‘Mikill marðr ok sterkr’, or on the looks of a skald
The article is concerned with three Icelandic sagas devoted to outstanding poets: the Hallfreðar Saga (on Hallfreð Ottarsson), the Kormàks saga (Kormàk Ogmundarson) and the Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu (Gunnlaug Illugason and his rival Hrafn Onundarson). The poetry of these skalds, apart from sagas recounting the deeds of kings, also encompassed verses for women whom they adored, and poems which offended and ridiculed their rivals. Morawiec notices that the examined sagas contain descriptions of the physical looks of the skalds, which is uncharacteristic, as even the women in question are only said to be beautiful with no further details. All the skalds were very tall, strong and manly; Hallfreð and Gunnlaug were also to possess ugly noses. According to Morawiec these descriptions were not incidental: their aim was intended to account for the behaviour and doings of the poets: their masculine features justified the tenacity in courting the beloved women, acts aimed at humiliating their rivals and the emphasizing of their own virtues as lovers, warriors and possessors. On the other hand, the display of any kind of handicap in their looks could be taken as a physical representation of their “bad” poetry, directed against their (usually more popular with women) rivals.