Nornagests þáttr or the Story of Norna-Gest is a legendary saga about the Norse hero Nornagestr, sometimes called Gestr, and here anglicized as Norna-Gest.
Norna-Gest was the son of a Danish man named Thord of Thinghusbit, who once dwelt on the estate of Grøning in Denmark. When he was born, three Norns arrived and had foretold the child's destiny. Two of them gave him good gifts. However Skuld, the oldest of the Norns, deeming that the two others made rather light of her, determined to render void their promises of good fortune for the child. So she prophesied that his life was to last no longer than that of a candle standing lit beside the cradle. The eldest Norn instantly extinguished the flame and asked his mother to hide it well.
When Norna-Gest had grown up he became the care-taker of the candle and he is said to have lived for 300 years. He took part in the battles of Sigurd the Völsung, spent time with Ragnar Lodbrok's son Björn Ironside and his brothers, with Starkad, with the Swedish king Sigurd Ring, with King Erik at Uppsala1, with King Harald Fairhair and with King Hlodver2 in Germany.
According to legend, when King Olaf Tryggvason tried to convert the Norse to Christianity, he brought Norna-Gest to his court. In the third year of the reign of King Olaf, Norna-Gest came into the presence of the king and asked to be admitted to his bodyguard. He was uncommonly tall and strong and somewhat stricken in years. Norna-Gest afterward permitted himself to be baptized at the king's desire and lit the candle that the norn Skuld had prophesied about. In accordance with the prophecy, when the candle failed, Norna-Gest died.
The story of Norna-Gest is narrated in Nornagests þáttr, which was written about the year 1300. The story was later incorporated as an episode of the Saga of Óláfr Tryggvason in the medieval Icelandic manuscript Flateyjarbók which contains several poems from the Poetic Edda.
The story of Nornagest and his candle has a counterpart in Greek mythology: the story of Meleager, who was prophecied to live only as long as a certain log was unburnt. The story is included in Ovid's METAMORPHOSES.
Science fiction writer Poul Anderson incorporated the story of Nornagest in THE BOAT OF A THOUSAND YEARS, a collection of short stories about immortals.
- ^1 Eiríkr at Uppsölum is almost a default name for the Swedish king. It could refer to Erik Refilsson, Erik Björnsson, Erik Anundsson or Eric the Victorious.
- ^2 Hlodver of Germany probably refers either to Louis the German or Louis II, Holy Roman Emperor.
- Norna-Gests þáttr in Old Norse
- Nora Kershaw's 1921 Translation
- Norna-Gest's Thattr in English Translation with Facing Old Norse Text
- Entry in the Stories for All Time database, with a full list of manuscripts, editions, translations, and secondary literature.