Sagas of Icelanders

One of the great riddles of literary history

Kathryn Hadley

‘During the 13th and 14th centuries on a sparsely populated, volcanic and inhospitable island at the edge of the Arctic Circle there was an outpouring of literary creativity unparalleled in the medieval world… How a tiny population of Viking settlers came to produce so many fascinating stories is one of the great riddles of literary history. What was it about the experience, culture and attitude of these Icelandic authors that enabled them to create what has been described as ‘the most remarkable vernacular literature in medieval Europe’?’ (Janina Ramirez, ‘The Sagas of Iceland’, History Today, May 2011).

The sagas were copied in manuscripts in Iceland from the medieval period until the early 20th century. The stories were passed down from generation to generation and continue to have an extraordinary hold on local people’s imaginations.

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