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Icelandic Literature 2014 > maí: Grettir's Saga

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message 1: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Grettir's Saga draws on the life and family of an historical man who lived circa 996 to 1031. It began in the form of passed-down oral stories from Iceland's Settlement period until someone wrote them down in prose form during the early fourteenth century. The first part of this saga describes Grettir's ancestry from his great-grandfather of Norway forward; the second part features his own character; and the third part, his half-brother Thorstein the Galleon who avenges him in faraway Constantinople. Supernatural confrontations with monsters and a walking corpse as well as with wild berserkers, double-meaning skaldic verses*, and portraits of medieval Icelandic society prior to Christianity mix Icelandic fact and folklore. About this saga, the Introduction to Byock's edition says,
"In many ways, Grettir's Saga is a tale of conceit and its costs. In early youth Grettir manifests his arrogance through unwillingness to work on his father's farm, and this trait repeatedly gets him into trouble in a society requiring hard work for all its members."
Instead of work on the farm, Grettir aspires to "great deeds" (xiii). He possesses superhuman strength in the manner of a Tall Tale, and his sense of honor carries more weight with him than his lawfully settling disputes.


*"Poets called skalds created images in the form of word-puzzles employing metres, kennings (poetic circumlocutions), intermittent internal rhyme, assonance, and alliteration" with the participation of an interactive audience" (xv).


message 2: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "...I am reading the free kindle version. Not sure if there is a lot of difference in the translations."

I wanted a book with supplementary material. And the Byock doesn't disappoint. I agree with you about the comparable translations. Neither translator made up the story but both (probably faithfully) translated it from Old Norse-Icelandic manuscripts and books of Grettir's Saga.

I would like to know what you think about some parts of the story since you began it.


message 3: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) I have read several versions of this saga, but I like the Bernard Scudder translation the best. We people of Icelandic background know that the sagas have been changed a bit over the years, but do not generally view them as fiction. They are our oral history, passed down for generations, only to be written down by Snorri Sturluson and possibly his nephew as well, 300 years or so after the events occurred. The genealogy in the sagas is very dependable, the places where events occurred very "findable" and identifiable. I am not sure about the Byock translation, and will have to look it up. But the translations are all sourced from the original written material by Sturluson.


message 4: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "I have read several versions of this saga, but I like the Bernard Scudder translation the best. We people of Icelandic background know that the sagas have been changed a bit over the years, but do..."

Judy, I appreciate your informative post about the sagas and about Grettir's Saga in particular. I look forward to reading more of your interesting comments!


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) Judy wrote: "I have read several versions of this saga, but I like the Bernard Scudder translation the best. We people of Icelandic background know that the sagas have been changed a bit over the years, but do..."

I've wondered about this fiction/history/mythology range because even Laxness seemed to treat characters as historical figures. Regardless of "truth," it is obvious these stories have left a mark!


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) This is a good time to remind everyone of a resource that was posted early on - the In Our Time radio program on Icelandic sagas. I'm listening to it as I'm making dinner!


message 7: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "This is a good time to remind everyone of a resource that was posted early on - the In Our Time radio program on Icelandic sagas. I'm listening to it as I'm making dinner!"

Both sound yummy.


message 8: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments In the beginning, the story unfolds about the doings of Onund-Tree-Foot. With lands in Norway, he nevertheless periodically voyages to Ireland and the Hebrides islands and to Iceland. Some scenes allude to why he and friends eventually resettled in sparsely populated Iceland, more or less leaving Norway. Vengeance (some say blood feuds) quickly solves dishonoring/maiming/theft/murder of kith and kin and boomerangs in continuing retaliations. Medieval Norsemen valued land ownership but needed vigilance to protect it, as well as inheritance, from usurpation. King (Harald) confiscates Onund's unprotected lands for his local "defenders" and "peacemakers". Out of favor with the King, Onund finds that leaving behind his property and escaping to Iceland at least saves his life.


message 9: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "...Onund's refuge in Iceland is an example of a pattern for people in trouble to shuttle from Norway to Iceland and vice verse ...it takes 14 chapters of family history before we meet the titular protagonist."

