How many-manned will you ride? Shaming by numbers in medieval Iceland

  • Oren Falk


The words fj0lmennr (here rendered ‘many-manned’) and fámennr (‘meagremanned’), as well as related forms, have attracted little attention from philologists: they seem too self-evident to be worth the bother. Close examination, however, shows them to be unevenly distributed across the corpus, and reveals significant patterns in their usage. I focus in particular on a small number of interrelated phrases in the Family Sagas and Sturlunga saga, which communicate specific attitudes and thus serve as surprisingly rich sources for a cultural history of medieval Iceland. Beyond their surface meaning, questions like ‘how many-manned will you ride?’ allude to images of idealized masculinity, express speakers’ opinion of the persons addressed, and seek – often belligerently – to motivate addressees to definite courses of action.