Sowing strokes and reaping blows: scenic proverbialization and paroemial cognitive patterning in Brennu-Njáls saga
This study is a paroemiological consideration of Brennu-Njáls saga in which a set of repeated scenes that include or are associated with repeated proverbial utterances are examined in order to draw conclusions as to the compositional role of proverbs and paroemial material in the saga. The study begins with a brief discussion of proverb scholarship in which the intertextual nature of the proverb genre is established, moving into a discussion of certain important scenes in the saga narrative and their association with repeated proverbial utterances that exemplify and encapsulate the saga’s overarching thematic concerns. It is shown that the proverb, as a compositional device in the saga, serves as the basis for repeated scenes that illustrate or act out the proverbs with which they are associated. Proverbs can be seen to indicate the ethics and motivations of associated characters as well as to provide an interpretive framework by which such proverb-scenes and the greater saga narrative could be understood by both the contemporary and modern saga audience. Furthermore, it is shown that the composer of Njála made use of the proverbial form to communicate both ostensibly traditional pre-Christian wisdom regarding the nature of Icelandic feud and social relations as well as later wisdom derived from the Christian scriptural tradition, indicating that the proverb as a compositional device was integral to the assimilation of Christian teachings into the literary depiction of Iceland’s pagan past. The paroemial cognitive patterning of the saga audience allowed for the extensive use of the proverbial form in the comparison of Icelandic pre-Christian and Christian social ethics, and the proverbial form itself can be seen as a prominent compositional device in Njála.
saga, proverbs, paroemial cognitive patterning, Brennu-Njáls saga
Master of Arts (M.A.)