THE SAGA of EGIL SKALLAGRIMSSON - A Viking / Norse Saga - Unknown - ebook

EGILL SKALLAGRÍMSSON (ca. 910AD – ca. 990AD) was a Viking Age poet, warrior and farmer and the protagonist of this Saga. Born in Iceland, the son of Skalla-Grímr Kveldúlfsson, a respected chieftan, and Bera Yngvarsdóttir. Egill composed his first poem aged three years and exhibited berserk behaviour at an early age (a bloody theme which continues throughout the saga), and this, together with the description of his large and unattractive head, has led to the theory that he might have suffered from Paget's disease. This is corroborated by the Mosfell Archaeological Project with an archaeological find of a head from the Viking era at Mosfell which is thought to be Egill's.At the age of seven, Egill was cheated in a game with local boys. Enraged, he procured an axe, and returning to the boys, split the skull of the boy who cheated him. Later in life, after being grievously insulted, Egill killed Bárðr of Atley, a retainer of King Eirik Bloodaxe and kinsman of Queen Gunnhildr. Seething with hatred, Gunnhildr ordered her two brothers to assassinate Egill and his brother Þórólfr. However, Egill slew the Queen's brothers when they attempted to confront him.Declared an outlaw by Eirik Bloodaxe, Berg-Önundr gathered a company of men to capture Egill, but was killed in his attempt to do so. Before escaping from Norway, Egill also slew Rögnvaldr, the son of King Eirik and Queen Gunnhildr. He then cursed the King and Queen, setting a horse's head on a Nithing pole. He later fought at the Battle of Brunanburh in the service of King Athelstan.Ultimately, Egill returned to his family farm in Iceland, where he remained a power to be reckoned with in local politics. He lived into his eighties. Eventually blind, died shortly before Iceland converted to Catholicism. Before Egill died he buried his silver treasure near Mosfellsbær. In his last act of violence he murdered the servant who helped him bury his treasure.NOTE: Even though Christianity took sway in Scandinavia around the time the saga is set, it is not suggested that Norsemen led wholly pious lives, filled with spiritual observances. Egil Skallagrímsson's poem Sonatorrek (Ch. 81), composed on the death of two of his sons, goes some way to clarifying the relationship between the pagan Norseman and the old Norse gods better, perhaps, than any other surviving Norse or Icelandic literature. As a poet and a warrior, Egil believed in Odin's gifts above most other deities.Egill remains a very popular figure in Iceland, with a beer brewery, TV show, songs and an annual S.C.A. Memorial Tournament named after him.================TAGS: Viking, Norse, Saga, story, Egill Skallagrimsson, beserker, poet, skald, soldier, warrior, bloody action, adventure, love, lust, betrayal, loyalty, Norway, Iceland, Mosfell, King Eirik Bloodaxe, Berg-Önundr, capture, kill, murder, Rognvaldr, Queen Gunnhildr, escape, buried treasure, paget’s disease, Bárðr of Atley, outlaw, althing, Sonatorrek, Norsemen, Scandinavia, bones, skeleton, King Athelstan

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The SagaOfEgil Skallagrimsson

BeingAn Icelandic Family History of theNinth and Tenth Centuries,TRANSLATED FROM THE ICELANDIC,BYREV. W. C. GREEN,Late Fellow Of King's College, Cambridge;Editor Of 'Aristophanes;' Author Of 'Homeric Similes,' Etc.

Originally PublishedElliot Stock, London: [1893]

Resurrected By

Abela Publishing, London


The Saga of Egil Skallagrimsson

Typographical arrangement of this edition

© Abela Publishing 2018

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The Publisher acknowledges the work that

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The Saga of Egil Skallagrimson

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Chronological Table of the Chief Events in the Saga or

Connected With it.

CHAPTER I Of Kveldulf and his sons

CHAPTER II Of Aulvir Hnuf

CHAPTER III The beginning of the rule of Harold Fairhair

CHAPTER IV Battle of king Harold and Audbjorn

CHAPTER V The king's message to Kveldulf

CHAPTER VI Thorolf resolves to serve the king

CHAPTER VII Of Bjorgolf, Brynjolf, Bard, and Hildirida

CHAPTER VIII Of Bard and Thorolf

CHAPTER IX Battle in Hafr's Firth

CHAPTER X Thorolf in Finmark

CHAPTER XI The king feasts with Thorolf

CHAPTER XII Hildirida's sons talk with Harold

CHAPTER XIII Thorgils goes to the king

CHAPTER XIV Thorolf again in Finmark

CHAPTER XV King Harold and Harek

CHAPTER XVI Thorolf and the king.

