Njal's Saga, First Week Discussion:

Image from here.

We are reading The Saga of Burnt Njal. This week we are to discuss sections 1-20. By the end of these sections, the two main characters of the saga are introduced: Gunnar and Njal himself. Let's look at their base descriptions, along with the notes provided.


There was a man whose name was Gunnar. He was one of Unna's
kinsmen, and his mother's name was Rannveig (1). Gunnar's father
was named Hamond (2). Gunnar Hamond's son dwelt at Lithend, in
the Fleetlithe. He was a tall man in growth, and a strong man --
best skilled in arms of all men. He could cut or thrust or shoot
if he chose as well with his left as with his right hand, and he
smote so swiftly with his sword, that three seemed to flash
through the air at once. He was the best shot with the bow of
all men, and never missed his mark. He could leap more than his
own height, with all his war-gear, and as far backwards as
forwards. He could swim like a seal, and there was no game in
which it was any good for any one to strive with him; and so it
has been said that no man was his match. He was handsome of
feature, and fair skinned. His nose was straight, and a little
turned up at the end. He was blue-eyed and bright-eyed, and
ruddy-cheeked. His hair thick, and of good hue, and hanging down
in comely curls. The most courteous of men was he, of sturdy
frame and strong will, bountiful and gentle, a fast friend, but
hard to please when making them. He was wealthy in goods.


(1) She was the daughter of Sigfuss, the son of Sighvat the Red;
he was slain at Sandhol Ferry.
(2) He was the son of Gunnar Baugsson, after whom Gunnar's holt
is called. Hamond's mother's name was Hrafnhilda. She was
the daughter of Storolf Heing's son. Storolf was brother to
Hrafn the Speaker of the Law, the son of Storolf was Orin
the Strong.
There was a man whose name was Njal. He was the son of Thorgeir
Gelling, the son of Thorolf. Njal's mother's name was Asgerda
(1). Njal dwelt at Bergthorsknoll in the land-isles; he had
another homestead on Thorolfsfell. Njal was wealthy in goods,
and handsome of face; no beard grew on his chin. He was so great
a lawyer, that his match was not to be found. Wise too he was,
and foreknowing and foresighted (2). Of good counsel, and ready
to give it, and all that he advised men was sure to be the best
for them to do. Gentle and generous, he unravelled every man's
knotty points who came to see him about them. Bergthora was his
wife's name; she was Skarphedinn's daughter, a very high-
spirited, brave-hearted woman, but somewhat hard-tempered. They
had six children, three daughters and three sons, and they all
come afterwards into this story.


(1) She was the daughter of Lord Ar the Silent. She had come
out hither to Iceland from Norway, and taken land to the
west of Markfleet, between Auldastone and Selialandsmull.
Her son was Holt-Thorir, the father of Thorleif Crow, from
whom the Wood-dwellers are sprung, and of Thorgrim the Tall,
and Skorargeir.
(2) This means that Njal was one of those gifted beings who,
according to the firm belief of that age, had a more than
human insight into things about to happen. It answers very
nearly to the Scottish "second sight."
We can see, as Mike noted, that parentage and families are very important: we don't just learn about the personal qualities of our heroes, but about their parentage on both sides of the family. The notes say what the original listeners would have known, about which families and to what great historic heroes their parentage may tie them.

What did you think of the first week's readings? Next week, we'll do the next section, 21-37.

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