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Pre-Christian Religions of the North: Sources

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Hjlati speaks ill of the gods.


[excerpt from] Íslb ch. 7b

7b. Hjalti´s Blasphemy at the Althing

En þeir fóru þegar inn til me...

And they crossed to the mainl...

[status: undefined]



At the Althingi, Hjalti is accused of speaking ill of the gods in reciting a verse and is convicted as a lesser outlaw.


Lesser outlawry involved payment of a ransom (known as fjǫrbaugr `lifering´), confiscation of property, and exile from Iceland for three years. The person condemned enjoyed legal immunity when abroad, but could be killed with impunity in Iceland if found outside designated sanctuaries or designated routes between them or from them to ship. If he had not gone abroad within three years, he became a full outlaw (Grágás 1980-2000: I 92-5, 117-18; Hastrup 1985: 137-9).

It is not at all clear that the concept of blasphemy (Ari’s goðgá) existed in pagan times, and it may be that Hjalti was in fact owtlawed for libel or “shaming slander” (níð), which was more harshly punished when proclaimed at the Law-Rock (Grágás 1980-2000: II 198; Jacob Benediktsson 1974: 194). The events surrounding Hjalti’s outlawry are described at a greater length in ch. 10, Kristni saga and ÓTM II 161-3.

The wit of the verse lies in its word play: the Icelandic verb geyja ´bark` can also mean ´mock, abuse`, and the noun grey ´female dog, bitch` carries connotations of promiscuity appropriate to the Norse god of fertility, Freyja.

Source: Íslendingabók, in Íslendingabók, Kristni Saga: The Book of the Icelanders, The Story of the Conversion, trans Siân Grønlie (London: Viking Society of Northern Research, 2006) p. 24-26.

(Contributed by Liv Marit Aurdal.)


Main text: Íslendingabók

Attributes: Assembly Law Níð Blasphemy

Named things: Freyja

Text sections: unattrib Íslb 7bIV


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