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Archive for June, 2012

The Fjallkonan, from the English translation of Jón Árnason’s -Icelandic Legends-, which you can get as a free Google e-book.

To your left is fjallkonan, “the mountain woman,” personification of Iceland and a symbol of the independence movement in Iceland in the 19th century (and speaking of the independence movement, you should definitely check out this dude).  June 17th, 1944, the Republic of Iceland got started.  A big deal– according to the sagas, Iceland was settled by high-born Norwegians fleeing the tyranny of Harald Fairhair (at least one Norwegian source that I know of insists that the settlers of Iceland were of far less repute, naturally), who was so greedy that he wanted to be king of ALL of Norway.  The local aristocracy didn’t like this, but Harald was lucky (a big deal in Norse lit.), so what could they do but bang around the North Atlantic, checking out Scotland and a few other places on their way to the mid-Atlantic rift.  Norway still loomed large, however, and in 1262 the chieftains in Iceland swore allegiance to the Norwegian king.  Goodbye unique, kingless society.  Norway ended up with its own problems, and belonged to Denmark for several centuries, so when Iceland regained its independence in the 20th century, it was from Denmark, not Norway.  The Icelandic manuscripts which were being stored in Denmark were split up, those most concerned with Iceland going back, while others remained in Denmark, giving us two major archives for Medieval Icelandic literature (I worked on my dissertation at one in Reykjavík).  This was quite a big deal–at the manuscript museum in Reykjavík you can view a loop of an old newscast showing the arrival of one of the Eddas (I can’t remember which one) on board a warship.  Gotta keep those manuscripts safe, darn it.  Sarcasm aside, I can’t imagine a more appropriate national treasure for Iceland, and hey, I would probably order a warship for the delivery as well.  Or maybe a spaceship…

A 17th century manuscript of Egils saga.

Many of the Icelandic family sagas begin with an account of the founding of Iceland in reaction to Harald’s tyranny, particularly interesting considering the fact that the sagas were for the most part written within 50 years of the return to Norway.  Egils saga Skallagrímssonar is a great example (a really old free translation is here), opening with 40 chapters of mistreatment of the protagonist’s family by the king, and continuing throughout with a sort of on-again off-again feud between the royals and Egil’s family.  That said, the English king actually comes off fairly well in this saga– perhaps the saga is a bit more nuanced than a simple rant against the monarchy?  If you are interested in reading a more thorough treatment of the relationship between the Icelanders and the Norwegian monarchy, and you have access to JSTOR, you can read Theodore Andersen’s article “The King of Iceland.”

Alas, that’s all I’ve got for now.  Wanted to do my own illustration for today, but I have 30 papers to grade, and already know I will not have them done by tomorrow as planned.  😦

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