Essay 4 - Albert Ho GERST 103 Viking Madness Essay#4...

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Albert Ho April 20, 2004 GERST 103 – Viking Madness Essay #4 Compensation in Combat in Njal’s saga In the Icelandic saga known as Njal’s saga , the cast of characters consistently value and practice the idea of compensation. When a man kills another, he often pays a sum of money to the slain man’s kinsmen as compensation for their loss. Throughout the saga, the characters practice compensation by making lawsuits at the Thing in response to injuries or deaths caused by the second party. However, the idea of compensation is not limited to the courtroom; it is also found in the field of battle. During combat between Icelandic fighters, the engagement often follows a form that balances action and reaction. The choices of weapons, fighting style, plan of attack and which part of the opponent’s body to injure are all compensation factors in the Icelandic battlefield. Hammurabi’s ancient draconian concept of “an eye for an eye” takes effect in nearly every instance of fighting. The nature of combat between fighters in Njal’s saga closely mirrors the traditional Icelandic custom of compensation for loss. In the first half of Njal’s saga , Gunnar is introduced as the most skilled fighter of all. His superiority in combat is heavily attributed to his ambidexterity, as he carries a sword with one hand and a halberd with the other. When Gunnar is introduced, the saga explains that “he could swing a sword and throw a spear with either hand, if he wished” (p. 34). Originally however, Gunnar does not exploit this ability since he fights with only a sword during his encounter with Vandil the Viking. Eventually he fights Vandil’s 1
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comrade Hallgrim, and during the fight he realizes that the sword alone is not enough: “Gunnar struck at Hallgrim’s arm and the arm was crippled, but the sword did not bite” (p. 49). In order to defeat Hallgrim, Gunnar picks up a halberd and thrusts it through
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