Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Article of the Month

Indexers select an article or essay at the beginning of each month that is outstanding in its line of argument, wealth of significances, and writing style. We particularly look for pieces that will be useful as course readings.

February 2016 [Posted December 2016]

a Sufi saint, grinding grain, 14th century
Rape of Lucretia and her suicide in front of her husband, from Boccaccio, De mulieribus claris, printed by Johannes Zainer at Ulm, ca .1474 (Source: flickr. Public domain, from the University of Pennsylvania Library)

Ljungqvist, Fredrik Charpentier. "Rape in the Icelandic Sagas: An Insight in the Perceptions about Sexual Assaults on Women in the Old Norse World." Journal of Family History 40, 4 (2015): 431-447.

"This article examines the perceptions of rape and other sexual assaults against women in the Old Norse world based on the medieval Icelandic saga literature. A key starting point is the fact that the Old Norse society was an honor culture, in which honor and dishonor were concepts of supreme social importance. The Icelandic saga literature devotes very little attention to women's own experiences of sexual assault or to how such assault affected their personal honor, despite clear indications that rape was perceived as a violation of a woman's bodily integrity and was dishonorable to the victim. Conversely, the central theme in the depictions of rape in the saga literature is that sexual assault was regarded as highly defamatory to the woman's male relatives, demanding blood vengeance in return. Thus, rape was considered primarily an offense against the woman's male relatives and only secondly against the woman herself. Since sexual assaults against women could be used to dishonor men, it follows that there are examples in the sagas of how rape is used as a "weapon" during feuds. It is quite clear, however, that this was regarded as a feud crime, and rape, in most cases, was socially unacceptable and denounced." [Reproduced from the journal page on the Sage Journals website.]