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.

Icelandic sagas

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 seiðr

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

ee also

*Thing (assembly)
*Viking Age
*Classical definition of effeminacy

External links

* [ SAOB: Arg.adj]
* [ Från niding till sprätt. En studie i det svenska omanlighetsbegreppets historia från vikingatid till sent 1700-tal]
* [ Germanska mannaförbund]
* [ Viking Answer Lady]

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