Checkpoint 1: Egils Saga - 13th century: An Icelandic saga following the life and exploits of Egil. It tells of the family of the main character and then traces Egil’s history. As with most Icelandic sagas, it is an adventure, a genealogy, a law book, a legend, etc.

Checkpoint 2:


Summary of Egil’s Saga:


Egil’s Saga is a tale that recalls the events of Egil and his kin spanning from 850 through 1000 AD. When King Harald Fairhair of Norway kills Kveldulf’s eldest son Thorolf for suspicion of treason, brought on by his success in aiding the king, Kveldulf and his other son Skalligrim flee to Iceland. Kveldulf dies in a retaliation to reclaim Thorolf’s boat, and Skalligrim establishes the settlement of Borg in Iceland. Here, he settles down as a blacksmith and has two children. He names one of his children after his deceased brother, Thorolf, and the other is Egil. From here, the story follows the lives of the two Skalligrimsson brothers. Thorolf goes back to Norway to connect with his father’s old friend, and we watch Egil grow up in Iceland. He is a large, brutish boy but is balanced out by his philosophical nature, the side that loves writing poetry. Thorolf befriends royalty in Norway and gets married, eventually bringing Egil back with him. Egil gets into a bit of trouble with some important people, but Thorolf manages to find a way for Egil to fix his mistakes, and he and Egil join the king of England King Aesthelstan’s army where Thorolf later dies in battle. Egil marries Thorolf’s wife Asgerd and becomes a general, returning to Iceland sometime after. King Eirik of Norway dies, and his brother Hakon takes his place as king. With Arnbjorn, Egil’s lifelong friend and companion, they return for land Egil won in a duel, but Hakon refuses them. Egil and Arnbjorn continue raiding and battling with Hakon’s army, but settle down when they reach old age. Arnbjorn becomes an advisor, and Egil continues to write poems, including one of his son Bodvar who dies at sea. In his frailty, Egil heads out to fulfill his final goal of hiding silver he received from King Aethelstan in Mosfellsbaer.


Annotated Bibliography:


Nolcken, Christina von. “Egil Skalligrimsson and the Viking Ideal.” Egil Skallagrimsson and the
Viking Ideal, Fathom Archive, 2001, fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777122294/.
This article intends to weed out the understanding and significance of the "Viking Ideal" by analyzing the Viking poet character Egil and the skaldic poetry he writes in Egil's Saga. The Oxford graduate and professor of Medieval History at the University of Chicago is well qualified as an analyst of Icelandic sagas and medieval language. This article is very useful for analyzing Icelandic language and Viking ideology, as well as giving more meaning to Egil's philosophy through thoughtful connections and insight into the original translations of the text.


Taylor, A.R. “The Modern Language Review.” The Modern Language Review, vol. 57, no. 1, 1962, pp. 121–122. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3722021.
This section of the journal focuses on Gwyn Jones’ translation of Egil’s Saga and praises her for her close recapturing of the original text. The Modern Language Review is very well-known and well-received scholarly journal with a reputation for “critical excellence,” which proves a reliable and credible source for research. Though short book review, the section on Gwyn Jones’ Egil’s Saga highlights noteworthy aspects of the original text, while recommending a very accurate translation. It will serve well in gaining as close an understanding to the original read as possible.


Powell, F. York. “Saga-Growth.” Folklore, vol. 5, no. 2, 1894, pp. 97–107. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1253645.
This snippet from one of the longest running journals on folkloristics expands on the culture, reason, and style behind Icelandic sagas. The established journal expands on the similarities and differences between this time of rich Icelandic storytelling. To understand one saga is interesting, but a vast knowledge of other sagas for comparison is a useful tool for putting these stories in historical and ideological context. Only then can thoughtful analysis on Icelandic literature begin.


Close Reading Quotes:


1. “The warrior’s revenge
is repaid to the king,
wolf and eagle stalk
over the king’s sons;
Hallvard’s corpse flew
in pieces into the sea,
the grey eagle tears
at Travel-quick’s wounds"(ch. 27).


The first line of poetry in Egil’s Saga comes in the form of an intimidating warning to the king of Norway. After Thorolf is killed for nefarious suspicions, his father Kveldulf and his brother Skalligrim leave Norway and sail to Iceland, where they see a man named Hallvard Travel-hard using their brother Thorolf’s old ship. Kveldulf and Skalligrim attack the ship while they are sleeping and killed Hallvard and most of his men. The men that remained were told to deliver this poetic message to the King Harald of Norway. Our viking poet Egil has not even been born yet, but we already see a poetic nature in his father Skalligrim, although a pretty violent one at that. He refers to him and his party as “warriors” out for revenge for their kin’s death. The “wolf” is clearly referring to Kveldulf, who is known as the “Evening Wolf” and Skalligrim now refers to himself is the “grey eagle.” What’s more interesting than the hunting animal metaphors to instill fear in the king, however, is the fact that his message was a poem in the first place. Kveldulf is of a brutish nature, but Skalligrim shows a philosophical side, then of course, their is the complex poet we know as Egil that comes after. It’s as if they are showing how philosophy evolves throughout their family tree, laying the foundation for the more imagined poems of Egil. Still, I would like to know more about the style and rhyme scheme of Skalligrim’s warning, because literary devices like that can get lost in translation.

