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The Long Prose Form in Medieval Iceland Author(s): Theodore M.

Andersson Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 101, No. 3 (Jul., 2002), pp. 380411 Published by: University of Illinois Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 23/09/2012 06:07
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in Medieval















oral literature. The discussion was initiated by Milman Parry's Homeric studies until the studies in the 1920s, but it did not embrace medieval Pidal issued in Europe, Ram?n Men?ndez of the century when, middle to B?dier's of his compendious inventionism, equivalent Joseph critique
Homeric unitarianism and, in America, Francis Peabody Magoun Jr. me

thodically applied Parry's formulaic analysis to Beowulf} The opposition in Pidal never became between B?dier and Men?ndez truly thematic texts of Old the formulaic and but type-scene analysis English Europe,
became branches a cottage of medieval industry narrative in America literature. and As was early soon as extended 1966 Larry to other D. Ben

a disabling son published critique of the leap from formula to orality in Old English, but by that time the enterprise had acquired a momentum
of sion its own and continued unabated.2 universities, the It was in the American propelled concomitant by a postwar of expan "pub phenomenon

lish or perish,"
certain mania


(as at least one European

and quantification.3



is no need

for mechanics

to review literature

to medieval of the Parry-Lord method the massive applications an ongoing and frequently because John Foley has provided
assessment of this work.4

i. Milman in the Making ofHomeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Parry's studies are collected Milman Parry, ed. Adam Parry (1971; rpt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987). F. P. Magoun Narrative of Anglo-Saxon Character Poetry," Speculum, 28 (1953), 446 Jr., "Oral-Formulaic Oral Singer," Specu of an Anglo-Saxon 63, and "Bede's Story of Caedman: The Case History Ram?n Men?ndez Pidal, La Chanson de Roland y el neotradicionalismo. lum, 30 (1955), 49-63. translation: La Chanson de 1959); French Or?genes de la ?pica rom?nica (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, Cluzel Roland et la tradition ?pique des Francs, trans. Ir?n?e-Marcel (Paris: Picard, i960). Formulaic of Anglo-Saxon 2. Larry D. Benson, "The Literary Character Poetry," PMLA, M. Anders ;rpt. in his Contradictions: From Beowulf toChaucer, ed. Theodore 334-41 81(1966), son and Stephen A. Barney United Scolar Press, (Aldershot, 1995), pp. 1-14. Kingdom: ed. Klaus von in Europ?ische Heldendichtung, 3. Klaus von See, "Was ist Heldendichtung?" See (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche 1978), pp. 17-18: "Magouns Entdek Buchgesellschaft, von Aufs?tzen, rein quantitative die auf mechanische, kung initiierte nun eine wahre Flut der auch andern und Unterstreichungen Abdruck Weise?durch ausgew?hlter Textpartien orts vorkommenden der altengli und damit die M?ndlichkeit Verse?die Formelhaftigkeit versuchten." schen Epik nachzuweisen Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research: 4. See in particular John Foley's annotated bibliography, of his more An Introduction and Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1985). Three

Journal ? 2002

of English and Germanic by the Board of Trustees

Philology?July of the University

of Illinois

The Long Almost growth contemporaneous exactly of oral-formulaic studies,


Form but




with there

emerged are

from the separate quite a renewed interest in the


of the Icelandic
interconnected for

sagas. These
reasons that







the built-in insularity of all the subfields covered by the oral status of Old Icelandic the peripheral ry, perhaps most particularly
the sagas stand apart because they are in prose. Thus, whereas

inqui stud


on the


in Greek
of the

and Old
verse or verse




was closed to Icelandic prose studies.5 Robert Kellogg tried to capitalize on the Parry-Lord method in suggesting an oral-formulaic analysis of Eddic not did take root.6 More fruitful for saga studies but his initiative poetry,
was been Lord's type-scene analysis, but the experiments in this style have also sporadic.7

in 1959?that Pidal's neotra is, at the time of Men?ndez Beginning ditionalist present writer reviewed the problem critique of B?dier?the of orality in the sagas.8 The situation in saga studies was in fact quite sim
studies are: Traditional Oral Epic: The Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Serbo-Croatian Return Song in Tradi Press, 1990) ;Immanent Art: From Structure to Meaning (Berkeley: Univ. of California Indiana Univ. Press, tional Oral Epic (Bloomington: 1991); The Singer of Tales in Performance Indiana Univ. Press, 1995). (Bloomington: at the center of Foley's Traditional Oral 5. The analysis of the verse stands, for example, see E. J. Bakker, a brief survey of the situation in Homeric "Homer and studies, Epic. For ed. Irene F. J. de Jong, 4 vols. (London inHomer: Critical Assessments, Oral Poetry Research," and New York: Routledge, I, 163-83. 1999), to the Elder Edda," Ph.D. diss., Harvard Univ., "A Concordance 6. Robert Kellogg, 1958; toEddie Poetry (East Lansing, Mich.: Colleagues as A Concordance later published Press, 1988). Mid of Eddie Poetry," in Poetry in the Scandinavian See also Kellogg's essay "The Prehistory di studi sull'alto medioevo, internazionale die Ages, Atti del 12o Congresso 4-10 Spoleto es~ an(*tne la Sede del Centro setiembre Studi, 1990), pp. 189-99, 1988 (Spoleto: Presso in View of the Oral of Eddie Heroic "On the Classification say by Gisli Sigur?sson, Poetry a good overview of the in the same volume, pp. 245-55. Joseph Harris provides Theory," area in "Eddie Poetry," Literature: A Critical Guide, ed. in Old Norse-Icelandic early work in this Carol J. Clover and John Lindow (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 111-26 (especial recent summation in his edition of Eddie is by Gisli Sigur?sson The most ly pp. 111-15). in Eddukv di (Reykjavik: Mal og menning, poetry: geymd og aldur eddukvae?a," "Munnleg 1998), pp. xv-xxiii. der Isl?ndersagas," 7. See, for example, Gerd Sieg, "Die Zweik?mpfe Zeitschrift f?r deutsches recent Altertum und deutsche Literatur, 95 (1966), 1-27; FredrikJ. Heinemann, uHrafnkels sagafreys Scandinavian Studies, 46 (1974), 102-19; Lars L?nnroth, Nj?ls Analysis," goda and Type-Scene Press, 1976), pp. 42-103. (Berkeley: Univ. of California Saga: A Critical Introduction M. Andersson, The Problem of Icelandic Saga Origins: A Historical 8. Theodore Survey (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1964). A few years earlier some of the same ground was covered by e ilproblema delle saghe islandesi (Arona: Paideia, Marco Scovazzi, La saga di Hrafnkell i960). These (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, Sagadebatt surveys were supplemented by Else Mundal, more inHellas recent summation in "Den norr0ne episke tradisjonen," 1977). See also her Andersen and Tomas H?gg (Bergen: Klas ogNorge. Kontakt, komparasjon, kontrast, ed. 0ivind i Bergen, sisk institua 1990), pp. 65-80.


Andersson between
the sequence first established

ilar to the opposition

son er's ?fog&ste studies, inventionism but was

of events in the

and traditionalism
was inverted. Whereas and chansons de geste

in chan
B?di was chal

Pidal, in saga lenged only fifty years later by the traditionalist Men?ndez traditionalism studies itwas Andreas Heusler's (what he called Freiprosa) that prevailed first and then gradually came under attack by a group of inventionist scholars in Iceland.9 My own views, initially without knowledge
of Men?ndez Pidal's work, were traditionalist. I argued against the Icelan

fictions based on scattered dic view that the sagas were thirteenth-century and disorganized traditions and forged into narratives at the writing desk
by individual "novelists." Based on references to oral transmission, gene ex


and narrative

that could only have resulted

variants too distant from

from faulty oral trans

one another to be

plained by scribal intervention, from full oral traditions.

A few years later I went even

I judged

that the sagas must

and argued that the

be derivative


exhibit structural and rhetorical principles in common that could only be understood in terms of highly developed oral practices.10 If it can be shown
that matic the sagas are structured remain in constant the same or similar the ways corpus, and such if the norms dra are techniques throughout

unlikely teenth century,

out the rest were rhetoric the

to have been devised subsequently

the inherited style of the century. from sagas of

at a single blow at the beginning of the thir to be extended by literary imitation through
It seemed an anterior before to me oral they were more tradition likely that that gave form shape down. and to




The general
the al structure abstraction of

and justified
the a sagas was symptom

and overstated of the

of my book was that it oversimplified

the times common and features. of the Structur literary a reflex

that were current in the 1960s morphologies the which became Folktale, Propp's Morphology of
States ent at from that the time sagas, and as isolated clearly the appearance a narrative of general

(not so much Vladimir in the United popular

morphology morphologies very differ of the

"Die Anf?nge der isl?ndischen derPreussischen g. Andreas Heusler, Saga," in Abhandlungen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Kl. (1913), pp. 1-87; rpt. in his Kleine Schriften, ed. phil.-hist. Stefan Sonderegger (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1969), pp. 388-460. Bj?rn M. Olsen's most impor were a series of specialized tant contributions articles on the relationship between various in Aarb0gerfor nordisk oldkyndighed og historie in 1904 (pp. sagas and Eandn?mab?k published and 1920 1905 (pp. 63-80, 1910 (pp. 35-61); 167-247); 81-117); 1908 (pp. 151-232); on Eand In each case he argued for some degree of literary dependence (pp. 301-7). n?mab?k. Sigur?ur Nordal in the sagas begin forged a general theory of literary evolution ning with Snorri Sturluson 1920), pp. 103-31. (Reykjavik: n.p., 10. Theodore M. Andersson, The Icelandic Family Saga: An Analytic Reading (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967).

The Long Prose Form inMedieval Iceland

novel).11 Structure was one ofthe bywords ofthe decade. The reception

383 more rather

of my book therefore tended to emphasize the structural component than the rhetorical strategies, but as I now look back, I find myself
more satisfied with the chapter on rhetoric, as will emerge below.

The gist of my
complete oral

study was the suggestion

before the written saga

that there was such a thing as a

came into existence. Further



I proposed

that the form of the oral saga was conditioned

patterns of Norse heroic poetry, that these heroic

by the


tions had put

effect of that

their stamp on
argument was

the native

saga traditions
the native

of Iceland.
of the


to underline



to place

their had the of

in long-standing
as an effect oral extending of innovation

of the the

thirteenth sagas as or as more




emphasize gument taneous a literary


surfacings evolution


portraying rather over a

century. My or less simul works argument



independent an so. Such


one capitalizes on the difficulty of dating the sagas and relating them to chain. We do not know which is the oldest saga: another in an evolutionary
Hallfredar we choose saga, Egils as a point saga, of F?stbrcedra departure, or saga, cannot it some serve other. very But well whichever to explain saga lat

to establish a er developments in saga writing. It does not seem possible so on down the one next the and in which saga inspires literary continuity a new to It is be and appears line. Each saga is idiosyncratic beginning. to rath oral from that thus plausible roots, argue they spring independent
er than from systematic literary schooling.

