Egils saga Skallagrímssonar

  • Country in which the text is set
    Norway Iceland
  • Featured locations
    Courland - Kurland - Kurzeme
  • Impact

    Egils saga Skallagrímssonar (The saga of Egil Skallagrimsson / Egil's saga) saga has a prominent place among the roughly 40 Sagas of Icelanders or family sagas, which were written between the early thirteenth century and about 1400 and are regarded as constituting a distinctive genre within the medieval Icelandic saga tradition. The sagas deal with the histories of families and clans moving from Norway to settle in Iceland between the second half of the ninth century and the middle of the eleventh century―including a range of feuds involving both individuals and families that erupted during this process. The sagas vary greatly in length, scope and subject matter; the shortest are only few pages long while the longest, Brennu-Njáls saga (The Saga of Burnt Njal / Njal’s Saga) covers well over 200 pages in printed editions. Some of the sagas’ heroes are poets, others are outlaws.

    The authors of the sagas are unknown; however, many modern scholars believe that Egils saga Skallagrímssonar is not only the oldest family saga, but also that it was written by Snorri Sturluson. Such conclusions are debatable since the sagas form part of a literary tradition of which only a small number of works have been preserved.

    Egils saga Skallagrímssonar is preserved in a number of medieval vellum manuscripts, of which the most important is the Möðruvallabók (The book of Modruvellir), which was compiled in the early fourteenth century and contains 11 sagas. It is also preserved in a large number of paper manuscripts. It was first printed in 1782, although the excerpt reproduced here is taken from Sigurður Nordal's Íslensk fornrit edtion (1933).

    The saga is divided into two parts. The first begins in Norway and culminates in the death of Egil's uncle Thorolf at the hands of King Harald Fairhair. After slaying King Harald's two nephews in retribution, the rest of the family flees to Iceland. The second part tells the story of Egil’s life. The portrait of this figure is one of the most colourful in the entire saga literature. He is described as a brutal, strong and ruthless Viking―even capable of killing his enemies by biting their throats―but one who also has a sensitive, poetic side. Indeed, the poem Egil composed in memory of his sons is considered among the greatest in Icelandic literature.

    In his adult years, Egil went on many Viking raids, and he spent most of his life at loggerheads with the Norwegian royal family. However, the way he is portrayed in the saga can also be interpreted as representing an ideal of an Icelandic king.

    Egil’s Saga is one of the most important among the so-called Family Sagas. In general the sagas form an important cornerstone of Icelandic culture. Their impact on Western literature is considerable, but difficult to pin down.

  • Balticness

    When Egil was 13 years old, he forced his brother Þórólfr to take him on a journey to Norway, in which he had his first confrontation with the Norwegian King Eiríkr Bloodaxe and his wife Gunnhildr. After staying a winter with some friends in Norway (although these events took several years according to a reconstructed chronology of the saga), the brothers went on a Viking raid to the Baltic, where Egil was captured by some Courlanders. This episode is recounted in the excerpt presented here, and it includes an unusually detailed description of a Viking raid to the Baltic.

    Viðar Hreinsson

  • Bibliographic information

    Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar. Íslensk fornrit II. Edited by Sigurður Nordal. Hið íslenska fornritafélag, Reykjavík 1933.

  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    Danish 1839 Niels Matthias Petersen
    Danish 1875 N. N. Lefolii
    Danish 1901 Verner Dahlerup & Finnur Jónsson
    Danish 1930 Johannes V. Jensen (abr.)
    English 1893 W. C. Green
    English 1930 Eric Rucker Eddison
    English 1975 Christine Fell
    English 1976 Hermann Pálsson & Paul Edwards
    English 1997 Bernard Scudder
    Finnish 1994 Antti Tuuri
    German 1888 Ferdinand Khull
    German 1911 Felix Niedner
    German 1936 Gustav Wenz
    German 1982 Rolf Heller
    German 1996 (1978) Kurt Schier
    German 2011 Reinhard Hennig
    Lithuanian 1975 Svetlana Steponavičienė
    Norwegian 1914 Leiv Heggstad (abr.)
    Norwegian 1945 Jan Hovstad (abr.)
    Norwegian 1951 Hallvard Lie
    Norwegian 1951 Anders Ljono & Sverre Solum (abr.)
    Polish 1974 Apolonia Załuska-Strömberg
    Russian 1956 S. S. Maslova-Lashanskaya & V. V. Koshkin
    Swedish 1693 Petter Salan
    Swedish 1883 A. U. Bååth
    Swedish 1930 Per Wieselgren
    Swedish 1933 Erik Noreen
    Swedish 1935 Hjalmar Alving
    Swedish 1962 Åke Ohlmarks
    Swedish 1992 Karl G. Johansson


    Johannes V. Jensen

  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication
    Originally written in the early thirteenth century (c. 1230) - first publication 1782
    Hrappsey Island, Iceland

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