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Egils Saga describes the travels of a single family around the Scandinavian sprawl as they negotiate relationships with the places and peoples they encounter. It also reflects the concerns of both the time it was written, the mid thirteenth century, and the time it was set, the tenth century.
Kate’s talk begins by giving an overview of the saga, before embarking on an analysis of the text.
The saga’s protagonist, Egil, is born and brought up in Iceland, but makes his name as a warrior-poet in Norway and England, where he interacts with the royal courts to gain notoriety. His situation in Norway is made more difficult by the fact that his father and grandfather had offended King Harald Finehair before they migrated from Norway, but Egil himself maintains this poor relationship across the generations with Harald’s son, Eric Bloodaxe. Conversely, Egil is able to establish a positive relationship with the English King Æthelstan, but his position in England is made precarious by the establishment of Eric’s kingdom in Northumbria.
The saga recalls the ways in which the Icelanders had to manage their relationships abroad in tenth century, when their connection to Norway was still very recent, while also referencing the thirteenth century, when Iceland had been independent for generations, but the threat of Norwegian control was rising. The text shows how the Icelanders wished themselves to be viewed by the rest of Scandinavia and the Scandinavian holdings, as well as articulating contemporary and ongoing concerns about the place of Iceland in Europe. It also depicts Iceland as a place of freedom and ideal heroic behaviour, while acknowledging that the wanderlust of the ideal Icelandic hero can never be satisfied within the bounds of the island.