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Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #33

The present volume of the Saga Library contains two important sagas -- the "Eyrbyggja saga", which we call the Ere-dwellers' story, and the "Heitharviga saga", the Story of the Heath-slayings; the former a complete, the latter a fragmentary record of the events to which they refer. (1)

THE ERE-DWELLERS' STORY is in character a mixture of a saga, or dramatically told tale, and a chronicle record of events outside its aim and purpose. It differs from all other Icelandic sagas in having for a central hero a man of peace, yet at the same time revengeful and ruthless when he sees his opportunity, always cool and collected, dissimulating, astute, scheming, and unmistakably hinted at as one devoid of courage. Snorri the Priest figures throughout the story up to the death of the nobly chivalrous Arnkel, when we except his clever outwitting of his cowardly uncle and stepfather, Bork the Thick, as distinctly a second-rate chief, above whom Arnkel towers to such an extent that all the interest of the narrative centres in him. Even when Arnkel is removed in a most ungallant fashion, Steinthor of Ere bids fair to eclipse Snorri altogether; and it is first when peace is made after the fights in Swanfirth and Swordfirth, a peace to which Steinthor held loyally ever afterwards, being a man of wisdom and moderation, that Snorri becomes the real central figure of the saga, and remains so to the end. Yet this prestige he owed entirely to the alliance of his turbulent and, at times, highly disrespectful foster-brothers, the sons of Thorbrand of Swanfirth, who, on the ground of his want of courage and directness, goaded him first unto the slaying of Arnkel, and again into the second brunt of the battle of Swanfirth.

The interest of the narrative centering thus rather in groups of actors than in single persons, when we except Arnkel and Biorn the Broadwickers' Champion, who both drop out of the story long before it comes to an end, the author himself has looked upon it as a "historia tripartita", in calling it at the end, the Story of the Thorsnessings, the Ere-dwellers, and the Swanfirthers, under which names we find it variously referred to in Icelandic writings of olden times. Curiously enough, the popular mind has preferred to connect it exclusively with the family which takes the least prominent part in it; hence "Eyrbyggja saga", or Ere- dwellers' story, is the title given to it in all the MSS. which contain it.

Between our saga and the "Landnamabok" there is a close connection. The genealogies agree absolutely in both records, so far as they go in our saga; and in this respect the "Landnama" is unquestionably the source. The author of our story himself even hints as much. In chap. VII, mentioning that Thorolf Mostbeard married in old age a woman called Unn, he goes out of his way to state that Ari the Learned does not, as others do, mention her among the children of Thorstein the Red; and this is just what the "Landnama" does not do.

In the biographical notices which in both works are attached to the names of the first settlers and their immediate descendants, a distinct unity of tradition is clearly traceable, yet the discrepancies are such as scarcely to warrant the supposition that our saga drew, except to a slight amount, its information from "Landnama", while, on the other hand, the "Landnama" has, at least in one instance, drawn for information on the Ere-dwellers' story.

It should be borne in mind that the "Landnama", as we now have it, is the work of no less than five authors. Originally it was written by two contemporaries, Ari and Kolskegg, each popularly named "hinn frothi", the learned, the latter writing the history of the land-takes for the quarter of the Eastfirths, the former doing all the rest. This joint work was again edited, with some additions no doubt, by Styrmir hinn frothi, prior of Vithey, ob. 1245, and later by Sturla Thordson, ob. 1284, the author of "Islendingasaga", the great history of the Sturlung period, and other works. These two editions of the original work, independent of each other, Hawk "the justiciary", son of Erlend, ob. 1334, amalgamated into one book in such manner that whatever was stated more fully in either copy he embodied in his own, adding apparently nothing beyond bringing his own genealogy down to date. How far the two thirteenth century editors respectively added to and interpolated the original work, beyond augmenting it with their own genealogies down to their lifetime, is now difficult to decide in many cases; in some the interpolations are easily traced.

Naturally it is mostly in the first twelve chapters of our saga that the affinity with "Landnama" shows itself, they being concerned with the first settlers and their immediate descendants that come into our story. The chief discrepancies between the two records on these people may be briefly noticed. Concerning the westernmost of these families, the Ere-dwellers, our saga only knows that Vestar Thorolfson brought his old father with him to Iceland, settled land east, or, as other recensions of it, probably more correctly, have it, west of Whalefirth, dwelt at Ere, and had a son, Asgeir, who dwelt there after him (ch. VII). But the "Landnama", ii. 9, knows that Vestar also had for wife Svana, daughter of Herrod, that he settled the lands of Ere and those of Kirkfirth, (2) and that he and his father were laid in howe at Pateness, so called, no doubt, after Vestar's father, whose name was Thorolf Bladderpate. Here our saga would seem to be an abbreviated record of "Landnama", which, at any rate in this case, has not drawn its information from the Ere-dwellers' story.

