The Saga of Gunnlaugur Snake's Tongue
The fulfilment of a prophetic dream takes a young man from his troubled teenage years in medieval Iceland to his death in a duel with his love rival in a foreign land.
Thorsteinn, son of the prominent Egill Skalla-Grimsson, also of saga fame, dreams two men will fight and die over his daughter, and that she will marry a third man. When his father forbids the headstrong Gunnlaugur from traveling to foreign lands, he takes refuge with Thorsteinn, where he studies law and becomes close to his daughter, Helga the fair. At eighteen, the stubborn and proud Gunnlaugur betroths himself to Helga and arranges with her father for her to wait for him for three years while he is away.
While abroad, Gunnlaugur gets in and out of trouble with various kings and gains a reputation as both a poet and a warrior. With a show of arrogance at the court of the Swedish king, he makes an enemy of another Icelandic poet, Hrafn, who had befriended him.
Having sworn to disgrace Gunnlaugur, Hrafn returns to Iceland to ask for Helga in marriage as the three years she was to wait have passed. Delayed in his travels, Gunnlaugur returns the day of the wedding but can not stop it. Gunnlaugur challenges Hrafn to the last duel ever fought in Iceland, but kinsmen and friends of both prevent the fight. The two travel to Sweden where they meet and fight. Both die as foretold in Thorsteinn's dream.
Dreaming of Gunnlaugur, Helga dies in the arms of her second husband, a third poet, as the dream foretold. There the saga ends.
In addition to the translation of the saga, this book contains an anthropological analysis of the saga and saga writing in medieval Iceland. Beyond relating events, this saga, like others of its genre, is an expression of the totemic system of the primitive society that produced it, a stratified society without the institutions of a state. The analysis of the saga shows its richly textured patterns of opposition and similarity, its complex analogical logic, and its fascinating mirror-image arrangement of events centering around the fatal insults between Gunnlaugur and Hrafn in Sweden.
Since the saga is a product of a totemic society, the authors preserve that dimension in their translation. Rather than trying to smooth over the work to "elevate" it to modern standards of the novel, they preserve the texture of oppositions, similarities, and analogies that make the saga what it is.
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