Notable Witticisms

Not Wit

Third Quarter Court Results: Whose wit captured your vote? Surely not Bard’s Saga. But if it is, who are we to complain? Be our . . . Gest?

The Saga of Gunnar the Fool of Keldugnup (Ep. 34): There was some debate about the need to cover Notable Witticisms in this terribly unwitty saga. John and Andy managed to collect 2 each, though Andy did so under protest. The winner was Earl Hákon, who pressured Gunnar into wrestling for him. Gunnar reluctantly agreed but added that he will wrestle as long as it’s against a human. But when he showed up at the match, there are several men holding back his opponent—a trollish blámaðr. The earl called out, “Stand up, then, and wrestle with that lad who’s been brought here for you.” Gunnar, making no move, said, “I’m not supposed to wrestle with a troll.” And Earl Hakon responded, “well, you’re gonna wrestle with that one.” Earl Hákon is, we think, the only member of the Norwegian ruling elite to win an award for Notable Witticism, a category usually reserved for Icelanders.

The Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Ep. 33): This saga was among our favorites for Notable Witticisms. There were so many great candidates and laughs to sift through. It was difficult choosing just one. In the end, we landed on the brilliant and unforgettable poem composed by Thormod after his cliffside fight with Falgeir. After nearly dying in the fight, Thormod saves himself by pulling Falgeir’s pants down while they’re struggling to stay afloat as they fight. Falgeir drowns and Thormod recovers on a rock as he waits for his friends to pick him up. When Skuf and Bjarni find him clinging to the rock, he lets them know how things went with this hilarious poem:

“I dodged and darted

in the salty brine, and strangely

Falgeir’s arse bobbed up

and down, and gaped at me.

The fool died a shameful death

I saw the depths of depravity

on that base god of sword-storms, then

he swung dead eyes on me and grinned.”

The Saga of Thord Menace (Ep. 32): This text is full of great lines, making it difficult to choose a single winner in this category. Lines like “Orm has bought himself a little place on Midfjarðarnes” and “I’ll look after my building and you worry about your journey” get a lot of love from both of us. We also agree that “Ask him whether he would rather suffer Skofnung’s blows indoors or out” is a real winner. As much as we appreciate it, we also agree that the author does a brilliant job of creating situations that pay off brilliantly in a single witty line. The problem is that one can’t fully appreciate that brilliance without a lot of contexts. In the end, we decide that “Ask him whether he would rather suffer Skofnung’s blows indoors or out” is a strong stand-alone line that could perform well at the 3rd Quarter Court. We’ll have to wait and see about that.

The Saga of Bard the God of Snowfell (Ep. 31): All the ‘guest/Gest’ puns the author made. This saga is many things. Witty is not one of them. That’s about all the effort I’m willing to put into this summary of Bard’s Notable Witticisms.

The Saga of Hord and the Holm-Dwellers (Ep. 30): This saga’s notable witticism goes to a Thorbjorg in her quest to mix revenge with marital harmony. After Thorstein Gold-button is tricked into becoming the killer of Hord (not knowing and purposefully not being told about Thorbjorg’s preemptive oath of vengeance against anyone who would kill her brother), Thorbjorg first stabs her husband Indridi for being part of Hord’s killing, and then tells him the price of peace in their marriage is God-button’s head. Indridi sneaks across the landscape, does the deed, announces the killing, and then returns home with Thorstein’s head – all actions contrary to his oaths to the fellow conspirators. When he presents the head to Thorbjorg, she tosses it aside, saying “Actually, I don’t care about it when it’s off the body.” For her beautifully acidic dismissiveness, and the wonderful context of the line, we need to give her the award.

The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson (Ep. 29): In a saga of brilliant last stands and curmudgeonly characters, it’s a poem about vomit that takes the lead. Specifically, Egil’s first vomit poem. (Since he has more than one, we need to be specific.)

After being fed a meal of dairy products under the guise of there being no better food available, and stuffed with ale to the point of bursting, and then offered a horn full of poison, Egil had enough of Atloy Bard’s hospitality. In what is perhaps and effort to leave before things resort to violence, Egil takes his companion Olvir and leads him towards the door. Atloy Bard, however, cannot refuse one final insult. He brings the pair another horn of ale, asking Olvir to drink a toast, potentially tipping the beer-to-stomach ratio over the edge and causing Olvir to lose control of his body.

Egil, has had enough. He brings forth this verse.

“I’m feeling drunk, and the ale has left Olvir pale in the gills,
I let the spray of ox-beers foam over my beard
Your wits have gone, inviter of showers onto shields.
Now the rain of the high god starts pouring upon you.”

