Author Topic: Egil's Saga  (Read 3439 times)

Offline Adeodatus

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Egil's Saga
« on: August 11, 2013, 02:09:03 AM »
What more enigmatic character in Western literature is there than Egil Skallagrimsson? I can't figure this guy out. A drunkard at the age of 3. A killer at the age of 7 (his mother observes at this point that he has the makings of a good Viking). A warrior without parallel: twice he overcomes 11 men while fighting alone, and once 8 men. Iceland's greatest skaldic poet: his lament for his son drowned at sea (Egil cannot take vengeance upon the waves) and his rejection of Odin are especially moving. A man without fear, prosecuting his feud with the King of Norway as though it were with a rival farmer. A worker of rune-magic, Egil could prevent poison, heal the sick and work a frightful curse. A skilled lawyer, Egil could have complete command over a legal assembly. A petulant man, he gouges out a host's eye for serving him curds (granted, that was considered rude) and kills King Eirik's 11-year old son as part of their feud. A trickster, he hopes to induce his fellow Icelanders to start killing each other by thrown chests of silver in the midst at the Althing. A great general, he helps lead the Christian army of King Athelstan to victory at Brunaburh. An old coot, he sinks his silver fortune into a marsh and kills the slaves who assisted him so that his family will not have this inheritance (they vetoed the "silver frenzy" plot) while he was virtually on his deathbed. A romantic, he woos a girl by telling her about setting a bunch of people on fire during a Viking raid.

Who is this man? I'm drawn to him, fascinated by him. But I can't figure him out. Is he merely a Nietzschean ubermensch who lives aesthetically, beyond good and evil? And yet he is frequently offended by injustice, and offers to assist a struggling family plagued by the berserker Ljot, and works rune magic to help a sick girl. If he's an ubermensch he's an awfully inconsistent one. Perhaps a sociopath? He certainly seemed to enjoy getting other people's goats. But that seems much too easy to encompass such a figure.

The enigma is made all the more difficult by the surreal level of journalistic neutrality that typifies the voice of the Icelandic sagas. Head splitting, eye gouging, child slaying, house burning and other acts of outrageous violence and daring are all described as plainly and devoid of editorial observation as one would enumerate the species of fish that can be caught in a particular fjord, or recounting someone's lutefisk recipe.
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Offline Heinrich

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2013, 10:35:35 AM »
You do know that you are probably the only person registered on this forum who has ever heard or knows anything about Egil, don't you?
Schaff Recht mir Gott und führe meine Sache gegen ein unheiliges Volk . . .   .                          
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Offline Lyubov

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2013, 10:45:52 AM »
You do know that you are probably the only person registered on this forum who has ever heard or knows anything about Egil, don't you?

I took a Medieval British History course during my undergrad and we devoted a week to Egil Skallagrimsson. He was definitely a favourite amongst my classmates.  :lol:
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Offline red solo cup

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2013, 10:56:09 AM »
I too am familiar with Skallagrimsson. There was a time in my misspent youth when I was into all things Viking. I still own copies of several of the sagas. Orkneyinga,
Vinland, Harald's and Njal's. I agree about the violence we are horrified at but they took quite casually. Recall in the Vinland Saga the massacre of Helgi and Finnbogi's
men by Thorvard. They were taken and tied up when caught sleeping. Even though they were no longer a threat, Thorvard and his men killed them all. That left five
women they didn't have the heart to kill. So Thorvald's wife Fredis took an ax and did it herself. These are the same people who gave us the blut ord or Blood Eagle.
Google that. It'll make your hair stand on end.
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Offline erin is nice

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2013, 01:10:11 PM »
You do know that you are probably the only person registered on this forum who has ever heard or knows anything about Egil, don't you?

Nope. I read the Saga last year or the year before.
 

Offline Heinrich

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2013, 06:19:44 PM »
Well kiss my grits.
Schaff Recht mir Gott und führe meine Sache gegen ein unheiliges Volk . . .   .                          
Lex Orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.
"Die Welt sucht nach Ehre, Ansehen, Reichtum, Vergnügen; die Heiligen aber suchen Demütigung, Verachtung, Armut, Abtötung und Buße." --Ausschnitt von der Geschichte des Lebens St. Bennos.
 

Offline LouisIX

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2013, 04:26:20 AM »
Ok.  I'll take the bait.  To what series are we referring?
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Offline FaithByProxy

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2013, 12:15:49 PM »
Ok.  I'll take the bait.  To what series are we referring?

It isn't a series, it is one of the ancient Norse sagas.  :)
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Offline Adeodatus

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2013, 04:18:35 PM »
Anyway, I find him very enigmatic. Maybe he was just drunk all the time.

I've decided to devote some energy to some other similar characters in that literature. Before bed I've been reading bits of the saga of Grettir Asmundarson, aka Grettir the Strong. He's a lot more lazy than Egil, but very brave.

