The sagas, a rich collection of traditional Scandinavian stories, were written down in Iceland between the late 1100s and the 1300s. They can be divided into several categories: lives of Icelandic kings and bishops, family histories, romances, and sagas of ancient times. This last group of sagas deals with the adventures of legendary heroes. Often set in distant or imaginary locations, they are a major source of information about Norse* mythology.
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
First settled in the late 800s by the Vikings—seafaring people from Norway Sweden, and Denmark—Iceland had a pagan culture until about 1000, when Christianity was introduced. One purpose of the sagas was to record the history of the new country and preserve its Viking heritage. The sagas of ancient times include stories about Norse gods such as Thor* and Odin*, who were worshiped by the Vikings, as well as tales about human characters. They treat many of the same mythological themes found in the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda —two other key works of Icelandic literature.
pagan term used by early Christians to describe non-Christians and non-Christian beliefs
supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous
epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
The heroes of the sagas of ancient times often undertake dangerous quests to defeat an enemy seek glory, or win the love of a maiden. Along the way, they may meet an assortment of supernatural creatures as well as good and evil people. One of these sagas, the Völsunga Saga, closely links the story of a hero named Sigurd to various Norse myths and legends. The saga vividly describes Sigurd's battle with a dragon and his tragic love for the Valkyrie* Brynhild (Brunhilde). Much of the story of the Völsunga Saga also appears in the German epic the Nibelungenlied.