NJALLNew Jersey Association for Lifelong Learning
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(38) Njall's cantankerous sons laugh when he asks, so in reaction, Flosi taunts them, saying, "I think it was your father who gave the cloak, Old Beardless, for few can tell just by looking at him whether he is a man or a woman." (39) Skarphethinn replies, "It is wrong to mock him in his old age and no real man has ever done that before, and you may be sure that he is a man, for he has fathered sons on his wife; and we have let few of our kinsmen lie unavenged at our doors." Skarphethinn throws blue trousers at him, saying he would have greater need of them than a cloak.
For example, when Njall and his sons are insulted by Hallgerthr's poet Sigmund, as being "little dung beards, and sons of Old Beardless," Bergthora uses the rhetoric of gifts ironically to spur her sons, "you would scarcely be men if you did not repay these gifts." (41) One son points out that quick rage at everything is womanly, until she mentions another man's angry reaction as validation for their future revenge.
Njall proffers good advice to Gunnar: "never kill more than once in the same family; and never break any settlement which good men make between you and others, particularly if you have ignored the first of these warnings." (46)
Njall repeatedly alludes to law, especially at the Althing.
"Eigi er pad saettarrof," segir Njall, "ad hver hafi log vid annan pvi ad med logum skal land vort byggja en eigi med ologum eyda." (It is no breach of settlement for a man to have dealings in law with another, and with laws shall our land be built up or be laid waste without law.) (47)
Njall arranges settlements in preference to slaughter, and rebukes his wife for encouraging their sons to kill those who insulted him.
The sons of Njall kill their foster brother Hoskuldr, who is the nephew of Ketil, at the instigation of Mordr, who loses law suits and reverts to hidden malice, stressing that Hoskuldr will strike first in revenge for his father's death at their hands if they do not because they killed his real father.
After the death, Njall announces that he "would rather have lost two of my own sons to have Hoskuldr still alive." (57) Hoskuldr, the peaceful, reasonable farmer, who is only a foster-son, who accepted the Law as a substitute for blood, is the reasonable duplicate and heir of Njall's wisdom and status, especially after the conversion from paganism.
Cold are the counsels of women." (63) But it is not even, in the end, Christian men versus pagan women, who are willing to manipulate men and their Christian beliefs: Flosi points out that burning Njall and everyone else is the only alternative if they are not "to abandon the attack, which would cost us our own lives.
If killing is masculine, Njall and Mordr are equally men, but one is honored and the other is not.