Underappreciated: Egil’s Saga

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

For this week’s Underappreciated segment, novelist Jane Smiley discusses the anonymously authored Egil’s Saga, an Icelandic saga dating back to 1240 AD, which follows the family history of Egil Skallagrímsson, a skaldic poet with a hot temper. Predating Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales by almost a century, the saga is part of the rich Viking literary tradition often overlooked by American readers. Jane Smiley wrote the preface of Sagas of Iceland.


Jane Smiley

Comments [2]

Einar Gunnar Einarsson from Clifton, NJ

Hey Leonard,
Thank you very much for bringing attention the the Icelandic Sagas.
Regrettably there were a few discrepancies in Ms. Smiley's account of Icelandic history, some of which I can let slip...but I'm very upset that she did not call you on your blurting out that Iceland, during its Saga period, was akin to an anarchic society.
It was not.
In fact, in its first almost couple of centuries it was the purest form of democracy and fairness, and home to the world's oldest parliament -- The Althing (Alþingi).
But, as utopian ideals are wont to, Icelandic society -- for lack of executive power, if you will -- disintegrated into what amounted to a civil war, which was only resolved when the Icelanders finally relented to decades of pressure, and submitted to the rule of the King of Norway.
Let me point out, though, that during this "anarchy" Iceland was the only society I know of that adopted Christianity -- in the year 1000 -- without the shedding of a single drop of blood. Now, that sounds pretty civilized to me. Even if it was perpetrated by a bunch of vikings. Or maybe that is indeed the definition of anarchy...?
We had to wait another 500 years, until the Church Reformation, for religion (or politics, as the case may be) to finally exact its 5 pints of blood -- at the beheading of Iceland's last Catholic bishop.

Aug. 15 2011 12:16 AM
Matt from NYC

Can you please ask Ms. Smiley if "The Long Ships" was based off of Egil's Saga?
Thank you,

Aug. 10 2011 01:00 PM

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