I need a hero(ine)!

A long time ago Bonny Tyler sang the lyrics of Holding out for hero at the top of her lungs and screamed out:

I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero …

’Til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life …

Now, more than ever it seems, I could do with a hero. Better still, I need a heroine! And, let’s be honest, we could all do with one. We all need a hero(ine)! I have just the candidate for this position: Auðr, aka Unnr, djúp(a)uðga Ketilsdóttir.

From an early age, I have been blessed to be surrounded by strong and independent women, and, equally important, men who stood by them, next to them and behind them every step of the way. Still, life has brought me challenges and battles I had to face and fight on my own. And, I am positive that like any young woman, I too have been scared at times to walk alone through the streets of any given city, in any given country. It is so easy to give in to once fears and let them control and take over your life. But we women have as much right to walk on the street on our own without being bothered and without fear. In our present-day society, it seems more apt than ever that we, both men and women alike, need someone to look up to. We need a hero, or, in my case at least, a heroine as a role model.

Auðr, aka Unnr, djúp(a)uðga Ketilsdóttir certainly fits the bill for me. She has all the characteristics of a hero(ine). As Tyler notes in her song about a hero, Auðr is both strong and is most definitely larger than life. She is certainly a woman not to be trifled with. Whatever the source on her, one thing they all agree on is that she is a strong-minded women who takes charge in perilous times.On more than one occasion, she leads her family, friends and followers to safety.Only a handful of women are told to be land-claimants in the various redactions of Landnámabók, however, she is the only one mentioned in other Old Norse sources and hers is a the only story that is so elaborate. Only once does a source describe her appearance. In Laxdæla saga, she is portrayed as follows:

Svo segja menn að Unnur hafi bæði verið há og þrekleg. Hún gekk hart utar eftir skálanum. Fundust mönnum orð um að konan var enn virðuleg.(Laxdæla saga, Ch. 7)

So say men, that Unnr [aka Auðr] was both tall and heavy-set. She walked briskly through the hall. People thought that this woman was still very venerable. (My translation)

Even in her old age, she remains a proud woman walking briskly and dignified through a room with her head held high.

Auðr, aka Unnr, djúp(a)uðga Ketilsdóttir has not always been considered as a heroine. In the twelfth century, the Icelanders’ initial interest in Auðr, aka Unnr, djúp(a)uðga Ketilsdóttir  was of a pure genealogical nature. It was only around the middle of the thirteenth century, when more elaborate narratives about her were written, that we see a growing interest in the heroine that she is portrayed as. Whereas initially she is praised for her wisdom and strong-mindedness in these early fourteenth century sources, around the middle of the fourteenth century a shift takes place where she is admired for her strength and her wealth.

Throughout time she is praised as a heroine, even though there are slight shifts in how each generation perceived her. But it isn’t until the eighteenth and nineteenth century that texts start to glorify and romanticise the past and turn saga characters into national (and, in some cases, even divine) heroes. This increase of interest in the past has to be understood in the light of the Icelandic Independence movement that wanted to achieve independence and self-determination from Denmark. And thus, this head-strong Viking Age woman becomes a national heroine. A woman we can look up to, can be inspired by and could all aspire to be like.

So, when you are looking for a role model look no further. And remember, when you walk out the door or are faced with a difficult situation, hold your head up high and walk briskly onwards. With a confident step through the door and out into the street, and with our hero(ine) Auðr by our side (in mind or spirit, at least).



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