At roughly
notion tion, of such an

the same time as my book

oral saga by exploring as say," "people the

frequent people

I tried to underpin
references say," "most to oral people

tradi say,"



"it is told," "it is reported," and so forth.121 collected this type and sorted through them to ascertain whether
anything about the nature of the oral transmissions.

of 231 references us could tell they

My conclusion was

or that 174 (ca. 75%) ofthe references were either stylistic mannerisms constituted to that the but be 57 (ca. 25%) remaining spurious, likely evidence of orally transmitted narrative. This residue is located genuine
in nineteen different sagas and p ttir and therefore suggests general re

des Erz?hlens 11. I remember influenced L?mmert, (Stutt Bauformen by Eberhard being C. Booth, The Rhetoric ofFiction (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago gart: Metzler, 1955), and Wayne Press, 1961). of an Oral Family Saga," Arkiv for Evidence "The Textual M. Andersson, 12. Theodore and supplemented nordisk filologi, 81 (1966), 1-23. My paper was reviewed by W. Manhire, in the Sagas of Icelanders," of Source-References Functions "The Narrative 19 Saga-Book, als Textge Klaus von See, "Altnordische ( 1975-76), Literaturgeschichte 170-90. Compare zur skandinavischen Literatur desMittelalters in Edda, Saga, Skaldendichtung: schichte," Aufs?tze Winter, 1981), p. 533. (Heidelberg:

384 course content

Andersson to oral of the tradition 57 the writers. and I went observed on to that scrutinize 30 of the them

by authentic




to conflicts
are the very

or to the settlement
stuff of the sagas,

of conflicts.


the fact that

reasonable to

it therefore



that such references

the conflict

imply the widespread

situations of oral-formulaic understood that appear


of oral tra

concerning Because of the on the sagas

in the written


popularity was no doubt

in the analysis to be a promotion

my 1960s, of oral lit

to erature.13 But I confused the issue in the 1970s by voicing opposition the idea that Beowulf 'and the Nibelungenlied are in any sense recordings of oral tradition.14 I considered both to be literary creations based only re motely on oral material. Beowulf appeared to me to be a Virgilian exercise sources of the Nibelungenlied in written epic. I argued that the immediate
were written poems and that the poet's technique sources the and point are of view could

be identified
is, the


the application
the end

of traditional

literary analysis;
that prose easy fairly transmissions

to of

comparison reconstruct in outline.

with product I therefore considered


to be an entirely
and Germany,

and Iwas

by no means


the poetic
advocate of

oral theory


in general. Since the United States was in the grip of oral theory, my view of Beowulf was not well received on this side of the Atlantic. My view of the Nibelungenlied was not well received in either the United States or Germa to Andreas Heusler's it looked like a reversion discredited ny, because
source reconstructions.

As Imoved away from oral theory as it applied to literature in England and on the Continent, other students of Old Icelandic literature became
more receptive to it. Lars L?nnroth in particular, having were come to teach

at the University
a spokesman for

of California,
the oral-formulaic


in the summer

of 1965, became
dominant in the


United States but that had gained little attention in Europe.15 In the same as the on of L?nnroth's book year publication Njdls saga, the Icelandic
The Nature ofNarrative 13. See Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966), p. 309. M. Andersson, Medieval Legacy (Ith 14. Theodore Early Epic Scenery: Homer, Virgil, and the aca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, "The Epic Source of pp. 145-59; 1976), especially Arkiv for nordisk filologi, 88 (1973), saga and the Nibelungenlied," i~54 Niflunga and the Delivery of Eddie Poetry," Speculum, 15. See L?nnroth, "Hj?lmar's Death-Song "The Language in Nj?ls Saga: A Critical of Tradition," 46 ( 1971 ), 1-20; the chapter entitled Den dubbla scenen. Muntlig Eddan till Abba (Stockholm: Introduction, pp. 42-103; diktningfr?n A Formula Analysis," "loro fannz aeva n? upphiminn: in Speculum Prisma, 1978), pp. 29-52; Norroenum: Norse Studies inMemory of Gabriel Turville-Petre, ed. Ursula Dronke et al. (Odense: Odense Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 310-27. 16. Oskar Halld?rsson, ?slenska b?k og pema Hrafnkels Uppruni s?gu (Reykjavik: Hi? 1976). menntaf?lag,

The Long Prose Form inMedieval Iceland


shifted the position of the "Icelandic School" scholar Oskar Halld?rsson on Hrafnkels saga.16 Sigur?ur Nordal's a in small book study significantly
of the same saga from 1940?well publicized in R. George Thomas's trans

as applied stood as the chief pillar of inventionism lation of 1958?still to the sagas.17 Nordal had argued that Hrafnkels saga should be understood as a fiction contrived by an author intent not on conveying traditional to shake I tried several times effect. had narrative but on achieving literary in of his book and on the this pillar by querying Nordal's margins logic was in I had failed. This the endeavor which of but paper, stray pieces He argued that Hrafnkels succeeded. Oskar Halld?rsson saga was in all probability not a fiction but a version of tradition that had passed through of fiction. Since the pub that give the appearance the normal distortions lication of his book, Icelandic scholars have been more open to the idea
that the sagas are based extensively on oral tradition.

has not been harvested The real fruit of this evolving reassessment yet in a large project undertaken but is pending Only by G?sli Sigur?sson. in which direction sample papers have appeared, but they clearly show the
the project is headed.18 They mark a return to the study of narrative dou

blets in the sagas; that is, instances in which the same story is told in dif sagas. The problem for scholars has always been fering forms in different to allow for the these doublets are similar enough to determine whether or whether a the from one is literary borrowing that other, they assumption and ultimate are so different that they must both derive from independent seems clear that in the cases under study G?sli Sigur?s ly oral sources. It The special value of his line of son will opt for the second alternative. not the conclusion that full stories allow it is will that only investigation
were were, in circulation what was but constant will and also what allow was us to assess what how stable were the stories likely to mutable, details

be fixed and what details were subject to change. the problem Carol J. Clover rethought In the United States, meantime, in 1986.19 innovative essay published in an exceptionally of oral antecedents
Located at a university richly endowed with resources on languages, liter

Studia Isl?ndica, Nordal, 7 (Reykjavik: ?safoldarprentsmioja, 17. Sigur?ur Hrafnkatla, Thomas trans. R. George A Study by Sigur?ur Nordal, (Cardiff: ; 1940) Hrafnkels sagafreysgoda: Univ. of Wales Press, 1958). Dif "Another Audience?Another 18. Gisli Sigur?sson, Saga: How Can We Best Explain in Text und in Vatnsd la saga and Finnboga ferent Accounts saga ramma of the Same Events?" L. C. Tristram, ScriptOralia, 1994), 58 (T?bingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, Zeittiefe, ed. Hildegard "A?rir ?heyrandur??nnur og Finnboga saga? Um ?l?kar fr?sagnir Vatnsdaelu pp. 359-75; the for Study 3 (1994), 30-41; "Methodologies Sk?ldskaparm?l, s?gu af s?mu atbur?um," Insular Literature between the Oral and theWritten inMedieval of the Oral in Medieval Iceland," Gunter Narr Verlag, L. C. Tristram ed. Hildegard II: Continuity (T?bingen: of Transmission, 19. Carol J. Clover, "The Long Prose Form," Arkiv for nordisk filologi, 101 (1986), 10-39.

atures, sources European features.

and to cultures gather cultures. the throughout on material She first observed "prose" the world, the transmission that these she availed of prose transmissions that does not herself narrative have two of those re

in non salient de



is a term

adequately sections normal

scribe even the prose parts of these traditions. Aside

traditions are almost universally prosimetrical, the

from the fact that the


ly employ a poetically heightened, rhythmic prose that is the very antithe sis of what we find in the Icelandic sagas. The second striking feature of
these narratives is that they are significantly shorter than the Icelandic sa

gas. Where they appear to be longer?as Heike or the Turkish Dede Korkut?there
through a process of literary amalgamation

in the case of the Japanese Tale of is evidence that they have passed
in the written transmission.

On the basis of these observations Clover concluded that there is no evidence for the existence of a "long prose form" in the oral traditions of
the world. be neither The pure traditions prose nor that long. have The been effect available of Clover's for study argument turn out is to to iso

late the situation

at At the the oral same stage, time,

in Iceland:

If Iceland did
would is abundant

in fact have a long prose

be unique evidence in world that there were


phenomenon there however,


therefore running of episodic

of some kind
have two or been three a

in Iceland.
short form, pages

If they were not a long form,

and must the the appearance a represent literary of microform

they must

of written

hundred To

elaboration to macro




form, Clover had recourse to the thinking of the Africanists Daniel Bie buyck and Isidore Okpewho, who had noted that African performers know more than they actually recite, and know in addition how their performed context. She referred to this larger episodes fit into a larger narrative
context knew an as the "immanent whole," whole."20 but by Icelandic analogy was a "immanent also storytellers presumably the international evidence

rendering emerged

that they too told only parts of it at a sitting.

the for the "immanent first time whole" in the written sagas




strictly literary as we have


of the "immanent whole" in some Though allowing for the existence real but unrealized Clover form, specifically opposed my own supposition
that because The ation there were that alternative of shorter full-length does that oral not stories precursory with the to the written sagas, analogies. an amalgam centu supposition idea, square the written saga had been international represent the

could since




ry as an offshoot

of the rhapsodic

theory of the Homerists.

