Picture of Egil in a 17th-century manuscript of Egils Saga
|Died||995 (aged 90–91)|
|Occupation||Poet, warrior and farmer|
|Notable works||Egil's saga|
|Children||Þorgerðr Egilsdóttir, Bera Egilsdóttir, Böðvar Egilsson, Gunnar Egilsson and Þorsteinn Egilsson|
|Relatives||Skalla-Grímr Kveldúlfsson, Kári Stefánsson and Bera Yngvarsdóttir|
Egill Skallagrímsson (modernIcelandic pronunciation: [ˈɛiːjɪtl̥ ˈskatl̥akrimsɔn] ; c. 904 –c. 995) was a Viking-Age poet, warrior and farmer. He is known mainly as the protagonist of Egil's Saga . Egil's Saga historically narrates a period from approximately 850 to 1000 CE and is believed to have been written between 1220 and 1240 CE.
Egill was born in Iceland, and was the son of Skalla-Grímr Kveldúlfssonand Bera Yngvarsdóttir, and the grandson of Kveld-Úlfr ("Night Wolf"). His ancestor, Hallbjorn, was Norwegian-Sami.
When Grímr arrived in Iceland, he settled at Borg, the place where his father's coffin landed. Grímr was a respected chieftain and mortal enemy of King Harald Fairhair of Norway.
Egill composed his first poem at the age of three years. He exhibited berserk behaviour, and this, together with the description of his large and unattractive head, has led to the theory that he might have suffered from Paget's disease, which causes a thickening of the bones and may lead eventually to blindness.
At the age of seven, Egill was cheated in a game with local boys. Enraged, he went home and procured an axe, and returning to the boys, split the skull to the teeth of the boy who cheated him.After Berg-Önundr refused to allow Egill to claim his wife Ásgerðr's share of her father's inheritance, he challenged Önundr to a man-to-man fight on an island or holmgang. Berg-Önundr refused the challenge and was later killed along with his brother Hadd by Egill. Egill was later to kill the last of the brothers, Atli the Short, by biting through Atli's neck during a holmgang.
Later, after being grievously insulted, Egill killed Bárðr of Atley, a retainer of King Eirik Bloodaxe and kinsman of Queen Gunnhildr, both of whom spent the remainder of their lives trying to take vengeance. Seething with hatred, Gunnhildr ordered her two brothers to assassinate Egill and his brother Þórólfr, who had been on good terms with her previously. However, Egill slew the Queen's brothers when they attempted to confront him. Gunnhildr's brother's names were Eyvind Braggart and Alf Aksmann.
In spring Þórólfr and Egill got ready a large warship and went the Eastern route (Austrvegr), where they won much wealth and had many battles. In Courland they made a peace for half a month and traded with the men of the land. (ch. 46).
That same summer, Harald Fairhair died. In order to secure his place as sole King of Norway, Eirik Bloodaxe murdered his two brothers. He then declared Egill an outlaw in Norway. Berg-Önundr gathered a company of men to capture Egill, but was killed in his attempt to do so. Before escaping from Norway, Egill also slew Rögnvaldr, the son of King Eirik and Queen Gunnhildr. He then cursed the King and Queen, setting a horse's head on a Nithing pole and saying,
Gunnhildr also put a spell on Egill, which made him feel restless and depressed until they met again.
Soon afterwards, Eiríkr and Gunnhildr were forced to flee to the Kingdom of Northumbria by Prince Hákon. In Saxon England, they were set up as King and Queen of Northumbria in rivalry with King Athelstan of England. Ultimately, Egill was shipwrecked in Northumbria and came to know who ruled the land. Egill sought out the house of his good friend Arinbjorn where they armed themselves and marched to Eiríkr's court. Arinbjorn told Egill “now you must go and offer the king your head and embrace his foot. I will present your case to him.” Arinbjorn presented Egill’s case and Egill composed a short drápa , reciting it with Eirikr’s foot in his hand, but Eirikr was not impressed. He explained that Egill’s wrongs to him were far too great to be forgiven so easily. Gunnhild called for the immediate execution of Egill, but Arinbjorn convinced the king not to kill him until the morning.
The Vikings deemed it illegal to kill a man during the night time. Arinbjorn told Egill that he should stay up all night and compose a mighty head-ransom poem or drápa fit for such a king, a poem in praise of his enemy. In the morning Egill went before king Eirik Bloodaxe and recited the great drápa. This twenty-stanza long head-ransom poem appears in Chapter 63 of "Egil's saga". Eirik was so surprised by the quality of the poem that he generously decided to give Egill his life, even though he had killed his own son. The complex nature of these poems with unique word order determined by sophisticated word choice and metaphor or kenning, as explained in the Poetic Edda, as well as the fact that they were often about Kings and recited first in their royal presence ensures that seeds of history abide in them, and the fact that professor Byock could diagnose Paget's diseasefrom such poetry adds credence to the truthfulness of their content. Such complex poems were remembered entirely, as a whole cloth, or not at all. "Egil's saga" and other Icelandic sagas appear to hang on a skeletal framework of such complex poetry, a spine of historical truth.