The claiming of Icelandic land caught my attention. Early Iceland settlers could have claimed the entire island, but chose extensive tracts. One of the settlers offered Onund to choose what he wanted from his land then gave him some more of it. The settlers apparently recognized each other's claims.

The genealogy in the sagas places Grettir in perspective. To title the story about Grettir prompts me to wonder about his prominent place in Icelandic folklore and history.


message 10: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) The sagas have, as any other oral story that was told for 300 or so years before being written down, changed somewhat. However, the historical characters were real people. The Icelanders have had a huge interest in genealogy for their whole time on the island. It is very easy to research ancestors in Iceland - unlike anywhere else, most likely. It had and still has a small population, and was very remote. Immigration remained almost unheard of following the main settlement and the ensuing Viking years. So, yes, the characters did exist and in most cases their lifespan, burial places, where they lived, and where the saga characters played out their amazing stories can be and has been mapped. What has happened, though, in certain cases, is that stories have been combined somewhat and time periods often seem skewed. The reason for this could be that the saga reflects the main actions which were famous in the country at that time, and in fact throughout countries where the Icelanders traveled. After they get the ever-important genealogy out the way, the sagas turn to actions and deeds. Some years disappear then, with the focus on those stories, and it is often hard to know how old a character is at any one time.


message 11: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Asma wrote: "In the beginning, the story unfolds about the doings of Onund-Tree-Foot. With lands in Norway, he nevertheless periodically voyages to Ireland and the Hebrides islands and to Iceland. Some scenes a..."

This is very true. Also, the history of Icelandic settlement was largely due to disputes of strong people with the King of Norway. The Book of Settlements discusses this in detail. Egill's Saga (my personal favourite) also has an extensive storyline about the Skallagrimsson feud with the King of Norway and their coming to Iceland for this very reason. If anybody is interested in a true Viking spirit and his story, Egill is probably the most quintessential of all.


message 12: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "...Onund's refuge in Iceland is an example of a pattern for people in trouble to shuttle from Norway to Iceland and vice verse ...it takes 14 chapters of family history before we meet t..."

Grettir is arguably the most famous of outlaws in Icelandic history. I don't know if you have had a look yet online for pictures of Drangey, the island where he and his brother lived. It is amazing, and leaves one wondering how they could have survived there.


message 13: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "I was disappointed to learn that little is known of the ball-playing mentioned:

"Knattleikr (ball game) was played with a hard ball and a bat. Again, we don't know the rules. We don't know the obj..."


I read your suggested article about Viking indoor and outdoor games, which run from early chess to field ball. I liked the use of bones for ice skate runners. A link on that site brings one to an array of historical, cultural topics about the Viking era, http://www.hurstwic.com/history/text/... .
Its further reading section notes Wm R Short's Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas. Do you recognize that title? TWL reads it this year. Back to your page above, it told some interesting stories about the Vikings' combativeness.


message 14: by Betty (last edited May 11, 2014 03:13PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "Barrow wights! I wonder if this is where Tolkien got that idea?"

Can you explain that to the less informed among us?


message 15: by Betty (last edited May 11, 2014 11:14PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "...the saga reflects the main actions which were famous in the country at that time, and in fact throughout countries where the Icelanders traveled. After they get the ever-important genealogy out the way, the sagas turn to actions and deeds..."

[edited] The tables in B's edition point out the genealogical connections in Gr. s., as well as connecting Gr. to the Norwegian King Olaf. Another table identifies some of Iceland's founding families. Grettir's great-grandfather Onund Tree-Foot whose exploits take up the first part of this s. also founded Iceland along with Aud the Deep-Minded and Ulf the Squint-Eyed. [At first, I read the table's caption as THE founding families, but the table refers to the founding families who participated in the beached whale incident. The rationale of family relations motivates blood feuds. Yet, after the conflict over the first whale, some of the participants went before the Althing for justice then complied with its decisions.] A last table genealogically connects Gr. to Thorbjorg the Stout through Egil of E. s. I don't know what to expect in the "beached whale" incidents but look forward to reading further about them.


message 16: by Betty (last edited May 10, 2014 07:55PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "...If anybody is interested in a true Viking spirit and his story, Egill is probably the most quintessential of all. ."