CHAPTER XVII Hildirida's sons in Finmark and at Harold's


CHAPTER XVIII Thorolf's ship is taken

CHAPTER XIX Thorolf retaliates

CHAPTER XX Skallagrim's marriage

CHAPTER XXI Hallvard and his brother go after Thorolf

CHAPTER XXII Death of Thorolf Kveldulfsson

CHAPTER XXIII The slaying of Hildirida's sons

CHAPTER XXIV Kveldulf's grief

CHAPTER XXV Skallagrim's journey to the king


CHAPTER XXVII Slaying of Hallvard and Sigtrygg

CHAPTER XXVIII Of Skallagrim's land-taking

CHAPTER XXIX Of Skallagrim's industry

CHAPTER XXX Of the coming out of Yngvar, and of

Skallagrim's iron-forging

CHAPTER XXXI Of Skallagrim's children

CHAPTER XXXII Of lord Brynjolf and Bjorn, his son

CHAPTER XXXIII Bjorn goes to Iceland

CHAPTER XXXIV Of Skallagrim and Bjorn

CHAPTER XXXV Thorolf goes abroad

CHAPTER XXXVI Of Eric Bloodaxe and Thorolf

CHAPTER XXXVII The journey to Bjarmaland

CHAPTER XXXVIII Thorolf comes out to Iceland

CHAPTER XXXIX Kettle Blund comes out to Iceland

CHAPTER XL Of Egil's and Skallagrim's games


CHAPTER XLII Thorolf asks Asgerdr to wife

CHAPTER XLIII Of Aulvir and Egil

CHAPTER XLIV The slaying of Bard

CHAPTER XLV Flight of Egil

CHAPTER XLVI Of Thorolf's and Egil's harrying

CHAPTER XLVII Of the further harrying of Thorolf and


CHAPTER XLVIII Of the banquet at earl Arnfid's

CHAPTER XLIX Slaying of Thorvald Proud

CHAPTER L Of Athelstan king of the English

CHAPTER LI Of Olaf King of Scots

CHAPTER LII Of the gathering of the host

CHAPTER LIII Of the fight

CHAPTER LIV The fall of Thorolf

CHAPTER LV Egil buries Thorolf

CHAPTER LVI Marriage of Egil

CHAPTER LVII Suit between Egil and Onund

CHAPTER LVIII Of king Eric and Egil

CHAPTER LIX King Eric slays his brothers

CHAPTER LX The slaying of Bergonund and Rognvald the

king's son

CHAPTER LXI Death of Skallagrim

CHAPTER LXII Egil's voyage to England

CHAPTER LXIII Egil recites the poem

CHAPTER LXIV Egil's life is given him

CHAPTER LXV Egil goes to Norway

CHAPTER LXVI Egil and Thorstein go before the King

CHAPTER LXVII Egil slays Ljot the Pale

CHAPTER LXVIII Of Egil's journeyings

CHAPTER LXIX Egil comes out to Iceland

CHAPTER LXX Egil goes abroad

CHAPTER LXXI Egil's sadness

CHAPTER LXXII Of Arinbjorn's harrying

CHAPTER LXXIII Mission to Vermaland

CHAPTER LXXIV Journey to Vermaland

CHAPTER LXXV Parting of Egil and Armod

CHAPTER LXXVI Egil comes to landowner Alf

CHAPTER LXXVII Egil gathers tribute

CHAPTER LXXVIII Egil and his band slay twenty-five men

CHAPTER LXXIX Egil comes to Thorfinn's. The harrying of

King Hacon

CHAPTER LXXX Of the marriages of Egil's daughters

CHAPTER LXXXI Death of Bodvar: Egil's poem thereon

CHAPTER LXXXII Hacon's wars and death Poem on


CHAPTER LXXXIII Of Einar Helgi's son and Egil

CHAPTER LXXXIV Of Thorstein Egil's son

CHAPTER LXXXV Of Aunund Sjoni and Steinar his son

CHAPTER LXXXVI Slaying of Thrand

CHAPTER LXXXVII Of Egil and Aunund Sjoni


CHAPTER LXXXIX Thorstein goes to a feast

CHAPTER XC Death of Egil Skallagrim's son

CHAPTER XCI Grim takes the Christian faith

CHAPTER XCII Of Thorstein's descendants


       It is now more than thirty years since Dasent by the story of Burnt Njal delighted many readers and awakened in England an interest in the Icelandic Sagas. The introduction to Burnt Njal trats ably and fully of Icelandic history and literature, pointing out their especial value to us Englishmen. And this the same author has further done in his introduction to Vigusson's Dictionary. Other Sagas have since been made accessible in English: e.g., the story of Gisli the outlaw, by Dasent; Grettir's Saga, by Magnusson and Morris; and recently some others in the series entitled 'The Saga Library.'

       Dasent put before us the best first, for of Iceland's Sagas the Njala undoubtedly bears the palm. But the next best has hitherto not been open to English readers—the Egilssaga to wit. Second only to the Njala in interest and merit is the Egla, and second (in my judgement) after no long interval. For though no one character enlists our sympathy in Egil's story so much as does the wise and good Njal so underservedly cut off, yet the whole story is in stle and force little, if at all, inferior. Nay it has more variety of scene and adventure, more points of contact with history, than has the Njala; it is to Englishmen especially interesting, as one part of it is much concerned with England. The narrative takes us to many lands; all over Norway, to Sweden, to Finmark, and the lands beyond, Kvenland, Bjarmaland, the shores of the White Sea; in company with the Vikings we go 'the eastward way' to the Baltic, to Courland in Russia; we visit Holland, Friesland, Jutland; [iv] westwards and southwestwards we cruise about Shetland, the Orkneys, Scotland; England is reached by our hero Egil; York is the scene of his most perilous venture; he comes even as far as London.

       The earlier part of the Saga, the scene of which is in Norway, with the account of Harold Fairhair's obtaining sole dominion there, is of great interest, and agrees with other accounts of the same. It is well known that Harold's tyranny (as they deemed it) drove many Norsemen of good familyto seek Iceland and freedom. Among these were Egil's grandfather and father. We have a full account of their settlement in the island, whither as yet few had gone, and where land was to be had for the taking, but hard work was needed. We read of these early pioneers' industries—their farming, smithying, fishing on sea and river, seal-hunting, whaling, egg-gathering. Minute descriptions there are of the island, particularly of its western coast, its firths, nesses, rivers, fells.

