Coalbiters

Literary/ Cultural Context Essay

Ármann Jakobsson (University of Iceland)
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Coalbiters [Icel. kolbítar] are figures known from the Icelandic sagas. They are seemingly unpromising male youths that, sometimes due to necessity, become heroes and warriors after having spent most of their youth in idleness, often lying or sitting close to the fire. The term is applied to several such “ashlad” figures in the Old Norse sagas, including sagas of Icelanders and legendary sagas, even though the word is not always used in the actual medieval sources.

Possibly the motif becomes more prominent in 14th and 15th century sagas. One typical example is Ketill hœngr in Ketils saga hœngs, who is referred to as a “kolbítr” and “eldhúsfífl” [kitchen fool]; another is Starkaðr Stórverksson in Gauterks saga who is called “hímaldi ok kolbítr”, after spending

523 words

Citation: Jakobsson, Ármann. "Coalbiters". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 21 August 2023 [https://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=19699, accessed 23 June 2024.]

19699 Coalbiters 2 Historical context notes are intended to give basic and preliminary information on a topic. In some cases they will be expanded into longer entries as the Literary Encyclopedia evolves.

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