Sunday, June 28, 1998 2:50 AM
My office is between Fridrík's and Vesselin's... It hasn't been a problem so far, but I have the sympathy of the rest of the staff, because those two are so demanding.
The crime-rate is low here, restricted mostly to burglaries... possibly committed by muggers who decide that it's too cold to wait outside. :-)
I have read the saga of Gréttir the Strong (in English). This saga describes well some of Viking society. It is a somewhat meandering tale of murder, revenge, more murder, sailing, rape, great battles... I understand that most of the other sagas are also meandering tales of murder, revenge, more murder, sailing, rape, great battles...
In the saga, many people have a nickname, in addition to their given name, eg Øfeig Clumsyfoot, Ivar Horsetail, Geirmund Swarthyskin, and there are long lists of relations, much like the many "begats" in the Bible, except in reverse: thus, we consider Ønund, the son of Øfeig Clumsyfoot, the son of Ivar Horsetail, brother of Gúdbjörg, who was the mother of Gúdbrand Knob, who was the father of Ásta, who was the mother of King Ølaf the Saint. Ønund's leg was cut off during a fierce battle (and described in typically great and gory detail), and replaced with a wooden leg, became known as Øfeig Treefoot.
The list of relations was used to command respect, when the people involved were famous for their battles, or were descendants of the king.
Verse was composed often, especially as answers to questions, thus when Þrand, a son of Björn and brother of Eyvínd the Eastener, asks Ønund why Ønund was silent, Ønund answers:
"No joy is mine since in battle I fought.
Many the sorrows that o'er me lower.
Men hold me for nought; this thought is the worst
of all that oppresses my sorrowing heart".
Marriage was seen as the equivalent of retirement. It was the wish of a Viking to live long enough to get married. When you married, you ceased to fight, and people stopped trying to kill you... as often. As a result, Thand offers some hope:
"You may yet settle down and marry".
When a Viking travelled to a country in the known world, it was common to find someone there already. The question was then whether to look elsewhere for land, or to simply kill the owner.
Gréttir of the title, does not appear until the 14th chapter, but his exploits are described from that point until the 84th chapter. He is described as being mischievous during his childhood, playing tricks, with a short temper getting him into many fights, but a wit, conposing ironic verses appropriate to any situation in which he found himself. He was also very strong, of course. He gets himself into a fight with a man called Skeggi, and when Skeggi attacks Gréttir with an axe, Gréttir tears the axe in an instant from Skeggi's hands, and kills Skeggi with a single blow.
When Gréttir prepared to go to sea, many wished him a good voyage, but few a safe return, however his heart was good and he fought righteously. On one occasion, he defended the property of his landlord, and slew twelve outlaws single-handedly. Later, he wrestles a bear, and holds it off with his bare hands, before killing it with a sword. One chapter ends with Gréttir promising to not kill a man called Björn, with whom he did not get on, while in the company that they kept at the time. The next chapter's title is "Gréttir kills Björn". Evidently, that company was not kept for long. Björn's brother, Hjarrandi, would accept no monetary compensation for the death of Björn, and vowed to avenge Björn or die trying. The next chapter's title is "Gréttir kills Hjarrandi". Another brother of Björn, Gunnar, had to be consulted on what was to be done to compensate him for the death of Hjarrandi. The next chapter's title is "Gréttir kills Gunnar".
The pithy sayings of the dying person originated in this saga - when Atli, the brother of Gréttir, is pierced by a spear, he observes before expiring:
"They use broad spear-blades nowadays".
Copyright (c) 1998 Peter Ferrie
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