Powerful Women and Submissive Women in Njal's Saga and the Bible

1665 words 7 pages
Powerful Women V. Submissive Women by Sean Conolly

Ancient societies and their cultures traditionally provided women with no access to power. It was nearly universal for women to be treated as subservient to men while being expected to behave mildly and submissively. The New Testament makes no exception. The Apostle Paul explains that through Christ, women are absolved of constraints that the social hierarchy imposes on them, but he later goes on to explain that even in Christ a religious hierarchy still exists. By acknowledging that women are inferior to men in both the social and religious circles, Paul presents women as subordinates. This contrasts with Njal’s Saga. Through the saga’s characters Gunnhild, Hallgerd, and Bergthora,
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The behavioral tone set by Gunnhild is echoed through Hallgerd, Gunnar’s wife. Her desire to preserve her honor in the face of Bergthora, Njal’s wife, as well as her position of power allows her to trigger a series of conflicts. At a customary feast between the families of Njal and Gunnar, Hallgerd and Bergthora engage in an argument, attacking each other’s honor. Gunnar refuses to defend his wife, saying, “I’m going home, and it would be best for you to pick quarrels with your servants, and not in the dwellings of others. I’m in debt to Njal for many honours, and I’m not going to be a cat’s paw for you.” When the time comes for the men to ride to the “Thing,” Gunnar tells Hallgerd, “Behave yourself while I’m away and don’t show your bad temper where my friends are concerned.” Hallgerd, thinking that Bergthora is plotting to steal excess wood from a forest shared between Gunnar and Njal, sends her servant, Kol, to kill Svart Bergthora’s servant who is innocently collecting wood (he does so) (Njal’s Saga, 57-59). Here Gunnar clearly expresses his friendship with Njal and his disdain for his wife’s behavior. Even though Gunnar clearly commands his wife to not act against his friends, Hallgerd refuses to relinquish her anger and desire for honor and disregards Gunnar’s demands. Hallgerd’s desire to preserve her honor by causing the death of Svart demonstrates her ability to incorporate her desires into her