Egil then pulls out his sword, and runs Bard through. Bard falls down dead, while Olvir falls down drunk, spewing vomit everywhere.

It’s beautiful insomuch as every fluid reference also invokes parallel meanings of violence and the hidden language of poetry. It’s disgusting, but also very cleverly constructed.

The “Saga” of Ale-Hood (Ep. 28): There was never much debate over who the award was going to go to, only which particular remark was going to take the cake. Due to its subtlety, charm, and implied potential for bestiality, the award for notable witticism goes to Skegg-Brodi Bjarnarson for his account of Thorkel Fringe’s experience of being the meat in a horse-fornication sandwich.

The Saga of the People of Floi (Ep. 27): This time around, both John and Andy had their favorite witticisms and refused to back down. Since neither could convince the other of the superiority of keg-duel wit or old-age bravado, a compromise was reached in the decision to present the young Thorfinn Thorgilsson with a lifetime achievement award for the unintentional hilarity and ham-fisted innocence which accompanied each of his lines. Congratulations, Thorfinn! You deserved some sort of compensation for how the author treated you.

The Saga of the People of Kjalarnes (Ep. 26): A shared victory goes to giantess Frid and her father, King Dofri. When Bui formally greets King Dofri in court, the response he gets is “Is this the bearded baby you told me about yesterday?” For giving us a good laugh and taking the wind out of Bui’s sails, congratulations, Frid and Dofri!

The Saga of Ref the Sly (Ep. 25): We couldn’t help but give this one to Ref/’Narfi with his mind-boggling announcement for his killing of Sheath-Grani. Upon reaching the edge of King Harald’s retinue, he states

“My Lord King, The two of us, Sword-House Grani and I, had a soup-understanding today when he told my wife he wanted to buy a swamp.
I lady-pigged him through the wall’s eye.
Then he searched it thoroughly, and then I searched it thoroughly.
Then I nest-balled him, and he many-horsed at that.
Then I cloak-stuffed him, my Lord, and at that, he tarred like a ship.
And then I wild-swined him, my Lord, to a wooden fence not far off, and at the end, I counter-paned him.”

Ref then scampers off, leaving King Harald to explain the riddle to the confused bystanders.

Second Quarter Court Results (Ep. 24): Helgi Droplaugarson does it again, with a runaway victory for his post-sword-to-the-face comment of “I’ve never been beautiful, but you haven’t made much of an improvement” before stuffing his beard inside his mouth in order to hold his face together while he finishes the fight. Take a bow Helgi D!

The Saga of the Sons of Droplaug (Ep. 23):  There’s no way that Helgi Droplaugarson wasn’t going home with this one.  After taking a sword to the face, he stoically responds, “I was never a handsome man, but you haven’t made much improvement.” Then he stuffs his beard in his mouth and continues to fight.

The Saga of the People of Vopnafjord (Ep. 22):   Andy hoped that Brodd-Helgi’s pre-battle cry of “We should raise such a storm that some will feel its sting!” might win.  John dashed those hopes and pushed Geitir’s lament that Brodd-Helgi begrudges him “the same sky he uses.”  Andy didn’t feel like any of the candidates were terribly impressive and wanted to forgo a winner altogether.  Fortunately for John, Andy had already consumed enough of his homemade mead to mellow him out.  John’s favorite took the prize without much argument.

The Saga of Thorstein the White (Ep. 21): Whereas Njal’s Saga overwhelmed us with strong candidates, Thorstein the White’s Saga provided little grist for our mill of witticisms.  Thankfully, Thorstein the White was in a mood when Thorstein the Fair visits him one day to offer compensation for the death of his son Thorgils.  After Brodd-Helgi invites the Fair to come in, Thorstein the White remarks on the stench of merchants in the house.  But we were most impressed with Thorstein the White’s response to the offer of compensation: “I have no desire to have my son Thorgils in a purse.”  There’s cleverness and depth there, which earns Thorstein the White the prestigious award for Notable Witticism in this saga.

Njal’s Saga (Ep. 20): If you’re looking for the best examples of saga wit and witticism, you can’t do much better than Njal’s Saga.  While many characters in the saga get off the occasional one-liner, no one in all of the family sagas could possibly surpass Skarphedin.  We awarded him Best Bloodshed for this insult to Thorkel the Bully: “My name is Skarphedin and there’s no need for you to pick out insulting words for me, an innocent man […] You really ought to pick from your teeth the pieces from the mare’s arse you ate before riding to the Thing – your shepherd watched you and was shocked that you could do such a filthy thing.”  Because Skarphedin is such a font of witticism, we decided to recognize his accomplishments in the category by giving him a lifetime achievement award for Notable Witticisms.  He is, was, and always will be the champion of Notable Witticisms.

