Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 4997
  • Author(s)/Creator(s):
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Woman- Kennings in the "Gísla saga Súrssonar": A Study [Second International Medieval Conference, University of Leeds, July 10-13, 1995. Session 102].
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 28, 3 (Spring 1995):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Gisla Saga Surssonar, Icelandic Saga Kennings, Figure of Speech Literature- Verse Sagas Women in Literature
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: Scandinavia
  • Century: 7-8
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  • Abstract: In his "Kenningar der Skalden," Rudolf Meissner defmes the kennirg as "zweigliedrige[n] Ersatz der gewohnlichen Rede" and adds that any number of synonymous word-combinations could be freely substituted without altering the textual meaning. In Meissner's view only the meaning of the whole kenning is contextually significant while the meanings of the individual kenning elements serve mere ornamental purposes. As this position reduces kennings to mere variants of literal terms, one should regard it with care. Meissner's kenning definition only considers the denotative meaning of a selected poetic corpus and overlooks its connotative meaning. While it is true that kenning elements lose their denotative meaning when combined with each other to form a kenning, their various connotative meanings often relate to other parts of the poetic context. Of course, various skalds, just like any other poets representing a particular literary tradition, had different tastes and skills and consequently handled their vocabulary in different ways. While some poets did indeed employ kennings as mere substitutes for common nouns, others exploited the vast potential of semantic connotation. My analysis of the woman-kennings in the verses in the Gísla saga Súrssonar will show that the composer of the verses included in this text belongs to the category of the more subtle poets. Most kennings for Aud, Thordis, and the two dreamwomen not only work on the literal level but also disclose new connotative meanings that supplement the literal ones. As a result of these woman-kennings (and particularly the kenning bases), relationship patterns are established which intensify the good-bad contrast between Aud and Thordis and between the good and evil dreamwoman. More importantly, they contribute to the portrayal of the good dreamwoman who becomes increasingly significant as Gisli's death approaches. In fact, attention to the kennings in Gisli's last verse will show that he praises not his wife, as has been commonly assumed, but the good dreamwoman, who finally prevails against both her destructive counterpart and Gisli's mortal wife. As we see from this example, a careful study of the kenning elements and their connotative meanings can deepen or even change our reading of a particular skaldic work [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
  • Author's Affiliation:
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973