Saga Shorts 1 – Þættir Intro and The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck

Icelandic Horses Fighting

Welcome to the first episode of Saga Shorts, a side project of Saga Thing where John and Andy review the þættir of medieval Iceland.  In this episode, we provide a brief introduction to þættir and the difficulties one faces when trying to define the genre.  If you’re not interested in those technical details, just skip ahead to 10:10, where we begin our review of Þorsteins þáttr stangarhöggs (The Tale of Thorstein Staff-struck).  This fun little tale tells the story of an old Viking’s son named Thorstein who gets into some trouble with Bjarni Brodd-Helgisson, the local goði, after killing 3 of his farmhands.

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Bibliography

Harris, Joseph. “Genre and Narrative Structure in Some Íslendinga þættir.” Scandinavian Studies 44 (1972): 1-27.

Harris, Joseph. “Þættir.” In Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol. 12, edited by Joseph R. Strayer, 1-6. New York: Charles Scribner, 1989.

Jakobsson, Ármann. “The Life and Death of the Medieval Icelandic Short Story.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 112 (2013): 257-91.

Kristjánsson, Jónas.  “Íslendinga þættir.” In Eddas and Sagas: Iceland’s Medieval Literature, translated by Peter Foote, 299-309. Reykjavík: Hið íslenska bókmenntafélag, 1997.

Miller, William Ian. “A Case Study of the Sagas as Sources: Þorsteins Þáttr stangarhöggs and the Politics of Accident.” In Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland, 51-76. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Rowe, Elizabeth Ashman. “The Long and the Short of It.” In The Routledge Research Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas, edited by Ármann Jakobsson, Sverrir Jakobsson, 151-63. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Rowe, Elizabeth Ashman and Joseph Harris. “Short Prose Narrative (þáttr).” In A Companion to Old-Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture, edited by Rory McTurk, 462-78.  Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

Music Credits:

Intro: From “Death Awaits” by Billy Malmstrom

Outro: From “Óðinn” by Krauka

Episode 22b – The Saga of the People of Vopnafjord (Judgments)

It’s time to put the Saga of the People of Vopnafjord on trial.  Who will go home with the honor of Best Bloodshed?  Does this saga have the numbers to overtake the Saga of the Greenlanders in Body Count Density? Who has the best Nickname? Was anyone witty enough to earn the prize? Will Brodd-Helgi make it through Outlawry?  And who will be selected to join John and Andy as thingmen?

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spear_assortment

Along the way, we get into a few digressions (I know, you’re shocked). Among the more interesting digressions is a brief follow up on our Viking spearheads discussion from Njal’s Saga.  We delve into the terminology once again and review different types of spearheads as well as their appearances in the sagas, with special emphasis on Egil’s Saga.  You can find lots of information out there on Viking spearheads if you look.  Most of it isn’t terribly helpful in identifying what each of the original terms actually means.  We recommend Hurstwic’s page on the subject as a good primer. They’ve got a great page on Viking spears and a more specific page on the types of spears discussed in this episode.

Spears

We also pause to talk about the exciting new exhibit at the Reykjavik City Museum, Viking Animals, which opened this week.  The exhibition is based on the research of Lara Hogg, who shares my fascination with the place of animals in early Icelandic life.

Viking AnimalsJust look at all those cattle skulls.  I wonder if Brodd-Helgi helped her prepare this part of the exhibit.  If you’re in Iceland any time soon, swing by the Reykjavik City Museum and check it out.  If not, then follow the exhibit’s progress on Twitter @VikingAnimals or on the exhibit’s blog.

Next time on Saga Thing, we’ll play with the Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck in our new side series tentatively titled Saga Shorts.  That will be followed soon after by a two-part episode on The Saga of Droplaug’s Sons, which features many of the same characters from the Vopnafjord episode.

Music Credits:

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Selections from music by Kevin MacLeod licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/