Question of justice and guilt has always been actual. People have always been trying to find a good punishment for certain crimes. With time this tendency has not changed. In ancient times men used to judge people gathering together, very often on some special places to show their opinion and decide what kind of punishment a person deserved.
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This system was not ideal, of course. Very often, it was rather difficult to accuse a powerful and mighty person as people were simply afraid of him. Having great power concentrated in his hands, this person could take revenge and even kill people who were against him. It becomes obvious that the question of justice for the high and mighties was very actual.
Even nowadays, this topic is often discussed, introducing the idea of a special attitude for powerful men. In Hrafnkels Saga, this question is the basis for the plot of the story. Hrafnkell is a man of his time, he has his own image of justice and punishment and under such conditions it is impossible to call him guilty.
Hrafnkell is the main character of Hranfkels Saga and he has always been interesting for researchers. There are two opinions about his character. The first one describes him as “arrogant and overbearing man chastened by adversity, who, once reformed, is able to turn the tables on his adversaries” (Johansen para. 1), while the second one just considers him to be cruel and arrogant from the beginning of the story to its end (Johansen para. 1).
However, being rather traditional, these two opinions do not satisfy some readers. There is no use denying the fact that Hrafnkell is a very cruel and arrogant person. “He was a man of right unruly ways, but a well-mannered man notwithstanding” (“The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest” para. 2). Moreover, it is very difficult to deal with him and to find a fair attitude. However, the important fact is that people recognize him as their leader and are ready to obey.
He makes his land prosperous and famous. With this in mind, it is possible to say that Hrafnkell is a very good ruler in the first instance. It is impossible to be good for everyone as a definition depends on the point of view. That is why the ruler of any land always has an opposition which criticizes him.
An additional point is, that action of Hrafnkels Saga takes place in the period of history when people were very severe and cruel. Traditions, morals, and lifestyle determined peoples character. They had to be very cruel and strong to survive under horrible conditions. With this in mind, it is possible to say that Hrafnkel is just a man of his time and his cruelness and arrogance are determined by conditions of the age.
However, another rather disputable question is Hrafnkells guilt. Being a very powerful man with a lot of people serving him, Hrafnkell is not afraid of justice and he says “I never pay weregild to any man” (“The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest” para. 8). In these terms, it seems that he is above justice and it is useless to try to charge him. Surprisingly, he is charged and even sentenced. However, in this case, justice is really blind as Hrafnkell is guiltless.
Being sure in his power and people’s inability to accuse him, Hrafnkell kills Einarr. This action serves as a turning point in the whole story. Snarr’s father Thorbjörn, looks for justice and asks Sam to help him. Unexpectedly, Sam manages to win a suit and Hrafnkell has to go away, leaving his home. Being quite obvious at the first gaze, Hrafnkells guilt, however, needs deep analysis.
Giving the task to Einarr, Hrafnkell warns him about the especial status of Freymane. Moreover, he says a phrase, which can be taken as a motto of this epoch “No blame is borne by those who warn” (“The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest” para. 5). Hrafnkell warns his worker and he should take this warning into account. However, Einarr brakes these rules and that is why it becomes obvious that he deserves punishment.
The atmosphere of the epoch dictates the severity of this punishment. Hrafnkell kills Einarr. The important thing is that he does not want to do it, confessing that it was the worst kind of manslaughters he has done before (“The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest” para.8). Although he has to do it.
He is the ruler of the land, and he has to enforce the laws. “Now this one trespass I should have forgiven thee if I had not used words of such earnest already. And yet thou hast manfully confessed thy guilt” (“The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest” para. 7). With these words, he renders his justice, trying to be a wise, fair and strict ruler.
Having analyzed the whole story, it is possible to make certain conclusions. Being a man of his time, Hrafnkell has to kill Einarr as he is guilty in breaking his own word. With this in mind, it is impossible to call Hrafnkel guilty in this crime, and his revenge is fair.
Johansen, Geir. The Hero of Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoða. n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015. <https://maritimeheathen.sharepoint.com/Documents/The%20Hero%20of%20Hrafnkels%20saga%20Freysgoða-Jan%20Geir%20Johansen.pdf >
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The Story of Hrafnkell, Frey’s Priest. n.d. Web 15 Jan. 2015. <http://sagadb.org/hrafnkels_saga_freysgoda.en>