Sagas of Icelanders

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Egill Skallagrímsson in a 17th-century manuscript of Egils Saga
Grettir is ready to fight in this illustration from a 17th-century Icelandic manuscript
Detail of a miniature from a 13th-century Icelandic manuscript.

The Sagas of Icelanders (Icelandic: Íslendingasögur), also known as family sagas, are prose narratives mostly based on historical events that mostly took place in Iceland in the 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries, during the so-called Saga Age. They are the best-known specimens of Icelandic literature.

They are focused on history, especially genealogical and family history. They reflect the struggle and conflict that arose within the societies of the early generations of Icelandic settlers.

Eventually many of Icelandic sagas were recorded, mostly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The 'authors', or rather recorders of these sagas are unknown. One, Egils saga, is believed by some scholars[1][2] to have been written by Snorri Sturluson, a descendant of the saga's hero, but this remains uncertain. The standard modern edition of Icelandic sagas is known as Íslenzk fornrit.

List of Icelanders' sagas[edit]

Gaukur's Saga – A Lost Saga[edit]

The Saga of Gaukur á Stöng is believed to have existed but is now considered lost. The saga — set in the anthology of sagas known as Möðruvallabók between Njáls saga and Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar — tells of a man named Gaukur Trandilsson who lived in the 10th century. Gaukur is mentioned in chapter 26 of Njáls saga. Icelandic professor and poet Jón Helgason managed to decipher a line that read "Let Trandilsson's story be written here. I am told that [Mr.] Grim knows it." However, the story was never put to paper. The Grim mentioned in the manuscript is believed to have been Grímur Þorsteinsson, knight and governor (ca. 1350).

Gaukur is reported to have been an exceptionally brave and gentle man. He was the foster brother of Ásgrimur. However, it is said that he had a falling out with his foster brother, who ultimately killed him.

Gaukur must have been a well known figure in Icelandic folklore as he is mentioned in not only Njáls Saga but also the Íslendigadrápa, a poem about the Icelandic heroes. He is also mentioned on a tomb in the Orkney Islands, where a runic inscription translates to "These runes were carved by the man who was the most knowledgable of runes in the west of the sea, using the axe that belonged to Gaukur Trandilsson in the south of the land".[3] The south of the land refers to Iceland.[4]

Explanations for saga writing[edit]

Icelanders produced a high volume of literature relative to the size of the population. Historians have proposed several theories for the high volume of saga writing:

  • The unique nature of the political system of the Icelandic Commonwealth created incentives for aristocrats to produce literature.[5][6] Because new principalities lacked internal cohesion, a typical leader produced Sagas so as "to create or enhance amongst his subjects or followers a feeling of solidarity and common identity by emphasizing their common history and legends".[5] Leaders from old and established principalities did not produce any Sagas, as they were already cohesive political units.[5]
  • The production of literature was one way in which chieftains created and maintained social differences between them and the rest of the population.[6]
  • Later (late 13th century and 14th century) saga-writing was motivated by the desire of the Icelandic aristocracy to maintain or reconnect links with the Nordic countries by tracing the ancestry of Icelandic aristocrats to well-known kings and heroes that the contemporary Nordic kings could also trace their origins to.[6]

See also[edit]

References: English translations[edit]

  • Örnólfur Thorsson (1997). The Complete Sagas of Icelanders. 5 vols. Reykjavik: Leifur Eiriksson Publishing Ltd.[7]
  • Örnólfur Thorsson, et al. (eds.) (2000) The Sagas of the Icelanders: a selection. Penguin Books
  1. ^ Egil's Saga, English translation, Penguin Books, 1976, introduction by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards, p.7
  2. ^ Sigurður Nordal had this to say in his edition of Egils saga: "This matter will never be settled fully with the information we now have. … As for me, I have become more and more convinced, as I gained a better understanding of Egils saga that it is the work of Snorri, and I will henceforth not hesitate to count the saga among his works, unless new arguments are presented, which I have overlooked."
  3. ^ Naumann, Hanspeter (2011); "Die Saga von Njal und dem Mordbrand", p.326, ISBN 978-3-8258-8416-1, 2011
  4. ^ Naumann, Hanspeter (2011); "Die Saga von Njal und dem Mordbrand", p.326, ISBN 978-3-8258-8416-1, 2011
  5. ^ a b c Kristinsson, Axel (2003-06-01). "Lords and Literature: The Icelandic Sagas as Political and Social Instruments". Scandinavian Journal of History 28 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1080/03468750310001192. ISSN 0346-8755. 
  6. ^ a b c Eriksen, Anne; Sigurðsson, Jón Viðar (2010-01-01). Negotiating Pasts in the Nordic Countries: Interdisciplinary Studies in History and Memory. Nordic Academic Press. ISBN 9789185509331. 
  7. ^ "The Complete Sagas of Icelanders". Sagas.is. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 

References: studies[edit]

  • Arnold, Martin (2003). The Post-Classical Icelandic Family Saga. Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press
  • Karlsson, Gunnar (2000). The History of Iceland. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  • Liestol, Knut (1930). The Origin of the Icelandic Family Sagas. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press
  • Miller, William Ian (1990). Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

External links[edit]