnable. Accordingly, the audience’s judgment is focused not on those characters, but on the society in which they live. Ultimately, the narrator of Njáls saga, according to Allen, has an agenda: to criticize the destructive nature of a society based on feuds, revenge, and honor. Rhetorical techniques enable him to take advantage of his objectivity and give the events of the saga the narrative significance that suits his purposes, thus forcing the audience to look critically at that society as well.


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See also


Chapter 89: „Það er eigi gott ráð,“ segir Sveinn : “the establishing of character allows for the presence of reliable spokesmen whose pronouncements on events and persons indicate what ought to be thought of them… [such as when Earl Hákon] wants to take out his anger on the Njálssons […] his son Sveinn counsels restraint.” (p. 107)


  • Written by: Madelyn DeVore
  • Icelandic/English translation:
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