Hænsa-Þóris saga

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Hænsa-Þóris saga (Old Norse: Hœnsa-Þóris saga; Icelandic: Hænsna-Þóris saga; "The Saga of Hen-Thorir") is one of the sagas of Icelanders.


It tells the story of Hænsa-Þórir (Old Norse: Hœnsa-Þórir; Modern Icelandic: Hænsna-Þórir; hænsn means "a hen"), a poor and unpopular man who acquires wealth as a merchant and manages to buy land. In the saga the upstart is compared negatively to his neighbours, who come from a more solid background; he causes strife between them. Eventually Hænsa-Þórir refuses to sell the neighbours hay for the winter. When they take the hay anyway, he burns them alive in their farmstead. A vendetta ensues in which Hænsa-Þórir is killed and beheaded; the neighbours then seal their differences with a marriage between their families.


The saga highlights aspects of Icelandic culture, such as hospitality to guests and travellers, (expected) generosity to one's neighbours, and the need to gather support of a chieftain in order to obtain justice. Ari Þorgilsson mentions the events in his Íslendingabók in connection with a change in Icelandic law, whereby a legal complaint was no longer to be brought to the closest thing but to the quarter thing.[1] It has also been suggested that Hænsa-Þóris saga was written in response to a law-change, originating from King Magnus VI of Norway. According to the new law, a farmer was obliged to sell his neighbours hay if they were in great need. If he refused to sell the hay, he had to pay a fine, and if he resisted with force, his neighbours could attack him in turn, without committing a crime. This was a novelty in traditional Icelandic jurisprudence, and a formal objection was raised against it in the Althing in 1281.[1] According to this theory, the saga was written as propaganda in favour of the new law.[2]


  1. ^ a b Jan de Vries (1964), Altnordische Literaturgeschichte Vol. 2, 2nd ed. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 359–62 (in German).
  2. ^ Björn Sigfússon (1962), "Staða Hænsa-Þóris sögu í réttarþróun 13. aldar", Saga III(3), pp. 345-370

External links[edit]

  • Proverbs in Hœnsa-Þóris saga
  • Original text and translation at the Icelandic Saga Database
  • National and University Library of Iceland (2009). "AM 162 G fol". handrit.is. Retrieved 2017-01-19.