The nearest settler to Vestar on the east was Audun Stoti, who took to himself the lands of Lavafirth, and about whom "Landnama" has interesting things to relate. But in our story he is only mentioned in passing as the father-in-law to Thorlak Asgeirson of Ere (ch. XII), the reason being, no doubt, that he plays no part in any of the events related in the saga.

In what our saga has to tell of Biorn the Easterner, the nearest eastern neighbour to Audun Stoti, it seems to be an independent record of "Landnama" altogether, and even partly. in conflict with it. Our saga makes Biorn remain with his father-in-law, Earl Kiallak of Jamtaland, till his death, and then go to Norway to take to himself his father's lands. By that time enmity had arisen between Hairfair and Flatneb, and the former had confiscated the latter's estates. Biorn drives the king's bailiffs away, and the latter has him declared outlaw throughout Norway under observance of lawful proceedings. But the "Landnama", though agreeing here as everywhere else with our saga as to the genealogy, makes Biorn overtake his father's lands, when the latter took command of the expedition against the Western Isles, and makes Hairfair, on hearing of Flatneb's defection, drive Biorn out of his patrimony. Both records seem independently derived from one common tradition. Biorn's nearest neighbour to the east was Thorolf Mostbeard. In the account of his emigration to Iceland our saga gives us fuller information than the "Landnama", which, for instance, knows nothing of Thorolf's consulting the oracle of Thor as to the advisability of either making peace with the king or leaving the land; nor does the "Landnama" give any description of his preparation for the journey, which is so graphically detailed in our saga (ch. IV). Much, on the other hand, of what the "Landnama" (ii. 12, p. 96-99) has to say about Thorolf and his son, Thorstein Codbiter, seems to be an abbreviated record of our saga (chs. ix., x.), and is clearly interpolated, since the story of the fight between Thorstein Codbiter and the Kiallekings is inserted into the story of Thorolf before Thorstein is even properly introduced as his son. This insertion is due to the later editors of "Landnama", of course.

By our saga it would seem that Thorolf Haltfoot came out to Iceland for the first time when he took up his abode with his mother, and fought the duel with Ulfar the Champion, but the "Landnama" states that he came first out with his mother, and together with her stayed the first winter at the house of his uncle, Geirrod of Ere, and the next spring went abroad again, and betook himself to viking business, from which he did not return till after the death of his mother (chap. ii, 13); this record also (chap. ii, 12) knows that Thorgeir, the son of Geirrod, was by-named Staple, Kengr, of which our saga, though mentioning Thorgeir as an ally of Codbiter in the Thing-fight, knows nothing.

On the other hand, it seems obvious that "Landnama"'s digression (ii 13, p. 101)with regard to the squabble between Arnbiorn of Combe and Thorleif Kimbi in Norway, with its sequel at the Thorsness Thing in Iceland, out of which eventually grew the fights at Swanfirth and Swordfirth, is an incorporation from our saga.

It will thus be seen that, while our saga depends on Ari entirely for its genealogy and chronology (see the chronological list at the end of the Preface), the biography of both records is derived either from a common tradition, or is one of interdependence between both.

As to the time, when our saga was written, two learned critics, Vigfusson, in the preface to his edition of it, 1864, pp. xii, xiii, and Konrad Maurer, "Germania", x. 487, 488, have limited the period within which it could have been penned to the thirty years between 1230-1260 (or 1262), chiefly on the following grounds. At the end of the story Gudny, Bodvar's daughter, the mother of the famous Sturlusons, is introduced as having witnessed the digging-up and transference to a new church of the bones of Snorri. Gudny died in 1221, and though it is not stated that she was dead, when the sagaman writes, we still gather the impression that it is tacitly given to be understood. Before the death of this lady, therefore, the saga could not have been written. On the other hand, we read in ch. IV, "To that temple must all men pay toll and be bound to follow the temple-priest in all farings, even as now are Thingmen of chiefs;" and further, in ch. X, "Then they moved the Thing up the ness (inn i nesit) where it now is." Further still, after the settlement of the blood-suit for Arnkel, which gave general dissatisfaction, the plaintiffs being only women, we are informed that, "The rulers of the land made this law, that for the time to come no woman and no man under sixteen winters old should be suitors in a blood-suit. And that law has ever been holden to since" (ch. XXXVIII).