Egill also fought at the Battle of Brunanburh in the service of King Athelstan, for which he received payment in silver.
Ultimately, Egill returned to his family farm in Iceland, where he remained a power to be reckoned with in local politics. He lived into his eighties and died shortly before the Christianisation of Iceland. Before Egill died he buried his silver treasure near Mosfellsbær. In his last act of violence he murdered the servant who helped him bury his treasure.
When a Christian chapel was constructed at the family homestead, Egill's body was re-exumed by his son and re-buried near the altar. According to the saga, the exhumed skull bone was hit with an axe, and it only turned white, showing the strength of the warrior, but also suggesting the traits of Paget's disease.
Egill had five children with Ásgerðr Björnsdóttir: Þorgerðr Egilsdóttir, Bera Egilsdóttir, Böðvar Egilsson, Gunnar Egilsson and Þorsteinn Egilsson. In later years, Iceland's Myrar clan claimed descent from him.
Apart from being a warrior of immense might in literary sources, Egill is also celebrated for his poetry, considered by many historians to be the finest of the ancient Scandinavian poetsand Sonatorrek , the dirge over his own sons, has been called "the birth of Nordic personal lyric poetry". His poems were also the first Old Norse verses to use end rhyme. The following works are attributed to Egill:
The following is one of Egill's Lausavísur (no. 3), found in chapter 40 of Egils Saga:
Egill was also a scholar of runes. His apparent mastery of their magic powers assisted him several times during his journeys. During a feast at Atla-isle, Bard's attempt to poison Egill failed when a rune carved by Egill shattered his poisoned cup.
At a companion's request, he examined a sick woman. A local land owner, after being denied her hand in marriage, had attempted to carve love-runes. Instead, he had mistakenly carved runes causing illness. Egill burned the offending runes and carved runes for health, and the woman recovered. He then sang a poem declaring that "Runes none should grave ever/Who knows not to read them."
Both these incidents are quite believable. Most poisons of the period were strong alkaloids which would cause cow-horn drinking cups to fray. This was one reason for their use. When Egill carved the rune, in all likelihood he had spotted the fraying (which he would have been looking for) and used it to disguise why he pried at the cup.
As for the sick young woman, in addition to burning the runes, Egill ordered her to be lifted out of bed and her old bedding to be thrown away and replaced with new sheets. Recovery was swift.
Runes were also employed by Egill during the raising of the Nithing Pole against King Eirik Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhildr.
Eric Haraldsson, nicknamed Eric Bloodaxe, was a 10th-century Norwegian ruler. It is widely speculated that he had short-lived terms as King of Norway and twice as King of Northumbria.
Skald, or skáld, is generally a term used for poets who composed at the courts of Scandinavian leaders during the Viking Age, 793–1066 AD, and continuing into the Middle Ages. Skaldic poetry forms one of two main groupings of Old Norse poetry, the other being the anonymous Eddic poetry.
Egil's Saga or Egill's saga is an Icelandic saga on the lives of the clan of Egill Skallagrímsson, an Icelandic farmer, viking and skald. The saga spans the years c. 850–1000 and traces the family history from Egil's grandfather to his offspring.
Grímr Kveldúlfsson was a Norwegian who lived in the ninth and tenth centuries. He is an important character in Egils saga and is mentioned in the Landnámabók.
Old Norse literature refers to the vernacular literature of the Scandinavian peoples up to c. 1350. It chiefly consists of Icelandic writings.
Arinbjarnarkviða is a skaldic poem by Egill Skalla-Grímsson in praise of his friend Arinbjörn. The poem is preserved in Möðruvallabók but not in other manuscripts of Egils saga. Some lines are lost while others may be corrupted. The metre is kviðuháttr.
Einarr Helgason or Einarr skálaglamm was a 10th-century Icelandic skald. He was a court poet of Lord Hákon to whom he dedicated his magnum opus, the Vellekla. Einarr's added name skálaglamm means "Bowl tinkle" and refers to a set of balances and weights with divinatory powers, given to him by Hákon.
Tora Magnusdatter was a daughter of King Magnus III of Norway.
