The Broken Body in Eleventh to Thirteenth-Century Anglo-Scandinavian Literature

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Abstract

Anglo-Scandinavian literary and legal texts give evidence of two cultures which shared similar attitudes to punitive acts of violence; whether as literary trope or legislative recourse, deliberate mutilation was a familiar form of retribution. Why this is the case is not always clear within the context of the texts in which such episodes are narrated, or punishments prescribed. Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia had a long history of cultural contact. Both were Germanic cultures that, by the time their laws, narratives, and histories were recorded, were also Christian cultures. Moreover, Scandinavians had been visiting English shores for three-hundred years from the eighth century, raiding and settling, culminating in 1017 in the ascension of the Danish prince Cnut to the English throne. At each point of cultural contact, the exchange of ideals and values may have aided in facilitating acculturation as it related to societal attitudes to the body. By analysing selections from legal texts, Anglo-Saxon hagiography, and Íslendingasögur (Icelandic family sagas) that portray or engage with acts of deliberate mutilation, this paper explores the origins and evolution of shared Anglo-Scandinavian attitudes to punitive violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-75
Number of pages31
JournalComitatus
Volume50
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2019

Keywords

  • Anglo-Saxon History
  • Body
  • Feud
  • Medieval Law
  • Mutilation
  • Scandinavian History

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