The p?ttr the

concept in Imma

20. Clover, "The Long Prose Form," p. 36. Foley made use of Clover's nent Art, p. 12. See also Sigur?sson, pp. 187-90. "Methodologies,"

Medieval Iceland The Long Prose Form in


that individual sub tales had been ory, as it was known, was the notion most fully ar narratives. The linked to produce had been theory larger ticulated by the Swedish poet A. U. B??th in 1888, but had subsequently in 1913 on the grounds that well been dismantled by Andreas Heusler in order to defined short narratives cannot simply be placed end-to-end
create the a short long saga.21 narratives Clover were countered not fixed, Heusler's unalterable objections tales but by arguing flexible episodes that

a longer To my

to be parts of an "immanent whole"

narrative. knowledge, Clover's paper

and therefore
the state

of the




in America. It offers a flexible solution in a way rather similar to the flex discussion into the Homeric introduced by Milman Parry. That is, ibility we are no longer obliged to imagine that a Greek rhapsode had commit or that an Icelandic storytel ted all of the Iliad or the Odyssey to memory the whole of Egils saga or Nj?ls saga as we know ler knew or performed
them. Rather, the Icelandic storyteller knew a number of incidents per

one or several of taining to Egill or Gunnarr or Nj?ll and could have told or into several sittings. That oral flexibility hardened these incidents at one
a "long prose form" only at the written stage.

sagas, diversity which

theory might
presumably of macrostructures

serve to explain
was preconditioned in the written

at sagas, or

the narrative
the which oral can

style of the
and the the form take


of biographies
saga), conflict

(e.g., the skald sagas),

stories (e.g., Reykdcela


tales of

(e.g., Vatnsdoela
(e.g., the



com Vinland sagas or Yngvars saga vibforla). These forms could also be and conflict as h?d in bined, saga), Egils lakappa (skald saga Bjarnarsaga saga (biography, skald saga, and conflict saga). What Clover's theory does of not explain quite so well is how and why the first literary realizations
the "immanent saga" were so successful. If the first saga writers had no

in the prior tradition, how did they achieve such satisfactory wholes models as Egils saga, Gisla saga, or Laxd la saga on their first attempt? the con Clover did, however, shift the debate significantly by widening
text, finding she a middle ground between traditionalism and inventionism,

and defining
and have between me, them the

the oral materials

did back oral not into and


subtly. Unlike
the written but and to tried suggest

sagas instead more

Knut Liest0l,
or less as we to discriminate about the

project simply forerunners oral written stages


about the

from one

to the other.
of oral

She also leads us to think more




i n?gra isl?ndska ?ttsagor 21. A. U. B??th, Studier ?fuer kompositionen "Die Anf?nge," pp. 74-80; rpt. 1969, pp. 449-54.

(Lund: Gleerup,


In without

a recent reference book Hermann to Clover's P?lsson paper.22 To has some taken a similar his tack, study though is antithet


ical to Clover's, oral components internationalizing

evidence. On


it also carries forward her project of identifying the to is extent It antithetical the than rather that, differently. the evidence, it focuses in close detail on the Icelandic
other hand, the argument is reconcilable with Clover's


anced ries way.

by virtue of seeking
It dissents to a from the particular were

to define
idea and that locale not

the oral materials

the sagas are the confined would have based traditions

in a more
on oral instead there the

sto to was cir

peculiar heirlooms." "family


far-flung culation The

They network marriage of oral information readily

regionally in Iceland that from one form

because ensured



region of information

to another. was genealogical,

but genealogy needs to be understood in two senses. On the one hand it such as those in the great compilations of comprised family relationships, Landn?mab?k. But it should also be taken to include mannfr ?i or person
ality lore; that is, details about the appearance, character, and actions of

sketches counts mated




points out

and that

these personality
lost written saga Nj?ls character ac is esti por

cropped as well as to have

everywhere, presumably in what has survived. He carefully and

in oral




traits" (p. 63) and suggests

persons from the Saga Age,

that the bulk of oral traditions

although certain other narrative

served to portray
models, such

as the love triangle

ture, were also

(based on Brynhild
(p. 75).

and Sigurd) that some

five-part that he

and the travel adven (Grettis saga, Gisla

but he does not

in circulation

At the end of his book,

saga, Nj?ls seems saga) seem

he suggests
to a


to subscribe


that this form was adumbrated

to be Cloverian in the sense

in oral tradition.

the written

his po

to have been pieced torical personalities.

not account well for

of and traditions about his together from memories It is perhaps also Cloverian in the sense that it does
the overall economy and drama of the saga as a


A sketch of Gisli's
intensity of

Gisla saga

does not
as a narrative.

lead compellingly
It is the extraordinary

to the


of the sagas that remains plotting of the following pages.

to be explained,


that is the task

22. Hermann 3 (Vienna:

P?lsson, Fassbaender,

Oral Tradition 1999).

and Saga Writing,

Studia Medievalia


The Long



in Medieval





been includ We may begin with two sagas that have not, tomy knowledge, of oral tradition in Iceland, Sturlu saga and Gu?mundar ed in discussions saga dyra. Both deal with events in the second half of the twelfth century, in the early thirteenth that both were written and it is supposed century. of the of Sturla the The protagonist first, ?>?roarson, the progenitor scene came in and cultural to dominate the that political Sturlung family of the in The died the thirteenth second, 1183. century, protagonist was a successful chieftain in the North and Gu?mundr dyri ?orvaldsson, died in 1212. In Sturla's case the saga was probably written within fifty to
sixty years of the events described, and in Gu?mundr's case the saga seems

to have been written

between the historical

very soon after his death.23 The

occurrences and the composition


that elapsed
the sagas was

therefore relatively short, and the events described would still have been within living memory. in the ongoing dis If we ask why these sagas have not been included
cussion of oral tradition, at least two reasons suggest themselves. The first

that either is used in the first is that they are difficult to read. It is doubtful reason that the excellent for Icelandic of Old instruction, literary phases the literature in nascent interest they would be any they might extinguish
understood names and to events. represent. Such They matters that events are may an well almost have impenetrable been comprehensible or had about heard for modern clutter of to a the events who

contemporary recounted, but

audience these

remembered are a hopeless or

jumble sustained


have no background.
of the pointed dialogue,


is the accumulation
scenic focus,

of detail


by any
is charac

teristic of the tales of Saga Age

Iceland. Without

taking careful notes,


litteraturs historie, 2nd see Finnur J?nsson, Den oldnorske og oldislandske 23- On the dating Gudmundar and 557; Magnus saga Gad, 1923), II, 550-51 J?nsson, ed., 2 vols. (Copenhagen: 8 (Reykjavik: urn uppruna Studia hennar og samsetning, Isl?ndica, dyra. Nokkrar athuganir and Its Background," Peter Foote, "Sturlusaga Saga 1940), pp. 60-61; Isafoldarprentsmi?ja, Norse Studies [Odense: Odense Book, 13 (1951), 207-37 (rpt. in Peter Foote, Aurvandilst?: in and Art Gud ; Univ. Press, 1984], pp. 9-30 "Advocacy Simpson, 29] ) Jacqueline [especially Guor?n Nordal, mundar saga dyra," Saga-Book, 334-35); 15 (1957-61), 327-45 (especially V?steinn Olason, Elensk b?kmenntasaga, 3 vols. (Reykjavik: Mal og menning, Sverrir Tomasson, 1200 to 1220). In the most recent study of Sturlusaga Vi?ar Hreins 1992), I, 316 (estimates Sturlu in Sturlunga son considers this saga to be the oldest saga. See his "Frasagnara?fer? Niunda in fornsagna?>ingi??The aljyo?lega Sagas, Contemporary Samti?ars?gur?The s?gu," Iceland International Ninth 1994, 2 vols. 31 July-6 August Akureyri, Saga Conference, a careful analysis of the authorial Vi?ar provides Iceland: n.p., 1994) II, 803-17. (Akureyri, as a and allow him to emerge that set Sturla off from his antagonists gradually strategies and struc the narrative chieftain. My discussion endowed below, which emphasizes properly to preclude the sort of control of the text, should not be understood tural complications Vi?ar that proposes. ling perspective

3 go
modern put A

reader together. second is unlikely to retain any sense of the narrative or how it is











iswhat might be referred to as the straitjacket of genre. Ever since the days the sagas have been divided up into discrete of Peter Erasmus M?ller,
genres nomenon.24 and have been studied genre the Furthermore, by genre various genres rather have than been as a global ordered phe in a

to the sagas definite hierarchy, with by far the greatest attention devoted to literature devoted of early Iceland, only a small and quite specialized the kings' sagas, and very little literary attention paid to the texts assem
bled practice in Sturlunga of modern saga. The walling-off history, literary which of genres is more runs quite to counter organize to the likely chro

narratives of

a given

it would

be quite normal
literature in the

to encounter

a study of the
but no


study exists ofthe

genre advanced boundaries here

are is that


in the key period

The alternative or

proposition contempo nearly


persistently a of study

observed. contemporaneous


sagas traditionally
slant on the


to different
older narrative

genres may give us a dif



STURLU SAGA The first three of Sturlu saga confront

names, amount aside to not from much

of these chapters

the reader with

genealogical more than a

a truly
informa listing of

intimidating tion. Indeed,



names, with no clear indication of which names will be important for the a narrative. Only in Chapter 4 does something subsequent approaching
story begin. r?kx comes The under woman suspicion companion of having of a certain linen farmhand from named A?al employ stolen A?alrikr's

er, Skeggi Gamlason. The matter is not settled, and A?alrikr eventually kills of Sturla and his Skeggi. Skeggi is the thingman 'constituent/supporter' so to to that it falls Sturla father, I>or?r, prosecute A?alrikr, who has in the meantime taken refuge with Oddi i>orgilsson. The effect of the incident is thus to put Sturla Iw?arson and Oddi I>orgilsson in opposite camps and at potentially loggerheads. Chapter 5 tells us that A?alr?kr is eventually able to get abroad with the
I. F. Schultz, The 24- Peter Erasmus M?ller, Sagabibliothek, 3 vols. (Copenhagen: 1817-20). are retained in two very recent Icelandic books on the sagas: Armann genre boundaries Ileit ad konungi. Konungsmynd islenskra konungasagna Jakobsson, (Reykjavik: H?sk?la?tg?fan, and Representation in the Olason, Dialogues with the Viking Age: Narration 1997), and V?steinn Sagas of the Icelanders (Reykjavik: Heimskringla, 1998).