June's featured book contains E. s. I refer to The Sagas of Icelanders.


message 17: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Don wrote: "Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "Barrow wights! I wonder if this is where Tolkien got that idea?"

Can you explain that to the less informed among us?"

I am reading the 1900 translation by Eirikr Magnuss..."


Tolkien was hugely influenced by Old Norse, both the Eddas and the Sagas. He was not of Icelandic background, but nevertheless was completely obsessed with it. If you have read Tolkien and then have a look at the Old Norse works, you will find that he used names (e.g. the names of the Dwarves) that were the same as those in the old stories. Tolkien actually had an Icelandic club at the University where he taught. He got many of his ideas from Old Norse. There is quite a bit written about this. I am currently reading his translation of The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, and there is a lot of information about Tolkien´s use of Nordic names and plots, written in the introduction by Christopher Tolkien, his son.


message 18: by Betty (last edited May 11, 2014 11:15PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "...In chapter 18, Grettir...goes grave-robbing...While in the grave ("barrow"), a barrow-wight attacks him...The mention of barrow wights recalled Frodo the Hobbit's unpleasant encounter with a barrow wight in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. ..."

Judy wrote: "Tolkien was hugely influenced by Old Norse, both the Eddas and the Sagas. He was not of Icelandic background, but nevertheless was completely obsessed with it..."

Thanks Don and Judy for your replies to my inquiry about barrow-wights and its relation to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings's trilogy. That Wiki article mentions the Nordic influences in Tolkien's life and stories, too. Instead of barrow-wights, the Byock edition in ch.18 uses mound-dwellers for the evil spirit of the walking dead. This rich vein in Gr. s. and Tolkien makes for very rewarding reading.


message 19: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "I was disappointed to learn that little is known of the ball-playing mentioned:

"Knattleikr (ball game) was played with a hard ball and a bat. Again, we don't know the rules. We don't ..."


I finally got to this, went to my bookshelves and pulled off this book. (Icelanders in the Viking Age). It has an interesting section on this ballgame, with a couple of examples from various sagas. To re-type it is rather long, but I can try to scan it, and do it that way. However, I do not know if I can post a scan on here, being a technological dinosaur. There is much more information available on the Board Games played by saga people, because those games have been found in burial sites. William Short, in Icelanders in the Viking Age, makes the point that the outdoor games were not described in detail with rules, because the people telling the stories, and the listeners, would all know the game and it would have been unnecessary. Which doesn't help us..... Please let me know if I can post a scan or send it to anybody privately.


message 20: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "I was disappointed to learn that little is known of the ball-playing mentioned:

"Knattleikr (ball game) was played with a hard ball and a bat. Again, we don't know the rules. We don't ..."


I finally got to this, went to my bookshelves and pulled off this book. (Icelanders in the Viking Age). It has an interesting section on this ballgame, with a couple of examples from various sagas. To re-type it is rather long, but I can try to scan it, and do it that way. However, I do not know if I can post a scan on here, being a technological dinosaur. There is much more information available on the Board Games played by saga people, because those games have been found in burial sites. William Short, in Icelanders in the Viking Age, makes the point that the outdoor games were not described in detail with rules, because the people telling the stories, and the listeners, would all know the game and it would have been unnecessary. Which doesn't help us..... Please let me know if I can post a scan or send it to anybody privately.


message 21: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Someone previously spoke about Grettir being unlikeable in the first portion of the saga. In fact, I find him a horrible kid and was afraid he was going to be a complete psychopath, when I first read it. I have read all of the sagas, and had never come across a character who would flay a horse out of simple mean-spiritedness. Then to hide the poor suffering horse away, until Ásmundur (Grettir's father) looks for it and discovers it in a horrible state! It is very difficult to categorize this kind of behaviour, even in the context of the sagas, which were notably bloody. However, as the saga progressed, I did not find any more of this inexplicable behaviour, just "normal" Viking stuff....... ;)


message 22: by Betty (last edited May 13, 2014 08:37AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "Barrow wights! I wonder if this is where Tolkien got that idea?"

