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Egil's Saga by Anonymous

Egil's Saga (edition 2005)

by Anonymous (Author), Svanhildur Oskarsdottir (Introduction), Bernard Scudder (Translator)

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750612,394 (3.97)10
Title:Egil's Saga
Authors:Anonymous (Author)
Other authors:Svanhildur Oskarsdottir (Introduction), Bernard Scudder (Translator)
Info:Penguin Classics (2005), Edition: Revised ed., 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Icelandic literature, Penguin Classics

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Egil's Saga by Anonymous


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Egil Skallagrimsson was an Icelandic Poet, whose biography sets the adventurous side of Viking life, firmly in our minds. From his adolescent homicides to his death Egil seems to wring every last ounce of fun from what was a difficult life. He was an outlaw, and a confidant (in his opinion) of kings. It is a setting for his poetry, and unlike the "Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini", the reader is left liking the subject. Sturlsson was a good biographer, and Palsson an excellent translator of the work. The date of the original work has been placed at the 1230's. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 16, 2014 |
Icelandic/Viking heroes. A strained entertainment. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Egil's Saga is not just Egil's story, as it begins with his grandfather Kveldulf. Although the chronology is a bit skewed, this is a saga that includes historical characters (such as the kings of Norway & England) and the events that happen are realistic. The Norsemen are not just violent and barbaric Viking raiders; the same men who spend some summers on Viking raids across Europe, spend other summers on respectable trading expeditions and yet others as mercenaries for foreign kings, whose territories they may well have raided previously. Viking raids and trading expeditions are summer activities, with winters being spent at home on their farms, or staying with friends.

Egil is also a poet and his poems occur throughout the saga. His war poetry is extremely gory, full of the clash of weapons and the wolves, eagles and ravens that prowl the battlefield feasting on the carrion.

There are not many overtly supernatural happenings in this saga, but some especially strong, violent men are suspected of being shapechangers. Egil's grandfather is nicknamed Kveldulf (Evening Wolf) because although sunny tempered during the day, he becomes bad-tempered, violent and unnaturally strong as evening falls. There is also some use of spells; for example Egil set a horse head on a pole as an insult to the spirits of the land to force them to drive Eirik and Gunnhild out of Norway.

Interestingly, when the pagan Thorulf and Egil go to England as mercenaries for the Christian King Athelstan, they are given preliminary baptism. The saga says that this allows them to mix with both Christians and heathens, but that they can still follow whatever beliefs they like. I have never heard of this practice before, but it's a very pragmatic way of going about things. Apparently it was common for viking merchants and mercenaries to undergo this preliminary baptism, as it allowed the Christians to salve their consciences about trading with heathens.


It occurred to me while reading Egil's Saga, that Queen Gunnhild would make a fantastic Evil Overlord. If she had James Bond in her clutches she wouldn't make any of the classic mistakes that allow him to escape every time.

When Egil is shipwrecked in Northumberland, only to find that his enemies King Eirik Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhild (the former rulers of Norway) are now in charge there, his blood-brother Arinbjorn (a close friend of the king's) takes him to the court to plead for his life. Queen Gunnhild's reaction to Arinbjorn's suggestion that Egil be allowed to compose a poem in honour of the king is to the point: "We don't want to hear his words of praise. Have him taken out and killed, Eirik. I don't want to hear him or see him". If only all Evil Overlords were so decisive!

Unfortunately, in order to succeed as an Evil Overlord, the first thing she would have to do is get rid of her husband. King Eirik agrees with Arinbjorn that killing Egil at night would be murder (?) so he tells him to come back the next day for judgment. Overnight Egil composes a long poem in honour of the king, and when he recites it the king is won over and lets Egil go (while reserving the right to take revenge if he ever sets eyes on him again), which must have infuriated the queen. I'm with Gunnhild on this; if someone had killed my son, foster-son and brother-in-law as well as many of my courtiers and servants, I wouldn't let him go just because he wrote a flattering poem about me! ( )
  isabelx | Jan 1, 2011 |
Egil's Saga is similar to the "Saga of Grettir the Strong": they both deal with extremely difficult, courageous and violent men who are outlawed by early Icelandic society. Egil was presumably written around 1230 by Snorri Sturluson, up to 300 years before the Saga of Grettir, but the men are remarkably similar. The main difference between the two accounts is that we get a glimpse into Egil's thoughts and feelings through his poetry, especially the poetry written near the end of his life. Egil's Saga contains much humor. Egil himself, whose despicability is abundant, ultimately finds marginal redemption.

The introduction describes Egil well:

"The hero of the Saga is killer, drunkard, miser, poet, wanderer, farmer, and can be any of these at any moment from his first killing at the age of six...We see him change from the viking his mother predicts after his first killing... the enemy of kings and berserks, the man of cunning, the sorcerer... to the settled farmer at Borg... to the ingenious lawyer aiding his son Thorstein, and finally to the senile, blind and deaf old man warming himself by the fire...apparently helpless, but proving himself still a troublemaker, still a poet, and still a killer."

Toward the end of his life Egil made a poem to honor his long-time friend Chieftan Arinbjorn of Norway. It ends this way:

So I rise up early
To erect my rhyme,
My tongue toils,
A servant at his task:
I pile the praise-stones,
The poem rises,
My labour is not lost,
Long may my words live. ( )
2 vote darienduke | Jul 30, 2008 |
Egil's Saga is one of the most popular and well known of the Icelandic Sagas. It is also one of the longer sagas. This is a fairly good translation and I do enjoy this saga, being in my top five favorite sagas, but probably not my absolute favorite. ( )
  eyja | Apr 17, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anonymousprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sturlasson, Snorremain authorall editionsconfirmed
Alving, HjalmarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Óskarsdóttir, SvanhildurEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edwards, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fell, ChristineTranslator and Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kristjánsdóttir, Bergljót S.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oskarsdottir, SvanhildurIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pálsson, HermannTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scudder, BernardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuuri, AnttiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There was a man named Ulf, the son of Bjalfi and of Hallbera, the daughter of Ulf the Fearless.

(translated by Bernard Scudder, 1997)
There was a man named Ulf Bjalfason.

(translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards, 1976)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Penguin Classic blurb:
Egil's Saga tells the story of the long and brutal life of the tenth-century warrior-poet and farmer Egil Skallagrimsson: a psychologically ambiguous character who was at once the composer of intricately beautiful poetry, and a physical grotesque capable of staggering brutality. This Icelandic saga recounts Egil's progression from youthful savagery to mature wisdom as he struggles to defend his honour in a running feud against the Norwegian King Erick Blood-axe, fights for the English King Athelstan in his battles against Scotland and embarks on colourful Viking raids across northern Europe. Exploring issues as diverse as loyalty, the power of poetry and the relationship between two brothers who love the same woman, Egil's Saga is a fascinating depiction of a deeply human character, and one of the true masterpieces of medieval literature.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140443215, Paperback)

Demon, killer and drunkard, poet, lawyer and farmer: Egil is on eof the most individual and paradoxical characters to emerge from the Icelandic sagas.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:20 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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