Around Iceland with the Sagas

Page 1

The publisher would like to thank the following for their contributions to this book:

Nanna Stefanía Hermannsson, who was one of the editors of the Swedish book Islänningasagor händelser, platser och bilder, together with Heimir Pálsson and Ívar Gissurarsson. The book Islänningasagor händelser, platser och bilder can honestly be said to be the forerunner of the book Around Iceland with the Sagas

Stiftelsen Barbro och Sune Örtendahls fond for financial support for the book Islänningasagor händelser, platser och bilder

Jóhann Sigurðsson publisher at Leifur Eiríksson Publishing for allowing the use of the English translations in The Complete Sagas of Icelanders.

Around Iceland with the Sagas

Publisher: Nýhöfn

Hveragerði 2024 www.nyhofn.com

Copyright © 2024 Nýhöfn

Layout and design: Ívar Gissurarson / GIH

Cover design: Aðalsteinn Svanur Sigfússon

Printing: Prentmiðlun/Latvia

This book may not be reproduced in any way, whether photographically, by printing, scanning or in any other similar way, in whole or in part, without written permission from the publisher.

ISBN 978-9935-510-23-5

2

AROUND ICELAND WITH THE SAGAS

Editorial board:

Heimir Pálsson (Text)

Ívar Gissurarson (Picture Research)

3
2024

Contents

The scene of each saga is marked with a chapter number on the map on page 4.

5
Heimir Pálsson: Introduction .............................. .................................................. 7 West Iceland 1 The Saga of the people of Kjalarnes .............................................................. 12 2 The Saga of Hord and the People of Holm .................................................... 14 3 Egil’s Saga (Ball-game) ................................................................................. 16 4 Egil’s Saga (Bodvar’s death) ........................................................................... 18 5 The Saga of Gunnlaug the Serpent-Toungue ................................................... 20 6 The Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Hitardal Peeople ..................................... 22 7 The Saga of People of Eyri (The cunning and wise) ........................................ 24 8 The Saga of People of Eyri (Ghosts and supernatural events at Froda) ............. 26 9 Bard’s Saga .................................................................................................. 28 10 The Saga of the People of Laxardal ................................................................ 30 11 Gisli Sursson’s Saga ...................................................................................... 32 12 The Saga of the Sworn Brothers .................................................................... 34 13 Grettir and Thorbjorg (The Saga of Grettir the Strong –A powerful woman) .... 36 North Iceland 14 Kormak’s Saga ............................................................................................ 40 15 The Saga of the Slayings on the Heath ........................................................... 42 16 The Saga of Grettir the Strong (Grettir fights the ghost).................................. 44 17 The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal ............................................................... 46 18 The Saga of Hallfred the Troublesome Poet ................................................... 48 19 The Saga of the People of Svarfadardal .......................................................... 50 20 Killer-Glum’s Saga ....................................................................................... 52 21 The Saga of the People of Ljosavatn ............................................................... 54 22 The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and of Killer-Skuta ................................. 56 East Iceland 23 The Saga of Droplaug’s Sons ......................................................................... 60 24 The Saga of the People of Fljotsdal ................................................................ 62 25 The Saga of Hrafnkel Frey’s Godi .................................................................. 64 South Iceland 26 Njal’s Saga (A hero introduced) .................................................................... 68 27 Njal’s Saga (Gunnar’s death) ......................................................................... 70 28 Njal’s Saga (Drama at Markarfljot river) ........................................................ 72 29 Njal’s Saga ................................................................................................... 74 From the Tales of Icelanders 30 The Tale of Gunnar, the Slayer of Thidrandi .................................................. 78 31 Orm Storolfsson’s Tale .................................................................................. 80

Guðrúnarlaug is a thermal pool in Sælingsdalur in the municipality of Dalabyggð. The pool is linked to Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir in the Saga of the People of Laxardal, now reconstructed Photo: Ívar Gissurarson

Introduction

In most comprehensive works on medieval European literature, you will find a chapter on the Icelandic Sagas – Íslendingasögur. The Icelandic term has gradually become a technical and international term, and thus the noun saga is likely to show up in many languages. Together with the eddic poems the sagas often are spoken of as the most important and original Nordic input to the medieval European history of literature.

The term stresses that it is a question of tales about Icelanders, but the tales are neither historic truth nor fantasy. Saga can mean both.

