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William Pencak

The world's longest lasting republic between ancient Rome and modern Switzerland, medieval Iceland (c. 870-1262) centered its national literature, the great family sagas, around the problem of can a republic survive and do justice to its inhabitants. The Conflict of Law and Justice in the Icelandic Sagas takes a semiotic approach to six of the major sagas which depict a nation of free men, abetted by formidable women, testing conflicting legal codes and principles - pagan v. Christian, vengeance v. compromise, monarchy v. republicanism, courts v. arbitration. The sagas emerge as a body of great literature embodying profound reflections on political and legal philosophy because they do not offer simple solutions, but demonstrate the tragic choices facing legal thinkers (Njal), warriors (Gunnar), outlaws (Grettir), women (Gudrun of Laxdaela Saga), priests (Snorri of Eyrbyggja Saga), and the Icelandic community in its quest for stability and a good society. Guest forewords by Robert Ginsberg and Roberta Kevelson, set the book in the contexts of philosophy, semiotics, and Icelandic studies to which it contributes.