'Why is Your Axe Bloody?: A Reading of Njals Saga

ISBN : 9780198768920

William Ian Miller
336 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Apr 2016
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Nijals saga the greatest of the sagas of the Icelanders, was written around 1280. It tells the story of a complex feud, that starts innocently enough in a tiff over seating arrangement at a local feast, and expands over the course of 20 years to engulf half the country, in which both sides are effectively exterminated, Njal and his family burned to death in their farmhouse, the other faction picked off over the entire course of the feud. Law and feud feature centrally in the saga, Njal, its hero, being the greatest lawyer of his generation. No reading of the saga can do it justice unless it takes its law, its feuding strategies, as well as the author's stunning manipulation and saga conventions. In 'Why is your axe bloody' W.I. Miller offers a lively, entertaining, and completely oriignal personal reading of this lengthy saga.


Heather O'Donoghue: Foreword
Njala's Unity Problem and the Very Beginning
Marriage Formation and Dissolution
Making a Scene
Looking Forward: Njal's Prescience
Bergthora vs. Hallgerd, Part I, the theory
Bergthora vs. Hallgerd, Part II, some facts
Otkel vs. Gunnar
Gunnar vs. the Thrihyrning people
The Two Thorgeirs and Death of Gunnar
Revenge for Gunnar
The Atlantic Interlude and Hrapp
Setting up Thrain
A Tale of Two Hoskulds
Conversion and the Genius of the Law
Valgard the Wise and Hoskuld's Blood
Skarphedin Ascendans, Flosi's Ninth Nights
The Burning
Preparation for the next Althing
The Trial of Flosi and the Battle
Kari and Friends
How Not To End a Saga Unless
A Conclusion: Justice and Exits
Works Cited

About the author: 

William Ian Miller is the Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on the bloodfeud, especially as it is manifested in saga Iceland. Previous works include Bloodtaking and Peacemaking (1990), Eye for an Eye (2006), Audun and the Polar Bear (2008). He has also written about emotions, mostly unpleasant ones involving self-assessment, and various vices and virtues. Thus his books: The Anatomy of Disgust (1997), The Mystery of Courage (2000), Humiliation (1993), Faking It (2003), and most recently Losing It (2011) about the loss of mental acuity that comes with age, which includes a non-negligible share of saga matter and some from biblical Israel too. He is also Honorary Professor of history at the University of St. Andrews, and has been a visiting professor over the years at Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Bergen, and Tel Aviv.

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