2. “I carve runes on this horn,
redden words with my blood,
I choose words for the trees
of the wild beast’s ear-roots;
drink as we wish this mead
brought by merry servants,
let us find out how we fare
from the ale that Bard blessed"(ch. 44).


Egil joins his brother at a gathering in Atloy. When Egil and crew arrive, a man named Bard treats them unfairly, only serving them curds instead of mead. Eventually, the queen arrives and ale is served all around, and with mead in him, Egil incessantly mocks Bard through poetry. This causes Bard and the queen to poison Egil’s drink, but when Egil is handed the horn to drink he infuses it with runes and says these words. There are many reasons that Egil is a powerful, multifaceted character: he is strong, tough, clever, poetic and has experience in runic magic. In old Icelandic folklore, runes were thought to grant magic abilities such as guidance and healing, if they were accessed correctly. The Elder Futhark is a series of 24 runes with different natural symbols and meanings commonly used by Egil. Let’s first examine how he invokes this power through the use of his own blood. To invoke such a power would require sacrifice, in this case the drawing of blood. This would also probably explain the red coloring associated with runes and runic symbols, blood being thought to call upon a rune’s power. The “trees of the wild beast’s ear roots” is a fancy way to refer to the horn of some beast, and in looking at the Elder Futhark runes, the “Uruz” rune is the symbol of the ox. One can deduce this is probably the rune Egil used in this instance. And calling the servants “merry” and saying that Bard “blessed” the ale is just sarcastic way to call Bard on his ruse, continuing his mockery of him and his company. When Egil uses the runes, the horn shatters, signaling treachery, and Egil runs Bard through with his sword for it.


3. “I do not worship
Vilir’s brother,
guardian of the gods,
through my own longing,
though in good ways too
the friend of wisdom
has granted me
redress for affliction.


He who does battle
And tackles the hell-wolf
Gave me the craft
that is beyond reproach,
and the nature
that I could reveal
those who plotted against me
as my true enemies.


Now my course is tough:
Death, close sister
of Odin’s enemy,
stands on the ness
with resolution
and without remorse
I will gladly
await my own"(ch. 80).


After Egil’s most beloved son dies in a shipwreck, Egil writes a poem to honor both of his sons’ deaths. These last three stanzas of the iconic poem reference the Norse Gods Odin, Vilir’s brother who fought with the wolf, Fenrir, and Death, daughter of Loki and sister of Fenrir. Egil is stating that the trade off of his sons’ deaths comes with being granted “redress for affliction,” his “craft” of poetry. With it, he can keep the memories of loved ones alive. This is addressed earlier in the story when he writes a poem about his lifelong friend Arnbjorn and how his quality as a person can live on through poetry. In a lot of ways I think Egil is trying to level himself with Odin. First, he doesn’t mention him by name and states he won’t worship him, but instead calls him a “friend of wisdom” for granting him poetic abilities. As Odin faces the wolf Fenrir, Egil states how he too should face Death, as wise equals sharing the same path. Egil is not unaccustomed to tooting his own horn, bragging about his genius through his own poetry at the age of three, and he capitalizes on that mentality by stating that they are both powerful but tragic beings, destined to fall to Loki’s children.




Checkpoint 3





Three More Citations:

Jakobsson, Ãrmann. “Beast and Man: Realism and the Occult in Egils Saga.” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 83, no. 1, 2011, pp. 29–44. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/scd.2011.0013. The article from the established Scandinavian Studies journal is written by Armann Jakobssen, a professor of Icelandic literature at the University of Iceland. Jakobssen discusses the fantastic nature of Egil's Saga, inquiring about its many mentions of trolls, werewolves and other occult creatures that appear in Egil's family. The discussion is on the ambiguity of fantasy elements in the story, and why it is important that the occult be "both unknown and unknowable" in its context. This read gives a deeper look into the occult legends that surround Old Norse society and how they are incorporated in Egils Saga.





