The Laxdæla saga

By Erik Solbakk 0 comments

The Laxdæla saga

One of the more famous sagas in Nordic history is the Laxdæla saga. It is preserved in numerous manuscripts dating back to the mid-14th century and have been divided by scholars into two groups the Y group, which includes Möðruvallabók, and the Z group, which includes the oldest fragment.

The Laxdæla saga originates in Norway in the late ninth century originating from Ketill Flatnose, the Norse King of the Isles in the 9th century, after their exile from Norway to Iceland to flee the rule of Harald Fairhair. From their blood line comes Ketill's daughter Unnr the Deep Minded, who after the death of her son Thorstein and husband Olaf, decided to journey to Scotland aboard a big ship she helped build. Together with her remaining family and her surviving kinsmen they returned home. Upon her death, she left all her wealth to her youngest grandson Olaf.

The saga also mentions Unnr's great grandson Höskuldr Dala-Kollsson who was married to Jorunn. It was during one of his travels to Norway that he purchased a mute but extremely beautiful slave girl. It was also during that same journey that he meets King Hákon the Good, Norway's king between 934 to 961. As a token of their friendship, he is given wood for housebuilding, a ring and a sword. Despite being married to Jorunn, Höskuldr bears the slave girl a son by the name of Olaf the Peacock. One day, when their son was two years old, Höskuldr discovers that the slave girl was not mute after all and tells her to stop the pretense. It was then that she revealed her name was Melkorka, daughter of King Mýrkjartan of Ireland, and that she has been taken captive at the age of fifteen.

Their son, Olaf the Peacock, grew up to be a very handsome young man and followed in his father's footsteps travelling to purchase wood for housebuilding. It was during his travel to Norway that he pays his respect to King Harald Greycloak and his mother, Gunnhildr. As a token of their friendship, Olaf was given a ship and a crew of 60 men to help him in his travels to Ireland to seek his grandfather. Unfortunately, due to rough weather, Olaf and his men are left standed in an unfavorable area where the locals decided to lay claim to their ship and everything that was on it. Olaf and his men resisted and put up a fight. It was then that his grandfather found them. As proof of his heritage, Olaf gives King Mýrkjartan a gold ring that he had given his mother as a teething present. Pleased to be reunited with his grandson, King Mýrkjartan offers Olaf the thrown but Olaf declines and decides to return home. Upon returning home, Olaf marries Þorgerðr, daughter of Egill Skallagrímsson and had several children. Before his death, Höskuldr offers Olaf the ring and sword that was given to him as a gift by King Hákon. This angered his half-brother, Þorleikr, for he was the rightful heir being the legitimate son. To win his favor, Olaf asks that he be the one to raise Þorleikr's son, Bolli, as he who raises the child of another is always considered as the lesser of the two. Growing up, Bolli forms a close relationship with Olaf's son Kjartan and they became inseparable.

The saga also mentions Iceland's most beautiful woman, Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, who was known not only for her beauty but for her intellect. In the saga, Guðrún is plagued with disturbing dreams to which a kinsman interprets to mean that she will have four husbands in her lifetime. Her first marriage will end in divorce but her next three would end in the death of her husband. True enough she marries at the age of 15 but decides to divorce her husband Þorvaldr Halldórsson as there was no love in her heart. Completely opposite to her first marriage, she was completely in love with her second husband Þórðr Ingunarsson. However, as predicted, their marriage was short, ending with the death of Þórðr. Her heart was then won over by Kjartan, son of Olaf the Peacock. Before they could get married, Kjartan decided to travel to Norway together with his cousin and close friend Bolli, grandson of Höskuldr. Arriving in Norway they discovered that King Olaf was the new king and was in a quest to convert the people of Iceland to Christianity. After forming close ties with the king, Kjartan is asked to stay and convert to Christianity. Bolli declines and leaves Norway. Upon returning home, he informs Guðrún of the truth and asks for her hand in marriage. Hesitant as her heart belonged to Kjartan, she initially declined but then decides to accept his proposal.

Upon hearing that Iceland had converted to Christianity, King Olaf allows Kjartan and his kinsmen to travel home. Before leaving Norway, Kjartan visits Ingibjörg, King Olaf's sister, one more time. It was then that she gave him an embroidered head-dress in hopes that Guðrún would enjoy winding this about her head and that it was to be her wedding present to the happy couple. However, upon arriving in Iceland, Kjartan discovers Bolli's treatchery and in his anger gifts the head-dress to Hrefna and asks for her hand in marriage. Bolli tries to mend things with Kjartan and offers him and his new bride several beautiful horses. However, Kjartan declines the offer in anger. In time, several incidents continued to fuel the bad blood between Bolli, Guðrún and Kjartan. Finally, having had enough, Guðrún goads her brothers and her husband to kill Kjartan. Bolli, having been raised by Olaf the Peacock to be a loving and peaceful man, declines but is threated by Guðrún that if she did not do as he was told she would divorce him.

Guðrún's brothers along with Bolli finds Kjartan and one companion alone and attacks them. Unwilling to play a role in the death of his cousin, Bolli stands aside. Despite their numbers, Kjartan overpowers his attackers. Guðrún's brothers seek Bolli's help and points out the many consequences of his inaction. Hesitant but determined to do as he was told, Bolli raised his sword and deals the death blow. He is immediately filled with regret and hold Kjartan in his arms as Kjartan took his last breath.

Upon the discovery of Kjartan death, Guðrún's brothers are exiled from Iceland. However, out of love for the boy he raised, Olaf the Peacock asked that Bolli be allowed to stay and instead pay a fine. Three years after the death of his son Kjartan, Olaf dies and his widow Þorgerðr forces her sons to avenge their brother's death. Together with her a party of ten, Þorgerðr corners Bolli and Guðrún. It was there that Helgi Harðbeinsson deals Bolli a heavy blow with a spear and was finished off by one of Kjartan's brothers. The party decided to spare Guðrún so she could live the rest of her life in regret for the things she had done.

Unknowingly, they had spared a pregnant Guðrún who gave birth to a son and named him Bolli after his father. When her son was 12 years old, she told them of how his father had been killed and asked that they avenge his death. It took years before the cycle of killing and vengeance was finally resolved.

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