These quotations prove really conclusively that in the author's time, and when he wrote down the saga, the old constitution of the commonwealth was still in full force: Thingmen owing the old allegiance to their gothi, or chief; Things being still under the jurisdiction of the gothar, and women being still excluded from being suitors in a bloodsuit, a restriction of woman's right unknown, as Maurer concisely puts it, to Norwegian law, and having no place in the two codes Jarnsitha and Jonsbok, the first codes introduced in Iceland after the subjection of the island to the Norwegian king. Hence it follows that our saga could not have been written down after the downfall of the constitution of the old commonwealth, 1262.

But we are of opinion that the limitation of the period within which our saga was written may be greatly narrowed yet.

Hitherto the critics have left untouched the question where our saga was written; but for the answer to that question it contains itself an important piece of evidence. First, it may be observed that the topography of our saga is so absolutely perfect, that the author in no single instance is ever at fault. Considering that the localities of the saga are to outsiders about the most intricate of all localities dealt with in Icelandic-sagas, on account of the many narrow and close-set arms of the sea that stretch into the littoral, it is obvious that an author who never fails in giving each its true bearing must have lived and moved in the locality itself.

In ch. VIII, p. 9, 20-22, of Vigfusson's edition, the latest and best, we read -- "Arnkell het son hans, en Gunnfrithr dottir, er atti thorbeinir a thorbeinisstothum INN a Vatnshalsi inn fra Drapuhlith": his son was called Arnkel, but his daughter Gunnfrid, whom Thorbein of Thorbeinstead up on Waterneck east from Drapalithe had to wife (ch. VIII, of our trans.). Here it is obvious that the first "inn" gives the direction to Thorbeinstead from the place where the author was at the time he penned these words, just as the second "inn" gives the direction in which Thorbeinstead lies from Drapalithe.

Observe, that in this passage no event or movement from one named place to another named place is in question; but the case is one of stationary condition at both termini of the direction line, of which the terminus "a quo" is not named, and this is just what makes all the difference here. The first "inn" is not wanted for any topographical purpose; without it the statement would be just as clear and intelligible as it is with it; it only serves to throw light upon the bearing of the writer's home to Thorbeinstead, and has dropped from his pen unawares from the force of daily habit, and being an unconscious utterance becomes thereby all the more important in evidence.

Used for topographical purposes "inn" in our saga means: 1, east, if the direction be from west to east; 2, south, or up, when the starting-point of the direction is near the sea, and the objectpoint lies in a landward spot "on" or "east of" the meridian of the starting-point. When, therefore, the author penned the words in question, he unconsciously designated his spot as being either west or north of Thorbeinstead. We can think of no place west of Thorbeinstead likely to have been an "alma mater" of a saga writer; but north of it such a place is found at once in the monastery of Holyfell. (3) That we maintain is the very place to which the author of the Ere-dwellers' story points by his unconscious but fortunate slip.

The author of our story then, being an inmate of the monastery of Holyfell, it is interesting to inquire who among the community of that place in the period from 1221-1260 may be singled out as the likeliest for such a literary enterprise as the composition of a saga.

