Fóstbrœðra saga (or The Saga of the Sworn Brothers) tells the story of two men, Thorgeir Havarsson and Thormod Bersason, who are more concerned with success in this life than glory in the next. Together, they wander the countryside of 11th century Iceland causing trouble, damaging property, and taking what they want. Like Grettir, they soon find that this approach to living is not only outdated, it’s a good way to turn a community against you. But, also like Grettir, Thorgeir and Thormod don’t really care.
In this episode, the two young men swear oaths of blood-brotherhood, avenge a fallen father, steal some whale meat and generally unsettle most everyone they encounter. Thorgeir also manages to impress with one of the finest examples of athleticism since Lane Myer skied the K-12. This is a serious contender for best bloodshed when we get to the third Quarter Court. The above picture by Jacob Foust, @skarphedin_illustrator on Instagram, should give you a pretty good idea of what happens.
We’ve also got some great listener observations to share with you at the end of the episode. One of them involves an Icelander proving that some of the incredible acts of bravery we see in the sagas aren’t just the stuff of fiction. Here are the articles we mention:
Welcome to the first in a series of special Saga Briefs on Interpreting the Past, a series that looks at modern interpretations and perceptions of the medieval. In this episode, John and Andy welcome two scholars, Dr. Verena Höfig (Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Zachary Melton (Ph.D. student at the University of Iceland).
We cover a range of topics, including the appeal of Viking Age culture and mythology to modern religious and political movements; the role of literature, history, and social media in the construction of individual and group identities; and the challenges that we face, both as scholars and as citizens of this world, coming to terms with the many differences of interpretation that divide us.
As that list suggests, this isn’t the usual light stroll through the sagas. This episode is short on jokes and heavy on substantive discussion of important issues. Whether you’re an expert or an enthusiast, this one’s worth your time. We hope you enjoy and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Here is a bibliography of the texts and studies referred to, either directly or indirectly, in this episode:
What happens when Thorarin Nefjolsson and his friend Thorstein Ragnhildarson leave the court of King Cnut to visit his rival King Olaf? One of them will have to prove his loyalty by submitting to a trial by ordeal. What is a trial by ordeal, you ask? How does it work? Listen and find out!
The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal tells the story of one family over 5 generations (though John will insist on counting 6). We begin with Ketil the Large challenging his son, Thorstein, to find out what’s lurking in the woods and killing everybody. Thorstein turns out to be a very lucky fellow who is soon married to the daughter of a famous earl in Gotland. Thorstein’s son, Ingimund, is the central figure of this episode of Saga Thing. We follow Ingimund from his noble youth, through his glory days as a Viking, all the way to his eventual death in the Vatnsdalur region of northern Iceland. Will his life end peacefully or will he suffer a violent death? There’s only one way to find out. This episode features giants, witches, and transcendental Laplanders. We’ve also got epic battles, or at least references to epic battles, seduction, or at least clumsy attempts at seduction, and bloodshed…there’s definitely bloodshed.
If you’re a fan of erotic poetry and dueling, then this is the saga for you. Join us as we follow Kormak as he pursues the lovely-soled object of his affection, Steingerd. Yes, I said soled and I meant it. She’s got nice feet and Kormak is just into that sort of thing. Who are we to judge? Along the way, you’ll meet the scoundrel Narfi, a witch in a questionable relationship with a walrus, and a surprising visit from a Scottish giant. Yes, this saga has a bit of everything. So what are you waiting for. It’s time for Kormak’s Saga!
In this episode, Andy and John wonder about Gunnlaug and Hrafn’s motivations, the quality of their poetry, and evaluate their swordsmanship. We also take a closer look at their love of Helga the Fair. As always, we count up the bodies and offer praise to the wittiest saga lines before getting down to the more difficult choices. With no clear villain in the story, who will be outlawed? Would either Gunnlaug or Hrafn make a good thingman? There’s one clear gem of thingman in this saga, but John’s choosing first. What happens when Andy doesn’t get his way? Find out in the Judgment section for The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue.
Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue is a talented warrior-poet torn between his love for Helga the Fair and his quest for fame and fortune in the courts of Northern Europe. Helga’s father, Thorstein, gives him 3 years to travel and make a name for himself before his claim on Helga is forfeit. Things get complicated when a rival for Helga’s hand emerges in Hrafn the Skald, a court poet eager to get the best of Gunnlaug. Will Gunnlaug win the hand of his fair maiden, or will hearts be broken? Join us as we discuss one of saga literature’s most successful romances, The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue. Along the way, you’ll learn about this fascinating sub-genre of the Sagas of the Icelanders, the harsh reality behind exposing newborns to the elements, and why a King of Norway would hide in a pigsty.
Sure, we’ve been branching out into new and exciting territory lately at Saga Thing (Fornaldursogur! Viking Torture! Live tweeting extravaganzas!), but our hearts will always belong to the Family Sagas. This time out, we’ve got the bitterly funny Bandamanna saga, a much-beloved saga set in the mid-11th century and centered around the corruption of Icelandic law by the rich and powerful chieftains of that later age.
The saga pits old money against the nouveau riche against a backdrop of legal wrangling and murder. Can Ofeig Skiðason and his estranged son Odd Ofeigsson put aside their differences in time to thwart the combined forces of eight of the most powerful men in Iceland? What’s Ospak Glumsson (grandson and namesake of the notorious outlaw king of Eyrbyggja saga) doing in this saga? Why do Thorarin of Laugardal’s servant laugh at him behind his back? And was there a second bowman hidden in a grassy knoll as Hermund Illugason’s band of men rode by? Learn the answers to these questions and prepare your own judgments as you enjoy Bandamanna saga–the saga of the Confederates!
In this special episode, we take a break from the family sagas of medieval Iceland and look forward to the second season of History Channel’s Vikings by delving into the medieval sagas and legends behind the show. Discussion centers on The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and his Sons, but Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum, the Krákumál, and The Saga of Ragnar’s Sons are referenced here as well. There’s a bit of history, a bit of myth, a boneless man, magic cows, and plenty of laughs to be had along the way. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, maybe this episode will entice you to give Vikings a try. You can check out the first season at http://www.history.com/shows/vikings. If you’re not a fan of the show (for shame), then listen anyway. This is a podcast about Ragnar Lothbrok, his family, and the legends surrounding their exploits in medieval Europe. We hope you enjoy.