Episode 20e – Njal’s Saga (Part 5)

Death of Gunnar and Hallgerd's Shame

This episode of Saga Thing is all about revenge. We conclude the Gunnar section of Njal’s Saga with a look into the aftermath of our hero’s death, the vengeance he demands, and the fate of his brother, Kolskeggi.  If Njal wants to avenge his friend and secure his position in the region, he’ll have to act fast.  Fortunately, he’s got his son, Skarphedin, and Gunnar’s son, Hogni, as willing swords.  Gunnar’s ghost helps get things moving.  While we don’t cover a lot of ground in the saga this time around, we do explore some important issues that inform our reading of the first half of the saga and give us something to look for as we embark on the saga’s dark second half.  We discuss Gunnar’s pride, the ethics of Njal’s behavior, and we finally tackle the “halberd” controversy.  Hallgerð gets her fair share of our attention as well.

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Image taken from the beautiful Njal Tapestry.  Visit http://www.njalurefill.is/ for more information.

Music Credits:

Intro MusicPrelude and Action by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Previous Episode Review “The Mooche” by Duke Ellington

Episode Summary“Enchanted Journey” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Gunnar’s PoemRitual 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/

Episode 19a – The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta (Part 1)

Lake Mývatn, Iceland

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.

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In the introduction, we mention the excellent blog The Saga-Steads of Iceland.  You can visit Emily Lethbridge’s post on Reykjadal here.

And, lastly, here’s my favorite video featuring midges in Mývatn.  It’s worth watching all the way through.

Episode 18b – The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong (Part 2)

Viking Violence

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.

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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!

Episode 18a – The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong (Part 1)

Mother and Child

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.

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References:

John Kennedy, Review of Bachman/Erlingsson Translation of The Saga of Finnbogi the Strong, in Scandinavian Studies 64 (1992), 149.

Phillip Pulsiano and Kirsten Wolf, Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia (1993), 194.

Paul Schach, Icelandic Sagas (Boston, 1980), 155-56.

Music for the brief summary: “Nerves” by Kevin MacLeod (incopetech.com).  Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Episode 16d – The Saga of Grettir the Strong (Part 4)

Tristan and Isolde

In the thrilling conclusion to Grettir’s Saga, we follow the slender armed Thorstein Dromund on his quest to avenge his brother.  Thorstein’s adventures carry him from the shores of Norway to the bustling city of Constantinople, where the exiled King Harald Hardrada leads a rag tag bunch of Scandinavians called the Varangian Guard.  And if you thought the Grettir’s Saga author would pass up the chance to throw in another giant of saga literature, you were sorely mistaken.  Sadly, Harald is only featured in a cameo.  The real story of the Grettir’s Saga epilogue is the love affair of Thorstein and Spes.  Often referred to as the Spésar þáttr (The Tale of Spes “Hope”), the epilogue contrasts the epic ethos of the saga world with the more playful spirit of the continental romances.  If you have ever encountered the famous story of Tristan and Isolde, where the two lovers consistently outwit Isolde’s bumbling husband, King Mark, you’ll feel right at home in the Spésar þáttr.  Join us as we review this deceptively simple epilogue and discuss its potential value for understanding the rest of Grettir’s Saga.

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Along the way, we make reference to a few items of interest.  First among these are the blog sites featuring Drangey Island.  There are some pretty impressive pictures on these blogs and stories about Drangey:

  1. http://stuckiniceland.com/north/the-outlaws-paradise/
  2. http://fooface.blogspot.com/2006/07/epic-climb.html

Drangey Ladder

And if you want to take our advice and visit Drangey for yourself, tours are available here: http://www.drangey.net/

Interested in the Brother Robert’s 13th century Saga of Tristram and Isond?  Click on the book and buy a copy:

Or perhaps you’d like to start with Béroul’s The Romance of Tristan:

And finally, we make reference to one of our favorite scholarly articles on Grettir’s Saga, Kathryn Hume’s “The Thematic Design of Grettis Saga” from The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 73.4 (1974): 469-86.  It’s quite fascinating and worth a read.  Free to everyone with access to JSTOR.

Episode 16b – Grettir’s Saga (Part 2)

Grettir and Kar the Old

In this episode we follow Grettir through three of his most famous battles against an undead Kar the Old, a giant Norwegian bear, and Iceland’s most famous draugr, Glam.  We also catch Grettir stumbling in a clumsy fight for fire that will eventually seal his fate as an outlaw forever.  This one runs a little longer than the average episode of Saga Thing, but with so much excellent material to cover, we just couldn’t resist.