The Long



in Medieval



aid of Oddi
is at attempt a the to

and Oddi's
of this

escape. Sturla's cousin

Sturla learns after the fact that Oddi

unrelated I>ormo?arson incident in a there is an case, Gils


In a second,



but Sturla is able to break up the court proceeding

money payment. The chapter concludes with

and avert outlawry with

the summary statement:

"I>essi v?ru af Sturlu upph?f fyrst, er hann ?tti m?lum at skipta vi? menn" were cases first in which Sturla contended the (These legally against oth can an comment because it read to say a good .25 is be This ers) important deal about the nature of the story that is being told. It suggests a biograph
ical focus on Sturla, and it suggests that an important aspect of a man's

of his legal dealings or, more broadly perhaps, his con biography tentious dealings of any kind with other people. Finally, it suggests that and therefore perhaps told serially. The these dealings were remembered on two particular in conflict not individuals focus did necessarily dealings and a series of opponents. but could instead involve the protagonist a Chapter 6 shifts the focus to the family of Oddi I>orgilsson. That is an underlying Oddi and between because shift opposition meaningful The refocusing of Oddi's group sug Sturla has already been established. or his gests that we have not heard the end ofthe troubles between Oddi, not will that the in We Sturla. and learn, fact, antagonist projected family, be Oddi himself, because he dies the next winter and his death is soon consists the fol by the death of his sister Alfdis and their father, i>orgils, the Einarr I>orgilsson, now becomes Oddi's brother, (1151). lowing spring it is noted that he is not learned in the law leader of the clan, although and and has a lisp. The narrative at this point becomes much simplified on to Einarr focus more the reader has been led I>orgilsson surveyable; on their farms located respectively at Sta?arholl and Sturla at Hvammr, followed
the northern and southern sides of the peninsula extending into Brei?a

the two parties, a regular conflict between fjor?r. The stage is now set for next the of and that conflict is in fact the substance thirty chapters down two year later follows and Einarr to the time when Sturla dies (1183) action: of the a is compressed synopsis (1185). The following
1. In a complicated I>orir do-well sequence inn of events, fjolkunngi Sta?arholl), (not far from because fers his protection Sveinsson. father Eorgeirr of I>orir's (a little the ne'er Einarr protects I>orgilsson at Hv?ll the people (the sorcerer) against of Einarr one of whom I>orir has wounded. ?>?rir has been resident with Einarr's foster

2. Two fjor?r

scurrilous companions equally to the north) and attack J?n

in Kr?ks show up at Kambr intro who was ?>?rarinsson,

are to Sturlunga references Finnbogason, saga, ed. J?n J?hannesson, Magnus 25- Textual or to Sturlunga 2 vols. (Reykjavik: Sturlunga?tg?fan, and Kristj?n Eldj?rn, 1946), here I, 68; 2 vols. (Reykjavik: Svart ? hv?tu, 1988), here I, 56. Thorsson, saga, ed. Orn?lfur


Andersson duced plained. in passing J?n kills in one Chapter of his 3, because of but injuries but not ex alleged that the district and they begin

is not what governance to move away. 3. Yngvildr,

assailants, it once was under

feel people Porgils Oddason

1 as the has been who in introduced of daughter Chapter and is therefore in the clan of the is wid I>orgils Oddason Sta?hyltingar, then becomes involved with Por Sturla's brother-in-law Porvar?r owed, to a child, She gives birth but the matter is concealed and the geirsson. to another woman. birth is attributed com Sturla is suspected of being in the cover-up. Sturla and Einarr suit against each plicit t>orgilsson bring are condemned and both other to lesser outlawry. the way to a over thingmeeting shearing rights and Einarr leads Einarr his raids to a and plunders between at Hvammr. Sturla's step



5. A dispute son Einarr 6. The




has elderly priest Porgrimr of Einarr household. Porgilsson's and a plan Sturla that when results Einar tiates

a member wife abducted young by to more That leads tension between for Sturla help. the abductor. with ini


to Sturla Porgrimr appeals in the severe of wounding Ingibjargarson initiates


Sturla's of Einarr to Einarr Sturla


a flirtation

the wife appeals between


I>orgilsson and Einarr,

thingman Sigur?r kerlingarnef. Sigur?r and thus provokes another confrontation in which the and son thus Sturla maintains the upper hand.

8. Vi?arr I>orgeirsson, a certain by Kjartan to shelter Kjartan Einarr 9. Porgillsson.

of Einarr

Halld?rsson places

in a

foster is killed father, Porgilsson's over a woman. Sturla elects quarrel once more himself in to opposition

new characters are introduced. A household of Ein member Twenty-nine arr a member Erlendr Hallason beats of Sturla's Porgillsson's thingman household and is in turn killed A settlement by Sturla and his son Sveinn. is reached. to the inheritance of Qzurr Porgilsson lays claim au?gi and the claims of others, Oddr disputes notably J?sepsson, to Sturla. appeals Porgilsson constructs in Bu? who

10. Einarr ardalr then 11. Einarr and son


in Bu?ardalr 12. Einarr

seizes he can on in Bu?ardalr everything lay his hands a fort around Sta?arholl. Sturla and Einarr Ingibjargar is left, whatever Einarr and Oddr behind leaving J?sepsson in command of the forces levied. they have

makes raids on Sta?arholl that culminate in a regu Ingibjargarson lar battle. The outcome favors the Bu?dcelir, and Einarr Ingibjargarson is severely wounded.

two 13. The settlement

with each side supported a A consolidate, camps by bishop. is reached but Sturla thinks it is to his disadvan by arbiters, to pay, at the same time the precaution to for tage and refuses taking An unwary Einarr is nearly tify Hvammr. Ingibjargarson caught by the Sta?hyltingar.

The Long Prose Form inMedieval Iceland

14. Einarr Ingibjargarson at Iluvellir (1180). Sta?arholl ar conduct 15. takes A new service settlement with


and Hvammr, but Sturla a raid at Skarfsta?ir south

and falls King Magnus Erlingsson at is reached the parties between to demur. continues The Sta?hylting of Hvammr and then return north.

at Skarfsta?ir foster (the son of Sturla's Ingjaldr sets out and apprises has happened Sturla, who on is fought ingar. A great battle Saelingsdalshei?r. sides return home, moment leaving most people at which the tide and Einarr

father Hallr) learns what in pursuit ofthe Sta?hylt

16. Both this 17.

with turns

is the decisive

the impression in Sturla's favor. over obliges a


Sturla feuds with I>orleifr beiskaldi one of Sturla's The by thingmen. to pay a small fine. stops by at Hvammr to remarks scathing



I>orgilsson the case

killing Sturla

18. A day laborer is treated and er's expense.

and Hitardalr by Sturla and

(where ?orleifr

I>orleifr at one

lives) anoth

19. The story starts anew with characters ditional figure. on the themselves opposite and against 20. Yet ?>?rhallr Svartsson. ?>?rhallr. new is killed case Einarr narrative by

a complicated In this action sides Sturla's

action Einarr

in which

of a quarrel son Sveinn

and ?orgilsson Porsteinn between conspires with

twenty-two Sturla

ad find

drettingr Porsteinn




to an

inheritance henchmen.


in which

I>orhallr 21. A seduction from another

two of Sveinn a certain



ation 2 2. Yet

Porgilsson dispute

Alfr Qrn?lfsson to Sturla. pits Einarr

to switch






against gives

Sturla. rise to two

23. A whole abductions, 24. Still stage


cast of characters, are of which both narrative inheritance

twenty-eight, numbering settled by J?n Loptsson.

fresh another for a further

start, with dispute,

new characters, forty-nine is once which settled again



by J?n

Loptsson. 25. The continuation of the dispute puts Sturla at loggerheads with Pall

Solvason 26. Pall's wife

at Reykjaholt. attacks I>orbjorg to get the dispute an exorbitant causes Pall Sturla settled demand to pull who back. is sympathetic to his case and deaf to with on for a knife, own and terms. that astonishes he uses his moral

advantage 27. Sturla everyone 28. Pall makes




to J?n Loptsson, appeals Sturla's representations. Sturla Snorri must at Oddi, hundreds rewards finally but defer



dred 30. Pall

to thirty richly.

to J?n Loptsson, the compensation hundreds.

who he

offers is owed

to foster from



two hun



Porbjorg self dies sees no reason dies, and Sturla in 1183, and Einarr Porgilsson for dies further hostilities. later. He him

two years

The reader who surveys this summary is likely to find it quite opaque. The only sense of the story that will emerge is that there is an ongoing
conflict between Sturla P?roarson and Einarr i>orgilsson, each support

ed by a shifting group of family and friends. But even this minimal sense of structure is purchased at the of radical A only price simplification.
number it of the chapters show requires heavy-handed sentences. The a way as to make a complexity to omissions in action the suggestive reduce them chapters or memorable. of a whole to a is not saga, of and sum in as not than couple articulated As often rather

mary such

action the



a new attaching

chapter to


the appearance of all over gives starting again, the in a continuous flow. previous chapter the narrative of the conflict details strike may



as both relative
to saga

disconnected importance
readers, but

and repetitive, without or dramatic profile. The

they are not constructed

in terms of any hierarchy issues are familiar enough

in what we are accustomed

to think of as saga style. The quarrels ings (1, 2, 9, 17), by sexual disputes
and parentage questions, abductions,

are provoked by woundings of various kinds including

and seductions (3, 6,

and slay paternity

19, 21,

7, 8,

(10, 11, 20, 22, 24), by raids (4, 12, 14), and 23), by inheritance disputes once (atypically) by a dispute over shearing rights (5). Sexual and inherit
ance disputes are the most common, the former at least being familiar to

readers of the classical sagas from, for example, Eyrbyggja saga, Gisla saga, Hallfre?ar saga, H?varOar saga Isfirdings, Korm?ks saga, Lj?svetninga saga, Nj?ls
saga, Peykdcela are so saga, Vatnsd la saga, and V?ga-Gl?ms saga. It is curious, how

ever, that the inheritance

saga, poorly



are well


in Sturlunga
exceptions in




la saga, and V?pnfiroinga Egils saga, Laxd saga.26 The classical sagas tend to organize such quarrels
a mounting crescendo. increasingly The drastic action of through stages?from

and provocations
passes lakappa to assassina


saga Hitd Bjarnar to slander insult

tion plots and finally to direct assaults?but this crescendo effect ismis in Sturlu the late introduction of saga, sing although Jon Loptsson might
be considered 26. On an intensification. For the most part the provocations seem in Sturlunga Ethics and Action in Thirteenth Nordal, saga see Gudrun Univ. Press, igg8), pp. 161-63. m (Odense: Odense engages Egik sagaEgill contest to recover the inheritance of his wife Asger?r, are but his opponents In Laxdcela saga that ismore about legal trick Norwegians. (Chap. 18) there is an episode In V?pnfiroinga confrontation. ery than about a dramatic saga Brodd-Helgi ?>orgilsson and Geitir Lytingsson divorced wife and Geitir's quarrel over the dowry of Halla, Brodd-Helgi's sister. See Austfirdinga 11 Islenzk fornrit, sogur, ed. J?n J?hannesson, (Reykjavik: Hi? ?slenz ka fornritaf?lag, 1950), pp. 36-38. Century Iceland in an extended occurrences

