The Saga of Grettir the Strong Characters

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Grettir the Strong

Grettir the Strong, a folk hero of Iceland. Outlawed at fourteen after killing a man, he goes to Norway, where he routs a party of berserk raiders. Acclaimed as a hero, he becomes increasingly involved in murderous feuds, particularly after his return to Iceland. At last, able to trust no one because of the price on his head yet tormented by a growing fear of the dark that makes it impossible for him to live alone, he settles with a brother and a servant on an island accessible only by rope ladders. Several years later, he is overcome by witchcraft and killed.


Onund, his ancestor, a Viking who fled Norway to escape injustice and settled in Iceland.


Aesa, the wife of Onund.


Ofeig, the father of Aesa.


Thrand, a great hero who accompanied Onund to Iceland.

Asmund Longhair

Asmund Longhair, the father of Grettir. During Grettir’s youth, father and son quarreled constantly.


Skeggi, whom Grettir kills in the course of a quarrel. Thus begins Grettir’s long outlawry.


Thorfinn, a Norwegian landman with whom Grettir makes a home after being shipwrecked.


Thorir and


Ogmund, the leaders of a band of raiders who come to lay waste to Thorfinn’s district during his absence. Grettir kills both.


Karr-the-Old, the long-dead father of Thorfinn. After Grettir kills the raiders, Thorfinn gives him an ancient sword from the treasure hoard of Karr-the-Old....

(The entire section is 713 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Andersson, Theodore M. The Icelandic Family Saga: An Analytic Reading. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. Unlike the many saga studies which focus on history and origin, this book examines the sagas as narrative. Chapters on structure, rhetoric, and heroic legacy are followed by insightful commentary.

Arent, A. Margaret. “The Heroic Pattern: Old Germanic Helmets, Beowulf, and Grettis Saga.” In Old Norse Literature and Mythology, edited by Edgar C. Polomé. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969. Discussion of the pictorial ornamentations found on Germanic helmets, and how the cultural and religious themes depicted on typical helmets shed light on the literature. Twenty-seven illustrations.

Hastrup, Kirsten. “Tracing Tradition: An Anthropological Perspective on Grettis Saga Ásmundarsonar.” In Structure and Meaning in Old Norse Literature, edited by John Lindow et al. Odense, Denmark: Odense University Press, 1986. Traces the perception of Grettir the Strong by Icelanders over the past seven hundred years, showing how the meaning of the outcast-hero has changed.

Hume, Kathryn. “The Thematic Design of Grettis Saga.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 73, no. 4 (October, 1974): 469-486. Explains the puzzling contrasts in Grettir’s character and the narrative tone between different episodes. The theme of the unacceptability of the heroic in a modern society accounts, Hume demonstrates, for the differences.

Schach, Paul. Icelandic Sagas. Boston: Twayne, 1984. Contains a brief but excellent introduction to this saga, including a discussion of its authorship, structure, and themes of intergenerational conflict and tragic isolation. Other sections provide historical and literary contexts, a chronology, and a bibliography.