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Pick up a copy of Grettir’s Saga and discover all that we left out!

Grettir's Saga

Episode 14b – The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal (Part 2)

Ingolf and the Outlaws

Join us for the second half of the epic tale of the Vatnsdal chieftains and their family over six generations. In this episode, we clumsily attempt to trace the final three generations of this remarkable family.  We’ve crammed a lot into this episode and we barely scratch the surface.

We pick up the story with the seven children of Ingimund Thorsteinsson (led by the bickering brothers Thorstein and Jokul) as they seek revenge against their father’s killer and begin a career as luck-favored witch-killers. Along the way, they encounter a particularly impressive villain named Thorolf Sledgehammer and his clowder of ornery cats.  With the district safe from evil-doers, the saga shifts to the next generation.

This section begins with the sons of Thorstein Ingimundarson, Ingolf and some other guy.  Ingolf Thorsteinsson is the important one.  He’s the handsome Don Juan of Iceland who melts hearts and enrages menfolk across the north of Iceland. Ingolf may be a bit narcissistic, but he backs up his boasts with impressive feats of derring-do (see picture above, and note the rock strapped to his chest).

The final generation is represented by Thorkel Scratcher, who we discussed briefly in Hallfred’s Saga Troublesome-poet.  Despite his humble origins as an illegitimate son abandoned to the elements as an infant, Thorkel Scratcher rises to become one of the great figures of Iceland. But great men often have jealous enemies…

This episode is filled to bursting with berserkers, half-giants, demonic pumas, missionaries, witches, outlaws, legendary swords, legendary lovers, and the occasional bloodbath. How does one man with twenty enormous black cats keep the litterbox clean? What are the three tests of a chieftain hero? Can one man singlehandedly take out eighteen bandits if he has big enough stones? Is there room for two berserkers in a single family? And can a Norwegian companion ever survive a saga battle?

Listen in and find out!

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In honor of the many Norwegian companions who have fallen in the name of saga violence, we’ve created a special shirt in our Saga Thing store.  Get one for your own Norwegian companion.

  Norwegian Companion ~ 317    ~ 2206

And grab a coffee mug for yourself while you’re at it.  All that and more, available here: Saga Thing store.

Episode 13b – The Saga of Viglund the Fair (Judgments)

Day-spring_finds_Mengl%C3%B6d-Svipdagsma
After a brief discussion of betrothal customs in medieval Iceland, John and Andy put Viglund’s Saga on trial.  Will Viglund’s axe juggling skills win him an award? Or will he be upstaged by his own horse? Who will be outlawed?  Who will earn a spot as thingman?  And how does Viglund’s Saga compare to the other Warrior Poet sagas we’ve covered?  What value does it have as a saga?  So much to think about, so much to learn.  Stop wondering and download the Judgments episode now.

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Episode 13a – The Saga of Viglund the Fair

Ten-Reasons-Why-a-Man-Should-Not-Get-Mar
The story of Viglund the Fair and his lady Ketilrid is a saga for lovers.  This fifteenth century tale, the last of our warrior poet’s sagas, covers several generations.  Each generation features a case of true love coming up against the secular tradition of arranged marriage.  Can Viglund and Ketilrid overcome the obstacles set in their way and join at last in wedded bliss?  It never worked out for the other warrior poets, so why would this one be any different?  Listen to find out, if you dare!  This is a remarkable, if somewhat late, work of saga literature.  While the passage of time has clearly affected the style and structuring of the warrior poet genre, in some ways this is the warrior poet saga you’ve been waiting for.  Join us as we examine the romance of Viglund and Ketilrid on this episode of Saga Thing.
Read along with your own copy of The Sagas of Warrior Poets.

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Episode 12b – The Saga of Bjorn Champion of the Hitardal People (Judgments)

Lumpfish Poem

In the second part of Saga Thing’s look at The Saga of Bjorn Champion of the Hitardal People, John and Andy discuss the merits of the text, argue over the size and ferocity of the dragon, investigate Thord’s ill-fated encounter with a stranded seal, and share some interesting tidbits from Icelandic law codes about pornographic sculptures and naughty poetry.  We also outlaw a rather deserving villain, choose our thingmen, and offer our thoughts on the saga’s overall quality.  It’s a full episode with a nice balance of humor, scholarship, and speculation.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Icelandic legal definitions of níð and ýki as they relate to Bjorn’s Saga, follow this link to Alison Finlay’s excellent article on the subject: Monstrous Allegations: An Exchange of ýki in Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa.  

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