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Ergi (noun) and argr (adjective) are two Old Norse terms of insult, denoting effeminacy or other unmanly behavior. Argr (also ragr) is "unmanly" and ergi is "unmanliness"; the terms have cognates in other Germanic languages such as earh, earg, arag, arug, and so on.
To accuse another man of being argr was called scolding (see níð), and thus a legal reason to challenge the accuser in holmgang. If holmgang was refused by the accused, he could be outlawed (full outlawry), as this refusal proved that the accuser was right and the accused was argr (= unmanly, cowardly). If the accused fought successfully in holmgang and had thus proven that he was not argr, the scolding was considered an eacan, an unjustified, severe defamation, and the accuser had to pay the offended party full compensation. The Grágás law code states:
- "There are three words—should exchanges between people ever reach such dire limits—which all have full outlawry as the penalty; if a man calls another ragr, stroðinn or sorðinn. As they are to be prosecuted like other fullréttisorð and, what is more, a man has the right to kill in retaliation for these three words. He has the right to kill in retaliation on their account over the same period as he has the right to kill on account of women, in both cases up the next General Assembly. The man who utters these words falls with forfeit immunity at the hands of anyone who accompanies the man about whom they were uttered to the place of their encounter” (Meulengracht Sørenson 17).
The practice of seiðr was considered ergi in the Viking Age, and in Icelandic accounts and medieval Scandinavian laws, the term argr had connotations of receptive homosexual intercourse. These laws were made after the countries converted to Christianity. There are no written records of how the northern people thought of homosexuality before this conversion, but it is likely that they did not approve of anal intercourse.
In modern Scandinavian languages, argr has the meaning "angry" (Swedish, Norwegian arg, Danish arrig). In modern Icelandic the word has evolved to "ergilegur," meaning "[to seem/appear] irritable". In modern Dutch the word 'erg' means terrible or (very) annoying.
The bottom role in male homosexuality was viewed as dishonourable (ergi) in Scandinavian society. In the Sturlunga saga, Guðmundr takes captive a man and his wife, and plans for both the woman and the man to be raped as a means of sexual humiliation (Sørenson 82, 111; Sturlunga saga, I, 201). The term klámhogg "shame-stroke" inflicted on defeated enemies was regarded as on a par with castration or a wound to the brain, abdomen, or marrow, and Sørenson (68) suggests that the term refers to rape. There is ample documentation of the practice of alleging homosexuality as a severe insult. The Icelandic Grágás condoned violence in retaliation for abuse alleging homosexuality.
The term argaskattr in the 14th century Moðruvallabók, "payment made to an argr man", seems to imply the existence of male prostitution (Sørenson, 34-35)
Ergi and seiðrEdit
Accusing a man of practicing seiðr implied effeminacy or sexual perversion. Odin himself was taunted for practicing seiðr by Loki in the Lokasenna. Loki is considered the northern equivalent of the trickster, taking the female role in the encounter with the giant's stallion in the Gylfaginning. In the encounter, he was mare enough to have offspring from the stallion; likening a man to a mare seems to have been one of the most offensive ways of accusing him of ergi.
- Sørenson, Preben M., Joan Turville-Petre (trans.), The Unmanly Man: Concepts of Sexual Defamation in Early Northern Society, The Viking Collection, Studies in Northern Civilization 1. Odense University Press (1983). ISBN 8774924362 or ISBN 978-8774924364