This new series of posts maintains the original intent of this blog.
That intent is to honor real people who may have a limited following.
Although many in the literary world know of Egil Skallagrimsson there are others in countries far from Scandinavia and Iceland who do not.
Therefore the saga of Egil Skallagrimsson fits well within this blog’s intent.
As usual, I will not be copying this saga word-for-word. I will condense, add, subtract and embellish where necessary.
Before going any farther I must give credit to the many translations of Egil’s Saga that I have read in order to create these posts.
Egil’s Saga is one of many Icelandic sagas; forty-one according to some Icelandic saga lists.
A few of them are:
The Saga of Erik the Red
The Saga of the Ere-Dwellers
The Saga of Gisli the Outlaw
The Saga of Cormac the Skald
The Laxdale Saga
Egil’s full name is Egil Skallagrimsson; Egil, Son of Bald Grim.
“Egil’s Saga” begins with his grandfather, Evening Wolf, whose name in Icelandic is Kveld-Úlf.
Egil’s father was called Grim and his mother was called Yngvar’s Daughter.
It quickly becomes obvious that this is the story of a family and how it fits within political history. This political history includes the horrific battles between various kings in Norway. It continues on with battles between Kings in the British Isles. The saga ends with Egil’s death in 990.
The saga is laced with Egil’s poetry.
Some versions of the saga are constructed of eighty-seven chapters. Other versions have ninety-two. However, the reader does not get to Iceland until a third of the way through the saga.
Egil (circa 910 -990) is recognized as an Icelandic Poet and chronicler. However, scholars believe that the saga was recorded by Snorri Sturluson (1179 – 1241). How this came about remains to be argued to its finality. Egil may have written much of it or possibly it has been passed on orally.
However, because the scholars have involved Snorri Sturluson in this saga I feel obliged to give him a paragraph in this introduction. Much of the following is a digest from the introduction of “King Harald’s Saga.”
[Snorri Sturluson has been the most celebrated figure in Icelandic literature, possibly because the other authors are unknown. Snorri’s Heimskringla has remained the best-known of all Icelandic sagas. And yet Heimskringla is not a work of history at all, it is a series of saga-histories. Snorri Sturluson was born into wealth and authority in 1179. He quickly pushed himself into the front of national life in Iceland. After spending some time in Norway, involved in his own intrigues, Snorri Sturluson was a marked man; by orders of King Hakon of Norway. Snorri Sturluson was hunted down in his own home, dragged down into the cellar and murdered when he was sixty-two years of age.]
The following example of Egil’s (or possibly Snorri’s) poetry is translated by Herman Pálsson and Paul Edwards.
“My mother wants a price paid
To purchase my proud-oared ship
Standing high in the stern
I’ll scour for plunder.
The stout Viking steersman
Of this shining vessel:
Then home to harbor
After hewing down a man or two.”
This poem gives us a little insight into the saga. Apparently Egil’s mother had some control over the family money; or at least over his father. This money was to purchase a ship for Egil. The large and beautiful ship is to be captained by Egil, used for gathering plunder and then returning home with its bounty.
In between the family’s challenges are stories of looting, murder, intrigue, a curse, treachery, axe duels and a dirge for the loss of a son at sea.
Egil’s father, Grim-Son of Evening Wolf, had no love for Harold Fair Hair, King of Norway.
That may well be the inspiration for the following poem by Jorge Luis Borges, Argentine author (1899 –1986).
Borges was studying Snorri Sturluson’s work shortly before he died. The saga of Egil, especially the portion depicting the hatred of Egil’s father for the King of Norway may well have inspired Borges to write the following poem.
On the other hand we know that Borges continually plays with our mind.
Perhaps he meant this poem for Eric Bloodaxe, King of York, son of King Harald Fair Hair of Norway. Or possibly for Beowulf another epic character from Scandinavia. I am sure we will find out before too long.
Other artist have also taken up Egil’s Saga.