The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta (Ep. 19): Almost all of the candidates for notable witticism for this saga come from chapter 26, which is a bit odd.  The problem here is that this chapter is identical to Viga-Glum’s Saga and likely lifted from that source.  We only had two legitimate candidates not from that chapter, but we quickly dismissed one of those.  Debate ensued concerning whether or not to give the prize to one of the witticisms from Viga-Glum’s Saga or to not award a Notable Witticism at all.  We ultimately convinced ourselves to award Glum for observing that Skuta might be the better fighter when they are evenly matched and then quipping “But I’m not about to run out onto your sword.” It tickled us enough to pull out the win.

The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong (Ep. 18): John and Andy agreed that the narrator saved the best lines for himself in this saga.  Part of the problem with this saga was a distinct lack of direct speech.  It’s no surprise that the saga narrator took the prize here with his stunning personification of the 6 stones Finnbogi sent against Brand’s farmhands.  Finnbogi’s own farmhands, his stones, use both agility and force to dispatch each of Brand’s men.  When Finnbogi asks what Brand thinks of his farmhands, the stones, Brand says he can’t find any fault in them.  It’s an unusual candidate for Notable Witticism, but just clever enough to win our votes.

The Saga of the Greenlanders (Ep. 17): Due to a lack of wit in the saga, Andy abstained from voting, which is a Saga Thing first. With freedom to choose his favorite and crown the winner, John scraped the bottom of the barrel, as is his wont.  He offered up Freydis’ “Hand me an axe” as a bit of black humor, but not terribly convincingly.  With John at her back, Freydis won this award easily.

Grettir’s Saga (Ep. 16):  So many good candidates in this saga.  It’s incredibly unfair that we could only choose one, but those are the rules.  Grettir’s rather impressive “penis poems” more than compensated for any shortcomings he might have had.  His wit clearly charmed our filthy minds, so we gave him the award (tittering and giggling all the while).

Quarter Court Results (Ep. 15): A tight race between Egil Skulason’s [“I don’t find it funny, though your servants laugh about it, when you sit with your legs tight, rubbing your thighs together”] in Bandamanna Saga and Kormak’s “What will you sorcerers think of next?” Kormak won the day by 2% of the popular vote.

Vatnsdœla Saga (Ep. 14):  This saga teems with more than just bloodshed and nicknames.  It’s also got a lot of great witticisms.  The favorites were Thorkel Scratcher’s childish response to Thorgrim’s question, “What are you looking at?” and Hrolleif bluntly, but accurately, announcing Ingimund’s cause of death as “He was used as a target.”  In the end, we opted to reward Jokul Ingimundarsson’s legal acumen, evidenced when he responded to Ottar’s charges against Ingolf by saying “we will render this case void with our axe-hammers.”  This charming fellow didn’t get picked for thingman or any other category, but he goes home with a nice shiny Notable Witticism trophy for his mantel.

Viglund’s Saga (Ep. 13): With the author’s focus on romance and consent theory, he forgot that saga characters should have a sharp wit.  The only one to really say anything that fits our criteria for this category was Thorgrim, father of Viglund and Trausti.  When the two brothers are returning home from the games, Thorgrim notices the bandaging around Viglund’s head.  Knowing that it must have come from either Einar or Jokul of Foss, he wonders why Viglund didn’t retaliate.  Rather than asking him directly, he simply says: “Welcome home my son and daughter.”  While a modern and more sensitive audience might think of this as gender shaming, we thought it rather witty for this little romance.

The Saga of Bjorn Champion of the Hitardal People (Ep. 12): This was a full category with plenty of strong candidates like the cow verse and the grey-belly verses. Ultimately, the prize went to Bjorn’s mother, Thordis.  After Thord tosses her the gore encrusted head of her son, she looks the coward in the eye and boldly heaps some much deserved scorn upon him: “I know the head and you should know it too, for you have often gone in fear before that head when it was still attached to the body.    Go now and take it to Oddny, she’ll like it better than that wretched little thing hanging from your neck.”  You go, girl.

Kormak’s Saga (Ep. 11): Kormak wins with his exasperated response to the lengthy catalog of rituals that accompany the proper use of the sword Skofnung.  “What will you sorcerers think of next?”  We liked it so much, we put it on a shirt and a mug in our store:

Hallfred Troublesome-Poet’s Saga (Ep. 10): How could a poetic accusation of bestiality lose this one?  Really.