Out of the monastery of Flatey, which had been founded by Abbot Ogmund Kalfson, A.D. 1172, arose, on the transference of it over to the continent, the monastery of Holyfell, in 1184. The fourth abbot of the foundation was Hall Gizurson, who ruled the house for five years, 1221-1225, when he left the place, to take over the abbacy of Thickby, Thykkvibaer, in eastern Iceland, where he died 1230. He was the son of Gizur Hallson, who by his contemporaries was regarded as the most accomplished man in Iceland. This is the character given him by his younger contemporary, Sturla Thordson, the historian (1214-1284): "He was both wise and eloquent; he was marshal to King Sigurd, the father of King Sverrir. Of all clerks who ever have been in Iceland, he was the best. Often he went abroad, and was more highly accounted of in Rome than any man of Iceland kin had ever been before him, by reason of his learning and doings. He knew much far and wide about the southern lands, and thereon he wrote the book which is called "Flos theregrinationis" (Sturlunga, ii 206). This Gizur was the grandson of that Teit, son of Bishop Isleif, who set up the school of Hawkdale, which was an outgrowth of the cathedral school of Skalaholt that his father had organized. Gizur seems in his time to have been the most influential man in Iceland, and was Logsogumathr, 1181-1200. His three sons were: Magnus, Bishop of Skalaholt, 1216-1236; Thorvald, the founder and first ruler of the monastery of Vithey, 1226-1235; and Hall, the Holyfell abbot. Hall must have received at the school of Hawkdale or Skalaholt the best education that was to be obtained in the land at that time. And it is clear that he must have enjoyed high esteem among his countrymen, since, when his father resigned the Speakership-at-law in 12OO, Hall was elected his successor. He, however, resigned the office after nine years' tenure, and became a monk, which shows that studious life was more to his taste than the turmoil of public affairs. Among the congregation of Holyfell during the period within which the composition of "Eyrbyggja saga" must fall, there is, so far as we know, none to be named at all beside Hall as in the least likely to have undertaken the task. And since, on the author's own showing, the saga must have been composed at Holyfell, it is but an obvious inference that it must owe its existence to the only man who can be supposed to have written it. In point of time there are no obstacles at all in the way of the saga's having been written during the period of Hall's abbotship. Thus we consider that a strong case is established in favour of Abbot Hall Gizurson being indeed the author of "Eyrbyggja saga". Assuming such to be the case, we can regard Hall as a transplanter of the Skalaholt-Hawkdale school of learning to Holyfell, and thus Vigfusson's talk about the saga school of the Broadfirthers, which was somewhat distrustfully dealt with by Maurer twenty-seven years ago, finds a corroboration which Vigfusson himself never dreamt of.

It is abundantly evident, that the author of our saga had access to a library of sagas, which is saying as much as that the Ere-dwellers' story was put to writing in a monastery. This library he seems to have examined with the one main view of at least making note of everything which he found bearing on the life of the principal hero, Snorri. This research of his has led exactly to the result that was to be expected. While he seems entirely unacquainted with Snorri's important share in the terrible affairs of Nial and his sons, A.D. 1011-1012, and consequently had no "Nial's saga" to refer to; and was equally ignorant of Snorri's interest in the affairs of Grettir the Strong, hence had no "Grettir's saga" at hand; while, in fact, sagas not specially connected with the Westfirthers' quarter seem to have been beyond his reach; those that bore on men and matters of Broadfirth, and the Westland generally, he had pretty completely at his command. For the fifty years that Broadfirth had boasted of a seat of learning in the monastery of Flatey- Holyfell, when Hall Gizurson became abbot, we may be sure that the history of its highborn chieftains, some of whom were really great and noble men, had, in particular, arrested the attention of the brotherhood. And it may fairly be assumed that such a work as Brand the Learned's Breithfirthinga kynsloth (Broadfirthers' race) early found its way into the library of the monastery. Out of the sagas our author drew upon for information, he only mentions two by their titles, the saga of the Laxdalemen ("Laxdaela saga"), with the events of which Snorri was so intimately connected, and the saga of the Heath-slayings ("Heitharviga saga"), which, by a mistake, as it were (see Introduction to the Story of the Heath-slayings), spun itself out of Snorri's ignoble revenge for the killing of his wrong-doing father-in-law, Stir. It is not on that account, however, that our author brings in a mention of this saga, but he does it for the purpose of exhibiting Snorri's interest in Bardi, whose affairs, after the Heath-slaughters, but for Snorri's intervention, might have taken a very serious turn, not only for Bardi himself and his allies, but even for the general peace of the land.

Of unnamed sagas our author has known undoubtedly that of Thord the Yeller, which is mentioned as a special saga in "Landnama" (ii. 16); this is to be inferred, not only from the part that Thord takes in the affairs between the Thorsnessings and the Kiallekings, but especially from the reference (p. 18) the author makes to the constitutional law which Yeller carried through A.D. 965 (see vol. i, p. xxxi foll.), full thirty years later than the religious fight at Thorsness Thing took place. This, of all sagas, was the one that might be supposed to have early formed an item of the library of the monastery of Holyfell.

