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Auður Vésteinsdóttir

born: in Arnarfjörður in Iceland
died: in Rome
married: Gísli Súrsson

Auður was the wife of Gísli Sursson. Like many women in the Viking age, she was a tower of strength. In many ways, women of the Viking age were even harder than men, not willing to give up in a struggle, and not willing to rest until lost honor had been restored. Auður was the brother of Vésteinn, Gísli's close friend. To avenge Vésteinn's death, Gísli killed his brother-in-law, and as a result, he was declared an outlaw. Auður supported Gísli throughout his ordeal as an outlaw, even in battle. During Gísli's final battle with Eyjólfur and his men, Auður grabbed a large club and struck Eyjólfur so hard that he staggered away, temporarily out of the fight. Gísli praised his wife, saying he knew he had married well, but did not realize, until this moment, just how well.

Earlier in the saga, Eyjólfur visited Geirþjófsfjörður where Gísli and Auður farmed during his time as an outlaw. Whenever visitors arrived at this remote fjord, Gísli left the house and retreated to one of his hideouts in the valley to escape being caught. Eyjólfur arrived with the intent of buying Auður's betrayal. He offered her a sack of silver if she would tell him where her husband was hidden. Auður asked to examine the silver before making a decision. Her foster-daughter thought she had lost her mind, and slipped away to tell Gísli of Auður's treachery. Gísli told her to return, knowing his wife would not betray him. Auður finished examining the silver and said that Eyjólfur must now agree that she could do as she wished with the silver.

Audur

Eyjolf gladly agreed, and told her that she might do as she wished with the silver. Aud took the silver and put it in a large purse, then she stood up and struck Eyjolf on the nose, and blood spurted all over him.

"Take that for your gullibility," she said, "and all the harm that ensues from it. There was never any hope that I would render my husband into your hands, you evil man. Take this now for your cowardice and your shame, and remember, you wretch, for as long as you live, that a woman has struck you. And you will not get what you desire, either."

Then Eyjolf said, "Seize the cur and kill it, though it be a bitch."

Then Havard spoke. "Our expedition has gone badly enough without this disgraceful deed. Stand up to him, men. Don't let him do this."

Gísla saga, ch. 32
translation: Martin S. Regal, The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, Leifur Eiriksson Publishing (1997).

The episode illuminates several aspects of Viking-age society. Auður humiliated Eyjólfur in front of his men in multiple ways. She struck him with something other than a weapon, a lethal insult. She drew blood, only magnifying the dishonor. She showed him to be a coward in front of his men, and the story was likely to be told and retold when they returned home. Eyjólfur ordered his men to kill Auður, an unthinkable act in Viking society. To harm a woman, even accidentally, was not permitted. Hávarður stood up to him, telling the men not to do the work of a níðingur, the term used to describe a thoroughly despicable man in the Viking age. Eyjólfur turned and left, shamed and disgraced in every possible way.


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