The Long Prose Form in Medieval Iceland freely interspersed,


395 of as

in an order
materials are

that the writer

arranged serially


than dramatical


(12) and on against the Bu?dcelir ly.Only the battles of the Sta?hyltingar the of scenic characteristic articulation (15) approach Saelingsdalshei?r the classical sagas. In the first of these actions, the details are limited to
information on the wounds and casualties inflicted during the encoun

there is a considerably ter, but in the action on Saelingsdalshei?r greater of detail. informs Sturla of the raid, and Sturla word Ingjaldr deployment to his wife's query with and then responds lessly takes down his weapons turn She in incites his followers. The pursuit is understatement. pointed on the route taken by each group and the set in relief with information
dialogue in each camp, as well as the words that pass between the antag

onists. The chapter in question (21) could serve with honor Aside from this chapter, it is not until the last six chapters
rative preceding acquires the saga last dimensions six, no fewer and than saga rhythm. new In the eighty-six characters

in any saga. that the nar

chapters are intro


duced, but in the final six chapters Instead there is a vivid confrontation
tension, to have The and a much larger the role literary

we find not a single new character. between I>orbjorg and Sturla, high
of dialogue. for a new not, however, The role author appears as dramatist. do much to alter

exchanged last-minute

proportion of chronicler reprieve does

a registration It remains predominantly the effect of the text as a whole. at Sta?arholl The author centered and Hvammr. conflicts of regional
makes economy tion of little of use detail of the designed the creation strategies to focus that on have a made particular the sagas famous, the and the the escala tanta outcome,


of memorable


the battle on Saelingsdals lizing deferral of the finale. On the other hand, hei?r and the last chapters make it clear that these literary strategies were use. already in the air and available for

Gudmundar occurs in north central Iceland rather than in north




Iceland, but chronologically

begins in 1184-85 and carries

it is a continuation
on down to 1212

of Sturlu saga. The

when Gu?mundr

in com but has much dyri dies. It is shorter and simpler than Sturlu saga mon with it structurally. It begins obliquely with the family of Gu?mundr retires at Gu?mundr in Reykjardalr. When at Helgasta?ir Eyj?lfsson at sea. lost son Teitr is his property passes to his Teitr, but MunkajDver?, and his father Gu?mundr is subsequently His inheritance by disputed and two Halld?rr brothers Gu?mundr's Bjorn.



tries to extricate himself by selling the property at half price Gu?mundr to Eyj?lfr Hallsson on the understanding at Grenja?arsta?ir, that Eyj?lfr will take responsibility for the legal problems. Halld?rr and Bjorn appeal to their respective in ?orvaror chieftains, I>orgeirsson at Mo?ruvellir at and two ?>orkelsson The then chieftains Qnundr Horg?rdalr Laugaland. take over the land at Helgasta?ir. As the dispute between Eyj?lfr and the two chieftains heats up, Gu?mundr remains dyri at Bakki in 0xnadalr neutral and works to keep the contending matter The is parties apart.
eventually no defense referred and are to the where t>orvar?r Allthing, to be outlawed. considered When and an Qnundr attempt mount is made

to confiscate the property at Mo?ruvellir and Laugaland, to intervenes and is finally able prevent fighting again
a marriage through This narrative occupies comment that Gu?mundr ter alliance. the first three chapters honor" from and the

Gu?mundr dyri to settle the mat

with The the

concludes case.




in which pute,

well have added,

Gu?mundr happens was so often as

in the style of Sturlu saga, that this was the first case
involved?a in Sturlu case saga. What involving follows an inheritance event dis a serial is in any

account of Gu?mundr's up to the great burning

1. Gu?mundr ?orkelsson's 2. Gu?run mediates camp,

legal dealings at Langahli?:

a case perpetrated arising by

in ten chapters
from three the men

of a man

all leading
in Qriundr

slaying from


at Arnarnes E?roard?ttir has a complicated marital life and ends a certain H?kon !>?roarson after he kills her second up marrying husband, Hrafn Brandsson. is H?kon's Gu?mundr settles the case uncle, dyri, who with Hrafn's family 5-6). (Chap. ?>orgeror ?>orgeirsd?ttir is slain by men in the kelsson. Gu?mundr dyri slaying quarrels no with of role her lover Ingimundr, and and Ingimundr l>or Qriundr


employ dyri has


I>orgeirsson in this tale. Brandr Qrn?lfsson

4. Gu?mundr ers for the 5. ?>orfinnr

prosecutes successfully of a certain Sumarli?i.




Qnundarson but is rejected Ingibjorg close. I>orfinnr eventually clares that the offspring t>orvar?r

woos (I>orkelssonar) because Gu?mundr forces of the Gu?mundr marriage will

Gu?mundr claims to agree, be


dyri's daughter the kinship is too but the de bishop



son returns sneis from abroad and ??orgeirsson's Qgmundr women wreaks havoc with married at Draflasta?ir and Lauf?s. The second an armed incident in which confrontation is near precipitates Qgmundr In the a settlement killed. is reached, with J?n ly subsequent litigation Gu?mundr with Loptsson supporting Qgmundr. dyri is charged turning over the but fails to do so. Qgmundr then declares the settlement payment null and void.

The Long Prose Form inMedieval Iceland

of 7. One overtone kinsman mundr's 8. A certain match mundr cate the parties of sexual Porfinnr interests Run?lfr and to a tension) quarrel takes over refuge offers cattle trespassing with Gu?mundr to mediate dissatisfaction. a man during a horse but


Qnundarson incurs and Nikul?sson from

(that also has an 's dyri. Gu?mundr finds Gu? against


is exiled

dyri and Kolbeinn a with but he later retracts Gu?mundr gift of horses, a con to Gu?mundr's deal of damage The quarrel doing good reputation. at at the residence of Gu?mundr's kinsman Porvaldr tinues and Baegis? to a mother Bir is complicated and daughter (both named by visits paid and his hired man Gu?mundr Tassason. na) at Efri-Langahli? by Porvaldr in by Gu? of Porvaldr, who is taken The matter ends with the wounding dyri.

from Mj?vafell wounds in proceedings district Tumason (in Skagafjor?r). the

managed Run?lfr

by Gu? tries to pla the gift, thus


9. Gu?mundr leader of elects

men a force of Porkelsson (the ninety against Qriundr gathers at and surrounds his house the opposition) Qnundr Langahli?. the house. to keep his fifty men inside

is clearly the high point of the saga and is The burning at Langahli? to the igniting and progress of the described with epic detail pertaining and the fate and those without, between those within the fire, dialogue of a number of individuals as they either succumb in the house or try to is not dissimilar from (though consid escape. The style of this narrative account of the burning of Nj?ll and his house the less full than) erably inNj?ls saga. What follows (Chap. 15-23) recounts hold at Bergf>?rshv?ll
the aftermath of the catastrophe. We learn how Jon Loptsson takes charge

of an enormous
son leads a raid

against H?kon

but dies

the next year; how Qnundr

Gu?mundr's nephew

and one


a pursuit but is himself trapped; how of the burners; how H?kon mounts sons in the south; how Qnundr's seeks help from Jon Loptsson's Qnundr
son-in-law south; how ?>orgr?mr Gu?mundr alikarl is wrongly and rumored threatens to be to advancing disgrace from Qnundr's the captures

ment ?orsteinn finally, troops


is prevented
with a bloodless major forces

by Kolbeinn
attack recruits his


how attempts
how but

at settle
son and,


confrontations; on Gu?mundr six hundred The


organizes Gu?mundr and

Jon Loptsson's is turned back; corners Porsteinn's three


at Grund,




before he retires at i>ing tell of three minor disputes involving Gu?mundr sin" (and ok in anda?isk and dies 1212?"ok ?>ar lag?i sv? metor? eyrar to an end his [worldly] honors). he died there and brought
The of saga as a whole matter, consists a of an introduction of largely with a moderate amount incidents in genealogical sequence unrelated


ex no means dyri's dealings with others (most notably but by a at dramatic the porkelsson), apogee fairly Langahli?, clusively Qnundr

39 o"


account of the aftermath of Langahli?, and three detached prolonged at structure the end. This is reminiscent of what we find very episodes quite in the classical sagas with their neutral introductory material, gradually
mounting conflicts, dramatic climaxes, and sometimes rather detailed ep

ilogues. The chief deviation from this pattern lies in the less effectively or ganized sequence of conflicts, a number of which have nothing to do with at Langahli?. the confrontation Indeed, half the chapters in this central section (Chap. 5, 6, 8, 10, and 12) have little or no bearing on the antago
nism as well between be Gu?mundr and Qnundr. The section as a whole public life or could as an characterized as a record of Gu?mundr's just ac


of regional
of success,



his life. The

failures. The


is on Gu?mundr's
centers on his


metord 'honor', which

tive at the end of his

in good medieval
life when he retires


seems to be put in perspec

at f>ingeyrar. to the sense author same

the monastery

has not

been as in

able the

the impression
them We

of being
into drama have

very close

to the events but

of Gu? seems

to abstract classical and

degree mundr's

personality on the

sagas. none whatsoever

in fact

personality little very The

of Qnundr's.

not to have reflected

even tragedy

on the persons
at Langahli?: in

of his tale, on the underlying

short, on all those matters

that dis

tions, no key


from chronicle
and the

and invite us to ponder

human lot. so central Gu?mundar in the

saga dyra



relationships, to how concerns these





















and was probably written around assessed differently, with estimates

for ca. 1220 rests on evidence that

1220. The dating of the saga has been ranging from 1160 to 1238, but the case
the author of Lj?svetninga saga must saga inserted

a passage
must have

from Porgils saga.27 In the opinion

been written in the 1220s, and

of this writer, Lj?svetninga

Porgils therefore

be a

little older.28 Thus there is a period of about a century that lies between the events described in Porgils saga ok Haflida and the writing of the saga.
a date around 1220 for Lj?svetninga M. Andersson and 27- I proposed saga in Theodore William Ian Miller, Law and Literature in Medieval Iceland: Lj?svetninga saga and Valla-Lj?ts saga Stanford Univ. Press, and in "Gu?brandur (Stanford: 1989), pp. 78-84, Vigfusson's Saga The Case of Lj?svetninga tilDala: Gu?brandur Vigf?sson Cen Chronology: saga," in UrDolum McTurk ed. and 11 Andrew Leeds Texts and Wawn, tenary Essays, Rory (Leeds: Monographs, Univ. Printing remains Service, II, 107, Olason 1989), pp. 1-10. In Islensk b?kmenntasaga, neutral on the question of dating Lj?svetninga 1220 or later in the century. saga around 28. In her edition of Porgils saga okHafli?a Oxford Univ. Press, (London: 1952), pp.

