Icelandic Sagas

saga (in Old Norse Literature)

saga, in Old Norse literature, especially Icelandic and Norwegian, narrative in prose or verse, centering on a legendary or historical figure or family. Sagas may be divided into sagas of the kings, mainly of early Norwegian rulers; Icelandic sagas, both biographical and historical; contemporary sagas, which were also Icelandic and were written about living persons; legendary sagas of the distant past; and sagas that were translations of foreign romances. Sagas were composed from about the early 11th to the mid-14th cent. and were first written down c.1200. Scholars disagree as to the extent to which written versions borrowed from earlier oral compositions. The sagas vary greatly in length. The greatest attention has been given to the history sagas (e.g., Sturlungasaga), the family sagas (e.g., Njála, tr. by G. W. Dasent, 1861; M. Magnusson and P. Palsson, 1960), and the mythical heroic sagas (e.g., Völsungasaga, tr. by William Morris, 1870). In all these the epic element is strong, and the milieu of a heroic society is made vivid. Historical accuracy was often a major aim of the saga, although reworking, interjection of the supernatural, and other changes caused distortion. The historical approach is felt in the careful selection of events and the great emphasis on cause and effect. Among other noted sagas are the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson (tr. by L. Hollander, 1964); the Laxdœla, translated in Earthly Paradise by William Morris; the Grettla, translated by the same author; the Frithjof, translated by Esaias Tegnér; and Gisli, translated by R. B. Allen.

See The Sagas of the Icelanders (2000) for a selection of the sagas. See also S. Einarsson, A History of Icelandic Literature (1957); P. Hallberg, The Icelandic Saga (tr. 1962); L. Lönnroth, Njáls Saga (1976); C. Clover, The Medieval Saga (1982); P. Schach, Icelandic Sagas (1984).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Icelandic Sagas: Selected full-text books and articles

Three Icelandic Sagas: Gunnlaugs Saga Ormstungu, Translated by M. H. Scargill Bandamanna Saga [And] Droplaugarsona Saga
M. H. Scargill; Margaret Schlauch; H. G. A. R.C.A. Glyde.
Princeton University Press, 1950
Eirik the Red: And Other Icelandic Sagas
Gwyn Jones.
Oxford University Press, 1975
Vikings in Russia: Yngvar's Saga and Eymund's Saga
Hermann Palsson; Paul Edwards.
Edinburgh University Press, 1989
FREE! The Story of Burnt Njal: The Great Icelandic Tribune, Jurist, and Counsellor
George Webbe Dasent; Rasmus B. Anderson; J. W. Buel.
Norroena Society, 1906
From Sagas to Society: Comparative Approaches to Early Iceland
Gísli Pálsson.
Hisarlik, 1992
The Unwashed Children of Eve: The Production, Dissemination and Reception of Popular Literature in Post-Reformation Iceland
Matthew James Driscoll.
Hisarlik, 1997
Old Norse Images of Women
Jenny Jochens.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Ancient Icelandic Whetters" begins on p. 182
Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature
W. P. Ker.
Dover, 1957
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "The Icelandic Sagas"
Early Voyages and Northern Approaches, 1000-1632
Tryggvi J. Oleson.
McClelland and Stewart, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Elements of Fact in the Icelandic Sagas"
Heroic Sagas and Ballads
Stephen A. Mitchell.
Cornell University Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: "Icelandic rimur" begins on p. 163
A Place Apart: An Anthropological Study of the Icelandic World
Kirsten Hastrup.
Clarendon Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Times Past and Present"
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