Byock, Jesse L. “Social Memory and the Sagas.” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 76, no. 3, 2004, pp. 299–316. Expanded Academic ASAP [Gale]. Jesse L. Byock, Professor of Old Norse and Medieval Scandinavian Studies at Cotsen Institute of Archaeology uses his expertise to contribute to the acclaimed Scandinavian Studies journal. In this article, he writes on on how Egil's Saga is an example of social memory, a method used by Iceland in which they use literature to employ truths about the country's past. This concept of using a story to distinguish Iceland's history will give me a variety of talking points and connections to make about the country's customs and methods of storytelling. It will also help support the claim that, through this “social memory”, Egil is used as an avatar of the Icelandic people in opposition to Norway.





Árnason, Vilhjálmur. “Morality and Social Structure in the Icelandic Sagas.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 90, no. 2, 1991, pp. 157–174. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27710482. Árnason Vilhjálmur is a professor of Philosophy at the University of Iceland and who, in addition to having written a vast variety of different articles for philosophy journals, has written seven books, all dealing with ethics or moral philosophy. In this article he specifically talks about the moral philosophy seen in Icelandic sagas, and splits the conversation up via different interpretations of morals in these texts: romantic, humanistic and sociological. This is quite a wordy read, but an important one for its critique of other writers’ views (including Jesse Byock) on what constitutes morality through examples of friendship, feuds, and heroism in the sagas. Note: This source was found in the bibliography of my previous source, “Social Memory and the Sagas” by Jesse L. Byock, regarding Icelandic sagas as a social archiving of Icelandic history.





Reflection of Scholarship:

My three scholarly sources all revolve around the customs of old Icelandic Society, and how those customs are reflected in the Icelandic sagas. “Beast and Man: Realism and the Occult in Egils Saga” analyzes the fantasy elements of Egil’s Saga and why they are presented in a realistic context due to the occult folklore of the time period. The fact that they refer to real people as werewolves and trolls and mention magic runes in what seems to be an account of realistic events shows how common these aspects of life were in their history and language. Next, “Social Memory and the Sagas” goes into the literary history, or the “socio-historical roots” of the sagas as a way of preserving an Icelandic identity. Egil and his family are great examples of this use of social memory, and ties in to my source on the occult. Egil is a superhuman from a long line of acclaimed trolls and werewolves who is also able to use magic runes. What better guy to represent your home that is currently being oppressed than a magic monster that’s on your side? It’s a powerful symbol that incorporates the use of Iceland’s fantastic mythos, and through the use of “social memory,” portrays a sophisticated, yet unwavering rebel against Norway. Lastly, “Morality and Social Structure in the Icelandic Sagas” ties all of the societal elements we see in the Icelandic sagas to determine, or critique others’ interpretations of their morals. We’ve seen how their mythos and views have been portrayed in Egil’s Saga, but this source helps reflect on them via moral philosophy.





Query:
I don’t have a specific question, but I want to find out more about Iceland’s ethics through Egil’s Saga, that is, how Egil’s nature is good and Norway’s is bad. This isn’t necessarily asking what their actions mean in today’s context of good and bad, just their own. For instance, we normally associate monsters with evil, as seen in a lot of literature we’ve read this year like Holofernes being described as inhuman in Judith or the devil turning into a dragon in The Life of Saint Margaret. In Egil’s Saga however, the protagonist is a product of a bunch of different monsters, inheriting the "berserker" trait. These people aren’t necessarily even good monsters. Take Egil’s father Skalligrim who accidentally killed Egil’s friend during a sporting event because of his barbaric and hulking nature. Even so, our story follows this family line as a representation for Iceland. “Good” to Iceland seems to not mean "benevolent" like the New Testament God, but rather seems to be more focused around strength or wits, seen by Egil’s survival instinct throughout the story. It also seems as though the story has it out for people who are handsome and successful (without flaws), for all of them seem to die because they let their success lead to their association with Norway, which ends in death. So, “good” to an Icelander implies not only strength and wits, but some sort of flaw, for Egil’s ugly and uncharismatic nature lets him survive in a brutal world.


Checkpoint 4:


Abstract:


My essay deals with the cultural influences in Egil’s Saga, that is, how Iceland’s culture is portrayed through the story and how this differs Egil from other protagonists. The start of my essay is about the occult folklore of Iceland. In this section, I explain Egil’s family line and discuss how he is a product of many different fantastic beings of Icelandic mythology. It is here I also discuss the use of magical runes in which Egil utilizes throughout the story, and what they might mean in medieval Icelandic culture. Then, I discuss Egil’s attributes as a character that don’t necessarily relate to his mythical heritage. Egil is strong, clever, and ugly, the three attributes it takes to stay alive in a world in constant conflict with Norway. This clash with Norway is a direct connection to the real-world feud between Iceland and Norway at the time, and I highlight the fact that neither country ever wanted to show weakness to each other. Providing an example of Egil’s brother’s death in Norway, I talk about how it was brought upon by his weakness and his disconnect with his berserk power. Egil, however, knows his power, as well as when to leave Norway which allows him to live on. This is just how medieval Icelanders were intrigued with travelling to Norway, but hold a grudge to its oppressive king nonetheless. I then discuss the connections with Egil to Iceland, and suggest his representation of it, for the many reasons throughout the essay that I recap on: his heritage, attributes, disposition, etc. In ending the essay, I explore Iceland’s use of such an ugly, monstrous avatar and how it differs from other culture’s depictions of monsters. Usually monsters are used as enemies for their immoral and undesirable traits, but Egil only survives in his universe because he has the very traits that are seen as “undesirable” to other cultures. It is the characteristic of survival that Iceland sees as more admirable and fitting of an icon.


