Concepts of Truth and Falsehood, Fair Description and Misrepresentation in Medieval Icelandic Writings

MARGARET CLUNIES ROSS

Abstract


Medieval Icelanders were a linguistically energetic people. They accorded high status but not permanent public office to poets and developed a complex legal system which was based on that of Western Norway, from where many of the early settlers had migrated in the late ninth and early tenth centuries. Yet many characteristics of the Icelandic law code had no counterpart in the Norwegian model. These were developed in Iceland to deal with the consequences that followed from the fact that the Icelanders, alone among medieval European societies, had no kings and centralized political institutions. They established a General Assembly (alping), which met each summer at the same place, Pingvellir ('Assembly Plains'), near modern Reykjavik, under the presidency of an elected lawspeaker, who held office for a period of three years. During his term of office, it was his duty to recite the corpus of the laws and to give members of the public information on specific articles of law (Dennis et aJ.: 1980: Introduction). In such a society it can be assumed that the forensic arts would be highly prized.


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