       No reader of this Saga can for a moment doubt the truthfulness of the picture given of life and manners at that time. A seafaring race were those Norsemen, both for trade in their ships of burden and for freebooting in their long ships; bold and skilful mariners they are seen to be. We read of a winter sledging journey in one most adventurous episode. There are battles, some of great moment, by sea and by land. One of the latter, the battle of Vinheath, in England, is told with much detail, and is (one may venture to say) as vivid an account of a battle as can be found anywhere in any language. There are single combats or wagers of battle, about the manner and terms of which we learn much that is noteworthy. There are also lawsuits in Norway, and, towards the end of the story, one in Iceland, whence we learn that the emigrants carried out with them and established their civilization with all the machinery of courts and legal procedure. There is less litigation in the Egla than in the Njala, but few readers will regret this, for, if there be anything in the story of Burnt Njal which one would be inclined to skip, it is some of the long law-pleadings.

       The home life of the North is in this Saga graphically set before us. We see the men at their banquets; mighty drinkings they had, with curious manners and rules. There are feasts at harvest, at Yule-tide; they exchange visits at each other's houses; hospitality is universal; weddings there are, burials. Of their halls, the arrangement thereof, their order of sitting, their armour hanging ready above the warriors, we can from scenes in this story form a complete idea. We witness their amusements, their trials of strength; a certain game at ball is described in detail.

       Of their religion perhaps we do not read so much in the Egla as might be expected. They were still heathens, though Christianity was prevailing in the countries around. That the Norwegians and Icelanders were familiar with their own theology and mythology is, however, plain; their knowledge of it is constantly assumed in the poetry. Of priests the Egilssaga tells us, and of temples, and one great religious gathering isdescribed. There is not much of the marvellous or supernatural in this Saga: no ghost, as in Grettir's Saga. Some superstitions appear: a belief in magic and spells, in the force of runes graved rightly or wrongly. Several women are spoken of as possessing magic skill, especially queen Gunnhilda, who on one memorable occasion exercises all but fatally for Egil her power of shape-changing. There is one remarkable instance of a solemn spoken and written curse, with very curious accompaniments. But upon the whole little happens that is beyond fair probability, or that does not spring from natural causes. Although, as we have seen, Egil and his comrades were not Christians, the Christian faith is incidentally mentioned as prevailing in England, and towards the end of the Saga we read that Thorstein, Egil's youngest son, became eventually a Christian.

       The characters in the Egilssaga are well marked and forcibly drawn. In the house of Kveldulf, old Kveldulf himself, Thorolf the elder, Skallagrim, Egil, stand forth as real men with characters well-sustained throughout. Outside the family king Harold is well drawn, the able ruler, generous in much, but suspicious, as a tyrant must needs be. His son Eric is violent, but weaker, and swayed by his wife Gunnhilda, who is to him somewhat as Jezebel [vi] was to Ahab. Arinbjorn is perhaps the noblest character in the story, the brave, generous, true friend. But the reader will estimate these and others for himself; of the hero who gives his name to the Saga a few words will not be out of place. Egil certainly must have been a remarkable man. Strong in body beyond his fllows, he was no less uncommonly gifted in mind, a poet as well as a soldier. Brave he was even to foolhardiness, yet wary withal and prudent; full of resource in danger, never giving up the game however desperate; a born leader, liked and trusted by his men. His character has its unpleasant side; he was headstrong, brutal at times when provoked, determined to have his own way, and overbearing in pursuit of it. Yet there is nothing mean or little about him; he does not engage in petty quarrels, he helps or hinders kings and great chiefs. He is outspoken and truthful, and his ire is especially stirred by meanness and falsehood in others. To women he is pleasant and courteous, as appears on several occasions. For the sake of his friend Arinbjorn and his kin he risks his life more than once.

       That the bad points in Egil's character are not screened is surely one proof of the truthfulness of the Saga-writer; a mere eulogist would have blazoned forth all his hero's noble exploits, but veiled the other side, and hardly would anyone inventing a fictitious character have put such dark blots in it. But some of Egil's faults were rather those of his time than of himself. A careful reading of the whole Saga leaves us with a more favourable opinion of Egil than we form at the beginning of his life. For most readers will (I think) at the first dislike Egil; they will agree with his father Skallagrim and his elder brother Thorolf, who had not much affection for the boy. But as the story goes on, one cannot but admire his bravery, his resource, his indomitable resolution, his readiness to face danger, not only for himself, but for others whom he really prized.

       The Egla contains many wonderfully good descriptive passages of the fjords, sounds, and islands of the North. An instance is chapter xlv., which relates Egil's first scape from Eric. A most dramatic scene is that where Skallagrim [vii] goes before king Harold in chapter xxv. So is chapter lxii., where Egil and Arinbjorn are before king Eric Bloodaxe in York. Very striking is the interview between Egil and his daughter Thorgerdr, after Bodvar's death, in chapter lxxi. Looking at the vigour and beauty of the style in these and other passages, we agree with the judgment in Thordarson's preface, that the Egilssaga was put into writing 'in the golden age of Icelandic literature.' And for these excellencies we must remember to give due credit and admiration to the Saga-writer. For though he was (as is generally believed) describing real men, real scenes, real characters, yet it is not everyone who, having the matter to hand, can put it together and express it so well.

       About the truthfulness and historical value of the Egla there has been some discussion and difference of opinion. Is it in the main a true family history, or a romance? How long after the events recorded was it written? And by whom? These questions have een debated by northern scholars, Icelanders and others. The balance of authority and reason appears to be very much in favour of the general truthfulness of the story. The writer surely wrote down the facts as he heard or read them, not departing from the truth as he knew it or believed it. But on this question let us hear what the northern editors say.

