Hung like a Norse

July 23, 2004

They may be the epitome of rugged masculinity but it seems that even the heroes of Viking Age sagas were troubled by the thought that size really does matter.

Analysis of Icelandic sagas in their historical context has revealed familiar references - and some idiosyncrasies - to men's age-old insecurity over their penises.

Carl Phelpstead, lecturer in English literature at Cardiff University, told last week's International Medieval Congress in Leeds that the Icelanders'

concern over penile problems showed the cultural significance of such issues.

The level of realism and detail in the texts, which relate narratives set in the 10th and 11th centuries, enabled Dr Phelpstead to attempt a Freudian critique of their content.

He noted: "There is an emphasis on appropriate penis size, which I believe is an issue for some people nowadays."

In one example, in Grettir's saga, a serving woman bursts out laughing when she sees the outlawed strongman Grettir Åsmundarson lying naked in bed.

She remarks that despite appearing well built, "it seems to me extraordinary how small he is down below... I would not have believed it if someone had told me."

Grettir retorts: "The woman says I am short-sworded; [she] speaks the truth; but for a young man a small horse can grow very long in the forest of his thighs."

The defensive outlaw also points out that his large testicles compensate for his small penis.

In Njal's saga, the most celebrated of all the Icelandic texts, Hrútr Herjólfsson suffers the opposite problem.

He is cursed after ending an affair with the King of Norway's mother, who declares: "You will not be able to have any sexual pleasure with the woman you intend for yourself in Iceland."

HrNotr finds his subsequent marriage undone when his wife tells her father she wants a divorce because she cannot enjoy sex with him.

"When he approaches me his flesh is so big that he is unable to have any gratification from me, and although we have both tried every way to enjoy each other, it doesn't work," she says.

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