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Abstract

The subject of this study is how masculinity is problematized in Njáls Saga (ca. 1280), with the characters constantly accusing each other of not being manly. The author argues that the obsession of the saga characters with masculinity actually undermines the manly/unmanly-binary, since almost every character in the saga is subjected to ridicule about lack of manliness. While these allegations are often unfounded, sometimes they do have some foundation in reality; but even when the protagonists are indeed unmanly, they remain the most impressive characters in the saga. Thus it is possible to read the saga's treatment of gender as critical of the norms of a misogynist society, showing how the ideal of masculinity may become so exaggerated that it becomes uncompromising and oppressive and leads to failed marriages and to outpourings of an aggressive heroism that thrives on the uneasiness of males, who know that everything may be used against them.
... Two examples of readings that he did not mention, and that are not found in his textual apparatus, may be given: in the description of Þórhallr Ásgrímsson in Sveinsbók, Þórhallr is (among other things) said to be "daukr aharſ lít ok manna karllmanligſt r. vel ordſt illtr ok þo karſk apþr" (3v4-5). 47 Sveinsbók alone has manna karlmannligstr [the most manly man], adding to the already palpable emphasis on masculinity in the saga, 48 and where he is said to be bráðskapaðr or skapbráðr [hot-tempered] in other manuscripts, Sveinsbók has the otherwise unattested word "karſk apþr." Th is hapax legomenon seems to be a compound made up of the noun kárr and the adjective skapaðr and is likely synonymous with the related adjective afk árr [powerful, violent, remarkable, hard to get along with]. ...
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