       Finnur Jónsson (Copenhagen, 1888) gives his judgement thus:

       '1. The Saga in what concerns persons and events in Iceland and Norway may be considered true, with small and unimportant exceptions.       2. For what happens in other countries it cannot be reckoned quite trustworthy.       3. Its chronology is in several places faulty, which is not to be wondered at.       4. It shows extensive geographical knowledge, insight into Icelandic and Norse law and culture.       5. The composer had partly written sources of information, partly family traditions of the Moormen to go upon, with much of Egil's verses and poems.       6. He is a master in the art of telling a story and delineating character.       7. He must have lived on the Borgar-firth.'

      The preface to Thordarson's edition says:       'The Saga agrees well with other Icelandic Sagas, and may be reckoned as one of the most truthful; but when it is considered that it was kept in men's memory for a very long time—the events happening before the year 1000, and the story not being put into writing till near the end of the twelfth century—naturally every syllable of it will not be true. Neither in this, however, nor in any of the best Icelandic Sagas do the writers thereof deliberately assert untruth or mean to exaggerate.'

       To the authority and judgment of these scholars an Englishman can add little. Only, as regards historical events foreign to Iceland and Norway, it may b remarked that no one could reasonable expect Icelanders of the eleventh and twelgth centuries to be infallible about them. In the Egilssaga what is said about foreign countries appears generally like truth. What we read about England, e.g., and what passed there at the beginning of Athelstan's reign, agrees fairly with what we know of that time from history; some facts are undoubtedly true, none palpable untrue, though there are details which present some difficulty. But these will be better discussed in a note on that part of the Saga.

       The date of the writing of Egilssaga is put between 1160 and 1200; probably near to the latter date. In chapter xc. We read of the taking up of Egil's supposed bones in the time of Skapti the priest. He is known to have been priest from 1143 onwards. Thordarson's preface suggests as a possible author Einar Skulason. He was a descendent of Egil, being grandson of the grandson of Thorstein Egilsson; he traveled much, knew well both Norway and Iceland, and was a good skald; he lived till late in the twelfth century. But that he was the author is but a guess.

       Of the Egilssaga there are several editions. For this translation the following have been used: The large edition, with a Latin translation (Havniæ, mdcccix); Einar Thordarson's (Reykjavík, 1856); Finnur Jónsson's (Copenhagen, 1888). Also Petersen's Swedish translation (1862). The text of Thordarson's little book has been followed in the main; Jónsson's differs from it in many places, being [ix] generally shorter. Into the critical merits of these texts I am not competent to enter; the variations are of no importance to the story or to an English reader.

       The prose of the Saga presents few difficulties to a translator. Icelandic prose, as regards order of words, is simple, and runs naturally enough into English. The sentences are mostly short and plain. In Egilssaga the style for Icelandic is pronounced by good authorities to be of the best; the translator can only hope that in its English dress it may not have lost all its attractiveness.

       Of the verse in this Saga, and of the principles followed in translating it, something must be said; for peculiar difficulties beset the translator of Icelandic verses. Icelandic poetry differs entirely from Icelandic prose. Whereas the prose is simple, the poetry is highly artificial. Especially so are the detached staves or stanzas sprinkled throughout the Sagas. Of such the Egla has a great number, mostly Egil's own verses; and, as he is accounted one of the best of Iceland's ancient skalds, they are an interesting part of the Saga and could not be omitted. But in rendering them into English one meets with perplexing difficulties.

       These staves consist nearly always of eight lines each, made up of two sets of four lines, the sense being usually complete in each quatrain. As regards metre, the lines are short, about of a length, not exactly so in syllables, but alike in rhythm and number of accented syllables. No doubt more exact rules about their metre are discoverable and known to Icelanders, but for the English reader the above description will suffice. The lines to not rhyme, or very seldom do so, and (I believe) rhyme in these detached stanzas is looked on as a mark of a later date than the tenth century. The place of rhyme is taken by alliteration of initials. That is to say, in the second line must be repeated the same initial consonant that has been used twice (or at least once) in the first line, or else a vowel must be so repeated. Anyone familiar with old English or Saxon verses (such as occur in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, e.g., the battle of Brunanburh) will understand the kind of alliteration meant.

       Now, a translator has to choose between keeping this form as far as he may, or changing it into rhyme with strict syllabic metre. As the former method of alliteration with some license as to length of line by unaccented syllables allows of a closer rendering of the original, it has been preferred.

       But there are several puzzles to solve in icelandic verse. There is often a curiously complex order of words, an order that sometimes renders a sentence unconstruable at first sight even to one accustomed to the involutions of Latin and German. Were it not for the consentient authority of Scandinavian interpreters, I could never have imagind words to be meant so out of the order in which they are written. To keep their rules of alliterative sound, the skalds broke those of grammatical sense. The subjoined examples (by no means extreme ones—will give an idea of the Icelandic practice in this kind.

       (1) 'Now hath the lord of earth slain falls the land under the descendent of Ella forward in fight of rule head-stem three princes.'

       Which being interpreted is: 'Now hath the lord of earth, forward in fight, head-stem, slain three princes: the land falls under the rule of the descendant of Ella.'

       (2) 'Let listen pleased to the stream of long-haired friend of altars take heed thane of silence thy people the king's of mine.'

       Interpreted: 'Let the king's thane listen pleased to the stream of my long-haired altar-friend (= to the stream of song from Odin); let the people take heed of silence.'

       The consenting voice of three gives (with hardly a variation in detail) these explanations. Now, these examples in their original order sound much as if Scott had written in the opening of the 'Lady of the Lake':

At eve had drunk where danced his fill

The stag the moon on Monan's rill.'

       This feature of Icelandic verse plainly cannot be kept, nor is it worth keeping. We must presume that somehow the hearers (or most of them) did understand what was sung, but no English hearer or reader could understand his own language so treated. A translator must give up this artificial order. But this peculiarity, besides making the sense hard [xi] to unravel, may also cause additional trouble to the translator, who has to make new alliterations in place of old ones, that were perhaps ready to hand, but have disappeared by the rearranging of the words into something intelligible.

       But the most curious characteristic of Icelandic poetry and the most difficult to deal with is the 'kenning,' as it is called. It means 'a mark of recognition'; kennings are descriptive names or periphrases. Such phraseology we find, to some extent, in all ancient poetry, but it is most artificial in the Northern poets. It seems a principle with them seldom to call a thing or person by its plain name, but to use a periphrasis. These kennings are of very different kinds. Sometimes they are really poetical descriptions, figurative, but easily understood and appreciated, and apposite to the passage in which they occur. For instance, anyone can understand a sword in action being called a 'wound-snake' or 'wound-wolf,' arrows flying from the bowstring 'wound-bees,' a shield a 'rimmed moon,' a ship 'sea-swan,' sea-horse 'sea-king's steed.' 'Willow-render' (tree-render) for wind recalls the silvifraga flabra of Lucretius. But some kennings are extraordinary, especially when compound, as they often are. 'Dale-fish,' for example, is a curious roundabout for 'serpent'; then built upon this we find 'dale-fish mercy,' for the season that cheers or enlivens the serpent, i.e., 'summer.' We know that 'it is the bright day that brings forth the adder,' but very cumbrous is this kenning used in a verse of the Egla simply to mark the time of an exploit. Numerous are the kennings for 'gold,' 'man,' 'woman,' nor are these (as far as one can see) used with any reference to the fitness of each for the occasion.

       Again, some of the kennings seem meant to be rather humorous than what we should call poetical, as when the head is 'hat-knoll,' 'hat-stall'; the eyes 'brow-pits'; the tongue 'song-pounder.' And certainly some were purposely enigmatical, meant to tax the ingenuity of the hearer to solve. Names of persons are hidden. Egil is supposed once to do this with the name of a woman; it is hidden so carefully that his friend Arinbjorn cannot discover it, nor have commentators satisfactorily found it yet. On another occasion Egil describes Arinbjorn by a kind of pun [xii] as 'the bear' (bjorn) of the birchwood's terror (of arin, 'the hearth,' on which birchwood is burnt).

       This fondness for wrapping up wisdom in riddles we see in Eastern nations. Solomon (Prov. i.6) puts it as a desirable learning 'to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their dark sayings' (marg. 'riddles'); the LXX. has parabol»n ca…scoteiuÒu lÒgou r»seij tj sofèn ca… a…u…gata. There are phrases like Icelandic kennings in Solomon; e.g., in Eccles. Ix. 3, 4, 'the keepers of the house, the strong men, the grinders, those that look out of the window,' are of this kind, as also perhaps some of those expressions that follow. And riddles of the older type are so. Take, for example, Samson's riddle, 'Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.' What is this but describing what had happened with the kennings, 'eater' and 'strong' for lion, 'meat' and 'sweetness' for honey?

       In some respects the use of certain epithets in ancient Greek poetry is like the use of kennings. We find in Homer stock epithets, names, titles, repeatedly occurring where they do not specially fit the passage. Men are 'articulating, enterprising' (mšropej, £lfhstai); the earth is 'black, all-feeding, rye-giving' (mšlainam poulubÒteiram, xeidwroj); the sea is 'divine, fishful' (dia, …cquÒessa); kings and chiefs 'Jove's nurslings, blameless' (diotrefš ej, £mÚmonej), etc., without regard to the special circumstances. But in Greek with the epithet the noun is mostly expressed; whereas in Icelandic it has to be guessed.

       Very many kennings are based on mythology. This is not only true of the names of the gods, but also of other persons and things; they are frequently described by periphrases which can only be explained from the Edda, and are therefore meaningless to those who are not well versed in the details of that same.

              And now it will be seen that these various kennings present a double difficulty, first to understand, then to deal with in translation. Suppose them understood, still how shall they be rendered? When they are poetical figures appropriate to the passage they are fairly manageable, sometimes without change, sometimes by simile, sometimes as [xii] epithet, adding the noun. But where they do not fit the matter at hand, they are, if closely rendered, barely intelligible; to our notions they are unpoetical; they will often spoil the spirit and meaning of the whole verse to an English reader by calling off his attention to a puzzle. The substance of the entire passage will be lost by too much particularity. They are cumbrous, there is no room in the text to make them really clear, and to be continually putting down obscurities and claiming space elsewhere in notes to explain them seems undesirable. Therefore I elected to give up many of the far-fetched kennings, putting the answer instead of the riddle where the riddle seemed hardly worth keeping. For one thing seemed most important in translating these staves, to make each stave fairly plain to be understood by English readers as it was presumably by Icelandic hearers. That my renderings will satisfy all I do not suppose, either all learned Northern critics or all English readers. Many of the original staves cannot be made to satisfy modern taste, and, indeed, they are of very unequal merit. Some of Egil's verses are of great force and spirit; he had a true poetic vein, and depends less on artificialities than some of the Icelandic verse-writers; but the merit and attractiveness of the Saga does not rest on these detached verses. Were they omitted most readers would not miss much. But to omit them I could not venture, so I have dealt with them as best I might.

       Besides these scattered stanzas the Egla contains Egil's three great poems. Jónsson, indeed, banishes these to an appendix. But there seems no doubt that they are genuine compositions of Egil, though perhaps not included in the Saga in its earliest form. It appeared, therefore, better to keep them in the place to which they have now by use a prescriptive right. I shall say no more of them here than that they are each remarkable in their way; 'Sonatorrek,' for depth of feeling and poetry, I should rank first; it is unlike the generality of Icelandic poems.

       And now pass we to the actual matter and outline of the story, which naturally falls into three divisions.

       I. The history of Kveldulf's family, especially of Thorolf, in Norway.

       II. The settlement of Skallagrim in Iceland, the birth of Thorolf the younger, then of Egil, whose adventures (all out of Iceland) are told up to his final return when fifty years old.

       III. Egil's later uneventful years in Iceland, his old age and death, and a brief notice of his descendants. The outline of the story is this:

       Kveldulf, a rich yeoman, marrying rather late in life, has two sons. The younger son, Skallagrim, stays at home with his father. Thorolf the elder goes freebooting. While these two are young men, Harold Fairhair is winning to himself the sole rule of Norway and putting down the petty kings. Kveldulf refuses to leave home and help in fight against Harold, yet will he not upon Harold's success take service under him. Thorolf, however, against his father's warning, does so, and wins favour and rank at court. Upon the death of his friend Bard he inherits his wealth and widow. Then two half-brothers of Bard's father claim part of the property. Being denied allshare, they slander Thorolf to the king. Harold is by degrees brought to believe their charges; he deprives Thorolf of his honours and his inheritance fom Bard, then seizes Thorolf's own ship and cargo. Whereupon Thorolf seizes Thorolf's own property. Then king Harold goes against him with a large force, burns his house, and in a desperate fight slays him.

       After awhile Harold is willing to make some amends; but Kveldulf and Skallagrim refuse all overtures of reconciliation. They take what vengeance they can on some concerned in Thorolf's death, and resolve to seek Iceland. Kveldulf dies on the way, but his coffin is cast upon Iceland's near shore, and found by the rest soon after their landing. Near this spot on the Borgar Firth Skallagrim settles. He and his company thrive. Two sons are born to him: Thorolf, and about ten years later Egil. Thorolf grows to be like his namesake and uncle; he soon takes to roving; visits Norway, where at the house of Thorir, his father's friend, he meets a son of Harold Fairhair, Eric, then but a boy. They strike up a friendship, which continues when Eric Bloodaxe becomes king; and Thorolf is much with Ericand queen Gunnhilda. After some years he returns to Iceland.

       Meanwhile Egil has been growing up. As a child he shows no common wit and strength, but is wilful, unmanageable, agrees ill with his father, breaks out in acts of violence. He goes out with Thorolf on his next voyage to Norway; he and Arinbjorn, Thorir's son, become friends. But Egil soon provokes the wrath of Eric and Gunnhilda; Gunnhilda attempts his life; Egil retaliates, and the brothers have to quit Norway. They seek England, serve under king Athelstan, win for him a battle in Northumberland, in which Thorold falls. Egil, though promised great honours with Athelstan, goes to Norway to see after Thorolf's widow; after awhile he marries her and returns to Iceland. On tidings of his wife's father's death he goes to Norway to claim her inheritance, which is unjustly and violently kept from him. Egil narrowly escapes from Eric's ships, slays the man who holds the property, also slays a son of Eric, and after solemnly cursing the king and queen returns to Iceland. He finds his father ageing much; soon Skallagrim dies. And now Hacon, Eric's brother, foster-son of king Athelstan, is recalled to Norway as king, and Eric Bloodaxe is forced to flee. He with Arinbjorn goes to Scotland, then to Northumberland, of which he is made governor for Athelstan. Egil, resolving to revisit Athelstan in England, is wrecked at Humbermouth, within Eric's dominion. At once he rides to York, seeks ou Arinbjorn, and they two go before Eric. Gunnhilda urges that Egil be put to death; but for Arinbjorn's sake, after recital of his poem, he is spared. Going on to Athelstan, he is well received, and urged to stay; but first he will go to Norway after his wife's property. From Hacon he wins a hearing, brings a suit against Earl Atli, the holder of the property: the matter is referred to wager of battle; Atli is slain, whereupon Egil returns to Iceland; he is there twelve years: sons and daughters are born to him. Athelstan dies soon after Egil's return to Iceland; some years later Eric is killed in battle. Arinbjorn is again in Norway; so Egil goes thither, is with him; they go harrying in Saxland and Friesland, after which Arinbjorn joins Eric's sons in Denmark; Egil returns to Thorstein, Arinbjorn's nephew, and he takes Thorstein's place in a winter expedition to [xvi] Vermaland to gather the king's tribute. From the perils of this he escapes; then in spring sails out to Iceland, where he lives without further adventure.

       His daughters get husbands: of his sons, Gunnar dies young of sickness; Bodvar is drowned, aged about sixteen, on which loss Egil composes a poem; and later one on Arinbjorn. Upon the death of Asgerdr, his wife, he leaves Borg, and returns to live at Mossfell with Grim and Thordisa his niece and step-daughter. Thorstein, Egil's youngest son, has a lawsuit with an encroaching neighbour; the decision of this, referred to Egil, is about his last public act. But he lives on to be very old and blind, and dies of sickness.

