In search of a political voice : exploring the historical and cultural significance of the female whetter figure in the Icelandic family sagas
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This report explores the historical, cultural, and artistic significance of the female whetter figure in the Icelandic family sagas recorded between 1100 and 1500 A.D. Through verbal goading and the dramatic use of tokens such as clothing soaked in blood, this complex female figure incites male kin into acts of blood vengeance, acts central to Old Norse's feuding culture. Through such willed actions and symbolic gestures, the female whetter participates, albeit somewhat indirectly, in this male-dominated feuding process, a complex political and legal system from which women were excluded but that nonetheless shaped their lives and, more broadly, Old Norse culture. By analyzing literary representations of these female whetter figures alongside other cultural artifacts such as laws and historical accounts of feuding, this report argues that female whetters may be more than mere fictional constructs and literary motifs. This analysis reveals how and why Old Norse women may have had the personal and social urges and needs to whet. And whether or not they prove to be historically real, these female figures, as represented by male storyteller-historians, inevitably reveal certain cultural and political anxieties and assumptions concerning women in Old Norse society.