In this episode, we introduce Gunnar Hamundarson and his wise friend Njal Thorgeirsson. We’ll follow Gunnar on a few adventures before he settles down with the lovely, but dangerous Hallgerd Hoskuldsdottir. If you thought Hallgerd was harsh in Part 1 of our summer saga, just wait until you see what she’s up to this time around. Will the friendship of Njal and Gunnar survive the escalating violence spurred on by their wives, or will they be consumed by it and destroyed? There’s only one way to find out.
For anyone who’s interested, we’ve put together a select bibliography for Njal’s Saga. We have mentioned a few of these, but there’s plenty more here for your perusal. Obviously, you’ll need a good library to access most of these.
In this first part of our epic summer saga, we introduce Njal’s Saga and the initial section where marriage, gender roles, and female independence are the central themes. We begin with the story of Hrut Herjolfsson, who leaves his bride-to-be in Iceland to fetch an inheritance in Norway. Along the way, the handsome young Hrut finds himself more involved in the royal family than is proper. Scandal! After getting ensnared in the web of the Norwegian queen mother, Gunnhild, Hrut will bring home a curse that will set the whole action of Njal’s Saga into motion. We also meet Hrut’s lovely and dynamic niece, Hallgerd Hoskuldsdottir, a fiercely independent woman who will play a significant role in the development of this saga. When we first meet her, we learn that she has the eyes of a thief, which never bodes well. This episode covers Hallgerd’s first two marriages, both of which involve domestic violence followed by a visit from Hallgerd’s vengeful foster-father Thjostolf. Hallgerd may be beautiful, cunning, and seductive, but she’s hardly the passive female of most medieval literature. We look forward to spending some time with her this summer and hearing how you all feel about her character.
In this fun-filled episode, John and Andy offer their judgments on The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta. Listen and learn how a leather thong can really improve your spear-throwing distance. It’s true. You’ll also learn about the wonders of hearth bread with butter and be introduced to the BCDM, our newest method for calculating a saga’s body count. It’s an action packed episode with plenty of laughs and some good discussion of history and literature. Those of you who prefer a steady flow of action and laughs will have to forgive us for our scholarly tangents, but those with a genuine interest in saga literature will get what they came here for.
There are a number of videos featuring the use of the ankyle/amentum. We’ve selected the following two as the most reasonable illustrations of the tool.
As promised, I’m including the recipe for hearth bread that John mentions in Notable Witticism:
Thorgeir Butter-Ring’s Bread
3 cups whole wheat or rye flour
2 cups white or all-purpose flour
3/4 cup steel-cut or rolled oats
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups water
Oven (I mean, go ahead and hearth-bake the bread if you want to be a stickler for accuracy).
Mix together both kinds of flour, the oats, the salt, and the baking soda in a large bowl.
Gradually add water while stirring with a wooden spoon until it is stiff and difficult to stir further. NOTE: do not use an automatic mixer for this step. Seriously, how many 10th century Icelanders do you think had a KitchenAid?
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough (you may want to wet or flour your hands for this step). Stop when dough is malleable and thoroughly integrated.
Form the dough into a round or oval shape on a baking stone and place it in the oven. NOTE: The oven is still cold at this point.
Now set the oven to 375 degree Fahrenheit (190 Celsius), and bake for 55-70 minutes (depending on elevation and oven).
Take the bread out of the oven when it looks, you know, bready (I’m not a cook. Also, it’s unlikely that actual 10th century Icelanders, who cooked their bread in fire ashes or on a hearth-stone, were overly fussy about exact timing. Eyeball it). Let it cool on a rack.
Eat the bread while it’s warm. And of course, Thorgeir Butter-Ring recommends using plenty of butter, but I found cheese, honey, or apple slices works fine too.
Come to Mývatn, where the scenery stuns, the flies bite, and swords sting! In this episode, we welcome Killer-Skúta back to Iceland. Not bound by the conditions of the settlement established by Áskel, on his deathbead, Skúta is free to wreak vengeance upon those who dishonored his family. He’ll also have to contend with the various families in the region who don’t take so kindly to his handling of their kin folk. And that’s the story, more or less. Killer-Skúta certainly earns his nickname in this one. Along the way, you’ll also learn the worst way to die in Mývatn.
