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A Comparison of Beowulf and Icelandic Sagas

Powerful Essays
Beowulf and Icelandic Sagas

There are many similarities between the hero of the poem Beowulf and the heroes of the two Icelandic sagas, The Saga of The Volsungs and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. The former saga is an Icelandic saga representing oral traditions dating back to the fourth and fifth centuries, when Attila the Hun was fighting on the northern fringes of the Roman Empire; the latter is an Icelandic saga representing 1000 years of oral traditions prior to the 1300’s when it was written.

An unknown author wrote The Saga of The Volsungs in the thirteenth century, basing his story on far older Norse poetry. Iceland was settled by the Vikings about 870-930, who took to that land the famous lay of Sigurd and the Volsungs. Native Icelandic poets loved the story of Sigurd and the Huns, Goths, Burgundians, with whom this hero interacted. This prose story is based on traditional Norse verse called Eddic poetry, a form of mythic or heroic lay which developed before 1000 in the oral folk culture of Old Scandinavia. The Icelandic skald is the equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon scop. He was a storyteller. Icelandic material builds on a long oral tradition just like Anglo-saxon. Skalds stayed in the royal courts of Scandinavia like their counterparts to the south.

In The Saga of the Volsungs the hero Sigurd is the one who corresponds best with the hero Beowulf in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. George Clark in “The Hero and the Theme” mentions: “The form of Beowulf taken as a whole suggests both the ‘Bear’s Son’ folktale type (especially as we find it in Scandinavia) and the ‘combat myth’. . . .” (286). The “combat myth” is probably what this saga is. When Sigurd was born, he was the grandson of Ki...

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...celandic sagas, The Song of the Volsungs and The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, contain remarkable similarities between their main characters and Beowulf’s main character; they are just too astounding to dismiss as mere coincidences.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.

Clark, Gorge. “The Hero and the Theme.” In A Beowulf Handbook, edited by Robert Bjork and John D. Niles. Lincoln, Nebraska: Uiversity of Nebraska Press, 1997.

The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, translated by Jesse L. Byock. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

The Saga of the Volsungs, translated by Jesse L. Byock. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York: Bartleby.com, 2000.
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