Sources:


Guðmundsdóttir, Aðalheiður. “The Werewolf in Medieval Icelandic Literature.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 106, no. 3, 2007, pp. 277–303. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27712657. Guðmundsdóttir is a professor of Medieval Literature at the University of Iceland who has amassed an extensive span of scholarly texts on medieval Iceland. The Journal of English and Germanic Philology has focused on the medieval culture of Northern Europe since 1903 through examining language, culture, and literature. This particular article discusses Iceland’s fascination with the concept of shapeshifting into various animals, particular bears and werewolves, and explains it through various medieval Icelandic texts. The article will prove extremely useful when referencing the occult, which is one of the main pillars of my essay. By being able to explain Iceland’s fixation on shapeshifting, I can understand the nature of Egil’s family, particularly Keveldulf, who is a werewolf himself.


Miller, D. A. “Functional Operations and Oppositions in the Thought-World of the Sagas.” History of Religions, vol. 29, no. 2, 1989, pp. 115–158. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1062680. D. A. Miller recieved a PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University and taught at UC Berkeley Columbia University, and Harvard University. He is known to be an expert at “close reading” as demonstrated in this entry in History of Religions, a scholarly journal that represents involvement in connecting religions and customs of prehistory to modern day. In this article, Miller explains common oppositional themes in Icelandic sagas, such as puting kings in opposition to a rebellious heroes. It is a perfect source to connect Egil’s family’s disposition to the kings of Norway to other Icelandic texts and in turn, Icelandic culture.


Jakobsson, Armann. “Egils Saga and Empathy: Emotions and Moral Issues in a Dysfunctional Saga Family.” Scandinavian Studies, Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, 22 Mar. 2008, www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-182125657/egils-saga-and-empathy-emotions-and-moral-issues. Armann Jakobsson, as seen in a previous source, is a professor of medieval Icelandic literature at the University of Iceland who has written a wide variety of articles and books on the subject matter. In this particular article from the long running Scandinavian Studies journal, he sheds some light on the dysfunction and emotional turmoil that plague the Skallagrimsson household. He proposes a valid psychological argument to the family’s problems, but I think he misses the literary comment the author of Egil’s Saga is implying about the common viking household. In arguing the source, I can emphasize the point that Egil’s Saga is mirroring medieval Icelandic culture through the lense of a mythological family line.


Argument:

Armann Jakobssen’s “Egils Saga and Empathy: Emotions and Moral Issues in a Dysfunctional Saga Family.” from Scandinavian Studies talks about the dysfunctional home life and the themes of brotherhood in Egil’s Saga. Jakobssen discusses issues such as when Egil’s father Skalligrim kills Egil’s two friends and then Egil retaliates by killing Skalligrim’s foreman, resulting in the two not speaking for a whole winter. For this, he proposes that “this may well be the unhappiest home in Iceland.” but halting communication for a measly winter over multiple murders of each other’s comrades seems to be a pretty healthy way of dealing with things. The family is, of course dysfunctional, but I like to think of these homicidal tendencies as a more exaggerated mirroring of normal family squabbles. These characters are giant and ill-tempered, so where bickering is normal for humans, killing is to them. Jakobssen also discusses how Egil’s older brother Thorolf brings him to Norway, and how that is an extraordinarily adamant feat considering that Egil’s looks and nature would likely bring Thorolf’s status down. Jakobssen again is failing to look at the story from the view of Iceland, which is, in my opinion, a more compelling argument. Egil’s Saga has all these moments of brotherly love, either between Egil and Thorolf or Egil and Arnbjorn, because that is what Iceland cherishes and wants to be identified with. Thorolf loves his brother, and so why shouldn’t he bring him along to Norway. This isn’t just showing that Thorolf is a good guy, but it’s showing that Icelanders cherish brotherhood no matter what. Also, Egil is a fantastic warrior and poet, so he could fend for himself in the way of combat and conversation if he had to. I think a psychological perspective is an interesting one, but I think by looking at Egil’s Saga’s characters in a symbolic way can we push the arguments further.