Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-8kt4b Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-23T10:49:18.483Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

The Animal Acts …

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 January 2023

Harriet Jean Evans Tang
Affiliation:
Durham University
Get access

Summary

Ok er hestrinn kemr fyrir dyrr, hneggjaði hann þá hátt.

And when the horse came in front of the door, then he neighed loudly.

There is a scene in Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða, famous among saga scholars, in which a horse and a man communicate, and more than one person dies as a result. It is a remarkable moment in which the horse, Freyfaxi, uses his voice and body to provoke his human into action, and alter the course of the narrative: the animal acts, and the man responds.

On hearing the neigh, Hrafnkell immediately recognises the sound as that of his horse and calls on his serving woman to go to the door. When he eventually ventures out to see Freyfaxi himself, he speaks to the horse, calling him fóstri (foster-kin), acknowledging that he has been poorly treated, and vowing revenge against the perpetrator of the ill-treatment. He tells Freyfaxi to return to his followers, and Freyfaxi understands the command, returning to his pasture and his stud-mares. Although the episode may seem quite remarkable to a modern reader, the wording of the episode, Hrafnkell’s initial casual response and immediate recognition of the neigh suggests something mundane. Hrafnkell seems used to such visits, and this interspecies communication may have been nothing out of the ordinary – but scholarship has often made it out to be so. Interpretations of Freyfaxi have frequently neglected his status first and foremost as a horse, and a horse who can act for himself; and Hrafnkell’s reference to his horse as fóstri can be read simply as an expression of affection for a favoured animal. It is, however, a relationship beyond affection. Freyfaxi is a figure with whom communication and mutual understanding can take place, he is a foster-kin to Hrafnkell and is punished for his actions. In the relationship between Hrafnkell and Freyfaxi we see action and response, sociality and obligation: an animal participating in ‘human’ social networks – or perhaps the ‘human’ nature of these social obligations breaking down. Freyfaxi is loud and provocative and does more than simply provide a way for the saga compiler to demonstrate Hrafnkell’s immoderate behaviour.

Type
Chapter
Information
Animal-Human Relationships in Medieval Iceland
From Farm-Settlement to Sagas
, pp. 1 - 22
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×