The Long Prose Form inMedieval Iceland Like


matter the previous sagas, Porgils saga begins with genealogical connections and bonds of both the Hafli?i family friendship explaining at Sta?arholl in Vestrh?p M?sson at Brei?abolsta?r and I>orgils Oddason in farm Sturlu in The Saurbcer. (Einarr I>orgilsson's key figure in the saga) first phase of the story is Hafli?i's Mar who is BergJ)?rsson, nephew as and ill He in natured. is described unpopular given fosterage prompdy
to a poet named I>or?r, who lives on !>orgils's land in Hvammsdalr. Mar

his foster gives an ill return for good treatment and ends up wounding father. We are told that there is a long story about the litigation that en sues and that this was the beginning of the trouble between Hafli?i and none but is that of is The author it this told. does story interesting I>orgils, not aspire to the sort of overall regional news coverage that we found in
Sturlu saga and Gudmundar saga dyra. Instead, the next six chapters focus

on the further problems caused by Mar. These difficulties begin with the arrival at I>orgils's farm of another in the person of ?l?fr Hildisson. unsavory character i>orgils advises him at Strandir, where he falls in with Mar Bergjr?rsson. to take employment inflicts a superficial wound. Mar in The two of them quarrel, and ?l?fr as as Hneitir's turn abuses his host Hneitir, well daughter, and finally con a to result Hafli?i prepares to prosecute ?l?fr have Hneitir killed. As trives moves to while I>orgils Hildisson, prosecute Mar. The upshot is that ?l?fr or on I>orgils's property. In in unless he is is outlawed I>orgils's company a to to his him heels forces and take Mar into lures trap response Eorgils loss of dignity. with a humiliating From this point on the tension is shifted away from Mar and ?l?fr and and i>orgils (Chap. 10-32). is played out more directly between Hafli?i record of liter at Reykjah?lar, famous for an interesting At the wedding are son-in and Hafli?i's most the guests ary activity, I>orgils distinguished law I>or?r !>orvaldsson from Vatnsfjor?r. The festive high spirits take the
form of mockery aimed at I>or?r, a mockery not encouraged but also not

of ?l?fr the presence I>or?r then discovers by I>orgils. When discouraged is ignored, he at the feast, he protests, and when his protest Hildisson (Chap. 10). departs with his men is roughly treated by ?l?fr later a certain Grimr Snorrason Sometime on the playing field and appeals to Hafli?i, who promises unspecified help. Grimr then contrives to kill ?l?fr (Chap. 11). In the next episode ?>?ror takes a fancy to ?orgils's ax, but ?orgils suggests that he has R?feyjarsk?ld aman named Ketill use it for (Chap. 12). He subsequently dispatches good
x-xxix, Ursula Brown reviews the dating criteria in some detail and finds "no strong grounds earlier than 1237, the latest date it contains" that Porgils sag? was written much for supposing retains a date around In Islensk b?kmenntasaga, I, 321, Nordal 1240. (p. xxix).



to kill one of Hafli?i's men (Chap. 13). Hafli?i finds that the corpse of the victim has been improperly buried and prepares a legal case, while I>orgils counters by preparing a case for the killing of Ol?fr Hildisson. At the All thing Hafli?i offers I>orgils the price of eight cows out of deference
to his standing, but not as a legal fine. As a result no settlement can be


morning, for

as the contending feast forces confront one another, ?orgils

has half a mind

out of respect

to attack, but Bo?varr Asbjarnarson

St. Peter's day. Later it emerges

urges him
that this

to refrain
is a pure

is hopelessly the real reason being that porgils ly rhetorical appeal, hemmed in and in imminent peril (Chap. 16). Back at Reykjaholt P?ror
Magn?sson sees i>orgils li?i's middle has a prophetic ax As dream that suggests an but there will be great severs move dissen

sion at the thingmeeting

Hafli?i's finger.

raised a result and he

17). In a press of people

reacts with ax blow makes that no is outlawed

the next

Haf to go

to block access to the into exile. Instead he gathers four hundred men a confiscation court (Chap. district and prevent Hafli?i from convening the confiscation is thwarted, and Hafli?i is able to seize 18). Accordingly only part of a timber cargo that Porgils is unable to secure (Chap. 19-20).
In the remaining twelve chapters the focus shifts to the culmination of

the quarrel at the meeting of the Allthing in 1121. Hafli?i arrives first and then lies in wait for his arrival with a force destroys I>orgils's thingbooths, of twelve hundred men, despite the remonstrations of the priest Ketill t>orsteinsson and Bishop ?>orl?kr. I>orgils approaches with a body of sev en hundred men but is urged to exercise reason and is finally deflected
by a dinner invitation. The impression arises that I>orgils's advance scouts

forces, and i>orgils refuses to aban may have been captured by Hafli?i's don them. Two of the scouts return to report on the destroyed thingbooths and the hostility in Hafli?i's camp, but I>orgils persists in his advance. a I>orl?kr Bishop gains day's reprieve and Ketill i>orsteinsson delivers an on from his own experience, exemplum humility by which Hafli?i is deeply moved. A huge monetary settlement is finally agreed upon and is funded live in good harmony. by Eorgils's friends. Thereafter Porgils and Hafli?i The narrative outline of Porgils saga ok is Hafli?a quite straightforward:
three chapters of introduction, six chapters on the troublemakers Mar and





the mounting
on the climactic



the Allthing. in the Mar, one




ters. three Hafli?i,


are but

is enhanced
names thereafter Other

by a radically
than the can action are


cast of charac
first on on Ol?fr, side or

a few more

chapters, and I>orgils.

be readily concentrates clearly




the other of the contest. The


of this simplification

is that the

The Long Prose Form in Medieval Iceland


reader has little difficulty in keeping the dramatis personae and the drift ofthe plot in mind. Another no into is relevance: principle brought play loose ends and no incidents tangential to the central conflict burden the
reader's relate a memory. particular The detail reader to the expends plot no energy as a whole. in a fruitless effort to

The details
acters and

are furthermore

for first

and then


the lesser char

away to make


for the emergence in high relief of the protagonists and Hafli?i or at of lack direction first is for because it effect, Porgils. Any clarity only
is later understood that whatever the reader is told has explanatory force


in leading
matters of

to the outcome.
lesser to matters


is in addition
greater import.

a regular progression
The mockery of

I>or?r at

the wedding feast and Grimr Snorrason's in a rough treatment by ?l?fr seem a not like insurmountable reader of the frictions, although game do
classical fateful sagas than knows they appear. from experience It is therefore that not a such complete things are surprise often when more they

and lead to the killing of two relatively insignificant men, ?l?fr Hildisson once the reader also knows Stein?lfr that, (Chap. 14). The experienced
killings involves have the begun, elaborate the plot is on an of irreversible cases and course. a direct The legal next preparation phase confronta

tion between
climax restore has been

the principals.


one of them
an almost

is actually wounded,
superhuman effort


it requires


killing ing of

and the

of the climax makes

case from and one

countercase, camp to

use of certain
but the other. also a This

shift regular last feature

counterkilling, focus narrative

parties then the


from These are one

in the final phases

another, are practices by view each

as the contending
other from attested afar, in

intelligence gather other. in on each close sagas, and they



abundantly of foreknowledge. hints

12 that he cannot make a gift of his ax When I>orgils suggests in Chapter is in because he may have use for it, we may be sure that armed conflict
the offing. And dream of and The when about a man at a foreboding architecture compact, dyra. narrative. The saga dissension, saga ok great we distance know is thus that from of that more Sturlu loose from calamity a has the Allthing is in store. The more Gu?mundar to contrived

Porgils more

conceptual has been transition

Haflida than made

self-conscious, saga chronicle and







to matters




feature of Sturlu It is a common tecture but apply equally to portraiture. about the reveal almost that nothing they saga and Gudmundar saga dyra
character of their protagonists. There is one startling moment at the burn



that it would make no dif professes ing of Langahli? when Gu?mundr to one of his ene to him whether his daughter, who ismarried ference is so isolated that we do not mies, is in the house or not, but the moment of Gu?mundr. know whether it is characteristic is quite revealing about personality. ok contrast, By Porgils saga Haflida When Porgils's ally Bo?varr seeks to deter him from an attack by arguing that it is a holy day, we learn that Porgils has a religious streak and that he
may be susceptible to religious arguments. we When Bo?varr later admits that

religion was not

was ?orgils's

the issue at all and that the real reason

peril, learn further that,

for not attacking




to intimidation ?>orgils is on the score of religion, he is not susceptible to a threat to his personal safety, and he would not have responded
representations on this front. In the same sequence we learn of his

or to

refuses to abandon. Hafli?i ty to his followers, whom he categorically shares Porgils's religious scruples, as he demonstrates when he is deeply affected by Ketill f>orsteinsson's parable of humility. In addition, Hafli?i is prescient, that a man is about to be killed and may turn out foreseeing not to be properly buried. In short, the narrative in this saga are episodes not exclusively selected with an eye to registering tradition but also with
a view to revealing the character of the protagonists.

thus offers a more complex view of the charac Porgils saga okHaflida ters that populate its pages. They are people with ingrained principles and
sentiments, who act on the basis of abstract convictions. The saga does not

simply state what people do but explores how and why they do it. An in ner life comes into view behind an otherwise neutrally observed sequence
of an events. That is tantamount of backdrop. the people to who observation replacing motivate an the observation events; that of events shift with produc

es a moral

The moral stance is not necessarily complicated. In Porgils saga ok Haflida in particular there is a rather simple opposition between the villains (Mar and Ol?fr) and the principled gentlemen (Hafli?i and Porgils). It is tempt
ing to think of the opposition as a social statement contrasting common

ers and chieftains, but Mar is after all Hafli?i's nephew and therefore of a chieftain's not The as is illustrated issue is social but moral, family. by on which Hafli?i the occasions on his heaps reproaches (Chap. nephew
5-6). mind: good Sturlu Here the too notion there that There Gudmundar them is a and more larger trouble is caused by are to be saga and sure as well, dyra their betters. abstract bad issue on and the author's by in character of villainous but Nor there are is no the resolved characters such themat invested

character. and

a number

saga ic contrast



with a capacity for evil that threatens to engulf the social order. This understanding of Porgils saga has sometimes been associated


The Long Prose Form in Medieval Iceland


a religious vein, and as we have seen both Porgils and Hafli?i exhibit reli The hardened saga reader might be tempted to regard gious principles. at the critical final Ketill I>orsteinsson's sentimental d misaga 'exemplum'
stage of the negotiations as intrusive and superimposed on the feud ac

as the logical culmination also be understood tion, but it might as between conflict not so much between and Hafli?i i>orgils good
evil. It abstracts the principle that some concession in the interest

of a and too is as an

of peace

is superior to an uncompromising pursuit of personal honor. That a feature quite often found in the classical sagas, not infrequently underlying moral of the story.
To sum up the contrast between Porgils two saga and the two preceding


it is hardly an exaggeration
poses a classical saga, while

to say that the former

the latter are not.

is for all intents and pur

If the action of Porgils saga

there is no doubt at all that it had been set in the Saga Age (930-1030), it post would have been classified among the classical sagas. Only because in Sturlunga saga dates the Saga Age by a hundred years and is transmitted has it been classified among the contemporary sagas. In point of fact it is the Saga Age and the age of between located at almost the exact midpoint
saga writing. It therefore occupies a crucial position and may tell us some

thing about the nature ofthe


from both earlier and later times.

