Mannakjöt and Mannakrof: Human Identity in Ketils Saga Hængs and Örvar-Odds Saga

Rebecca Drake


This article seeks to examine the presentation of human identity in Ketils saga hængs and Örvar-Odds saga. It does this in two ways, by examining words used to refer to the human as meat (mannakjöt and mannakrof), through which the human is presented as animal, and by examining the cultural mindset surrounding the cooking practices of monsters and men. I will focus on two key examples which reveal how these two sagas reveal human identity. The first of these is Ketill´s destruction of a giant´s hunting pits, in which he has discovered human flesh. The second example is taken from Oddr´s visit to Giantland, where he eats boiled meat that has been prepared by a giant. From these analyses, this article will conclude that these sagas acknowledge little distinction between the human and the monstrous, despite attempts to characterise either by the way in which they cook and perceive of meat. Consquently, these sagas reveal a complex understanding of human identity within a certain cultural mindset, in which the human is deconstructed, either to horrific or puzzling effect. 


human identity; human flesh; boiled meat; fornaldarsögur; Ketils saga Hængs; Örvar Odds saga

Full Text:



Adams, Carol J., The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 1990)

Arnold, Martin, ‘“Hvat er troll nema þat?”: The Cultural History of the Troll’, in The Shadow Walkers: Jacob Grimm’s Mythology of the Monstrous, ed. by Tom Shippey (Tempe, AZ: Brepols, 2005), pp. 111–39

Barraclough, Eleanor Rosamund, Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)

Cleasby, Richard, and Guðbrandr Vigfússon, eds, An Icelandic Dictionary, 2nd edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957)

Clunies Ross, Margaret, Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Society, II: The Reception of Norse Myths in Medieval Iceland (Odense: Odense University Press, 1998)

Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, ‘Monster Culture (Seven Theses)’, in Monster Theory: Reading Culture, ed. by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 3–25

DeAngelo, Jeremy, ‘The North and the Depiction of the Finnar in the Icelandic Sagas’, Scandinavian Studies, 82 (2010), 257–86

Egilsdottir, Ásdis, ‘Food and Cultural Identity in the fornaldarsögur’, in Skemmtiligastar Lygisögur: Studies in Honour of Galina Glazyrina, ed. by Tatiana N. Jackson and Elena A. Melnikova (Moscow: Dmitry Pozharskiy University, 2012), pp. 138–47

Finsen, Vilhjálmar, ed., Grágás: Islændernes lovbog i fristatens tid (Copenhagen: Trykt i Brodrene berlings Bogtrykkeri, 1852)

Fornaldar Sögur Norðurlanda II: Annað Bindi, ed. by Guðni Jónsson (Reykjavik: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan, 1976)

Fornaldar Sögur Norðurlanda III: Annað Bindi, ed. by Guðni Jónsson (Reykjavik: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan, 1976)

Fornaldar Sögur Norðurlanda IV: Annað Bindi, ed. by Guðni Jónsson (Reykjavik: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan, 1976)

Jakobsson, Ármann, ‘Identifying the Ogre’, in Fornaldarsagaerne, myter og virkelighed: studier I de oldislandske fornaldarsögyr Norðurlanda, ed. by Annette Lassen, Agneta Ney, and Ármann, Jakobsson (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2009), pp. 181–200

Laws of Early Iceland: Grágás: The Codex Regius of Grágás with Material from Other Manuscripts, ed. by Andrew Dennis, Peter Foote, and Richard Perkins (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2006)

Leslie, Helen F., ‘Border Crossings: Landscape and the Other World in the Fornaldarsogur’, Scripta Islandica, 60 (2009), 119–36

Mitchell, Stephen, ‘The Supernatural and Other Elements of the Fantastic in the fornaldarsögur’, in The Fantastic in Old Norse/Icelandic Literature: Sagas and the British Isles: The 13th International Saga Conference, II, ed. by John, McKinnel, David Ashurst, and Donata Kick (Durham: Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2006), pp. 609–706

Orning, Hans Jacob, ‘The Magical Reality of the Late Middle Ages: Exploring the World of the fornaldarsögur’, Scandinavian Journal of History, 35 (2010), 3–20

Steel, Karl, How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011)

Tulinius, Torfi, The Matter of the North: The Rise of Literary Fiction in Thirteenth-Century Iceland (Odense: Odense University Press, 2002)

Zachrisson, Inger, ‘The Sámi and their interaction with the Nordic Peoples’, in The Viking World, ed. by Stefan Brink and Neil Price (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 32–39


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Durham University Department of English Studies | Research English At Durham