Sayers, William. Njáll's beard, Hallgerðr's hair and Gunnarr's hay

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  • Author: William Sayers
  • Title: Njáll's Beard, Hallgerðr's Hair and Gunnar's Hay: Homological Patterning in Njáls saga
  • Published in: TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek 15
  • Year: 1994
  • Pages: 5-31
  • E-text:
  • Reference: Sayers, William. “Njáll's Beard, Hallgerðr's Hair and Gunnar's Hay: Homological Patterning in Njáls saga.” TijdSchrift voor Skandinavistiek 15 (1994): 5-31.

  • Key words:

homology, hair, gender


Hair and vegetation have been homologically equated in various human cultures, not just through language but also through literary motifs. For example, cognates that alternatively denote hair and grass, forests, etc., exist in the Indo-European language family. Sayers argues that this homology was part of the cognitive processes of early societies, and is highly visible in Njáls saga. He lays out in his article various instances in the saga where hair and hay, grass, and grain clearly correspond to each other. Notable instances of this are Hallgerðr’s insults to Njáll and his sons, the term taðskeggling (‘little dung-beard’), Gunnarr’s various episodes relating to hay, and Hallgerðr’s refusal to lend her hair for a bowstring. In addition to proving homology, the article discusses gender expectations, most significantly physical traits, in considerable detail, and thus serves as an in-depth analysis of Hallgerðr’s (and to a lesser extent Gunnarr’s) character.


Texta vantar

See also


Chapter 75: Fögr er hliðin... ok fara hvergi: “The beauty he [Gunnarr] had earlier seen in Hallgerðr and her hair is now seen even more clearly in the ripened crops and cut hay of his farm. As landscape description unrelated to the tactical detail of plot is rare in the sagas, the hair and grass element of the here unstated homology is given much of the relief achieved by others [sic] means in the taðskeggling episode.” (p.20)


  • Written by: Jensen Scheuer
  • Icelandic/English translation: