Great Excitement in Iceland!

Egil Skallagrimsson.jpg
Egill Skallagr��?���­msson, as Depicted in a 17th Century Manuscript

I got an email today from Professor Jesse Byock, probably the world’s leading scholar of Norse culture (and author of the wonderful book Viking Age Iceland), who is undertaking a major archeological project at Mosfellsdale in Iceland. It seems that he and his team may have found the gravesite of the famous Egill SkallagrÃ?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?­msson, one of my favorite figures from Icelandic literature and the central figure in Egil’s Saga. The story is covered in an English-language article in Iceland Review Online and here (1, 2, 3) are three stories from the Icelandic press.

Egil was a remarkable man: a farmer, a pirate, a murderer, a drunkard, a loving husband and father, and a truly great poet. (His life is hardly representative of the average Icelander of his age and was notable for its extraordinary violence.) Here is one of my favorite poems by Egil, as presented in Egil’s Saga:

Alone I fought eight men,
Twice took on eleven,
I carved the wolf’s carrion
And killed them all:
Blows battered the shield,
Blades clashed,
My hard hand
Hurled the steel-flash.

And one of my favorite passages from Egil’s Saga:

Thorolf and Egil were treated to good entertainment by Thorir, but in the spring they started getting a big longship ready. Once it was manned they went plundering that summer in the Baltic, won a great deal of loot and fought a good number of battles. They sailed all the way to Courland and lay there at anchor for two weeks of peaceful trading. Then they started plundering again and made attacks on several places.

The passage tells us something about the evolution of attitudes toward possession and property (meum and tuum, but especially tuum, “thine”). If it was not locked or defended, the Vikings would steal it. If it was well defended, they would trade for it. In the long run, trade has proven better for all.

P.S Another of Egil’s battle poems:

West over water
I wallowed in the slain-stack,
Angry, my Adder struck
Adils in the battle-storm.
Olaf played the steel-game,
The English his enemies;
Hriing sought the raging blades,
No ravens went hungry.

One Response to “Great Excitement in Iceland!”

  1. I remember Byock had an article in Scientific American back in the 90s titled “Egil’s Bones,” arguing that a skull, possibly Egil’s, with a diseased overgrowth of bone might be evidence that the traditional tales of Egil — that he was way ugly and could survive severe bashes to the skull — were not fairy-tale imagination but historical fact.