Thorgerd Egilsdottir

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Thorgerd Egilsdottir (Old Norse Þorgerðr Egilsdóttir) was an Icelandic woman of the tenth century. She was the daughter of Egill Skallagrímsson and the wife of Olaf the Peacock. Olaf and Thorgerd had a number of children: the sons Kjartan, Steinthór, Halldór, Helgi, and Höskuldur and the daughters Thurídur, Thorbjörg, Thorgerd and Bergthóra. The ill-fated Kjartan would be his father's favorite.

Old Norse North Germanic language

Old Norse was a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements from about the 9th to the 13th century.

Iceland island republic in Northern Europe

Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 348,580 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 just outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence keep summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

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.

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Portrayal in Icelandic Sagas

The character of Thorgred Egilsdottir appears in several Icelandic sagas. She first appears in Egils Saga (Egils saga Skallagrímssonar), being born to Egil Skallagrímsson and his wife Asgerd. Thorgerd was the eldest of five children. It was said that “all of Egil’s children were promising and intelligent.” [1] Later in the saga, it is mentioned that she was “a very fine women, wise, rather strong-tempered, but usually quiet,” [2] and that she made a favorable match with Olaf. In chapter 79 of Egil’s Saga, Thorgerd manipulates her father for his own good. After the death of his son Bodvar, a grieving Egil takes to his bed and refuses to eat. Thorgerd is summoned by her mother to help. When she arrives at her father’s home she announces in a loud voice;

Sagas of Icelanders group of narratives

The Sagas of Icelanders, also known as family sagas, are prose narratives mostly based on historical events that mostly took place in Iceland in the 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries, during the so-called Saga Age. They are the best-known specimens of Icelandic literature.

I have had no evening meal, nor will I do so until I go to join Freyja. I know no better course of action than my father’s. I do not want to live after my father and brother are dead. [3]

She then goes and lays down in another bed in her father’s bed-closet. Egil was pleased with his daughter and the love that she had shown. Soon she tricks Egil into eating dulse (or edible seaweed) by telling him that it would make him feel worse and that it was bad for him. Afterward, she tricks him into drinking milk, telling him first that it was water that she called for. After stating that “We’ve been tricked,” Thorgerd then manipulates Egil further;

What will we do now? Our plan has failed. Now I want us to stay alive, father, long enough for you to compose a poem in Bodvar’s memory and I will carve it on a rune-stick. Then we can die if we want to. I doubt whether your son Thorstein would ever compose a poem for Bodvar, and it is unseemly if his memory is not honoured, because I do not expect us to be sitting there at the feast when it is. [4]

Egil, who was known for his poetry, composed a poem in honor of his deceased son, and in doing so soon began to recover from his grief. He eventually left his bed and gave Thorgerd gifts when she left. [5]

Thorgerd Egilsdottir also makes an appearance in The Saga of the People of Laxardal (Laxdæla saga). In Chapter 23 her betrothal to Olaf the Peacock is described. Olaf and his father Hoskuld approached her father Egil at the Althing to make a match between Thorgerd and Olaf. Even though Egil approves of the match, he states that Thorgerd would have to be asked “because there is no man who could make Thorgerd his wife should she be set against it.” [6] At first Thorgerd refused his offer of marriage, because she believed Olaf to beneath her in birth. After having a conversation with Olaf himself, and some convincing by her father, she finally agrees to the marriage. Her marriage was, by all accounts, an affectionate one.

<i>Laxdæla saga</i> literary work

Laxdæla saga ; also Laxdœla saga, Laxdoela saga, Laxdaela saga, or The Saga of the People of Laxárdalr) is one of the Icelanders' sagas. Written in the 13th century, it tells of people in the Breiðafjörður area of Iceland from the late 9th century to the early 11th century. The saga particularly focuses on a love triangle between Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir, Kjartan Ólafsson and Bolli Þorleiksson. Kjartan and Bolli grow up together as close friends but the love they both have for Guðrún causes enmity between them and, in the end, their deaths.

Thorgerd’s character is described in Laxdæla saga as; Everyone soon realized what a woman of strong character Thorgerd was: though she was not one to waste words, once she set her mind on something there was no swaying her – things had to go the way she wanted. [7] This strong character is seen later in the Laxdæla saga when she seeks retribution for her slain son Kjartan. Her husband agrees to a wergild for his son’s death, but Thorgerd is set on vengeance. Being female, she has little option but to encourage her other sons. She takes then for a drive past the farm of man who killed Kjartan, and says;

Here lives Bolli, your brother’s slayer, and not a shred of resemblance do you bear to your great ancestors since you won’t avenge a brother the likes of Kjartan. Never would your grandfather Egil have acted like this, and it grieves me to have such spineless sons. You would have made your father better daughters, to be married off, than sons. It shows the truth of the saying, Halldor, that “every kin has its coward”. I see only too well now that fathering such sons was Olaf’s great failing. I will address my words to you Halldor...because you’ve taken the lead among your brothers. We will turn back now; I made the journey mainly to remind you of what you seem to have forgotten. [8]

Thorgerd’s quest for vengeance even drives her to accompany the party that sets out to kill Bolli in retaliation for Kjartan. She states that “No one knows better than I do that it is likely my sons will require some urging yet.” [9] When Bolli was cornered, Thorgerd “urged them not to hesitate to finish Bolli off and put some space between trunk and head.” [10]

Thorgerd Egilssdottir also makes an appearance in The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpant-Tongue (Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu). This saga tells the tale of two men competing for Helga the Fair, Egil Skallagrimsson’s granddaughter and Thorgerd’s niece. Thorgerd plays a part in saving the life of Helga when she was an infant. Helga’s father Thorstein demanded that his infant daughter be exposed to the elements to die. His wife Jofrid secretly had the girl sent to Thorgerd to raise, while telling her husband Thorstein that she had followed his wishes. Six years later Thorstein went to attend a feast at his brother-in-law Olaf the Peacock’s estate. He noticed Helga sitting in the hall and remarked on her beauty. Thorgerd then told him the truth;

“Kinsman”, she answered, “to tell the truth, this beautiful girl is your daughter, not mine.” Then she told him everything that had happened, and begged him to forgive both her and his wife for this wrong. [11]

Thorstein was so taken with the child that he forgave the women. He considered himself lucky that they had fixed his wrongs and he took his daughter home.

Thorgerd Egilsdottir fits a common character archetype in Norse sagas; the female inciter. In this instance a woman manipulates her husband or other male kin to exact revenge for her. In Scandinavian society at the time, women were unable to physically seek vengeance; therefore they used the means at their disposal, namely words and influence, to accomplish their goals.[ citation needed ]

Notes

  1. [Snorri Sturluson?] Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar (Egil’s Saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 129.
  2. Snorri Sturluson? Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar (Egil’s Saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 149.
  3. [Snorri Sturluson?] Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar (Egil’s Saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 151.
  4. [Snorri Sturluson?] Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar (Egil’s Saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 151-2.
  5. [Snorri Sturluson?] Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar (Egil’s Saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 152.
  6. The Saga of the People of Laxardal (Laxdæla saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 313.
  7. The Saga of the People of Laxardal (Laxdæla saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 315
  8. The Saga of the People of Laxardal (Laxdæla saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 377.
  9. The Saga of the People of Laxardal (Laxdæla saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 379
  10. The Saga of the People of Laxardal (Laxdæla saga), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 381.
  11. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue (Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu) ), in The Sagas of the Icelanders, ed. Örnólfur Thorsson, trans. Bernard Scudder (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 564.

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