       Grim and Thorstein afterwards become Christians. Many famous men sprang from Skallagrim and Egil. Bones believed to be Egil's were found about a hundred and sixty years after his death, and removed to the churchyard at Mossfell.

       Through the whole Saga, as a connecting thread, runs the family feud between the house of Kveldulf and the house of Harold. Old Kveldulf's prophecy that Harold will work scathe on his kin comes true by Thorolf's death. Vengeance for him is taken, and the feud sleeps awhile; nay, against his father Harold's warning, Eric accepts the younger Thorolf as a friend. But Egil, going to Norway, by his headstrong deeds reawakens the quarrel, being perhaps nothing loth to do so, and following Skallagrim's mood, who had scorned king Eric's gift sent by the hand of Thorolf. The enmity is bitter between Egil and Eric stirred by Gunnhilda; Egil however wins through all perils, and, even as Harold Fairhair, chief of the feud on the other side, had done, at last dies in his bed full of years.

Chronological Table Of The Chief Events In The Saga Or Connected With It.

A.D. 850. Birth of Harold Fairhair. "       860. Harold Fairhair comes to the throne. "       870. He becomes sole king of Norway. "       870 (circa). Thorolf, being about twenty-four

years old, goes to Harold.  "      872. Battle of Hafrsfirth. "      877. Death of Thorolf. "       878. Skallagrim emigrates to Iceland. "       886 (circa). Thorolf Skallagrimson born. "       898-901 (circa). Egil born. "       898-902. Bjorn's abduction of Thora, marriage,

visit to Iceland. "       903. Feast at Yngvar's. Thorolf and Bjorn go to

Norway. "       904-14. Thorof's freebootings. Among these is

put Eric's expedition to Bjarmaland, but this

probably was in 918. "       906. Bjorn's second marriage. "       906-15. Egil's childhood and boyhood in Iceland. "       914. Thorolf returns to Iceland.

915. Thorolf goes to Norway with Egil; twelve

years pass before Egil returns. "       916-23. Freebootings of Thorolf and Egil. "       923. Thorolf marries Asgerdr. Slaying of Bard. "       924. Fight with Eyvind Skreyja. Thorolf and Egil

go to England. "       925. Battle of Vinheath, where Thorolf falls. "       926. Egil goes to Norway. Marries Asgerdr next

winter. "       927. Returns to Iceland; is there several years,

during which probably his oldest daughter is

born. "       933. He goes to Norway. Harold Fairhair dies.

Egil has a suit with Bergonund; returns to

Iceland. Skallagrim dies this winter. "       935. Hacon now king in Norway. Eric is in

Northumberland. Egil wrecked there.

Höfudlausn. Egil with Athelstan. "       937. He goes to Norway; fights with Atli; returns

to Iceland. "       938-50. Egil is in Iceland. He has five children in

all. "       940. Death of king Athelstan. "       950 (circa). Eric falls in battle. Arinbjorn is back

in Norway; Egil goes to him.

 "      951. They harry eastwards; Arinbjorn then joins  Eric's sons. Egil next winter goes to Vermaland.

 "       952-60. Marriages of Egil's step-daughter and

daughters. "       960. Bodvar's drowning. Sona-torrek. "       961. Hacon's death. "       962. Epic poem on Arinbjorn. "       967 (circa). Thorstein's marriage. "       973 (circa). Asgerdr dies. Egil retires to Mossfell.

Thorstein lives at Borg. "       975-8. Dispute between Thorstein and Steinar.

CHAPTER I Of Kveldulf And His Sons

        There was a man named Ulf, son of Bjalf, and Hallbera, daughter of Ulf the fearless; she was sister of Hallbjorn Half-giant in Hrafnista, and he the father of Kettle Hæing. Ulf was a man so tall and strong that none could match him, and in his youth he roved the seas as a freebooter. In fellowship with him was one Kari of Berdla, a man of renown for strength and daring; he was a Berserk. Ulf and he had one common purse, and were the dearest friends.

        But when they gave up freebooting, Kari went to his estate at Berdla, being a man of great wealth. Three children had Kari, one son named Eyvind Lambi, another Aulvir Hnuf, and a daughter Salbjorg, who was a most beautiful woman of a noble spirit. Her did Ulf take to wife, and then he too went to his estates. Wealthy he was both in lands and chattels; he took baron's rank as his forefathers had done, and became a great man. It was told of Ulf that he was a great householder; it was his wont to rise up early, and then go round among his labourers or where his smiths were, and to overlook his stalk and fields, and at times he would talk with such as needed his counsel, and good counsel he could give in all things, for he was very wise. But everyday as evening drew on he became sullen, so that few could come to speak with him. He was an evening sleeper, and it was commonly said that he was very shape strong. He was called Kveldulf.

        Kveldulf and his wife had two sons, the elder was named Thorolf, the younger Grim; these, when they grew up, were both tall men and strong, as was their father. But Thorolf was most comely as well as doughty, favoring his mother's kin; very cheery was he, liberal, impetuous in everything, a good trader, winning the hearts of all men. Grim was swarthy, ill-favoured, like his father both in face and mind; he became a good man of business; skilful was he in wood and iron, an excellent smith. In the winter he often went to the herring fishing, and with him many house-carles.

