Viking Iceland
cradle of democracy

About the Sagas
living literature

Vikings in America

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Publication details




The World of the Sagas

The Complete Sagas of Icelanders include extensive but unobtrusive reference and background material for a deeper understanding of the world of the Sagas.

by Dr. Robert Kellogg
(Vol. I, xxviii-lv)
The comprehensive introduction depicts the world of the Sagas, their subject material, the location and society where they take place, their artistry and, not least, their characters, and assesses their place in world literature.

(Vol. V, pp. 387-393)
Following the course of events, such as the voyages of discovery to Vinland, or finding the scene of a conflict on the detailed maps puts the Sagas in a new perspective.

(Vol. V, pp. 405-417)
A large number of key concepts have been translated consistently from one Saga to the next. As an aid to understanding, they are given in italics in the first instance they occur in each saga and comprehensive explanations are given in the glossary.

"Nature Spirit (vættur): There were various kinds of nature spirits that the Icelanders (and other Scandinavians) believed in, and sometimes gave sacrifices to. There are early references to elves (álfur) in mainland Scandinavia. Like their modern-day equivalents, the "hidden people" (an expression used in both Norway and Iceland), these would have been of human size..."

(Vol. V, pp. 418-420)
One of the most important features of many Sagas are the verses, often recited by principal characters in the stories. This is a linguistically complex poetry, full of imagery and energy, which often includes rich and diverse references to Norse mythology. Explanations are provided alongside the translation in the Sagas themselves for the metaphorical word-puzzles known as kennings, while more background and detail are found in this separate reference entry.

(Vol. V, pp. 425-446)
All told, the Sagas of Icelanders have a cast of thousands of men, women and children. This index lists some 700 persons who appear in two or more Sagas.

(Vol. V, pp. 395-403)
Explanatory diagrams show details of ships, houses, etc. together with a survey of Saga society.

(Vol. V, pp. 387-393)
Tables indicate, among other things, the reigns of the principal Norwegian monarchs of the period, historical events taking place in Iceland and the terms of office of the leaders of the Icelandic commonwealth, the Lawspeakers.

"The publication of these volumes is a reminder that the Icelandic sagas can hold their own with the literature of the Mediterranean. Here is the poetry of the North Atlantic, a working out of the primary laws of our nature, a testimony to the human spirit's ability not only to endure what fate may send it but to be renewed by the experience."
Seamus Heaney
Irish poet