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6. Family Sagas

Vésteinn Ólason


Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00009.x


Extract

The Icelandic word saga , pl. sögur – a derivative of the verb segja , ‘to speak’, ‘to say’ – means ‘a tale’ or ‘a story’. It is sometimes also used to describe a sequence of events out of which a story could be made. Sagas about Icelanders from a certain period and written by anonymous authors are known as Íslendingasögur , ‘sagas of Icelanders’, or, as they are frequently referred to in English, ‘family sagas’, albeit that this latter term is really only appropriate for some of them. It is used only about tales of considerable length which centre on the lives of people from a relatively small group of Icelandic families. The important part of the action in such tales takes place during the first century of the Icelandic Commonwealth, from c.930 to c.1030, though introductory sections may deal with events in Norway and Iceland during the main period of the settlement of Iceland, c.870–930. While the saga heroes may travel to foreign lands, most frequently Scandinavia or the British Isles, the main action usually takes place in Iceland and is rooted in the ways in which men feuded vigorously and eventually resolved their conflicts through the operation of a judicial system whose courts were unsupported by any common executive power. Exceptions to this familiar pattern are the two Vínland sagas, in which most of the action takes place in either Greenland or North America , and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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