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[SCAND 50] - Midterm Exam Guide - Comprehensive Notes for the exam (23 pages long!)


Department
Scandinavian
Course Code
SCAND 50
Professor
Dr.Patrick Wen
Study Guide
Midterm

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UCLA
SCAND 50
MIDTERM EXAM
STUDY GUIDE

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Lecture 1
Historical Context
930 creation of Althing
1000 conversion to Christianity
Hrafnkels Saga (and Sagas in General)
Unusually short
Part history part legend
Written in vernacular prose
Based on real historical figures, but infused with myth and legend
Oral tradition: useful and adaptable way to convey collective memory, social cohesion, form a
sense of identity, express traditional values
Sagas are an excellent source for the examination of the social order in medieval Iceland
o Depict scenes of private life, land disputes, feuds over inheritance and insults, structure of
the Althing, dealings between farmers and chieftains
o Focus on private matters of exaggerated crisis
The teller of the saga was not bound by the exact details of a story, the best ones were
exaggerated and embellished, but they still had to be credible and follow the rules of the social
order
Controversy about the use of sagas as historical references - how accurate are they really?
Bookprose Theory: the Viking sagas do not originate in oral tradition, they are literature separate
from oral origins (this is wrong, it stemmed from a surge in Icelandic nationalism and the desire to
have its own literature)
About conflict and how that conflict was resolved
Medieval Icelandic Law
Was not a lawless land, there was a surprising amount of law and order
Extensive governmental structures from the beginning
Notable difference in Iceland vs. rest of Viking society - lack of kings and higher aristocrats
Expanded the notion of the local freeman's assembly, began to create a distinctive body of law
because of their isolation
Thing: local Icelandic assembly, very informal but also very organized
Verthing (springtime thing): regional gathering of all thingmen (representatives)
Althing: annual gathering of chieftains and thingmen - also opportunity for trade, business, and
social gathering
Thingplain: flat expanse of land where the Althing would meet for 2 weeks in June
Law Speaker: the only significant national office holder, elected to a 3-year term, ceremony in
which he would recite 1/3 of all of the laws of the land aloud to the completely illiterate society
around him so they would know what the laws were
Law Council Meeting: chieftains would meet and revise the laws
Chieftains had power, they were expected to make and know the law
Althing was conducted completely in the open, public air - great transparency in government
There was also a great chance of violence at the Althing, so the structured government only went
so far
Self-judgement: used in instances of small "misdemeanors", person admits they're wrong, agrees
to make necessary reparations, everything is great, preferred because the Althing was only held
oce a year, so ost people did’t at to ait a full year to resole a coflict
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Formal Duels: used in more serious private settlement, fight to the death with agreed upon
weapons and regulations
Unregulated single combat: also for more serious matters, a fight to the death with your bare
hands, no holds barred
Responsibility of the family to avenge their kinsmen
Blood-feud: two families at war for generations, tit-for-tat, I kill your son, you kill mine, etc., but
this required extensive support of your kinsmen
Helped to have loyal kinsmen who were good a fighting, and also loyal kinsmen who were good
lawyers - this was a transitionary period from violent methods of settlement and more
"sophisticated" law
Full outlawry: most extreme punishment under the law, a judgment after which an individual
existed outside the law
o Many times, this verdict was a death sentence, because killing you or torturing you was no
longer illegal, since you were no longer protected under the law
o Normally killing and torture were not allowed, obviously
Chieftains had a tactical advantage over farmers in a legal battle, they were much closer to the
government and to each other, courts were less likely to base judgments on evidence than the
honor and resources of chieftains
Farmers did have rights, but there was no formal institution to enforce those rights, whereas
chieftains did have the power to enforce their "rights'
If a farmer wanted to fight a higher-level person, he would have to get a powerful advocate (good
lawyer or support of a chieftain)
Hrafnkel's Saga
Typical saga: straightforward, third person, prose narrative
Concise and to-the-point
Frequent reference to place names is indicative of oral tradition
Hrafnkel would completely disregard the laws, would offer no compensation if he killed people,
explained clearly that he is a bully who does not obey the accepted laws of the land - but he could
get away with it because of his status
First interdiction: Hrafnkel swore to kill anyone who rode Freyfaxi
o If, in a story, it's stated that someone must not do the thing, someone is going to do the
thing
Einar: characterized as intelligent, promising, innocent-ish
o Does not mind being a shepherd, but his skills make him capable of more
Contract: there is a clear deal, both parties agree, Einar seems to be fully aware of what he is
forbidden to do and the consequences
In a time when there was no writing, an oral contract was as binding as a written contract is today
A person's honor hinged on being good to your word, your binding word held much more weight
There are parallels between this story and the story of Adam and Eve, it is a story of temptation
and also of destiny - this is meant to happen
o Strange things happen to set Einar on the path to give into temptation
o The mares unexplainably bolt, Freyfaxi "tells" on Einar, seems to be aware of the contract
When Einar is confronted, he does not deny it
Hrafnkel likes Einar and states that, had he not sworn an oath to a god, he would forgive him
instead of killing him
o Question of religion enters
Is this a cautionary tale?
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