The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2016, 82-96

“Knife and belt”: an Uninvestigated locus communis in Old Icelandic Prose Texts

E. A. Gurevich

The article deals with one of the previously uninvestigated topoi which
occurs in Old Icelandic prose texts, the pair “knife and belt” (knífr ok beltr).
As revealed in an analysis of all extant examples found in the sagas and þættir
where this locus communis is attested, the pair “knife and belt” regularly appears
in two types of context, and in each of these it has well-defined functions. In the
first type of context “knife and belt” are personal belongings serving as means
of identifying their owner. These may be objects of credence, which are easily
recognized by others as possessed by a concrete character and thus can prove
the truthfulness of the report of his (or her) messenger, or material evidence,
which can point directly to the perpetrator in the event of violation of the law. In
the second type of context the pair “knife and belt” refers to valuables passed on
as a gift (often at parting) or as a reward for something (in particular for certain
services or for refraining from hostile actions). An important feature common to
almost all known prose contexts of the pair “knife and belt” irrespective of its
immediate functions, is that these either identifiable or donated personal objects
are characterized as precious things or treasures.

topoi, loci communis, Old Icelandic literature, sagas, þættir

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