In this episode, we travel to the northern districts of Thingey and Eyjafjord where the Askel the goði spends most of his time working out settlements to save the skin of his nephews. You won’t meet a more saintly Icelander than the wise Askel goði, but you might question his loyalty to Vemund Fjorleifarson. But, as Vemund’s uncle, poor Askel is caught between a rock and a hard place. Will his support of Vemund cost Askel the ultimate price in the end, or will he make an honest man of his wayward nephew? Find out as Saga Thing takes on the first half of The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta.
It’s time to put The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong on trial. Join us as we review the saga’s more violent moments, count up the dead, and shed some light on a few nicknames. Who will be outlawed? Who will be chosen as thingman? Will Andy and John agree on the quality of the saga? You’ll learn all this and more in the Final Judgments.
Join us for the thrilling conclusion of The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong. In the first part of this episode, we discuss Finnbogi’s evolving relationship with the Norwegian Earl Haakon, his trip to Constantinople, and his pursuit of Alf’s daughter Ragnhild. Yes, Finnbogi’s got his eye on the daughter of the man he killed on the way to Haakon’s court. The second part of this episode takes us back to Iceland, where Finnbogi finds that fame isn’t all its cracked up to be. With rivals emerging everywhere he goes, Finnbogi is forced to move from district to district in search of peace. That turns out to be a real challenge after he crosses a powerful lunatic like Jokul Ingimundarson, who you might remember from the second part of our episode on Vatnsdæla saga. There are many many feuds and fights in this part of the story. We do our best to cover the ones that really matter. We hope you enjoy this final part of our summary of The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong. It was a lot of fun for us, which is why this episode ended up so long.
Incidentally, since Finnbogi does make his way down to Constantinople and we often find ourselves in Byzantium, our listeners might be interested in The History of Byzantium podcast. He hasn’t covered Emperor John yet, but he’s getting closer to the period of the Varangian Guard. We’re looking forward to that. In the meantime, check out his special episode on the city of Constantinople. It covers the founding of the city, it’s geographical significance, and the daily life of its people. Great stuff!
Many of you have asked for Njal and Egil over the years. This summer, John and Andy will tackle the saga of your choice. So, your dream could finally come true. We threw in two other options just for the sake of competition. Don’t everyone vote for The Saga of the People of Floi.
This poll will remain open until the end of April, at which point we’ll hopefully have a clear winner.
In this episode, we celebrate the life and accomplishments of the historical Rollo. Known to many as the envious brother of the incomparable Ragnar Loðbrok in the History Channel’s Vikings. While the historical Rollo may not have been Ragnar’s brother, Vikings gets a lot of things right. As an exile from his homeland, Rollo earned the nickname “the Walker” by wandering throughout northern Europe raiding and conquering everything in his path. Among his most significant conquests would come to be known as Normandy, a territory in northern France named for the Northmen led by Rollo in the late 9th or early 10th century. Fearing further Viking aggression, the French King Charles the Simple turned over the city of Rouen over to Rollo and his men. This simple act (get it?) provided the French with a buffer against future Viking attacks from the north. Or so they hoped. In this case, it worked out nicely. Rollo and his fellow Vikings quickly rebuilt the territories they had ravaged and assimilated into French culture. Rollo’s descendants would go on to play a very significant role in European history. As the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror, Rollo’s blood flows through many veins of later European royalty. Download this episode (right click and save)
If you’re interested in learning more about that part of the story, we recommend the following episodes of Rex Factor, our very favorite podcast:
The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong tells the tale of a farmer’s son who overcomes an ignoble birth and rises to become one of Iceland’s greatest men, or so the saga author would have you believe. This obscure and rarely discussed 14th century saga is thought to have been written in response to Vatnsdæla Saga, where Finnbogi comes off rather poorly. In his own saga, Finnbogi proves to be an upright and noble figure who almost always does the right thing. With superhuman strength, he’s capable of dispatching an angry bull with his bare hands, snapping the spine of an angry Norwegian bear, and coming out ahead in a seemingly endless feud with Vatnsdæla Saga’s brutish Jokul Ingimundarsson. Finnbogi’s Saga deserves more attention than it has gotten in the past. And that’s why you come to Saga Thing.