We have referred to three of the written about events in




two sagas of the late twelfth century, a saga of the early in twelfth century, and the sagas of the Saga Age. The first were written events the after and all probability between twenty-five perhaps sixty years a hundred years after the fact; they describe; the second was written about Iceland:
and the classical sagas were written anywhere from two hundred to four

hundred years after their historical setting. In terms of origins, the first category is least mysterious.
little No written doubt that the have narrative been material offered These sagas on is taken the seem use fresh from speculations narrative of written


can be
or and



to be written

genealogies for readers

listeners who might still be familiar (at least by hearsay) with some ofthe and itself is arranged chronologically events that are told. The material a particular The individual. an of of the overview dealings political gives
narrative formulated sagas develop do not is primarily in such formulate a record a way as of events, to redound problems although to the or moral these events are protagonist's perspectives, certainly Such credit. nor do they


larger sketches.

404 In

Andersson the absence of indications to the we assume that




Porgils saga okHaflida also capitalizes on living traditions, but the events lie in the more distant past. And yet, when it comes to an analysis of liter
ary characteristics, Porgils saga, which reports events a hundred or more

years later than the Saga Age, is clearly aligned with the classical sagas. How should we explain this alignment? One explanation might be that the author of Porgils saga had the same
sort of tradition available as the authors of Sturlu saga and Gudmundar saga

dyra but was literarily more skilled and imaginative. The religious under tone could suggest a cleric with a habit of moral reflection; however, the to explain the structural and dramat does nothing religious perspective ic affiliation of Porgils saga with the classical sagas. We could perhaps imag
ine that the author classical we sors once to and sagas were with the written of Porgils imitated the saga their was style, that familiar but there we with are not oral as versions comfortable oral the precur of of the as

supposition classical sagas.


full-blown likely that

It seems




saga okHaflida


the authors
a common

of the classical
tradition of oral

sagas drew




devices imitation. literary


appear to be more a matter of inherited style than of If there was such a style, it had not yet been elevated to
the few time if any Porgils classical been saga was sagas oral. than a century, derive. the an nature to assess Sturlu of the saga the oral and ante Gud in of written, on around 1220. The At that parchment. narrative

literary plane were time there must task from saga is, as

practices Our cedents mundar the short

therefore it has been such


for more a tell


dyra surely term. tell us They

saga style might us much about that there was





and family relationships, that half a century after the events people (at least in the same region) knew the genealogies well and even knew the
of lesser persons connected only marginally with the action.

To know so many
persons knowledge were of such

and events.

implies a knowledge
indeed They also these suggest sagas

of the events
suggest the a events that

in which
intricate be



quite could

the was ary very also

in roughly chronological
of local events. But There though somewhat It looks sense of chaotic. rather as

is no the

that people
indication incidents Such were is not

in a given region knew

that though it was abundant, cast together in Porgils are in liter with saga


the material

at hand,

form. little




strung case

Porgils saga alternatives? The three

If we choose
by resorting under

to the

to explain
argument were

the compositional
of literary genius,











The Long as nearly more the as we can tell. The difference

Prose of


inMedieval not

Iceland accounted



is therefore

for by a difference
The ed,

in the time of writing

difference saga being seems forty

or the stage of literary evolution.

to be to the date of the events older seventy-five years report than the

significant events in Porgils

events in the other sagas. The stylistic discrepancy may therefore be amatter of transmission rather than literary refinement. The transmissions from the some preliterary filter early twelfth century seem to have passed through and focused a particular that reorganized tradition, simplified the geneal
ogies, narrowed the antagonisms, and dramatized the conflict.

is no new insight into That traditions could be shaped by transmission of oral narrative. The process was outlined by Liestol and the operations not see that we have such an accurate accepted by Heusler,29 but they did traditions only fifty years old remain dis measure of the evolution?that a hundred years old have acquired form and organized, whereas traditions sort of form and depth suggest about a possible long this does What depth. is not much doubt that Clover is right to think that prose form? There incidents could be told separately. But is she right to believe individual
that the "immanent saga" was not realized until a writer gathered the in

it cidents together on parchment? Porgils saga okHaflida certainly makes was these chieftains story of the conflict between appear that the whole as unity, known and could be told. Many of the rhetorical devices?such
symmetry, alternation, relevance, and dramatic intensification?are con

on individual episodes. They could tingent on the whole story rather than not be learned and practiced by singling out this incident or that. They
constitute an art ofthe whole?an art ofthe saga, not just ofthe episode.



is reason
at the

to believe
oral stage

that the assembling

and that the "immanent

and organizing
saga" was



need not

itwas also practiced.

assume that every saga was orally preconditioned, as Porgils

seems to have been. Some sagas (e.g., Egils saga) subscribe saga ok Haflida more to a biographical pat (and therefore also a chronological pattern to the closer lies that sagas sagas. Other tern) kings' sagas or bishops'
partake mundarsaga of the chronicle (e.g., style Eyrbyggja we have saga or observed Vatnsd in Sturlu la saga). But saga the and Gud dyra prepon

derant style among the classical sagas is dramatic and akin to what we find in the in Porgils saga okHaflida. This style is likely to have been cultivated
oral transmission of whole sagas such as the saga of Gisli, or Kjartan and

Bolli, or Hrafnkell,

or Gunnarr

and Nj?ll. The

style ofthe written



trans. A. G. Jayne (Cambridge, Mass.: 29- Knut Liestol, The Origin of the Icelandic Family Sagas, 2nd Die altgermanische Dichtung, Andreas Heusler, Harvard Univ. Press, 1930), pp. 55-100; ed. (1941; rpt. Potsdam: Athenaion, pp. 210-13. 1957), especially


Andersson by a well-articu confined

of of

eventually emerged was in all likelihood preconditioned lated oral plot. The study of oral rhetoric has for the most part been
ters ual of phraseology scenes," in the although It "oral formula" and overarching the the "type last the more principle

to mat



this by rhetorical

has also been

strategy. features

invoked.30 My book
that so pervasive saga as

of 1967 was more

as a whole to imply was oral precedents,



suggested that are


Thus the saga as just of the individual scene but of the total composition. a whole ismost often constructed around a dramatic high point that all scenes are designed the preliminary to profile. The preliminary scenes do not have independent or a status, evenly weighted subsidiary function only in pointing toward the climax. That climax may be the killing of a hero (Bjorn Hitdcelakappi,
son, ?>orgeirr H?varsson,

Kjartan Ol?fsson,

G?sli S?rsson,

Grettir Asmundar


or Gunnarr

Itmay be the burning in of a protagonist (Blund-Ketill Geirsson or and his Nj?ll (Hrafhkell family), the unexpected expulsion of a chieftain or V?ga-Gl?mr or the execution Hallfre?arson of a long-de Eyj?lfsson), ferred vengeance (as inHeibarviga saga or H?vardarsaga Isfir?ings), but in son).
each case there and is a central concentrates event the that reader's focuses the action That of narrative attention. the remaining attention is not

randomly dispersed over a series of scenes or episodes but is guided by a d?nouement that lends meaning to all the lesser episodes. This persistent that readers listeners at the oral stage) pattern suggests (and, by extension, were accustomed to a d?nouement and set in relief by a greater highlighted
or lesser The ordered series of episodes, all contrived can be to underscore the central drama. be preliminary episodes as occurrences independent in several managed ways. no that have immediate can They connection

with each other but are all to and suggestive of the central prefatory conflict. Or they can be carefully linked in a chain of causation that leads
to the climax. exact The of a relevance incident inexorably may particular not be apparent at first but becomes as the clear sequence increasingly In this unfolds. each link presupposes one the previous and arrangement a the a that narra one, provokes following technique produces pleasing tive the as a be structured tightness. Finally, preliminaries may sequence of miniature with of are that from but dramas, points departure separate of the conflict and to understood be adumbra always anticipatory major tions of the outcome.


these opening



the conflict

gradually. Mi

30. See John D. Niles, Beowulf: The Poem audits Tradition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Bernard Press, Fenik, Homer and theNibelungenlied: 1983), pp. 152-62; Comparative Studies in Epic Style Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 97-110. (Cambridge,

The Long Prose Form in Medieval Iceland

nor tensions yield Verbal to more encounters perilous give confrontations way to deliberate and ultimately


to overt which in



turn give way to hotly contested litigation, armed conflict, and bloodshed. The sequence is spread over time and shapes the eventual climax with cal is to The paradoxical effect of this deliberateness culated deliberateness.
retard the action artificially and, at the same time, to quicken the reader's

comes into view with increasing clarity. interest as the outcome The most traditional anticipatory device is the dream, which reveals the take the form of portents, outcome quite explicitly. Other foreshadowings
predictions, or premonitions. Such signals are apt to occur quite early in

the story. Akin to the dramatic buildup ofthe plot, they serve to fix the end at the same time ex point of the action firmly in the reader's mind while to end point. In the foreordained citing interest in the details that lead up a of also of the plot is the culmination addition, signaled by manipulation
pace, proaches. a marked For deceleration example, if the and end an accumulation takes the form of detail of an as the end ap armed confronta

is framed with details on the gathering of men, tion, the dramatic moment to route the batde site, and the words spoken by the protago the leading can when both parties are tracked as they pro be doubled nists. The effect the two. sometimes focus a the to with ceed showdown, shifting between
What these narrative devices have in common is that they are predicat

ed on a long story, not a brief

cation, and the manipulation

of narrative

pace and density



the long prose form. These devices are so ubiqui tricks that presuppose in tous from the very outset of saga writing in Iceland?most prominen?y must have been the native sagas but also in the kings' sagas?that part they is no latitude oral repertory of story techniques. There of the preliterate
for foreshadowing, retardation, or an alternation between two armed

of these camps in the episodic short form. Thus the fully evolved presence use to in long have been must that put traditionally they strategies suggests er stories. Exacdy what narrative length they imply is hard to calculate, but or Gisla even the shorter or middle-length sagas (such as H nsa-Poris saga not that It is therefore use such of full make impossible strategies. saga)
oral tellings may have been equivalent to a fortyor fifty-page written saga.

