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Murder is a horrible crime that is unacceptable in civilized society. It is an act of violence that causes a lot of hatred and it should be punished very severely. However, murder was not always treated with the same kind of attitude as it is now because in the past, murder was also viewed as an act of honour and could be justified. A good example is Hrafnkel killing of Einar described in Scandinavian work Hrafnkel’s Saga. Although the main character kills Einar, he is not guilty in a contemporary way because for that period, his act has been justified.
Hrafnkel kills Einar because the latter violates the rules Hrafnkel expected Einar to follow. Hrafnkel hired Einar to take care of his horses, so he was technically his employer. At that time, employment differed from the way people see it today because the lord’s words had to be obeyed and treated with huge respect. However, it was not the case with Einar and his behaviour.
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The saga shows the reader what Hrafnkel expected from Einar. He wanted him to obey one simple rule that was not to ride a specific horse. Besides that, Einar could ride any other horse he wanted, and as long as he followed that one rule, there was nothing for him to worry about. The job was described clearly and concisely, and Einar had to be a good servant to get his rewards.
Despite that, Einar managed to violate the one law his employer prohibited him to. He rode the horse in spite of his master’s words. It is important to add that Hrafnkel is very open about the punishment in case of violating the rles. He states that, if Einar ever breaks the one rule he will be killed, because it is the punishment for disobedience. Therefore, Einar has been warned about the consequences of his actions in case he acted against his master’s wishes.
Still, despite the knowledge and awareness of the rules, Einar chose to break them, that is why he was killed. It may appear extremely violent for the modern people who would consider murdering the servant for disobedience a barbaric act. However, it was a different time with another mores. Now, when an employee breaks the rules, he/she gets fired, but at that time, murder was an appropriate punishment. Despite the cruelty, Einar knew his master’s orders, and he also knew what was expected.
Therefore, we can state that it was cruel what Hrafnkel did. It was a scary act which would be completely outrageous now. However, it was done in the spirit of that time. In the period when the saga was created, morals differed from the way people think now, and the same applied to punishment and murder. Even the fact that Hrafnkel could get away with murder normally showed a different set of values. Therefore, it shows the justification for the murder that took place in the saga.
Thus, naming Hrafnkel guilty or innocent is a matter of framework from which we look at the crime. For a modern person, he is guilty, but for his contemporaries his act is justified. As we are supposed to view and understand the saga from the perspective of the past, it serves as a proof to the readers that Hrafnkel is not guilty.
It is important to mention some other reasons which strengthen this argument. At that time, obedience was crucial as the servants were expected to listen carefully and follow their master’s orders completely. In case Hrafnkel decided not to punish Einar, it could have a negative impact on Hrafnkel because his other servants could become disobedient. They could think that Einar’s lack of punishment meant that they all could break the rules. The other people in society of that time could also look down at Hrafnkel for breaking his word meaning that murder was justified and even something he was expected to do.
Religious beliefs should also be taken into consideration while analyzing the case. When Einar rode the horse, he did not only break his master’s order, but also went against his religion. It was a big insult which called for even bigger reaction, and it also contributes to justifying Hrafnkel’s act.
Therefore, there are many reasons that contribute to a better understanding of the act as well as help the modern readers to understand the motivation and the reasoning behind the murder. After all, it has to be observed from the point of view of the person who lived during that time, otherwise our judgments could not be fair.
To conclude, Hrafnkel is not guilty for the murder because the act was appropriate for that time. He acted as his contemporaries would and that explains his act. Therefore, it is important to look at the event from the standpoint of that time period and see the logic as well as the legal basis for Einar’s murder.
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