Under 'Draugr', Wikipedia says that one finds "animated corpses" typically in Gr. s. and E. s., their capabilities linking them to the barrow-wights of Tolkien's Middle-earth. The haugbui, or mound-dweller, kind of draugr stays in and around the barrow to protect its belongings. A draugr derives from a buried dead person, who does not RIP (rest in peace) and does not stay dead or who might receive that draugr's role.
"The barrow-wights of Middle-earth are based on the draugar, since they linger around their gold even after their death and can pass through walls like the normal draugar. Other [Tolkien] characters like the Dwimmerlaik and possibly the Great Goblin may be based on draugar too."

"A variation of the draugr is the haugbui. The haugbui (from Old Norse haugr' "howe, barrow, tumulus") was a mound-dweller, the dead body living on within its tomb. The notable difference between the two was that the haugbui is unable to leave its grave site and only attacks those that trespass upon their territory."

"One of the best-known drau­gar is Glámr, who is de­feated by the hero in Gret­tis saga. After [the shepherd] Glámr dies on Christ­mas Eve, "peo­ple be­came aware that Glámr was not rest­ing in peace. He wrought such havoc that some peo­ple fainted at the sight of him, while oth­ers went out of their minds". After an mun­dane bat­tle, Gret­tir even­tu­ally gets Glámr on his back. Just be­fore Gret­tir kills him, Glámr curses Gret­tir be­cause "Glámr was en­dowed with more evil force than most other ghosts", and thus he was able to speak and leave Gret­tir with his curse [against Gr.'s gaining more strength] after his death."

"...unlike ghosts, draugar can also come about through infection by another draugr such as in the story of Glámr. When Glámr arrives in the haunted valley in Grettis saga, "the previous evil spirits are relegated to the sidelines and, when Glámr is found dead, they disappear, whereas he takes over their role as ghost of the valley." Although Glámr is an arguably marginal character to begin with, it is only after his fight with the first malignant spirit that the first spirit leaves the valley, and Glámr takes its place wreaking havoc."
http://en.wikipedia.org.advanc.io/wik... . The bottom link to Wikipedia looks like an interesting story about draugar http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia... among the others, too.


message 23: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Don wrote: "Judy wrote: "Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "I was disappointed to learn that little is known of the ball-playing mentioned:

"Knattleikr (ball game) was played with a hard ball and a bat. Again, we don't..."


Don wrote: "Judy wrote: "Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "I was disappointed to learn that little is known of the ball-playing mentioned:

"Knattleikr (ball game) was played with a hard ball and a bat. Again, we don't..."


Don wrote: "Judy wrote: "Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "I was disappointed to learn that little is known of the ball-playing mentioned:

"Knattleikr (ball game) was played with a hard ball and a bat. Again, we don't..."


Hi Don - It is I, Judy, who have the book. If you let me know how to get you the scan, I will most happily do so!


message 24: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Don wrote: "Judy wrote: "Someone previously spoke about Grettir being unlikeable in the first portion of the saga. In fact, I find him a horrible kid and was afraid he was going to be a complete psychopath, w..."

I don't know Don. I can't even explain it. A kid who didn't want to do what he was told, resented having to do anything, and therefore flays the poor horse would undoubtedly today be diagnosed with some kind of personality disorder!

They were violent times, to be sure, but this kind of purposeful cruelty was not normal. I think that it is more his personality and his refusal to be controlled in any way by his father, that drives his behaviour. The fact that his "antics" in punishing his father for expecting him to work are described in such detail, I think is included purposely in the story because it shows his very complicated character. A kid like this wouldn't fit in in any time period, I don't think. Or any place.
However, as the saga goes on, he does seem to develop the rather standard Viking principles. So, I can't figure out what he did to the horse. At all.


message 25: by Betty (last edited May 13, 2014 03:34PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "...It is I, Judy, who have the book..."

Don wrote: "...Thank you for the kind offer though! ..."

