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Saga; Snorri SturlusonAbout the authors

The remote and inhospitable landscape of Iceland made it a perfect breeding-ground for heroes.

The first Norsemen to colonise it in 860 found that the fight for survival demanded high courage and tough self reliance; it also nurtured a stern sense of duty and an uncompromising view of destiny.

First written down in the 13th century, early Icelandic sagas and eddas tell the stories of the Norse settlers of Iceland, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th century. Around 40 sagas survive, from this medieval period, and are at least the equal of Dante, Petrarch and Geoffrey Chaucer.

Sagas and eddas contain some of the richest and most extraordinary writing of the Middle Ages: they often depict events known to have happened in the early years of Icelandic history, although there is much debate as to how much of their content is factual and how much imaginative. 

Early Icelandic literature comprises eddas – collections of Old Norse poems, stories and myths – and sagas, which deal with real, historical events, although there some legendary sagas, sagas of saints, bishops and translated romances. Full of heroes, feuds and outlaws, with a smattering of ghosts and trolls, the sagas inspired later writers including Sir Walter Scott, William Morris and W H Auden. 

The Icelandic sagas relate the adventurous lives of individuals and families between 930 and 1030, which began as oral tales but were skilfully documented in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and are now regarded as written literature. 

Although the identities of most scribes of Icelandic eddas and sagas are lost to history, some authors’ names have passed down the ages. The most famous of these writers is historian, poet, and politician, Snorri Sturluson, to this day a national hero in Iceland

The Icelandic sagas are billed by The Guardian as Europe’s most important book.

Books

Book of the Settlements of Iceland by Ari Thorgilsson (translated by T Ellwood)

Eddas

Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson (translated by Jesse L Byock)

Poetic Edda (translated by Carolyne Larrington)

Kings’ Sagas

King Harald’s Saga by Snorri Sturluson (translated by Hermann Palsson and Magnus Magnusson)

Orkneyinga Saga (translated by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards)

Sagas of Icelanders

Egil’s Saga by Leifur Eiricksson (translated by Bernard Scudder)

Eirik the Red (translated by Gwyn Jones)

Eyrbyggja Saga (translated by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards)

Gisli Sursson’s Saga (translated by Martin S Regal and Judy Quinn)

The Saga of Grettir the Strong (translated by Örnólfur Thorsson and Bernard Scudder) | Grettir’s Saga (translated by Jesse L Byock)

Hrafnkel’s Saga (translated by Hermann Palsson)

The Saga of the People of Laxardal by Leifur Eiricksson (translated by Keneva Kunz)

Njal’s Saga by Leifur Eiricksson (translated by Robert Cook)

The Sagas of Icelanders (translated by various translators; edited by Örnólful Thorsson and Bernard Scudder)

The Vinland Sagas by Leifur Eiricksson (translated by Keneva Kunz)

Legendary Sagas

The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki (translated by Jesse L Byock)

The Saga of the Volsungs (translated by Jesse L Byock)

Penguin ClassicsPublisher

UK and USA: Penguin Classics (an imprint of Penguin Press)

In 1946, Penguin Classics was launched with E V Rieu’s million copy-selling translation of The Odyssey, on the understanding that there was an eager audience for accessible translations of classic works.

Since then, the series has grown to include nearly 3000 of the greatest and most significant works written, spanning two-and-a-half millennia and representing every corner of the globe. For example, one in every 64 books sold in the UK is a Penguin Classic.

Penguin Classics comprises Black Classics, which are works written up to the beginning of the 20th century, and Modern Classics, launched in 1961, an ever-evolving list of books from the 20th- and 21st centuries that have achieved classic status. The Modern Classics list is continually expanded with contemporary authors whose works are considered timeless.

Penguin Classics represents the greatest repository of our shared cultural imagination and a treasure trove for readers.

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UK and USA: Oxford University Press (Oxford World Classics)

OUP

Oxford World’s Classics is a continuous programme of new titles and revised editions that ensures that the series retains its breadth and reflects the latest scholarship.

Comprehensive introductions, clear explanatory notes, chronologies, and bibliographies support the classic texts.

In addition, many Oxford World’s Classics include fascinating and useful related material such as maps, glossaries, indexes, illustrations, and appendices.

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