Vikings in the mirror




Tulinius, Torfi H.

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Why did the Icelanders of the 13th century produce such a vivid image of the lives and times of their Viking Age ancestors? This is the question I will try to answer in my lecture. I will discuss the origins of saga writing in the context of Iceland’s relationship with the rest of the Viking Diaspora and the production of sagas about legendary and historical Scandinavian kings. Then I will ask why there was a sudden inward turn in the first half of the 13th century with the advent of Sagas about early Icelanders and Contemporary Sagas. Approaching the sagas from the perspective of genre theory, I will attempt to show that they fulfilled a need in Icelandic society to understand its identity in a dialectical questioning of social and historical realities, ideology and identity. The greatest Sagas about early Icelanders, such as Egils saga, Njáls saga and Grettis saga are products of this questioning of the identity of the Icelandic dominant class in the mirror of the Viking Age.