Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Heimskringla, which means “circle of the world,” is a history of the Norwegian kings, beginning in legendary times and ending in 1177 during the reign of Magnus Erlingson. The author, Snorri Sturluson, remains Iceland’s most famous writer, soldier, scholar, and poet. His most celebrated work is Snorra Edda (c. 1220-1230; The Prose Edda, 1987), a handbook for poets that retells many of the Norse myths.
Iceland, which was settled from Norway in the late Middle Ages, has claimed Norway’s history as its own. As a result, Iceland’s most famous historical work is not about Iceland, but about the Norse kings and jarls, or noblemen ranked immediately below the king. Iceland played a marginal role in this history, though Snorri gives disproportionate attention to any Icelanders who do play a part in Norwegian history. He also includes a lengthy digression in “Olaf Trygvason’s Saga” that deals with the discovery of North America by Icelanders.
There is little other evidence of bias on Snorri’s part, who maintains a tone of strict objectivity, leaving readers to wonder about his precise views on Christianity, paganism, Saint Olaf’s brutal methods of conversion, and much more. Snorri’s objectivity, however, is less remarkable than it may seem, for he is writing in the tradition of the Icelandic saga, a form that tells its story through the relentless accumulation of facts and dialogue, while avoiding...
(The entire section is 1880 words.)
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