Njal's Saga

Introduction

Njáls saga ( listen ) (also Njála ( listen ), Brennu-Njáls saga ( listen ) or "The Story of Burnt Njáll") is one of the sagas of Icelanders. The most prominent characters are the friends Njáll Þorgeirsson,[1] a lawyer and a sage, and Gunnar Hámundarson, a formidable warrior. In the course of a feud, Gunnar is exiled and must leave Iceland but as he rides away from his home he is struck by the beauty of the land and resolves to stay; this quickly leads to his death. Some years later, Njál is burned alive in his home as a part of a cycle of killing and vengeance.

The saga deals with the process of blood feuds in the Icelandic Commonwealth, showing how the requirements of honor could lead to minor slights spiralling into destructive and prolonged bloodshed. Insults where a character's manhood is called into question are especially prominent and may reflect an author critical of an overly restrictive ideal of masculinity. Another characteristic of the narrative is the presence of omens and prophetic dreams. It is disputed whether this reflects a fatalistic outlook on the part of the author.

The saga dates to the late 13th century while the events described take place between 960 and 1020. The work is anonymous, although there has been extensive speculation on the author's identity. The major events described in the saga are probably historical but the material was shaped by the author, drawing on oral tradition, according to his artistic needs. Njáls saga is the longest and most highly developed of the sagas of Icelanders. It is often considered the peak of the saga tradition.[2]


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