Jesch, Judith. "Good men" and peace in Njáls saga

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  • Author: Jesch, Judith
  • Title: "Good men" and peace in Njáls saga
  • Published in: Introductory Essays on Egils saga and Njáls saga
  • Editors: John Hines, Desmond Slay
  • Place, Publisher: London: Viking Society for Northern Research
  • Year: 1992
  • Pages: 83-92
  • E-text: Viking Society Web Publications
  • Reference: Jesch, Judith. ""Good men" and peace in Njáls saga." Introductory Essays on Egils saga and Njáls saga, pp. 83-92. Eds. John Hines, Desmond Slay. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1992.

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Contents

Annotation

Jesch draws attention to the frequent occurrence of the phrase “good men” (góðir menn) in Njál's Saga in connection to conflicts and resolution, and investigates its literary context. Specifically, she compares the use of this phrase in the saga with comparable language in the Icelandic Homily Book, which describes the forgiveness of sins, wherein priests intervene to mediate the reconciliation of sinners with God, in terms which are otherwise used to describe legal conflict resolution. Jesch believes that the story is an expression of the author’s ideology wherein the traditional methods for resolving conflict, namely blood vengeance, private settlement, and legal prosecution, inevitably fail to achieve peace without adhering to the arbitration of “good” men. It therefore works just as reconciliation of sins cannot be achieved without the intercession of priests. Though men identified as “good” participate in arbitration, this is not necessarily the identifying feature; they are rather men who have demonstrated their virtue and judgment and are therefore worthy arbitrators. The events of the saga are a demonstration that violence is concomitant with failure to respect and follow the arbitrations of “good men”.

Lýsing

Jesch beinir athygli að því að orðasambandið „góðir menn“ birtist talsvert oft í Njáls sögu í sambandi við átök og sáttargerð og gerir hún grein fyrir bókmenntasamhenginu. Hún ber orðasambandið saman við líkt orðfæri í Íslensku hómilíubókinni en þar er syndafyrirgefningu, þar sem prestar miðla málum milli syndara og guðs, lýst í orðum sem eru oftast notuð við lýsingu á löglegri sáttargerð. Jesch telur að Njáls saga sé tjáning á hugmyndafræði höfundarins þar sem hefðbundnar lausnir átaka, nánar tekið blóðhefnda, krefjast gerðardóms „góðra“ manna. Hún ber þetta saman við syndarfyrirgefningu sem getur ekki átt sér stað án milligöngu presta. Þótt menn þeir sem taka þátt í sáttargerðum sé greindir sem „góðir“ er það ekki sama hugtak og í Íslensku hómilíubókinni; heldur hafa þeir fært sönnur á dyggð og dómgreind sína og þess vegna eru þeir verðugir gerðardómsmenn. Blóðug atburðarás sögunnar er vitnisburður um það að ofbeldi og skortur á virðingu og hlýðni við gerðardóm „góðra manna“ haldast í hendur.

See also

References

Chapter 98: er góðir menn gerðu: “this conjunction [of secular ideas of conflict resolution and religious ideas of appropriate behavior] is not recognized by Flosi, nor indeed by any of the other characters in the saga, with the exception of the 'good man' Hǫskuldr Þráinsson who, even as a child, knew that a settlement should be adhered to. Hǫskuldr's insight is not recognized by the other characters and it dies with him when he is killed.“ (p. 79).

Chapter 116: guðs og góðra manna: “I chose to begin by looking closely at Ch. 116 for two reasons. Firstly, because it summarises the three ways (within the world of the saga) in which it is possible to achieve redress for a killing: by means of the law, by a private settlement (both mentioned by Flosi) and by means of blood vengeance (which is Hildigunnr’s preference). Like most Íslendingasögur, Njáls saga rings the changes on these three methods of resolving a conflict. However, it is only when vengeance has been stretched to its fullest extent that the story can end. Secondly, this passage uses the expression ‘good man’ or ‘good men’ three times within a very short space. It occurred to me to ask what is meant by this expression and whether it has any connection with the major theme of resolving conflicts” (pp. 64-65).

Links

  • Written by: Kevin French
  • Icelandic translation: Kevin French
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