Audun and the Polar Bear: Luck, Law, and Largesse in a Medieval Tale of Risky Business

Michigan Law Authors
Areas of Interest
Publish Date
2008
Publication Type
Book, Whole
Abstract

Audun’s Story is the tale of an Icelandic farmhand who buys a polar bear in Greenland for no other reason than to give it to the Danish king, half a world away. It can justly be listed among the finest pieces of short fiction in world literature. Terse in the best saga style, it spins a story of complex competitive social action, revealing the cool wit and finely-calibrated reticence of its three main characters: Audun, Harald Hardradi, and King Svein. The tale should have much to engage legal and cultural historians, anthropologists, economists, philosophers, and students of literature. The story’s treatment of gift-exchange is worthy of the fine anthropological and historical writing on gift-exchange; its treatment of face-to-face interaction a match for Erving Goffman.

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