Eirik the Red: And Other Icelandic Sagas

Eirik the Red: And Other Icelandic Sagas

Eirik the Red: And Other Icelandic Sagas

Eirik the Red: And Other Icelandic Sagas

Excerpt

The word saga means 'a saw', 'something said', something recorded in words, and hence by easy extension a prose story or narrative. Specifically it is the term used to describe, or rather distinguish, the prose narratives of medieval Iceland. These were of many kinds, but closest to our present purpose are the Íslendingasögur or Sagas of Icelanders, which relate the lives and feuds of individuals and families during the so-called Saga Age, A.D. 930-1030. They were first written down during the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The Family Sagas, as they are also called, are the very heart-strand of the native literature of medieval Iceland; they are also part of the heroic literature of the Germanic peoples. 'Þú ert Grettir, pjóðin mín!' cries the poet: 'You are Grettir, O my people!' -- and no people has ever more closely identified itself with, or owed more to, its written records than the Icelanders; yet the tales that tell of the star-crossed outlaws Grettir and Gisli, of Gunnar of Hlidarendi and Burnt-Njal, and the men and women of Laxardal, stand ranked in their prose kind alongside Beowulf and Maldon, the story of the Nibelungs, Waltharius, and the Eddic lays of Helgi and Sigrun. This twofold significance, native and Germanic, reinforcing their high literary merit and strong human interest, has made the Sagas of Icelanders a priceless legacy of medieval European literature.

Iceland was discovered by the continental Norsemen about the year 860, and permanent settlement began in earnest with Ingolf Arnarson at Reykjavik . . .

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