Gunnlaugr ormstunga

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Gunnlaugr ormstunga before Earl Erik Haakonsson
Published in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu
Illustration by Andreas Bloch (1898) Ei skal haltr ganga.jpg
Gunnlaugr ormstunga before Earl Erik Haakonsson
Published in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu
Illustration by Andreas Bloch (1898)

Gunnlaugr ormstunga (i.e. "serpent-tongue") was an Icelandic poet. His life is described in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu , where several of his poems are preserved. [1]

Iceland Island republic in Northern Europe

Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 360,390 and an area of 103,000 km2 (40,000 sq mi), making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Reykjavík, with Reykjavík and the surrounding areas in the southwest of the country being home to over two-thirds of the population. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterised by sand and lava fields, mountains, and glaciers, and many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude almost entirely outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

Skald a poet in the courts of Scandinavian leaders during the Viking Age

Skald, or skáld, is generally a term used for poets who composed at the courts of Scandinavian leaders during the Viking Age and into the Middle Ages. Skaldic poetry forms one of two main groupings of Old Norse poetry, the other being the anonymous Eddic poetry.

Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu literary work

Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu or the Saga of Gunnlaugur Serpent-Tongue is one of the Icelanders' sagas. Composed at the end of the 13th century, it is preserved complete in a slightly younger manuscript. It contains 25 verses of skaldic poetry attributed to the main characters.


Gunnlaugr was born ca. 983. From an early age he proved himself impetuous, audacious, brave, and tough. He was also a skilled author of mostly derogatory poems, which earned him the cognomen ormstunga, "serpent's tongue". After a quarrel with his father, Illugi, Gunnlaugr left his home at the age of twelve to stay for some time at Borg with Þorsteinn Egilsson, the son of Egill Skallagrímsson. There, he became acquainted with Þorsteinn's daughter, Helga the fair, reputedly the most beautiful woman in Iceland. Her hair was so ample that she could hide herself in it. [2]

Borg á Mýrum human settlement

Borg á Mýrum is a farm and church estate 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, 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.

Egill Skallagrímsson Viking Age poet, warrior and farmer

Egill Skallagrímsson 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.

When Gunnlaugr was eighteen, he went abroad. At that time, Helga became his fiancée, on the condition that she would wait no more than three years for Gunnlaugr. He visited the courts of Norway, Ireland, Orkney and Sweden and England. In Sweden, he visited the court of King Óláfr Skötkonung where he met his rival, the Icelandic champion and skald, Hrafn Önundarson. [3]

Norway Country in Northern Europe

Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic country in Northwestern Europe whose territory comprises of the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula; the remote island of Jan Mayen and the archipelago of Svalbard are also part of the Kingdom of Norway. The Antarctic Peter I Island and the sub-Antarctic Bouvet Island are dependent territories and thus not considered part of the kingdom. Norway also lays claim to a section of Antarctica known as Queen Maud Land.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

Orkney archipelago and council area in northern Scotland

Orkney, also known as the Orkney Islands, is an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland, situated off the north coast of the island of Great Britain. Orkney is 10 miles (16 km) north of the coast of Caithness and has about 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The largest island, Mainland, is often referred to as "the Mainland", and has an area of 523 square kilometres (202 sq mi), making it the sixth-largest Scottish island and the tenth-largest island in the British Isles. The largest settlement and administrative centre is Kirkwall.

Gunnlaugr's stay in the service of King Æthelred of England delayed his return to Iceland and Helga. He did not return until four years had passed (ca. 1005). Since Gunnlaugr had been gone longer than his allotted three years, Helga was forced into an unhappy marriage to Gunnlaugr's rival, Hrafn Önundarson. Gunnlaugr and Hrafn met at the Althing and Gunnlaugr challenged Hrafn to a duel of honour, a holmgang (hólmganga). The duel ended in a draw and was the last one allowed in Iceland. From that time hólmganga were forbidden by Icelandic law. [4]

Æthelred the Unready 10th and 11th-century King of England

Æthelred II, known as the Unready, was King of the English from 978 to 1013 and again from 1014 until his death. His epithet does not derive from the modern word "unready", but rather from the Old English unræd meaning "poorly advised"; it is a pun on his name, which means "well advised".

Althing unicameral parliament of Iceland

The Alþingi is the national parliament of Iceland. It is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, a claim shared by Tynwald. The Althing was founded in 930 at Þingvellir, situated approximately 45 kilometres (28 mi) east of what later became the country's capital, Reykjavík. Even after Iceland's union with Norway in 1262, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1800, when it was discontinued. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since. The present parliament building, the Alþingishús, was built in 1881, made of hewn Icelandic stone. The unicameral parliament has 63 members, and is elected every four years based on party-list proportional representation.


Holmgang is a duel practiced by early medieval Scandinavians. It was a recognized way to settle disputes.

In order to settle their dispute in blood, the two champions met in Norway in the spring of 1008. There, Gunnlaugr defeated Hrafn, but was fatally wounded. After a short time he died. He was 25. Helga later remarried, but never recovered from Gunnlaugr's death. Her greatest pleasure was to rest her eyes on a sumptuous coat that Gunnlaugr had given her. One evening, she rested her head on her husband's shoulder, spread the coat in front of her, and watched it for a while. Thereafter, she fell back into her husband's embrace and was dead. [5]

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  1. "Gunnlaugr Ormstunga (Iceland, 983 – 1008)". Writers History. 2008. Retrieved October 11, 2015.[ permanent dead link ]
  2. Knut Ødegård (February 14, 2009). "Gunnlaug Ormstunge". Store norske leksikon. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  3. "Lausavísur (Hrafn Önundarson)". Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  4. Randolph Quirk (translator), Peter G. Foot (editor) (1957). "Gunnlaugs Saga Ormstungu" (PDF). Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd. Retrieved October 11, 2015.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  5. "Romeo and Juliet of The North: Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu". The Saga-Steads of Iceland: A 21st-Century Pilgrimage. September 25, 2011. Retrieved October 19, 2015.

Other sources

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Logo for Nordisk familjeboks uggleupplaga.png This article contains content from the Owl Edition of Nordisk familjebok, a Swedish encyclopedia published between 1904 and 1926, now in the public domain.