        But when Thorolf was twenty years old, then he made him ready to go a harrying. Kveldulf gave him a long-ship, and Kari of Berdla's sons, Eyvind and Aulvir, resolved to go on that voyage, taking a large force and another long-ship; and they roved the seas in the summer, and got them wealth, and had a large booty to divide. For several summers they were out roving, but stayed at home in winter with their fathers. Thorolf brought home many costly things, and took them to his father and mother; thus they were well-to-do both for possessions and honour. Kveldulf was now well stricken in years, and his sons were grown men.

Chapter II Of Aulvir Hnuf

        Audbjorn was then king over the Firthfolk; there was an earl of his named Hroald, whose son was Thorir. Atli the Slim was then an earl, he dwelt at Gaula; he had sons—Hallstein, Holmstein, and Herstein; and a daughter, Solveig the Fair. It happened one autumn that much people were gathered at Gaula for a sacrificial feast, then saw Aulvir Hnuf Solveig and courted her; he afterwards asked her to wife. But the earl thought him an unequal match and would not give her. Whereupon Aulvir composed many love-songs, and thought so much of Solveig that he left freebooting, but Thorolf and Eyvind Lambi kept it on.

Chapter III The Beginning Of The Rule Of Harold Fairhair.

Harold, son of Halfdan Swarthy, was heir after his father. He had bound himself by this vow, not to let his hair be cut or combed till he were sole king over Norway, wherefore he was called Harold Shockhead. So first he warred with the kings nearest to him and conquered them, as is told at length elsewhere. Then he got possession of Upland; thence he went northwards to Throndheim, and had many battles there before he became absolute over all the Thronds. After that he purposed to go north to Naumdale to attack the brothers Herlaug and Hrollaug, kings of Naumdale. But when these brothers heard of his coming, Herlaug with twelve men entered the sepulchral mound which they had caused to be made (they were three winters at the making), and the mound then was closed after them. But king Hrollaug sank from royalty to earldom, giving up his kingdom and becoming a vassal of Harold. So Harold gained the Naumdalesmen and Halogaland, and he set rulers over his realm there. Then went he southwards with a fleet to Mæra and Raumsdale. But Solvi Bandy-legs, Hunthiof's son, escaped thence, and going to king Arnvid, in South Mæra, he asked help, with these words:

        'Though this danger now touches us, before long the same will come to you; for Harold, as I ween, will hasten hither when he has enthralled and oppressed after his will all in North Mæra and Raumsdale. Then will the same need be upon you as was upon us, to guard your wealth and liberty, and to try everyone from whom you may hope for aid. And I now offer myself with my forces against this tyranny and wrong. But, if you make the other choice, you must do as the Naumdalesmen have done, and go of your own will into slavery, and become Harold's thralls. My father though it victory to die a king with honour rather than become in his old age another king's subject. Thou, as I judge, wilt think the same, and so will others who have any high spirit and claim to be men of valour.'

        By such persuasion king Arnvid was determined to gather his forces and defend his land. He and Solvi made a league, and sent messengers to Audbjorn, king of the Firthfolk, that he should come and help them. Audbjorn, after counsel taken with friends, consented, and bade cut the war-arrow and send the war-summons throughout his realm, with word to his nobles that they should join him.

        But when the king's messengers came to Kveldulf and told him their errand, and that the king would have Kveldulf come to him with all his house-carles, then answered he:

        'It is my duty to the king to take the field with him if he have to defend his own land, and there be harrying against the Firthfolk; but this I deem clean beyond my duty, to go north to Mæra and defend their land. Briefly ye may say when ye meet your king that Kveldulf will sit at home during this rush to war, nor will he gather forces nor leave his home to fight with Harold Shockhead. For I think that he has a whole load of good-fortune where our king has not a handful.'

        The messengers went back to the king, and told him how their errand had sped; but Kveldulf sat at home on his estates.

CHAPTER IV Battle of king Harold and Audbjorn

        King Audbjorn went with his forces northwards to Mæra; there he joined king Arnvid and Solvi Bandy-legs, and altogether they had a large host. King Harold also had come from the north with his forces, and the armies met inside Solskel. There was fought a great battle, with much slaughter in either host. Of the Mærian forces fell the kings Arnvid and Audbjorn, but Solvi escaped, and afterwards became a great sea-rover, and wrought much scathe on Harold's kingdom, and was nicknamed Bandy-legs. On Harold's side fell two earls, Asgaut and Asbjorn, and two sons of earl Hacon, Grjotgard and Herlaug, and many other great men. After this Harold subdued South Mæra. Vemund Audbjorn's brother still retained the Firthfolk, being made king. It was now autumn, and king Harold was advised not to go south in autumn-tide. So he set earl Rognvald over North and South Mæra and Raumsdale, and kept a numerous force about himself.

        That same autumn the sons of Atli set on Aulvir Hnuf at his home, and would fain have slain him. They had such a force that Aulvir could not withstand them, but fled for his life. Going northwards to Mæra, he there found Harold, and submitted to him, and went north with the king to Throndheim, and he became most friendly with him, and remained with him for a long time thereafter, and was made a skald.

        In the winter following earl Rognvald went the inner way by the Eid-sea southwards to the Firths. Having news by spies of the movements of king Vemund, he came by night to Naust-dale, where Vemund was at a banquet, and, surrounding the house, burnt within it the king and ninety men. After that Karl of Berdla came to earl Rognvald with a long-ship fully manned, and they two went north to Mæra. Rognvald took the ships that had belonged to Vemund and all the chattels he could get. Kari of Berdla then went north to king Harold at Throndheim, and became his man.