Jón korpur Hrafnsson son of Þuríður Sturludóttir and Hrafn Oddsson. His mother, Þuríður, was a direct descendant of Þóra Magnúsdóttir daughter of Magnus III of Norway a direct descendant of Harald Fairhair founder of the Fairhair dynasty the first royal dynasty of the united Norway, and a branch of the Ynglings. His father, Hrafn, on the other hand was a direct descendant of Skalla-Grímr father of skald and Viking Egill Skallagrímsson. With the birth of Jón korpur Hrafnsson the warring clans of the Fairhair dynasty and Skalla-Grímr were genetically united in Iceland.
Höfuðlausn or the "Head's Ransom" is a skaldic poem attributed to Egill Skalla-Grímsson in praise of king Eirik Bloodaxe.
Skúli Þórsteinsson was an 11th-century Icelandic poet and warrior. He was the grandson of Egill Skallagrímsson and a courtier of Jarl Eiríkr Hákonarson. A short account of his life is given at the end of Egils saga:
Sonatorrek is a skaldic poem in 25 stanzas by Egill Skallagrímsson. The work laments the death of two of the poet's sons, Gunnar, who died of a fever, and Böðvarr, who drowned during a storm. It is preserved in a few manuscripts of Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar, ch. 78. According to the saga, after Egill placed Böðvarr in the family burial mound, he locked himself in his bed-chamber, determined to starve himself to death. Egill’s daughter Thorgerd diverted him from this plan in part by convincing him to compose a memorial poem for Böðvarr, to be carved on a rune-staff.
Thorolf Kveldulfsson was the oldest son of Kveldulf Bjalfasson and brother of the Norwegian/Icelandic goði and skald Skalla-Grimr. His ancestor Hallbjorn was nicknamed "halftroll", possibly indicating Norwegian-Sami ancestry.
Ulf Bjalfason was a renowned hersir and landowner in ninth century Sogn, Norway. He is a main character in the early chapters of Egils saga and appears in the Landnámabók and other Icelandic sources. Kveldulf is described as an ulfhéðinn, a shape-shifter (hamrammr), or a berserker.
Ulf the Brave was a Norwegian hersir who lived in Namdalen in the eighth century CE. He was the father of Hallbjörn Half-Troll and Hallbera Ulfsdóttir, who was the mother of Kveldúlfr Bjálfason. Thus Ulf the Brave was the ancestor of the clan of Egill Skallagrimsson. He is briefly mentioned in Egils Saga.
Gunnhildr konungamóðir or Gunnhildr Gormsdóttir, whose name is often Anglicised as Gunnhild is a quasi-historical figure who appears in the Icelandic Sagas, according to which she was the wife of Eric Bloodaxe. She appears prominently in sagas such as Fagrskinna, Egils saga, Njáls saga, and Heimskringla.
Olvir Hnufa or Ölvir hnúfa was a Norwegian commander in a clan and poet of the late ninth and early tenth centuries, known from, among other sources, Egil's Saga, Skaldatal and the Prose Edda. Olvir was the son of the viking Berle-Kari and brother-in-law of Kveldulf Bjalfason, who married Olvir's sister Salbjorg Karadottir; he was thus uncle to Skallagrim and Thorolf Kveldulfsson and great uncle to the famous poet Egil Skallagrimsson. Olvir also had a brother named Eyvind Lambi. Olvir was a prominent member of the court of King Harald Fairhair, who united Norway under his rule in the late ninth or early tenth century. Among other famous poets, he served as one of King Harald's court poets. He also served as a warrior in Harald's retinue, and fought at the pivotal Battle of Hafrsfjord on the king's flagship. He is best known for his involvement in the conflict between Harald and Olvir's kinsman Thorolf Kveldulfsson, which ended with the latter's death. Only a few fragments of Olvir's poetry survive.
Eyvind Lambi or Eyvind Lamb was a Norwegian Viking and hersir of the late ninth and early tenth centuries, known from, among other sources, Egils saga. Eyvind was the son of the Viking Berle-Kari and brother-in-law of Kveldulf Bjalfason, who married Eyvind's sister Salbjorg Karadottir; he was thus uncle to Skalla-Grímr and Thorolf Kveldulfsson and great uncle to the famous poet Egill Skallagrímsson. Eyvind also had a brother named Olvir Hnufa, who became a famous skald at the court of King Harald I of Norway.
Borg á Mýrum is a settlement due west of Borgarnes township in Iceland. Its recorded history reaches back to the settlement of Iceland. One of the country's original settlers was Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson (Skalla-Grímr), who claimed the area around Borg as his land, built a farm and made his home there. His son Egill Skallagrímsson then continued to live and farm at Borg á Mýrum.
Thorolf Skallagrímsson is an Icelandic character in Egils saga. He is brother of Egill Skallagrímsson and oldest son of Skallagrím Kveldulfsson and Bera Yngvarsdóttur. He closely resembles in looks and manner his uncle and namesake, Thorolf Kveldulfsson.
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