As a matter of fact many, and maybe most of the people dealt with in the sagas are authentic: men or women bearing those names did live in different parts of Iceland, in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The main characters usually are men, quite tough and tragic. They came into lethal conflicts and usually became the losers. As a rule, the final conflict deals with the honour of the hero, but maybe that is not the whole story. A French scholar once described the difference between the Icelandic tragedies and the continental (esp. French) romances thus: “The Icelandic medieval literature deals mainly with power and honour, because it was neither traditional nor apt to talk about love, but the continental romances deal with love, because it was not comme il faut to discuss the conflict between the mighty kings.”

The main characters had been quite memorable, at least within the family, and generation after generation told tales of them. Usually tragic ones, ending with death. But what makes their sagas interesting and worth reading or listening to is the fact that the story-tellers, men or women, seem to have wanted to understand why those promising men always had to face the bitter fate. For fate seems to be very important. In Snorri Sturluson’s Edda we can read: “Good maidens, ones of noble parentage, shape a good life. But the people that become the victims of misfortune, then it is the evil norns that are responsible.” As a tourist in Iceland, you might meet with this fatalism: If a snowstorm comes, that is obviously because it was meant to come. If the volcano starts

7

pouring out lava, it is simply because it was now it should happen. We don’t rule over nature and nature’s law.

Most scholars believe that the sagas were not written down on calfskin earlier than the thirteenth century, some as late as in the fourteenth and even maybe later. That means that the sagas had lived orally for two or three centuries and been told and retold by six to nine generations. It goes without saying that the question of truth or fantasy becomes rather irrelevant.

When editing this small book we have by no means wished to give a picture of the Icelandic sagas as a literary genre or even to choose highlights from them. We have simply wanted to stress the close relationship between the sagas and the country, pointing out that the landscapes we travel through are telling us stories, true or less true: Tales about people that lived in this country long ago.

One of the features that made the sagas not only popular but almost classic was the fact that you can, almost in all cases, know where the saga in question happened. Placenames connected the landscape and the saga. Proudly could men and women point out: It was here Skarphedin jumped over Markarfljót. Believe it or not.

The sagas were rewritten or copied through the ages up to the late nineteenth century, when the first popular editions started to come out in print. The most popular sagas can be found in many dozen manuscripts on calfskin or paper, and we know of examples copied from printed editions by self-trained workers, thinking that the sagas should be preserved in handwriting. To have the sagas on your shelf was a part of being an Icelander.

It is common in modern literary history to connect the fantastic realism, realismo fantastico, especially with South-American literature. There is no reason to argue about which came first, the Chicken or the egg. But it is important when you read the Icelandic sagas to accept that all the episodes have the same right to the truth: If ghosts obey the law and the sentences, then be it so. If Grettir fought the ghost, he simply fought the ghost. That is all that’s to it. It is maybe not easier to reject that tale than the one about Skarphedin’s jump over Markarfljót.

Whatever you think of the historicity of the sagas it is our sincere hope that you find it worthwhile to travel AROUND ICELAND WITH THE SAGAS.

8
.
9
From 930, the Alþingi (Assembly) was the place where the chiefs met, followed by people from all over the country, for two weeks during the summer at Þingvellir. Important decisions such as those on outlawry were announced from Lögberg (Law Rock) where laws where recited. Þingvellir National Park is classified by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. Photo: Ívar Gissurarson. Svöðufoss is a magical waterfall. The sight is spectacular, with Snæfellsjokull glacier in the background. Photo: Ívar Gissurarson

Ísafjörður

Geirþjófsfjörður

V atnssfjörður

Hornstrandir

• Hólmur

• Helgafell

• Reykhólar

Laxárdalur

Laxá

• Hjarðarholt

Fróðá Kambsheiði Sönghellir Laugarbrekka

Snæfellsnes

• Hítarnes

• Borg

• Sandvík Brákarsund

Borgarfjörður

Kollafjöröur

• Brekka

• Heggstaðir Hvítá

• Saurbær

• Þyrill Helguskarð Grímsá

• Esjuberg Esja

West Iceland

11 Horn

The Saga of the 1

The saga connects people to places such as Mount Esja near Reykjavik. It takes place around the year 1000 and tells us how, in the middle of the 14th century, pagan sacrifices to the gods were believed to have happened. Konofogor was the King of Ireland from 1166 to 1198.

Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.