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The Middle Age was around 500 to 1500 C.E. The Middle Age begins with the end of the Roman Empire and then it ends with the re-discovery of Greek literature and philosophy as stated in our lecture. During the Middle Age many stories normally reflected their author and/or society. One piece of literature I read portrays the cultural transition from pre-Christian Germanic to the Christian cultural norms. This piece of literature is none other than Thorstein the Staff-Struck. In this story, the author uses many different characters to specifically fit either the pre-Christian norm or the turn to the Christian norm.
Thorstein the Staff-Struck was based on a Viking family who lived and worked on a horse ranch. The family consisted of just and old man named Thorarin and his son Thorstein. A man from town by the name of Thord set up a horse fight with one of his boss Bjarni’s stallions and one of Thorstein’s. During the fight Thord cheats and strikes Thorstein in the head with a staff and made him bleed. This is how Thorstein receives the name Staff-Struck. Thorstein then leaves thinking that the incident wasn’t worth the fight and he goes back home and never tells his dad of this until he later finds out and confront him about it. This is because of their culture at the time. Thorarin and Thorstein come from a society where you always fight back and never ever back down or stray from a fight or you would be labeled a coward and be looked down upon in society. When his dad finds out, Thorstein, then goes into town and challenges Thord in a battle because his dad called him a coward and that was unacceptable to his dad. Thorarin then kills Thord and announces it to the town. Then after his employee’s complain of their co-worker being murdered, Bjarni, banishes Thorstein into exile. This represents their society also because back then if the head chieftain of the town didn’t punish people accordingly then he would maybe lose the support and loyalty of his people even though blood for blood was normal in those times.
Well Thorstein decided to never go into exile and to remain on the farm in order to take care of his ill father. Bjarni overhears two of his employees talking down of his honor for allowing Thorstein to remain on his farm after the murder of Thord. Therefore, he sends them both over to Thorstein’s farm to bring his head back for the murder of Thord and the disobeyed order of exile. The only reason Bjarni really even sent Thorhall and Thorvald to slay Thorstein was because he began to notice that his people were questioning him as an honorable chieftain and war hero. This reflects that society because they were raised in the blood for blood of pre-Christian norms rather than that of the soon to be Christian norms. Thorstein then kills both Thorhall and Thorvald. However, Bjarni does nothing about this. That is, until his wife confronts him about it. She tells him how his people are starting to lose his support. This is uncommon in those times because usually a wife would never dare speak to her husband as if she was the one in charge. However, because of his wife nagging at him because of it he then grabs a sword and heads over to Thorsteins farm for a duel. The reason Bjarni does this is because it would look very cowardly if he didn’t avenge the death of his own men and most of all let his wife prove bigger of a man than he himself was. Thorstein claims he is no match for Bjarni and that he would lose more than likely. Bjarni offers to take care of his father if Thorstein were to lose the duel. Bjarni offering to take care of Thorsteins father was an example of the start of the Christian norms rather than the pre-Christian. Bjarni realizes that he is a great challenge and fighter and offers him a job as one of his employees and he would be repaid for the deaths of his employees. Thorstein accepts the deal. Bjarni then goes to inform Thorstein’s dad that he was killed in the duel. As he is informing his dad, his dad pulls a knife on him but Bjarni leaps back in just the right time. Bjarni then sends his employees to look after Thorarin and to run his farm.
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The author used all of these characters to portray the transition, as I stated earlier, from pre-Christian norms to Christian norms. Bjarni and Thorstein are the two characters in the story that portray the Christian norms that were just starting to surface during the start of the Middle Age. Bjarni was a good man who didn’t want to punish Thorstein for the murders of his men because he knew that Thord had been the cause of the incident and probably deserved what he got. Bjarni also offered to take care of Thorstein’s father if he were to die in the duel. This to me was a very good thing to do because any other man of those times would have killed Thorstein and probably left his father be. Thorstein was also a character of the Christian norms who was nothing like his father in any way. Thorstein never intended to fight Thord. He never intended to kill any of Bjarni’s employees but because he was pushed to do so in order to protect himself he had to do what it took to survive. Thorstein seemed to me in this story as a guy who had dropped his father’s and culture’s customs and just wanted to live life in peace and raise horses. The characters who were apart of the pre-Christian norms were Thorhall, Thord, Thorvald, and Thorarin. Thord was a man who seems like he was always looking for trouble and loved a fight. Thorvald and Thorhall were still stuck in the norms that they grew up in where it was okay to murder someone who had murdered someone else because that was the blood for blood concept that existed in the Middle Ages and prior. Thorarin was a man who also was stuck in his Viking culture. He called his own son a coward for not doing something about Thord striking him in the head with the staff. A normal Christian father would tell their son to ignore the situation and to be the better man but instead he told his son that he was a coward for not fighting Thord. Also, the reason that Thorarin pulled a knife on Bjarni was for two reasons. One of those reasons was because he thought that his son was dead and he wanted to revenge his death. Another reason was because in old Viking society to be killed in battle was like a one way ticket to their heaven so hoping that by trying to kill Bjarni he would be killed in the process and go to heaven. Maybe Thorarin, so close to death, was questioning his life and if he was worthy enough to get to Valhalla. Therefore, he attempted to kill Bjarni.
Many things were starting to happen at the start of the Middle Age. This story to me was a very well description on the transistioning of pre-Christian society to the Christian norms and society. I believe that this story was meant to show how some people were still stuck in the past culture beliefs and then how a few were starting to realize that violence and murder really isn’t the answer to every situation a person gets themselves in. I personally really enjoyed this story more than any of the other stories that we have read this semester.
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