The disjointed notices in chaps. XII and XIII about the slaying of Snorri's father, Thorgrim, by Gisli Surson; the marriage of Thordis, Snorri's mother, to Bork the Thick, and her attempt on the life of Eyolf the Gray, her brother's slayer, are clearly culled from the saga of Gisli Surson, the author contenting himself with incorporating only as much as directly bore on the life of Snorri. Not knowing Nial's saga, he was ignorant of the fact that Snorri himself, being taunted by Skarphedin for not having avenged his father, confessed that that was commonly thrown in his teeth ("Nial's saga", chap. cxix.); otherwise our author is fond of introducing notices at the expense of Snorri's courage.

In chap. XXIV, we come upon a short account of Eric the Red's voyage of discovery to Greenland. It stands in no connection with the thread of our story, and is inserted here apparently for no other reason than that Snorri is mentioned as agreeing to Stir's request to keep aloof from Eric's enemies and not to meddle in his affairs. The notice is interesting, showing that it is drawn from a saga of Eric the Red which now exists no more. The "Eric's saga" which we now have, knows nothing of Snorri as mixed up in the affairs of Eric the Red, and is, besides, an abstract of a longer saga of the Greenland discoverer, eked out by matter borrowed from the story of Thorfin Karlsefni (see Reeves, "Discovery of Vineland the Good", 1891, which affords excellent opportunity of comparing the two saga texts). (4)

In chap. XLVIII, we meet the abrupt statement that "Thorgils the Eagle was son of Hallstein, the Priest of Hallstein-ness, the thrall-owner," or, more literally, "who owned the thralls." In "Landnama" ii., xxiii., p. 131, mention is made of these thralls, and the additional information supplied that Hallstein had captured them in a war-raid on Scotland, and sent them out to the islands called Svefneyjar in Broadfirth, for the making of salt. About Hallstein there must once have existed a separate saga. Like his father and brother of Thorsness, he was of an intensely deep religious character, and, according to some accounts, sacrificed to Thor even his own son, that the god might deign to send. him high-seat pillars, he himself having come from abroad to Iceland before he had become a householder. His prayer was heard, and Thor sent him a large tree, out of which he not only got his own high-seat pillars, but most houses in the "thwart bays" (those cutting into the northern littoral of Broadfirth) besides. Hallstein was a gothi of the Codfirthers (Thorskfirthinga gothi), and of the Codfirth folk there is still extant a saga, "Thorskfirthinga saga", also called the saga of Gold-Thorir (Gullthorir). But this is not the saga from which the incidents of Hallstein's life, in "Landnama" and in our story, are drawn. The Codfirther's saga, on the contrary, merely alludes to the sacrifice above-mentioned as a story commonly known, and knows nothing about the thralls. "Landnama"'s and our story's reference to Hallstein and his thralls is also only an allusion to what the authors of each record assume as a generally current tale. In the folklore of Iceland of the present day a slight tale is told of these slaves, to the effect that Hallstein came upon them one day sleeping, and hanged them ("Islenzkar thjothsogur, ii, 85). If the tale be a traditional descendant of other days, and not a later imaginative gloss on the statement of our saga or that of the "Landnama", then the original incident must have been of a nature to impress the hearers deeply. However that may be, it seems that our author has known a now lost saga of Hallstein Thorolfson.

Our author has drawn information as to Biorn the Champion of the Broadwickers from a saga about him which no longer exists, save for the fragments preserved in our story. Biorn's sojourn in Jomsburg, where evidently the title of Broadwickers' Champion was conferred on him, and his joining Styrbiorn, the Swedes' champion, in his ill-fated expedition against King Eric the Victorious, is nowhere mentioned, though many historical notices exist relating to Styrbiorn, and a special fragment setting forth the chief events of his life, and a particularly detailed description of the battle of Fyrisfield, where he fell ("Fornmannasogur", v. 245-251)™

We have to deal with a pure romance in the account of Biorn's last voyage from Iceland (chap. XLVII, p. 134), and Gudleif's meeting with him in some unknown land (chap. LXIV). Biorn left Iceland when north-eastern winds prevailed mostly for a whole summer season, that is, till they, never changing (!), had brought Biorn to his destination. Gudleif falls in with the same persistent gales west of Ireland, yet comes in spite of that to Biorn's country. Gudleif knows no name for the country, and apparently never was curious enough to ask about it: he falls in with a chiefly-looking person talking Icelandic, who refuses to tell his name, but is simple enough to question Gudleif mostly about people whom Biorn knew aforetime, and to send gifts to just the two persons he loved best in Iceland, with the naive declaration that they came from him "who was a greater friend of the goodwife of Frodis-water than of the Priest of Holyfell." It is an obvious matter that this was written after Thorfin Karlsefni's saga had made the Icelanders familiar with the geographical position of the North American continent. It may, of course, be derived from the lost saga of Biorn; but it must not be overlooked that chapters LXIII and LXIV of our saga occupy a peculiar position in the book. Our saga is really an unfinished work. For some reason or other it leaves the last eighteen years of Snorri's life a perfect blank. Did Abbot Hall, supposing he was the author, leave it in that state, on being transferred to Thickby? But however that may be, the fact is, that a gap of eighteen years there is at the end of the book between chapters LXII and LXV. This, we take it, struck someone as a drawback and a blemish, and so, not knowing what records to draw upon for further facts relating to Snorri, he dashed in those two chapters to round off the tale, the first dealing with an uncouth popular legend, the second securing for goodman Kiartan of Frodis-water a descent from a real ruler of men, an American gothi, in fact. The language of these chapters, however, appears in no marked manner to differ from the rest of the book, so they must be from a contemporary hand. It must be said in passing, however, that the Gudleif episode is of great beauty, and, together with the weird story of the bull Glossy, relieves the latter part of the saga from the reproach of dulness.

Superstition plays a very conspicuous part in our saga, and the folklore embodied in it bears witness to a very imaginative author. Touching in its serious simplicity is the heathen's belief in the holy purity of the spot which is regarded as the god's special habitation. In this respect the faith of the Thorsnessings is depicted in our saga in perfect harmony with what we know from elsewhere, about the northern heathen's ideal conception of the purity and delicacy of the personified powers of nature. In the edition of "Landnama" by Justice Hawk (iv, 7, p. 258), we read: "This was the beginning of the heathen laws, that men should not go to sea in figure-headed ships, but if they did so, they should remove the figure-head before they came in sight of land, nor should they sail up to the land with gaping heads or yawning snouts, lest the land-sprites should take fright thereat." Thorolf Mostbeard's injunction, "that no man unwashed should turn his eyes to Holyfell," proceeds evidently from the same high conception of the pure holiness of the supernatural powers he believed in.

But beside this charming phase of the heathen's belief, we have also the cruder forms of faith in sorcery, represented by Cunning Gils, Katla, Geirrid, and Thorgrima Witchface, in portents such as those of Frodis-water, in ghosts, such as Thorolf Halt-foot, Thorod Scatcatcher and his crew, Thorgunna, Stir, and the "revenants" of Frodis-water. In the case of Thrand the Strider we have the Christian churchman's idea of the cause to which the "hamremi", or preternatural strength, was due, which, like a fit, would seize the ancient heathen at moments when success or safety depended on desperate efforts. With the heathen this was heredity derived from trolls, with the Christian it was "devilhood" (p. 167). For folklore, a good deal of which seems to be derived from popular songs, the Ere-dwellers' story stands, beside the Grettir's story, pre-eminent among Icelandic sagas. It is evident that the author has been peculiarly fascinated with this kind of literature, realizing how genuinely national it was, and how well it lent itself to treatment by a good story-teller. The whole episode about Thorgunna, chaps. L-LV, forms a saga within a saga between two chapters which are inseparably connected.

As to the heathen cult, our story contains one of the most important records extant in the literature. The description of the Temple of Thor, built by Thorolf, is as graphic as it is significant, and may be regarded as a "locus classicus". There attaches to it the one drawback, that the author has left us in the dark as to the meaning and use of the "regin-naglar", gods' nails, a term which only occurs here, unless the nails that secured the stability of the high-seat pillars were so called. The temple description of our saga is most interestingly supplemented by that of the temple of the "alsherjar-gothi" of Kjalarness, as given in the otherwise romancing "Kialnesinga saga": "Thorgrim" (grandson of Ingolf Ernson, the first settler) "was a great sacrificer. He had a large temple reared in his homefield, one hundred feet long and sixty feet wide, whereunto all men (all his Thingmen) should pay temple-toll. There Thor was held in highest honour. From the inner end thereof there was a building in the shape of a cap. The temple was arrayed with hangings, and had windows all round. There Thor stood in the middle, and on either hand the other gods. In front thereof (i.e., of the row of the idols) was a stall wrought with great cunning, and lined at the top with iron, whereon there should burn a fire that must never go out; that they called a hallowed fire." Here then, in respect of architectural form, we have the interesting detail given, that the building, which corresponds to that additional room, which in the temple of Thorsness was built to the inner end of it, "of that fashion whereof now is the choir of a church," was in the shape of a "cap". The form of the public temple of Keelness cannot be traced now. But at the homestead of Thyrill, some ten miles distant from the spot where the temple of Keelness must have stood, there have been laid bare of late years the ruins of a "blot-hus", house of sacrifice, private temple, which we know from "Hord Grimkelson's saga" ("Islendinga sogur", 1847, ii, pp. 109-10), existed in the latter part of the tenth century, at which even its devout owner, Thorstein Goldnob, was slain in October, 986. This private temple was, though not in size, in shape undoubtedly, modelled on the public temple of Keelness. The excavated ground-plan shows clearly that at one end a semicircular chamber was built, divided from the main building by a party wall. It was, in fact, the apse of the temple, appropriately termed by the Icelanders "hufa"= cap. A nave with a walled-off apse seems to have been the general form of the heathen temples of Iceland.

In its account of the temple rites our saga agrees closely with other existing records. Thus, again, the "Keelnessings' saga" states that on the stall should lie a stout ring made of silver, which the temple-priest should wear on his arm at all man-motes; thereon should all oaths be taken in matters relating to ordeal cases. On that stall, too, there should stand a bowl of copper, a large one, wherein should be poured all the blood which flowed from animals given to Thor, or to men, which blood they called "hlaut", and the bowl "hlautbolli". The "hlaut" should be sprinkled over the folk and beasts; but the wealth which was paid to the temple should be used for the entertainment of men, when sacrificial feasts were held. But those men whom they sacrificed should be hurled into that fen which was outside by the door, which fen they called the pit of sacrifice ("Keelnessings' saga", ch. ii).

A third record relating to the temple rites we have in Hawk the Justice's edition of "Landnama", iv, ch. 7, pp. 258-59: "A ring, weighing two or more (var. lec. twenty) ounces should lie on the stall in every head-temple; that ring each gothi should wear on his arm at all Things prescribed by law, such as he was bound to hold himself, having first reddened it in the blood of a neat which he himself had sacrificed there. Any man who had there to do business as by law provided before the court, should first deliver an oath on that ring, and name to himself two witnesses or more, saying these words: I call witnesses thereunto that I take oath on ring, a lawful oath, so help me Frey and Niord and the Almighty god, as I shall this case plead or defend, or witness bear, or verdicts give, or dooms deliver, according as I know rightest and truest and ratherest lawful, and all lawful deeds out of hand turn such as unto my share fall while I be at this Thing.... There were men chosen to ward the temples even according to their wisdom and righteousness; even they should name judges at the Things, and rule the pleading of cases; hence were they called gothar. Every man should pay toll to temple, even as tithe to churches now."

"Hlaut," n., by its root-vowel, belongs to the gradation series jo (ju, u) -au -u -o, and stands to "hljota", as "skaut", n., offshoot, skirt, to "skjota", "saup", n., sip-meat, to "supa", "staup", n., what of more or less solid nature is turned out of a stoup, to "stupa"; and since "hljota" means to come by by lot, to come in for as a share, "hlaut" seems simply to mean the blood-lot (collectively speaking) which was kept in the bowl to from the sprinkler fall to every worshipper's share. Accordingly, "hlaut-teinn" would mean allotment rod, distributing rod, sprinkler.

The ring figures here, as elsewhere throughout its interesting history, as an emblem of unity -- the unity in one person of two distinct functions: pontifical supremacy in things religious, lordly supremacy in matters of state.


Finally, one word about our treatment of the songs of these sagas. We have dealt with them even more literally than those of the sagas of the first volume. We have endeavoured to allow to the "kenningar" or periphrastic expressions the same force in the translation as they bear in the original; but considering that this method must necessarily carry with it a certain amount of obscurity to a modern reader, we have drawn up a list, under the heading Poetical periphrasis in Index III., "Subject-matter," of all these kenningar in a way we thought would recommend itself best to students and general readers alike. Our translation of the songs of the Ere-dwellers' saga is based on Vigfusson's prose arrangement of the same at the end of his edition of that saga, those of the "Heathslayings' saga" on Jon Thorkelsson's explanation in "Skyringar a visum i nokkurum islenzkum sogum, Reykjavik, 1868."

The chronological list for the Ere-dwellers' story follows in all essential points Vigfusson's table at the end of his edition; for the Heath-slayings' story we have followed his Timatal (excepting the date of the Heath-battle), not because we think it sound, but. because it is the accepted chronology at present, as indeed it was long before he wrote.

