Oct 27, 2006

Book Review Mania!

Yes! Finally, more books for you to read. Here is the first, not to be missed:

Egil's Saga. Translated with an introduction by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards. New York: Penguin, 1976. 254 pgs.

Egil's Grief, by John

Egil's Saga is similar to the Saga of Grettir the Strong: they both deal with extremely difficult, courageous and violent men who are outlawed by early Icelandic society. Egil was presumably written around 1230 by Snorri Sturluson, up to 300 years before the Saga of Grettir, but the men are remarkably similar. The main difference between the two accounts is that we get a glimpse into Egil's thoughts and feelings through his poetry, especially the poetry written near the end of his life. Egil's Saga contains much humor. Egil himself, whose despicability is abundant, ultimately finds marginal redemption.

The introduction describes Egil well:

the hero of the Saga is killer, drunkard, miser, poet, wanderer, farmer, and can be any of these at any moment from his first killing at the age of six...We see him change from the viking his mother predicts after his first killing... the enemy of kings and berserks, the man of cunning, the sorcerer... to the settled farmer at Borg... to the ingenious lawyer aiding his son Thorstein, and finally to the senile, blind and deaf old man warming himself by the fire...apparently helpless, but proving himself still a troublemaker, still a poet, and still a killer.

Toward the end of his life Egil made a poem to honor his long-time friend Chieftan Arinbjorn of Norway. It ends this way:

So I rise up early
To erect my rhyme,
My tongue toils,
A servant at his task:
I pile the praise-stones,
The poem rises,
My labour is not lost,
Long may my words live.

Note: a fascinating article from Scientific American, January 1995, describes a medical condition, Paget's Disease, that may account for Egil's bizarre behavior (and appearance). See Egil's Bones.

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