Scarcely will the white fellow stride,

helmet-slicing, by the pantry

(he will go without the Eir                             Eir (goddess) of coins: woman, Kolfinna

of coins), nor the grey dog Strut,

though the scythe-shover,

unlovely, has a wide milking-shed

(the sword-plain’s keeper enjoys                 sword-plain: shield, its keeper: warrior or man, Gris

his livestock) and a long sheep-pen.

Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue’s Saga (Ep. 9): We like Gunnlaug’s bumper sticker slogan “One mustn’t limp while both legs are the same length.”

Bandamanna saga (Ep. 8): Was there ever any doubt? In a saga justly famous for its clever writing, the win goes to Egil Skulason and Thorarin of Laugardal for their confrontation at the Judgment Circle: As Thorarin gets up to argue with Egil, Egil snaps, “Shut up and sit down, Thorarin, don’t say a word, or I’ll accuse you of such shameful things that it would be better for you to keep silent. I don’t find it funny, though your servants laugh about it, when you sit with your legs tight, rubbing your thighs together.” Thorarin’s response? “Wisdom is welcome, wherever it comes from.” And he sat down and kept quiet.

Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and his Sons (Ep. 7): No judgments here, but there are some good ones.  We’ll let you decide.  Here are a few to consider: 1) Ragnar’s men are shocked by the beauty of Kraka (Aslaug) and disgusting appearance of the evil woman, Grima, who poses as her mother – “We have never seen a maiden so beautiful, and we don’t think that she looks anything like you, because you are the greatest monstrosity.”  2) Ivar the Boneless has a strategy for defeating Sibilja the Swedish cow.  It goes a little something like this – “When that cow comes at us, throw me at her, and one of two things will happen: either I shall lay down my life, or else she will get her death.”  3) While dying in the snake pit, Ragnar gets off his best line of the saga – “The piglets would grunt now, if they knew how the old pig suffers.”

Hen-Thorir’s Saga (Ep. 6): Several good options here.  Helgi’s posthumously composed poem “Brenni, brenni Blund-Ketil inni” was a strong contender.  In the end, we chose Thorkel’s witty back and forth with Gunnar’s slave on a cold cold night.  After the slave tells Thorkel to either come in and go straight to bed or to leave, Thorkel offers two options of his own: “Either go and do […] as you’re told or I’ll bounce the hilt of my sword off your nose.”  How could we pass that up?

Gisli’s saga Sursson (Ep. 5): After the Vesteinssons assassinate Thorkel Sursson at the Thorskafjord Thing and are in mid-escape, they are hailed and questioned by Thorkel’s friend Bork about what’s happening. Helgi Vesteinsson, without slowing down, responds, “I think they’re arguing about whether Vestein left only daughters behind, or whether he had a son”–a laudable combination of wit and defiance that makes for a satisfying winner.

Eirik the Red’s saga  (Ep. 4): We were both impressed with Thorvald Eiriksson’s aplomb as he lay dying from an arrow-shot to the groin. “This is a rich country we have found,” he says to Karlsefni once the arrow is removed. “There is plenty of fat around my entrails.”

Eyrbyggja Saga (Ep. 3): The character-study of Thorarin Black’s slow collapse into panic in the aftermath of his rage-fueled killing of Thorbjorn Stout is definitely worth a closer examination. But both John and Andy agree that Katla the Witch’s jealous mocking of Gunnlaug Thorbjarnason’s attentions to Geirrid (Thorarin Black’s mother, who also happens to be a witch) takes the prize, particularly her inquiry as to whether Gunnlaug is “off to stroke the old hag up the belly?”

Hrafnkel’s saga (Ep. 2): Andy offers Thorgeir Thjostarsson’s complaint in response to his brother Thorkel having arranged for old Thorbjorn to grab Thorgeir’s sore foot. Thorkel makes an eloquent speech comparing Thorgeir’s pain to Thorbjorn’s much greater pain at the loss of his son Einar. Thorgeir’s response: “I didn’t kill his son, so there’s no need for him to take it out on me.”

John prefers Sám’s resentful acceptance of his uncle Thorbjorn’s lawsuit against the formidable Hrafnkel Freysgoði: “I’m very reluctant to bring an action against Hrafnkel. I’ll do so only because we’re kinsmen, but I want you to know that in my opinion I’m helping a fool in helping you.”

3 thoughts on “Notable Witticisms

  1. Pingback: Saga Thing: Putting the Sagas of Icelanders on Trial – Fjörn's Hall

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