Borovsky, Zoe. Never in Public

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  • Author: Borovsky, Zoe
  • Title: Never in Public: Women and Performance in Old Norse Literature
  • Published in: The Journal of American Folklore 112.443
  • Year: 1999
  • Pages: 6-39
  • E-text:
  • Reference: Borovsky, Zoe. "Never in Public: Women and Performance in Old Norse Literature." The Journal of American Folklore 112.443 (1999): 6-39.

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In the medieval Icelandic family sagas, women as well as men gained and bestowed honor by performing verbally. While men's performances took place in the official, public realm, women promoted and defended the honor of the household in the domestic, private realm. With the introduction of writing, the boundary between public and private was more strictly enforced, and women's participation in the honor system became more restricted.


Í Íslendingasögunum öðluðust bæði karlar og konur sæmd með því standa sig vel í ræðu. Á meðan karlar fluttu mál sitt á opinberum vettvangi sáu konur um að vegsama og verja heiður fjölskyldunnar innan stokks. Þegar hið ritaða mál kom til sögunnar styrktust skilin milli hins opinbera og þess persónulega sem leiddi til þess að aðkoma kvenna að heiðurskerfinu varð takmarkaðri en áður.

See also


Chapter 44: munt þú nú hafa eggjað þá: "Here it is Berghora's ability to influence her sons (privately, unofficially, yet persistently) that effectively undermines Njaill's efforts to negotiate an end to the feud using official, public means. … These women performed in the more private space. In addition to the social-legal concept of official public space, with its center at the Althing, there was another spatial dimension with the farmstead as the center and the world outside as the periphery." (p. 15).

Chapter 102: Þangbrandur og Steinvör: "Steinunn's defamatory allegations ... constitute a shaming of the Christian god as well as his priest. Þangbrandr's failure to take up her verbal challenge with a verse of his own is a failure to protect the belief system he is promoting and a failure to assert his own verbal competence. … Seen in a larger context, Steinunn's encounter with Þangbrandr can be viewed as a social drama, that is, as a way of working out conflicts within and between societies." (pp. 9-10).


  • Written by: Zoe Borovsky
  • Icelandic translation: Andri M. Kristjánsson
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