Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Blood Vengeance and the Depiction of Women in la Leyenda De Los Siete Infantes De Lara, the Nibelungenlied and Njal's Saga

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Blood Vengeance and the Depiction of Women in la Leyenda De Los Siete Infantes De Lara, the Nibelungenlied and Njal's Saga

Article excerpt


Following a review of the primary sources La leyenda de los siete infantes de Lara, The Nibelungenlied and Njal's Saga the role of women and their role in exacting blood vengeance within a medieval context will be compared. The analysis is based upon the primary sources as well as some Spanish legal precedents and this is the basis for the comparative study and the roots in Germanic law of some aspects of medieval Spanish law.

Keywords: La leyenda de los siete infantes de Lara, The Nibelungenlied, Njal's Saga


Despite countless manifestations in literature of many traditions and cultures, the archetype of vengeance as a theme is a common and current one. It is present from very ancient traditions and up into the present age. Arising out of archaic or perhaps even primitive instincts law codes such as the Code of Hammurabi existed even within ancient societies such as in the Fertile Crescent. The theme of vengeance is a seemingly male-centered or male-motivated context particularly since in law codes and in history it has been linked to war which is not an area that women participated in when men left their homes to protect their lands. When laws were broken, they were to be dealt with, at times with extreme violence, depending upon the culture and its traditions and the violation of the law.

   If a man be taken prisoner in war and there be no sustenance in his
   house and his wife go to another house and bear children; and if
   later her husband return and come to his home: then this wife shall
   return to her husband, but the children follow their father.

   (Code of Hammurabi, 135,

   If any one "point the finger" (slander) at a sister of a god or the
   wife of any one, and can not prove it, this man shall be taken
   before the judges and his brow shall be marked. (by cutting the
   skin, or perhaps hair.)

   (Code of Hammurabi, 127,

   If a man's wife be surprised (in flagrante delicto) with another
   man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband
   may pardon his wife and the king his slaves. (Code of Hammurabi,

These laws were written and carried out per the situation of the man not that of women even though these laws did affect women they demonstrate that women functioned more as property and as more as pieces on a chessboard moved by the laws of men depending on how the circumstances the men by whom they were surrounded rather than as citizens with rights unto to themselves

Because vengeance has been the realm of men since ancient times it is also reflected in literature as is the case with La Chanson de Roland and Raoul de Cambrai, which fall in the literary realm of chanson de geste. A chanson de geste is a written rather than oral epic (a genre of poetry which narrates the life of a mythical man or group of men such as the The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Shahnamah, and David of Sasoun) of the Middle Ages which details the life, deeds, morals and virtues of a hero who embodies all that is important to a nation. An example of this is Roland in La Chanson de Roland in which Roland is the national hero par excellence of France. Before epics were written in one theory they were anonymously composed and orally transmitted in the 11th and 12th centuries by jongleurs or minstrels who told and sang stories in courts and public squares and added and changed details upon each recounting. In the alternate theory the epics were composed by a single author and they did not vary much when they were transmitted.

Within both texts vengeance is directed and executed by men toward men because of violations to honor or the breaking of an oath. In both works, the roles of women are passive, since they never truly take an active role or position within the action, except perhaps Marsent in trying to save herself, her convent and her village, but even then she must depend upon a man to save her. …

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