I partly chose Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas because of its accessibility in paper and in cyberspace, although I would first go with it in paper unless the ebook arrives with page numbers. Judy, Don, and I located a copy right away. A short paragraph or summary would serve the purpose. We want to respect copyrighted materials :)


message 26: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "...as the saga goes on, he does seem to develop the rather standard Viking principles. So, I can't figure out what he did to the horse. At all. "

Don wrote: "Judy wrote: "I am so glad to hear someone else found that behavior "inexplicable." It was disturbing and horrible...."

Judy wrote: "...just "normal" Viking stuff....... ;)"

I agree. Gr. takes the cake with the extremes of his Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior.


message 27: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Short's Icelanders... adds Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings for their drawing extensively upon medieval Icelandic literature.


message 28: by Betty (last edited May 14, 2014 07:34AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "...I don't know if you have had a look yet online for pictures of Drangey, the island where he and his brother lived. It is amazing, and leaves one wondering how they could have survived there."

In the photo essay, tourists climb Grettir's island of Drangey http://www.isholf.is/gullis/jo/drange...

Drangey 1889 by O Schulz O Schulz's 1889 drawing


message 29: by Silver (new)

Silver I had to finish up some other reading before I could start on this one, so I got a bit of a late start on it, but I am reading it now and thus far I am enjoying it.

I really enjoy the inclusion of the skaldic verses. Most of them I find to be rather humorous and I do think they add something to the story as a whole, they give it an extra character, and I do enjoy the way in which they sort of sum up various different events which occur.

I quite enjoyed the chapter about the battle that broke out over who the whale corpse belonged to. I could picture that scene in a Monty Python movie. I do find there is an odd sort of humor in the saga. I will be reading along and something unexpected, or so absurd will occur that I cannot help but to chuckle to myself.

I just finished the chapter detailing Grettir as a child. Her certainly was a handful. I rather liked the wife's response to her husband, about not knowing which was more perverse Asmund's constantly giving Grettir more work to do or Grettir always finding ways to get out of it.

Because it is true, on the one hand every time Asmund gives Grettir a new job, you cringe knowing somehow it is going to end very badly, particularly when Asmund told him to look after the horses. After what happened with the geese I am thinking, you really think that is a good thing to have him do?

But on the other hand just letting Grettir run around doing whatever he wants would hardly be a very good solution to the problem.


message 30: by Betty (last edited May 15, 2014 11:45AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Silver wrote: "...I really enjoy the inclusion of the skaldic verses. Most of them I find to be rather humorous and I do think they add something to the story as a whole, they give it an extra character, and I do enjoy the way in which they sort of sum up various different events which occur...."

I also found humor and usefulness in the skaldic verses. Apparently, they carry further meaning and technique (kennings, meter, form, allusions) than initially comes through. In my edition, Russell Poole translated them. The Wiki article "Grettis saga" links to an essay by Poole, http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~alvisma... . I feel quite excited by the prospect of gleaning its contents so that I included a reference to it in this post.


message 31: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "...the sagas...are our oral history, passed down for generations, only to be written down by Snorri Sturluson and possibly his nephew as well..."

Wiki attributes E. s. to Snorri Sturluson and Gr. s. to Snorri's nephew Sturla Þórðarson.


message 32: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Besides glimpsing Beowulf at Facebook's Nordic Gods, you can read continuing segments of Gr. s. in its notes.


message 33: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Asma wrote: "Besides glimpsing Beowulf at Facebook's Nordic Gods, you can read continuing segments of Gr. s. in its notes."

There is a lot of controversy about Snorri Sturluson and his nephew and who may have or may not have written which piece of the Eddas or Sagas. About one thing there is general agreement in the Icelandic population, and that is that of the sagas, Egill's Saga was the first to be written down.


message 34: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Judy wrote: "...About one thing there is general agreement in the Icelandic population, and that is that of the sagas, Egill's Saga was the first to be written down."