Genealogical tables have been added in order to facilitate the perusal of the book.

An abstract of the Ere-dwellers' story, in English, by Walter Scott, was published in "Illustrations of Northern Antiquities", 1813, pp. 475-513, reprinted in P. Blackwell's "Northern Antiquities", 1847, pp. 517-540. -- Of the Lay of the Mewlithers there is found what is meant for a translation into English, in the "Corpus Poeticum", vol. ii, pp. 58-60.

Go to Chapter I

(1)  "Heitharviga Saga" and its prefatory material will be
     released in a separate electronic file as OMACL E-text #34
     -- DBK.

(2)  Vestar's nearest neighbour to the west was Heriolf, son of
     Sigurd Swinehead, and he, according to "Landnama", took land
     between Bulands-head and Kirkjufjorthr, Kirkfirth (ii. 9, p.
     91).  This, according to "Landnama"'s constant method, means
     that Heriolf made his own the western, Vestar the eastern
     littoral of this firth, the natural boundary between their
     landtakes being the river, or one of the rivers, formed by
     the watershed of the valley which stretched inland up from
     the bottom of the bay.  The locality of this bay is much in
     dispute.  The name itself cannot be the original one, for
     both the neighbouring settlers were heathens, coming from
     Norway.  That the description of the landtake of these two
     settlers is due to Ari the Learned seems removed beyond all
     doubt.  He descended from the Broadfirthers, lived the first
     seven years of his life at Holyfell, and spent, in all
     probability, the largest part of it in the Snowfellness
     district.  He must, therefore, have had it on good authority
     that the landtakes of the two settlers met in Kirkfirth. 
     Now the firth meant by "Landnama" seems to be none other
     than the broadest bay on the northern littoral of
     Snowfellness, now called Grundarfjorthr (Groundfirth), the
     name being derived from a homestead at the bottom of it
     called Grund. This name of the bay, however, does not occur
     in the "Landnama", nor in any of the sagas, and yet it is
     old, being found in an index of Icelandic bays dating from
     about 1300, where Kirkjufjorthr and Grundarfjorthr are
     entered as two separate bays (Kalund, ii. 359-72; Sturlunga,
     ii. 474).  On the western side of Grundarfjorthr there are
     localities named from Kirkja, such as Kirkjufell (Kirkfell),
     a name given both to a mountain and a homestead there; and
     it seems but natural that he, who first gave this name to
     the mountain and the homestead, gave also the name
     Kirkjufjorthr to the bay, which Kirkfell mountain bounds by
     the west. Kalund is inclined, on account of the two separate
     entries in the above-mentioned index, to see Kirkjufjorthr
     in one or other of the two small creeks that cut in on
     either side of the peninsula-formed mountain of Kirkjufell,
     but both seem too insignificant for a natural boundary of
     landtakes.  The most natural construction of the "Landnama"
     text is, that Vestar, who took to himself the peninsula
     called Onward-Ere (short: Ere), on the eastern side of
     Grundarfjorthr, let its western boundary be the river that
     runs into the easternmost bight of the bottom of the bay,
     and that Heriolf's landtake began on the western bank of
     that river.  But this assumption involves, first, that the
     original name of Grundarfjorthr was either lost, or was
     indeed Grundarfjorthr until a Christian called it
     Kirkjufjorthr; that the latter name prevailed for a while,
     till it again gave way to the original Grundarfjorthr, and
     that later on people made out of two names for one and the
     same firth two different firths.  That so considerable a bay
     as Grundarfjorthr should not be mentioned or noticed at all
     in "Landnama" is, in the highest degree, improbable.

(3)  To this day the people of the all but sea-locked Thorsness
     invariably use the preposition "inn" to define the direction
     from the ness south or up to the inland localities of the
     parish of Holyfell, Helgafells-sveit, which lie on or east
     of the meridian of the ness: "fara inn ath Drapuhlith, inn f
     sveit, inn ath Ulfarsfelli" = to fare in to, up to
     Drapalithe, in to or up into the parish, up to Ulfarsfell,

(4)  Recent scholarship on the Vinland Sagas, however, has taken
     the opposite view, placing "Greenlanders Saga" in a position
     older (and hence, probably more accurate) than "Erik the
     Red's Saga".  See p 29-35, Introduction to "The Vinland
     Sagas" (trans: Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Poulsson, Penguin
     Classics, 1965). -- DBK.