OF AN ORAL SAGA IMPRINTS with oral saga telling cited in connection One of the passages sometimes where ?ormoor scene set in is The Greenland, is found in Fostbr dra saga.31
31. Vestfir?inga sogur, ed. Bj?rn ?slenzka fornritaf?lag, javik: Hi? K. ?>?r?lfsson 1943), p- 231 and Gu?ni Islenzk fornrit, 6 (Reyk J?nsson, to is referred The passage (from Hauksb?k).

4o8 Bersason

Andersson has arrived on a secret mission to take the kill



ers of his foster brother !>orgeirr Havarsson. One day during a thingmeet ing I>ormo?r is asleep in his booth but is awakened by a certain Egill to be informed that he ismissing out on something:
At that moment from you coming was at "I up in the way of entertainment?" Egill replied: I>orgrimr are there at the Einarsson's and most of the people too." booth, [Por thing is one of Porgeirr's Einarsson Pormo?r "What is the asked: killers.] grimr a saga (i.e., a is telling entertainment there?" Egill replied: "Porgrimr story)." Pormo?r "Who is the subject of the saga he is telling?" asked: Egill answered: good and what's "Where sure who not the saga is about, quite teller. A chair has been entertaining are to the around people sitting listening can name a character in the saga, since you amusement." is said: "Some Porgeirr Egill "I'm and the cut was that Porgrimr himself impression on the attack, as a quite figure might too and listen to the entertainment." there but set out saga." seem a I do know for him Pormo?r to think that he is a good the booth and by said: "Maybe you so much it affords some rushed Egill entertainment." into the booth asked: and said: 'You're are really missing Pormo?r

in the saga, and I get great hero in the story and somewhat involved be expected. I wish you would go "I do that," said Pormo?r. might

This brief passage tells us rather a lot about oral delivery. In the first place, storytelling is not just amatter of casual conversation but something a formal exercise. The teller is seated apart, in approaching presumably
front tute of an a crowd official of listeners, not audience, perhaps unlike seated a modern in a semicircle. lecture They audience. consti In the



the passage

is quite


in emphasizing

how well


is told and how it is. The word skemmtan 'entertainment' story entertaining or is used five times and the word 'fun' skemmtiliga gaman 'entertainingly' once. In fact, the seems to overshadow the content, because style of telling sure who is not the characters are. The in the story effect of Egill quite the story crowds is correspondingly to around great, to since the almost that everyone Pormo?r at the is thingmeet extent

ing for his The "what"


conspicuous not story

absence. matter is also subject the saga is about but defined "who" to a certain it is about, extent. suggesting ?>ormoor that such asks a

individual. The incident reported might typically center on a particular indifferent but centers on the famous warrior by Egill is by no means
Porgeirr, presumably the circumstances of his death and the events lead

of oral performance The Icelandic Sagas (Cam by, for example, W. A. Craigie, Univ. Press, 1913), pp. 14-15; Liest0l, p. 57; Scovazzi, Rolf Cambridge pp. 272-74. der Gr?nlandszenen der Fostbrce?ra ("Zur Entstehung saga," in Sj?tiu ritgerdir helga?ar 2 vols. [Reyk and Jonas Kristj?nsson, fakobi Benediktssyni 20.J?U 19JJ, ed. Einar G. P?tursson that the Greenland scenes in I, 326-34) javik: Stofnun ?rna Magn?ssonar, 1977], argued Fostbr ?ra saga are a to oral tradition. literary fiction with little or no recourse bridge: Heller

as an instance

The Long Prose Form inMedieval Iceland

ing up to that moment. If there were no preparatory narrative, the


a story. Indeed, to constitute dent itself would not be substantial enough seem to be considerable the narrative dimensions because Egill is able to absent himself for a time with no apparent concern that he may lose the
thread of the story. The nature ofthe tale is clearly martial, a tale of hero

as a mikill kappi 'great champion' ic confrontation. I>orgeirr is described and I>orgrimr credits himself with having cut quite a figure on the attack ("gengit mjok vel fram"). The actual killing of I>orgeirr has been recounted earlier in the saga (pp.
206-10), though clearly more to t>orgeirr's advantage no have an doubt set than to ?>orgr?mr's.

It forms
illustrates count dition. of A

the first high

how the such prefatory


in F?stbrcedra saga, and I>orgrimr's

moment, could is whether off with been episode perpetuated as such

some in oral ac tra sto

a dramatic




in tradition. Itmay well have rytelling could also have been maintained taken it too is part of a dramatic high point, the revenge been, because as out follows. which for I>ormo?r plays by I>orgeirr's killing, I>ormo?r proceeds with Egill to I>orgrimr's booth, the site of the story intentions both that he has kept his vengeful telling. We must understand secret and that he is fully aware ofthe identity ofthe ?orgeirr who figures in the story and the I>orgrimr who is telling the story. As ??orm?or arrives, the the sky begins to cloud over, and he forms a plan of attack. Inspecting warns Egill that something sky above and the ground under his feet, he momentous is about to happen and that if Egill should hear a great crash, he should take to his heels as fast as he can. At this point the rain begins
to come down and the audience scatters. ?ormo?r approaches I>orgrimr,

intimation of what is about gives him an oblique his ax in his skull. When Egill hears the crash, ?>orm?or calls back the scattering crowd with the dentified man has killed ?orgrimr. They see Egill and, assuming that he is the unknown culprit, they
giving This heroic I>ormo?r culmination confrontation time of as to escape. ?>orm?oVs in terms of mission an is cast

to happen, and buries he duly runs off, and fiction that some uni running at top speed set out in pursuit, thus
so much ingenious in terms of




I>orm??r cannot merely face off against his antagonist I>orgrimr; he must kill him without allowing the crowd of people around them to realize what That he is able to do so on the spur of the moment has happened. by on a change in the weather and a witless decoy iswhat makes capitalizing in and preserved and likely to have been fashioned the scene memorable no less than drama, that is evidence Thus there tradition. ingenuity, by
was a crucial factor in creating and maintaining oral transmissions.


use of this incident

to shed

light on oral storytelling

in Iceland


41 o


of course problematical. Whether traditional or not, it certainly cannot be assumed that the incident is historical. If itwere historical, itwould have the disadvantage of shedding light only on how stories were told in the not in the thirteenth century. But it is finally more eleventh century, early scene in Fostbr ?ra saga reflects contempo credible that the storytelling rary practice familiar to the readers of the saga in the thirteenth century the scene cannot be shown (whether early in that century or late). Though to be historically the au true, itmust have been culturally true, because thor would not have devised a situation that contemporaries would have
found implausible. The scene suggests therefore that stories about the

Saga Age could still be performed orally in the era of the written sagas. How long such sagas might have been we cannot know, but they were long
to induce enough ten attentively. a crowd to come together as a formal audience and lis

The article returns to the debate on the oral ante



ol J. Clover

of the Icelandic
concluded, on

sagas. The most

the basis of



inquiry by Car



the world, have been

on prose

that the prose performances of medieval Iceland are likely to one a On of the international evidence hand, episodic. survey
transmission makes it improbable that there were long oral per

formances sagas. On
were whole, aware

with dimensions those of the longer written approximating the other hand, the performers of episodic narratives in Iceland
of how Clover their referred short recitations to as the fitted "immanent into a whole." larger But narrative she main


was not

that at the oral stage the "immanent

realized fuller until of the saga writers on narratives parchment. the

whole" was only potential

thirteenth century undertook


to assemble

Most studies of the problem have confined to the classical themselves when sagas, which deal largely with events in the Saga Age (ca. 930-1030)
the Icelandic state was newly established. The underlying some similar assumption was

that the record

orally mission

of events


this period must

and shape that at very

have been


trans as sagas

the through generations the narratives took on

point during to the written

we know
taining are so

them. I too argued

that the structures that the

this point of view in a book from

and narrative style must techniques come have of into the being

1967, main
sagas oral in the



the writing of the sagas. period preceding In this paper I shift the focus from the classical

sagas to three sagas that

The Long Prose Form in Medieval Iceland

narrate events from the twelfth century, a hundred or two hundred


dyra) early

the Saga Age.

cover in the the

Two of these
ca. century. Both


{Sturlu saga and Gudmundar

both a great seem wealth to have of been personal


period thirteenth


written names

and genealogical retention. Unlike

largely nondramatic,

reader's powers of information, quite beyond amodern the classical sagas, both report regional conflicts in a
serial, chronicle-like narrative style. That narrative

inmuch simplified but nonetheless quite extensive detail to show to what degree the sagas in question differ from stylized narrative of the classical sagas. The third saga under study here, Porgils saga okHaflida, was written at the same time as the other two (ca. 1220), but it relates approximately
events from a century earlier (ca. 1120). It is not overburdened with names

is recapitulated above in order the dramatically

and genealogical
dramatic style of

the classical

but is told very much

sagas. This difference

in the economic
cannot be accounted


for by supposing
erary the evolution same time. of The

that the three sagas represent

saga writing, because advanced all here three argument

were is therefore


in the lit


roughly the stylistic

the within actual


be explained
and ofthe the time listeners

by the differing
of writing. or readers,


of time between
recent in events,

the memory

It appears that were set down


dant detail. On the other hand, older events that had receded ry and had passed through a period of narrative refinement
tradition A number acquired of a leaner, simpler, prominent contrived and so more dramatic the most characteristics symmetries, forth?are style. of this gradually appropriate as are

in memo in the oral

escalation, sions,

foreshadowing, expanded dialogue,

style? ten mounting not to brief,



tales, such as those envisaged

almost meditative

by Clover,

but to full-length,


ly articulated,


most likely Porgils saga okHaflida and the best of the classical sagas. The over time: an oral source of this stylistic development is oral refinement the telling of a long prose form that provid that presupposes refinement
ed the necessary latitude for practicing those larger rhetorical patterns and




the style that ultimately


in the written