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Robert Lively PhD Defense: 'The Rhetoric of Reasonableness: Hóf in Civic and Legal Rhetoric of the Medieval Scandinavians'

Location: This defense will be hosted via a videoconferencing platform. To Join from PC, Mac,Linux, iOS or Android:

Supervisory Committee: Kathleen Lamp, Chair; Robert E. Bjork, Peter Goggin.  ::  ABSTRACT: Rather than being the lawless barbarian society that history and popular culture have painted it, medieval Scandinavian culture was more complex and nuanced. This dissertation interrogates the use of a rhetoric of reasonableness (hóf) in the medieval Nordic society to give voice to this silenced tradition. Specifically, this research focuses on the use of rhetoric in civic and legal settings to show that medieval Scandinavians were more interested in reasonable solutions to their civic and legal problems than unreasonable ones.

Civic rhetoric among the medieval Nordic people relied heavily on hóf to keep civic practice manageable. Working in small towns and villages without central bureaucracies, reasonableness became important to the functioning of the village. Large scale disruptions could mean the death of all inhabitants in the area due to social disruption if violence occurred, so finding reasonable means of dealing with social problems was of paramount importance to the Norse. Using readings and analysis from the Icelandic sagas, I show the mechanisms of their rhetoric were used to manage civic life.

Legal rhetoric was also based on reasonableness. If civic actions became violent or potentially violent, then the courts needed a way to redress and maintain the peace in the area. The practice of law was heavily influenced by the rhetorical stance of hóf. The Scandinavian tradition of court cases appears in their early laws and in several sagas which allows a picture to be created of their rhetorical stance of reasonableness in the law cases. Analysis of historical data and saga manuscripts give evidence of a rhetorical tradition of reasonable redress in the legal system.

Sheila Luna
Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2020, 11 a.m.