Dr Elizabeth Baldwin, academic

Iceland in the Saga Age was a hard place to live in. Bonds of family, of friendship and of fosterage as well as a social system more egalitarian than most European countries of the time made life possible. In theory the law was the highest authority in Iceland, but there was no independent power to enforce it. Many of the sagas deal with clashes between law and family loyalty, when honour demands actions that are, in themselves, dishonourable. From their small, remote island Icelandic merchants, poets, outlaws and heroes (sometimes all in one person) travelled to the British Isles, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, North America, Rome and Constantinople. Yet these travels are largely incidental to the focus of the ‘family sagas’, Iceland, and to the actions of the farmers and chieftains who try to keep a balance between loyalty to family, to friends and to the law, and to make it through another winter.



1. Sagas of exploration: Eirik the Red’s Saga, Vinland Saga

2. Outlaws: Gisli’s Saga, Grettir’s Saga

3. Poets: Egil’s Saga, The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue

4. Love and conflict: Laxdaela Saga

5. Law and vengeance: Njal’s Saga


Recommended reading

Hreinsson,Vidar, ed. 1997.The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, Including 49 Tales. Reykyavik: Leifur Eiríksson Publishing.

Edwards, P. and Pálsson, H., eds. 1980. Egil’s Saga. Edinburgh: Penguin.

Jones, Gwyn. 1980. Eirik the Red and other Icelandic Sagas. Oxford: The World Classics, Oxford University Press.

Fox, Denton and Pálsson, Hermann. Grettir’s Saga. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Magnusson, M. and Pálsson, H. (trans). 1988. Laxdæla Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.

Cook, R. (trans.) 2001. Njal’s Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.

Johnston, G. (trans). 1963. The Saga of Gisli. London: J. M. Dent & Sons.

Anon. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue. 2015. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics.

Magnusson, M. and Pálsson, H. (trans). 1965. The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America, Grœnledinga Saga and Eirik’s Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin.



Date: 6–10 January
Time: 9.15 am
COURSE FEES Full R590 Staff & Students R295
Venue: Classroom 2A Kramer Law Building UCT