I think so; and Gr. s. comes near the end of the classical saga period.


message 35: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 49 comments I'm following this thread, though I haven't posted in the group yet. I did read Grettir's Saga, years ago. Don, I'm happy if I sent you to the Tolkien essay; meanwhile thanks so much for Dialogues with the Viking Age: Narration and Representation in the Sagas of the Icelanders. I was fascinated by that aspect of Beowulf -- that you quote about, its view of history; so I'd love to read about the sagas that way, how they were written as a discussion of the past.


message 36: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 49 comments Joining in the read. I'm up to xxiii, in a translation by G.H. Hight. I have to say I find the odd psychology of Grettir intriguing. I'm thinking, this had to be a historical person -- who'd ever invent Grettir? So anti-social, in the eyes of his own society; the psychopathy of his childhood cruelty to animals (again, found disturbing by those around him)... no-one but his mother loves him. In contrast he has a brother described as fairly ideal, whom everyone likes.

But then: his sudden obedience to the mate's wife's wishes on ship (? because she has been kind to him?); and his feats in aid of the wife and daughter of his host, when they expected the worst from him. In the face of such mistrust from people... but when he proves himself to particular people they become devoted to him, as perhaps you do to the misunderstood. He's very, very strange but he has won me over by now.


message 37: by Betty (last edited May 19, 2014 08:11PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "...At any rate, I got an appreciation for how everything about Grettir told in the story, from his origins, childhood behavior, bad luck, eventual demise, and avengement seems to suggest even this superhuman’s destiny was beyond his control...."

I found the essay "Grettis Saga and European Literature in the Late Middle Ages" (1970) by Robert J. Glendinning. The Gr. s. came late among the family sagas. The pre-christian pagans took individual control of their destinies by comparison with the later people with christianized concepts of divinely inspired destiny. Rather than from otherworldly ethics and eschatology, the pagan settlers' and vikings' motivations to act stemmed from seemingly ironic beliefs about honor and about blood feuds and from practical beliefs about loyalty. As you mention, also, Norway took control over Iceland through the latter's consent, that change, in addition to christianization, doubly diminishing empowerment. Your comment suggests that Grettir's ultimately lacking control over his destiny heralds those two societal changes taking place towards the end of the saga era, changes that influenced the telling of Grettir's story.


message 38: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Bryn wrote: "I'm following this thread, though I haven't posted in the group yet. I did read Grettir's Saga, years ago. Don, I'm happy if I sent you to the Tolkien essay; meanwhile thanks so much for [book:Dial..."

Bryn, now that you posted, I want to welcome you to this group and to this topic of discussion.

Thank you, Don, for your input. I enjoy reading your posts.


message 39: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Bryn wrote: "Joining in the read. I'm up to xxiii, in a translation by G.H. Hight. I have to say I find the odd psychology of Grettir intriguing. I'm thinking, this had to be a historical person -- who'd ever i..."

From what I read and from what our Icelandic group member Judy writes, these family sagas tell what happened during medieval Iceland's settlement period by way of actual genealogies and of historical characters' deeds. Some additions must inevitably crop up over the years, and one can't verify the details of every event, but these sagas tell Iceland's early history.


message 40: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "...Well he has the makings of a viking." I've gotten the sense that vikings and Icelanders of the saga era may not have shared our sense of revulsion at animal cruelty...."

When Gr. skins the horse's back, he attempts to trick his father by laying the hide back upon the unfortunate horse, which the horse gives away by its nipping at the hide. That entire scene suspends belief. He also destroys some of his father's sheep.

Up to my present point in the book, I remember the beached whale, which washes ashore during the long drought, and the dangerous cave bear, which preys upon men and livestock. I didn't reach the scene in which gratuitous harm comes to the horses.


message 41: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 49 comments Thanks for the welcome, Asma.
On the incidents with animals, I feel they're in there to be freaky, to be seen as abnormal behaviour. It's true his father need be only concerned at losing a valuable beast.


message 42: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Bryn wrote: "Thanks for the welcome, Asma.
On the incidents with animals, I feel they're in there to be freaky, to be seen as abnormal behaviour. It's true his father need be only concerned at losing a valuabl..."


I agree, Bryn. His characteristics exceed the norm in physical strength, courage, cleverness, and adventuresomeness. Hardly any dangerous prospect daunts him.


message 43: by Bryn (last edited May 19, 2014 10:22PM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (brynhammond) | 49 comments Just remembered this book, one I'd absolutely love to read but haven't got hold of. It might tell us about Norse attitudes to animals: Animals and Humans: Recurrent Symbiosis in Archaeology and Old Norse Religion


message 44: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Bryn wrote: "...It might tell us about Norse attitudes to animals: Animals and Humans: Recurrent Symbiosis in Archaeology and Old Norse Religion."

