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Kraus, Eva (2013): Undir borðum: zur Funktionalisierung von Nahrung und Mahlzeiten in den Isländersagas. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty for Languages and Literatures



The present study examines food and meals in the Icelandic Family Sagas. While often inconspicuous, references to the production, distribution and consumption of food and drink can be shown to fulfil crucial functions in this body of mediaeval texts. As a starting point, the food sources and eating habits of Icelanders in the Viking and Middle Ages are examined in the light of archaeological, historical and ethnographic research. When the results are compared to the economy of food as visible in the Family Sagas, the latter can be demonstrated to carry a distinctive bias for those forms of agriculture that translated most easily into wealth and status and/or lay in the responsibility of men, while being less concerned with the economic reality of the poor(er) or women. It is further observed that the Family Sagas avoid the picturing of food and eating in most of their numerous meal and feast scenes. This is argued to reflect a distinction between the social institution of eating (together) and the physical act of (individual) eating, which, as a basically egotistic bodily activity, is at odds with the social implications of a shared meal. Meals, feasts and the hosting of guests are means of status policy as well as of the establishment and maintenance of social bonds, while the potential of both humour and aggression inherent to themes of food and eating is put to use in the context of conflict, insult and battle. In the final chapter, some conspicuous alimentary imagery of Eiríks saga rauða and Njáls saga is shown to carry strong intertextual references to the Bible and clerical writings, aiding a religiously informed reading of some central passages in these sagas.