Egill Skallagrímsson

Egill Skallagrímsson

Egill Skallagrímsson [His first name is sometimes Anglicized Egil.] (910-c.990)Fact|date=June 2007 was a Viking skald and the great anti-hero of Icelandic literature.

Several accounts tell of him slaughtering as many as 20 or more armed men single-handedly and even dispatching a feared berserker with relative ease. In spite of this, he was considered a healer, and his saga tells of him curing a girl who had been ill for quite some time where all other efforts had proven futile. In some ways he resembled his god Odin: breaking his oaths, killing for trifles, and practicing sorcery.


:"The following is based on the Icelandic saga "Egils saga"; like many sagas, it can be unreliable as a source of historical fact."

Egill was born in Iceland, the son of Skalla-Grímr Kveldúlfsson ["Skalla-" refers to his baldness and "Grímr" was a frequent name, being one of the names of Óðinn, but also being a heiti for "snake", "billy-goat" and "dwarf"] and Bera Yngvarsdóttir, and the grandson of Kveld-Úlfr ("Evening Wolf"). When Grímr arrived in Iceland, he settled at Borg, the place where his father's coffin landed. Grímr was a famous warrior and an enemy of Harald Fairhair of Norway.Egill wrote his first poem at the age of three years. He exhibited berserk behaviour, and this, together with the description of his large and unattractive head, has led to the theory that he might have suffered from Paget's disease. This is corroborated by an archeological find of a head from the Viking era which is likely to be Egill's.

At the age of seven, Egill was cheated in a game with local boys. Enraged, he went home and procured an axe, and returning to the boys, split the skull of the one who cheated him, to the teeth. After Berg-Önundr refused to allow Egill to claim his wife Ásgerðr's share of her father's inheritance, he challenged Önundr to a holmgang. Egill killed Bárðr of Atley, one of the king's retainers, thus making an enemy of Queen Gunnhildr, who never forgave him and did everything within her power to take revenge. Gunnhildr ordered her two brothers to kill Egill and Egill's older brother Þórólfr, who had been on good terms with both her and the king before. However, this plan did not go well, as Egill killed the pair when they confronted him.

That same summer, Harald Fairhair died, and in order to secure his place on the throne, Eirik Bloodaxe killed his two brothers. He then declared Egill an outlaw in Norway. Berg-Önundr gathered a company of men to capture Egill, but was killed in his attempt to do so. Escaping from Norway, Egill killed Rögnvaldr Eiríksson and then cursed his parents, setting a horse's head on a pole ("níðstöng") and saying,:"Here I set up a "níð"-pole, and declare this "níð" against King Eiríkr and Queen Gunnhildr," — he turned the horse-head to face the mainland — "I declare this "níð" at the land-spirits there, and the land itself, so that all will fare astray, not to hold nor find their places, not until they wreak King Eiríkr and Gunnhildr from the land." He set up the pole of níð in the cliff-face and left it standing; he faced the horse's eyes on the land, and he rist runes upon the pole, and said all the formal words of the curse. (ch. 57) ('níð' has been translated as 'scorn' or 'curse')

Gunnhildr also put a spell on Egill, which made him feel restless and depressed until they met again.

Soon afterwards, Eiríkr and Gunnhildr were forced to flee to Northumbria by Eiríkr's brother Hakon, where he was granted land by King Aðalsteinn. Egill was shipwrecked on a nearby shore and came before Eiríkr, who sentenced him to death. But Egill composed a "drápa" in Eiríkr's praise in the dungeon during the night, and when he recited it in the morning, Eiríkr gave him his freedom and forgave any vengeance or settlement for the killing of Rögnvaldr (see "Head Ransom", below).Egill had five children with Ásgerðr Björnsdóttir: Þorgerðr Egilsdóttir, Bera Egilsdóttir, Böðvar Egilsson, Gunnar Egilsson and Þorsteinn Egilsson. Before Egill died he concealed his silver treasure near Mosfellsbær.


In addition to being a warrior of immense might, Egill's poetry is also considered by many historians to be the finest of the ancient Scandinavian poetry.Fact|date=June 2007 His poems were also the first old Norse verses to use end rhyme.Jansson 1980:26-27]

* "Höfuðlausn" (the head-loosening, sometimes referred to as "Head-Ransom") with which he bought his life from Eiríkr Bloodaxe who had sentenced him to death in England.
* "Sonatorrek" ("son's loss") after the death of his son Böðvar who drowned during a storm
* "Arinbjarnarkviða", dedicated to his companion Arinbjörn

Egill in popular culture

* Egill remains a very popular figure in Iceland, with a beer brewery, Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson, named after him.
* Some peopleWho|date=July 2007 pertaining to the Ásatrú religion consider Egill a true hero and hold a day of remembrance for him on December 9.
* There was a talk show on Icelandic television called "Egill's Silver", named after Egill's hidden treasure. This, however, was also a double joke, since the host's first name was Egill.
* "Egill's Silver" is also the name of a song by Megas, from his first album.
* In the SCA Barony of Adiantum there is an "Egil Skallagrimsson Memorial Tournament" held annually on memorial day weekend.

References and footnotes


*Jansson, Sven B. (1980). "Runstenar". STF, Stockholm. ISBN 91-7156-015-7

External links

In English:
* [ Egil's saga] - English translation (W. C. Green) at the Icelandic Saga Database, with original Old Norse and Icelandic text
* [ Egil Skallagrimsson and the Viking Ideal] by Christina von Nolcken, from a University of Chicago website
* [ Egil's Bones] , from a University of California, Los Angeles website
* [ Text of the saga] , translated into English by Rev. W. C. Green in 1893, from the Northvegr FoundationIn flagicon|Iceland Icelandic:
* [ Egils saga] -- Text of Egils saga at the Icelandic Saga Database, modern spelling and Old Norse version
* [ Text of Egill's saga] , with modern spelling
* [ Höfundur Egill Skallagrímsson]

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