The Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Men of Hitardale

The Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Men of Hitardale

The Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Men of Hitardale

The Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Men of Hitardale

Synopsis

This is an exciting story of the rivalry between Bjorn Hitdoelakappi and Poror's Kolbeinsson over Poror's wife Oddny. Ultimately, Bjorn is killed in a heroic last stand against twenty-four attackers led by Poror. This much neglected text is of one of the oldest and most substantial of the Icelandic sagas. The full introduction in this volume surveys the saga genre and investigates its relationship with other European literature.

Excerpt

Thirteenth-century Iceland and the sagas of Icelanders

The sagas of thirteenth-century Iceland are unparalleled in other medieval literatures. the word saga, related to the verb segja (to say), is Icelandic for any narrative; it is used of any one of a range of medieval literary genres, from fictitious legendary tales to biographies of Norwegian kings and translations of European saints’ lives, all of which proliferated in the Icelandic vernacular from the twelfth century onwards. To English readers the word saga suggests an epic tale of heroic action, of considerable length; a sense deriving from the most famous and distinctive of the Icelandic saga kinds, the family sagas or sagas of Icelanders (translating the Icelandic term Íslendingasögur). These are a group of some forty narratives chronicling the lives of distinguished individuals and families from what to thirteenth-century perceptions was the most significant period in the country’s history, the time from the arrival of the first settlers from Norway in 871 ad to the country’s official conversion to Christianity in 1000 ad. Few sagas of Icelanders deal with events after about 1050 in detail, though they frequently reinforce the reader’s awareness of the descent of prominent contemporary families – for whose enjoyment, in some instances, the sagas were probably written – from the heroic figures whose lives are related, at some remove from historical verisimilitude, in the sagas. Some of these sagas are indeed epic in scope. the greatest in every sense, Njáls saga, runs to 159 chapters and includes an enormous range of characters, most of them historically attested; others, such as Laxdœla saga and Eyrbyggja saga, also cover the lives of several generations and families. But most sagas focus on a single central character, and some are only a few pages long; at this end of the scale the genre overlaps with that of the þáttr or short story.

Iceland in the thirteenth century was a community of perhaps 50,000, possibly much fewer, at the mercy of a harsh climate and rugged landscape, and linked to the Scandinavian mainland by a hazardous sea journey usually only attempted in summer. the literature of the early Icelanders reveals a preoccupation with defining their distinctness from, but also their close relationship to, both their cultural origins in the kingdom of Norway and the wider Christian community of medieval Europe. At the same time, Icelandic culture is young; able to remember, rather than mythologize, its own origins. As one of the compilers of Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) wrote, justifying the obsession with genealogical detail which informs this twelfth-century Icelandic historical work and is an essential element in the substance of the sagas:

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