Hænsa-Þóris saga ( listen (help·info)) is one of the sagas of Icelanders. It tells the story of Hænsa-Thorir, (also spelled Hænsna-Þórir in modern texts, hænsn means a hen) a poor and unpopular man who acquires wealth as a merchant and manages to buy a land. In the saga the upstarter is compared negatively to his neighbours, who come from a more solid background. The communication between them reaches its peak when Hænsa-Þórir refuses to sell them hay for the winter. When his neighbours take the hay anyway, he burns them alive in their farmstead. A vendetta ensues in which Hænsa-Thorir is killed and beheaded.
The saga highlights aspects of Icelandic culture, such as hospitality to guests and travellers, (expected) generosity to ones neighbors, and the need to gather support of a chieftain in order to obtain justice. Another theory states 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 seems to have been unpopular. According to this theory, Hænsa-Þóris saga was written as a propaganda in favour of the new law.
- Björn Sigfússon: „Staða Hænsa-Þóris sögu í réttarþróun 13. aldar“, Saga III:3 (1962), p. 345-370. Accessible on: www.timarit.is
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