The book would elaborate the role and treatment of animals around this time. The e-book sample at Barnes & Noble says that first-century Scandinavians around the time of christianization used both real and fantasy animals for daily activities: stories, religion, practical use. Evidence lies in archaeological finds.


message 45: by Betty (last edited May 21, 2014 06:37AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "...Grettir's Father is quite prescient in realizing Grettir lacks the makings of a farmer. This realization may further explain his disdain for Grettir."

Grettir's disengagement from farm work and his anger at his father to give him farm duties encourage his pranks. The adjective passive-aggressive comes to mind because he initially accepts his father's directions then his prankishness creates a catastrophe for his father and for some of the farm's animals. In all, he and his father don't get along. Fortunately for him, the animals belong to his father rather than to a neighboring farmer.

His later troubles stem from killing in self-defense. In killing those who attacked him to murder him, the judicial judgements entirely blame him. He did wield the sax and did not give mercy. The judge's prejudice, Grettir's reputation of hotheadedness, or the christian notion against revenge might factor into his designated outlawry. He did less evil except for the pranks and more good.


message 46: by Betty (last edited May 21, 2014 07:57AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "...Since farming was such an important part of survival and because the wife took charge of the farm in the husband's absence, there may be economic forces behind the Icelanders' strictures against and abhorrence of violence against women..."

That link to Short's article about viking-era Icelandic farms put Gr. s. and Icelandic society in perspective. Everybody on the farm needed to work at multiple tasks on self-sufficient farms when they didn't sleep. Though, the lowly shepherd didn't receive much regard. The picturesque photos in the link belie the experience. Despite the farms' isolation, laws intruded on how the farmer used the land. Just one cow needed several acres-worth of hay to survive the winter! So the vast acreage for a herd of them required many hands for plowing and other chores and many connections among farmers for mutual protection in times of natural- or man-made trouble.


message 47: by Betty (last edited May 21, 2014 08:08AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3618 comments Don wrote: "Very well put Asma"

Don, I appreciate your insightful comments about this book. Even my very excellent edition of Gr. s. doesn't include everything about Icelandic society.


message 48: by Vicky (new)

Vicky (starfish13) | 4 comments I haven't got the book to read along with the group, but I'm familiar with parts of Grettir's Saga from reading Tim Severin's Viking Series. Grettir crops up as a character in Sworn Brother, part 2 of the trilogy, befriending the main character during his exile. He's portrayed in that as a bit of a troubled kid, possibly a bit ADHD, and tending to think with his fists when challenged.

I've also travelled round Iceland, and I've seen the island of Drangey, where Grettir spent his exile, from the shore of Skagafjörður on the north coast. In comparison with the lowlying mainland, with rolling hills, the island is high and sheer-sided, and quite distant from the shore. The physical feats attributed to Grettir, swimming the 8km or so in cold water followed by climbing the cliffs, are hugely impressive.


message 49: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) Asma wrote: "Don wrote: "...Grettir's Father is quite prescient in realizing Grettir lacks the makings of a farmer. This realization may further explain his disdain for Grettir."

Grettir's disengagement from f..."


Yes, I agree. For the most part, as an adult he did the right things for his day. He was hugely victimized by others, who did not behave in any kind of honourable way, but there are times in the saga that Grettir could have changed the way things went. I think his personality and his pride simply wouldn't allow him to do so.


message 50: by Judy (new)

Judy (bookgirlarborg) I love the verses in the sagas, and they are so frequent in Grettir's Saga. The verses were composed largely on-the-spot, required a very strict format (in the original language), and the poetic forms still exist today. Interestingly enough, there is still a very serious "verse" club in Reykjavík, the capitol of Iceland, which involves an exercise of having to compose a poem off the top of your head within a very short time. Although people do not normally suddenly break into verse as opposed to speech in modern-day Iceland, honouring the tradition still continues.


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