The whole compensatory schema that dominates the Norse 'system' of justice, if one can call it that, is very interesting. Of course everyone knows about the "man price" and similar phenomena, so that if you kill somebody you owe their clan some livestock or other valuables to make up for it. This attitude seemed to prevail in all sectors. For example, Grettir takes passage on a ship after being temporarily exiled from Iceland (for killing a guy who took some of his food). Grettir is too lazy even to bail out the ship as it takes on water. The crew are not angered so much by this as by his refusal to offer them money in exchange for not pulling his weight... he could have been as lazy as he wished if he had simply paid up. That's not true in many cultures at that level.

I'm not very far in but it has been somewhat different from Egil's saga so far. For one thing, there's only a very mild presence of the supernatural in Egil: there's the guy whom iron cannot bite (a result of sorcery) and the rune that breaks a poisoned cup, and a rune of healing. That's about it. Whereas in Grettir he has twice thus far had to face corporeal undead (the first a mound dweller whose mound he broke open to loot for treasure).
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Offline Adeodatus

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2013, 04:30:25 PM »
Ok.  I'll take the bait.  To what series are we referring?

It isn't a series, it is one of the ancient Norse sagas.  :)

If you feel like reading fiction they're better than 99% of recent stuff, as long as you don't mind a dry and journalistic style of narrative. On the plus side it also counts as cultural and historical research, so you get to have fun while doing something at least marginally worthwhile.
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Offline Der Kaiser

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2013, 07:16:53 PM »
Volsungs Saga for the win. Egils Saga is good but, gotta go with The Volsungs.
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Offline erin is nice

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2013, 07:32:16 PM »
there's only a very mild presence of the supernatural in Egil: there's the guy whom iron cannot bite (a result of sorcery) and the rune that breaks a poisoned cup, and a rune of healing. That's about it.

Don't forget the shapeshifter!
 

Offline red solo cup

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2013, 10:42:35 AM »
Anyway, I find him very enigmatic. Maybe he was just drunk all the time.

I've decided to devote some energy to some other similar characters in that literature. Before bed I've been reading bits of the saga of Grettir Asmundarson, aka Grettir the Strong. He's a lot more lazy than Egil, but very brave.

The whole compensatory schema that dominates the Norse 'system' of justice, if one can call it that, is very interesting. Of course everyone knows about the "man price" and similar phenomena, so that if you kill somebody you owe their clan some livestock or other valuables to make up for it. This attitude seemed to prevail in all sectors. For example, Grettir takes passage on a ship after being temporarily exiled from Iceland (for killing a guy who took some of his food). Grettir is too lazy even to bail out the ship as it takes on water. The crew are not angered so much by this as by his refusal to offer them money in exchange for not pulling his weight... he could have been as lazy as he wished if he had simply paid up. That's not true in many cultures at that level.

I'm not very far in but it has been somewhat different from Egil's saga so far. For one thing, there's only a very mild presence of the supernatural in Egil: there's the guy whom iron cannot bite (a result of sorcery) and the rune that breaks a poisoned cup, and a rune of healing. That's about it. Whereas in Grettir he has twice thus far had to face corporeal undead (the first a mound dweller whose mound he broke open to loot for treasure).

It seems that the undead were more of a problem than one would think as they get mentioned fairly often in the sagas. As I understand it the preferred method of dealing
with them was to drive a long stake through the chest and then bury the body with a bit of the stake  showing above the ground. Then when a priest was available the
stake was pulled and holy water poured down the hole. That sounds like it would work. :)
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Offline Adeodatus

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Re: Egil's Saga
« Reply #13 on: August 14, 2013, 01:37:20 PM »
there's only a very mild presence of the supernatural in Egil: there's the guy whom iron cannot bite (a result of sorcery) and the rune that breaks a poisoned cup, and a rune of healing. That's about it.

Don't forget the shapeshifter!

Yeah, that's an interesting facet of it too. In my somewhat prosaic imagination I conceived that perhaps by "shapeshifter" they meant that the warrior took on a furor that mimicked the characteristics of an animal, such as aggressive ferocity for a wolf or great strength and endurance for a bear. I could see such a warrior donning the pelt of the animal whose spirit was thought to possess them. "Berserk" is apparently a disputed etymology that may mean "bear-shirt", and sometimes such characters are called "ulfhednar" which refers to the wearing of a wolf skin. I know both types of warriors are typically associated with the cult of Odin.

I can imagine that both sorts of warrior lived according to an obscure and fanatical mystery cult of that pagan god, and behaved like the animal whose spirit they hoped to draw upon for power in battle.

Or maybe the Sagas mean a guy who actually turns into an animal. That is certainly the more fantastical reading!

@red solo cup: Whereas I'm inclined to "demythologize" the shape shifting (though the literal reading is more fun), I have no idea what to say in that vein regarding the corporeal undead, such as the draugr. It makes for a heck of a story, though.

Naturally I want to know about the historicity of the Sagas. I don't discount the possible influence of demons and sorcery, since the "mythic" elements of the Sagas are all placed in the era prior to the conversion of Iceland, but I'm not ready to admit a hulk-zombie or a troll or anything like that.

Regardless, it's fun reading. I haven't had a chance to read any more of Grettir in the past couple of days but I hope to get back to it soon.


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