Gunnlaugr Ormstunga

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Illustration in Gunnlaugs saga: Gunnlaugr Ormstunga walks before Lord Eiríkr Hákonarson with a boil on his foot declaring "Why go halt while both legs are long alike?"

Gunnlaugr Ormstunga (i.e. "Serpent-Tongue" or "Wormtongue") was an Icelandic poet, born ca. 983. His life is described in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, where several of his poems are preserved.

From an early age he proved himself impetuous, audacious, brave, and tough. He was also a skilled author of mostly derogatory poems, which earned him the cognomen ormstunga, "snake's tongue". After a quarrel with his father, Illugi, Gunnlaugr left his home at age twelve to stay for some time at Borg with Þorsteinn Egilsson, the son of Egill Skallagrímsson. There, he became acquainted with Þorsteinn's daughter, Helga the fair, reputedly the most beautiful woman in Iceland. Her hair was so ample that she could hide herself in it.

When Gunnlaugr was eighteen, he went abroad. At that time, Helga became his fiancée, on the condition that she would wait no more than three years for Gunnlaugr. He visited Norway, England, Ireland, Orkney and Sweden. In Sweden, he stayed with King Óláfr Skötkonung, and met his rival the Icelandic champion and skald Hrafn Önundarson

It would take four years (1005) for Gunnlaugr to return to Iceland and Helga. Since Gunnlaugr had been gone longer than his allotted three years, Helga was forced into an unhappy marriage to Gunnlaugr's enemy Hrafn. Gunnlaugr and Hrafn met at the althing of 1006 and Gunnlaugr challenged Hrafn to a holmgang. The duel ended in a draw, and was the last one allowed in Iceland. That day, holmganga were forbidden by law.

In order to settle their dispute in blood, the two champions met in Norway, in the spring of 1008. There, Gunnlaugr defeated Hrafn, but was fatally wounded. After a short time, he died at age 25. Helga later remarried, but never recovered from Gunnlaugr's death. Her greatest pleasure was to rest her eyes on a sumptuous coat that Gunnlaugr had given her. One evening, she rested her head on her husband's shoulder, spread the coat in front of her, and watched it for a while. Thereafter, she fell back into her husband's embrace and was dead.

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Logo för Nordisk familjeboks uggleupplaga.png This article contains content from the Owl Edition of Nordisk familjebok, a Swedish encyclopedia published between 1904 and 1926, now in the public domain.