Hrafnkel’s Saga Background

Hrafnkel’s Saga Background

Hrafnkel’s Saga is believed to have been written at some point in the latter half of the 1200’s. Since the earliest known manuscript only dates back to the early 1500’s, however, some argue that it could very well have been written as late as the 15th century. The author, of course, remains unknown.

Hrafnkel’s Saga is yet another Icelandic legend of feudal dysfunction distinguished primarily because the feud at the center of the narrative remains at the center rather than verging off into tangential digressions. The story is set in the Icelandic history of the 10th century and its starring characters are the titular priest of Frey, Hrafnkel, his sacred horse Freyfaxi upon which he has sworn an oath to kill any man who dares attempt to ride and a shepherd named Einar who forces Hrafnkel to stand by that bond.

What follows is something akin to Law and Order: Ragnarok. Okay, not really, but this legendary Scandinavian saga is more a legal thriller than an action story. Einar’s father demands restitution, but Hrafnkel denies him the right which causes Einar’s father hires a shrewd lawyer and not only gets to confiscate his property, but gets him Hrafnkel tortured as well. From there, things devolve from the legal to the political to the military and before it’s all over Hrafnkel’s army gets his property back and things are soon near enough to the state where it all started.

Because there seems to be no evidence whatever of the existence of a Hrafnkel or a story similar to the one that is told, the general consensus is that Hrafnkel’s Saga is merely an entertaining bit of fiction unconnected to historical events. It is also a story that appears eager to teach a moral, though the moral is ambiguous. The aim of the story could be political satire that seeks to point out how the rich and politically connected always win in the end. Then again, it could be taking up the most traditional theme of epics: excessive pride always lead to a fall. Even if that fall is, for the politically connected Hrafnkel, painful but temporary.

Of course, academics could well be reading way too much into the story and in the process overlooking the most obvious lesson of all: don't go riding horses when the penalty for doing so is death.

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