Egill Skallagrímsson

Alex Rover | December 16, 2022


Egill Skallagrímsson (Borg, c.910 – Mosfell, c.990) Viking poet, warrior, frequent character in Icelandic sagas, anti-hero. The story of his life is told in the saga of Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, by an unknown author.

His biography is usually studied by researchers on the basis of the Egils saga Skallagrímssonar (Egilssaga for short). Egill was born in Iceland to Skalla-Grímr Kveldúlfsson and Bera Yngvarsdóttir. His grandfather was Kveld-Úlfr (Hungarian for “evening wolf”). He settled in the town of Borg. His father Grímr was a respected chieftain and a mortal enemy of King Harald Fairhair of Norway.

He inherited his powerful physique and poetic talent from his ancestors. At the age of 20, he set sail to make a name for himself as a Viking. It was in Norway that he met Arinbjörn Porisson, with whom he fought in the battles of King Adalsteinn of England. In one battle, his brother Pólófr, who had come from Iceland with Egill, was killed. Egill then set off again for Norway.

He then took part in many battles, and during one such battle he was captured and sentenced to death in England, but by this time he had gained a Skaldic reputation, and was released by the king who captured him in exchange for a song of praise written as a ransom (Höfuðlausn, or “Highness”).

In 945 he returned to Iceland, where he wrote one of his most famous works, Arinbjjarnarkvíða (Arinbjörn”s Poem), in 961. Soon afterwards, two of his sons died in succession, which shocked him greatly, and he attempted suicide (he wanted to starve to death), but his wife prevented him from doing so. During his grief, he wrote the self-consoling song Sonatorrek (English: “The loss of sons”), which is still a significant work of Scandinavian literature.

According to Egill”s saga, Egill was one of the most heavily represented figures at the beginning of the Icelandic era of people power and legislation, and he may have played an important role in the Alþingi, which was formed in 930.

Egill Skallagrímsson lived until he was about 80 years old, dying shortly before Iceland”s Roman Catholic conversion. When a Catholic chapel was erected on their farm, Egill was reburied next to the altar by his son.

Egillsaga is a surprisingly detailed portrayal of Egill”s personality. He is a characteristically contradictory personality. In his youth he is an almost torzan of great stature, a Viking raider of the sea in the summer, who is renowned for his horrors on raids, and an artist of unique poetic talent, who is also a major figure in world literature and the greatest of his time.

In later years, Egill fiercely opposed the establishment of a feudal-Christian state, and became a major clan leader and one of the most heavily represented figures in the slowly emerging people power. He must have been one of the most educated men in Europe; his cosmopolitanism made him well versed in history and he was also familiar with runic scripts.

Icelandic literature merges closely with Norwegian literature until the 10th century. Of all the authors of the early works of the 10th century, Egill Skallagrímsson is undoubtedly the most monumental, often referred to as the first poet of Icelandic literature.

Poetry was a tradition in Egill”s family, and according to Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, he inherited his talent from his ancestors. Some verses have even been passed down from his ancestors (his grandfather, father and an uncle). His descendants, down to Snorri Sturluson, became prominent poets.

Some 950 lines are attributed to him, three longer poems and 52 single verse lousavísas, but their authenticity is disputed. Many of these have been found in Egils saga Skallagrímssonar.

His most important work is Höfuðlausn (”The Majesty”), written around 948 for the Norwegian king Erik the Bloody Sword, who had taken him prisoner. The tone of the poem is cold and tongue-in-cheek, giving the impression of a poem of praise at first reading. The poem is composed of short lines and uses end-rhymes, which is rare in old Icelandic poetry.

He wrote the Sonatorrecs (in English “The Heavy Revenge of the Sons”, “The Loss of the Sons” or “The Fiasirato”) around 960, after the death of two of his sons (including Böðvar). He also attempted suicide before writing the poem, but was prevented from doing so by his wife. The tone of the poem is unique in all of European medieval literature, for while it is direct and personal in style, it is often pathetic in tone and contains sarcastic passages. In the poem, the lyrical self is driven by a desire for revenge for the threat of his nation”s extinction. He then resigns himself to the end ethic of pagan religion, and even thanks Óðin for having been able to overcome his grief with the poet”s talent, which he considers to be divine.

He wrote Arinbjarnarkvíða (in English “Arinbjörn”s poem”) in 961 to a friend and partner, Arinbjörn. The poem is in the form of a quiduháttr, and its themes are friendship and loyalty. It survives in the Egillsaga, but some of its lines have been lost, while others have been damaged.

In English

Some of Egill”s poems have been translated into Hungarian by Ottó Orbán, Sándor Weöres and Amy Károlyi, while several of his other poems have been translated into Hungarian by István Bernáth, together with his Egill”s Saga. The latter include, for example, the Arinbjörn poem.


  1. Egill Skallagrímsson
  2. Egill Skallagrímsson
  3. ^ Palsson and Edwards pp. 248–49
  4. ^ a b Thorsson, 3
  5. ^ Skalla- refers to his baldness and Grímr was a frequent name, being one of the names of Óðinn, but also being a heiti for snake, billy-goat and dwarf
  6. ^ “Egil at the Ball-Play”. Egil”s Saga. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1930. p. 75.
  7. ^ Johnson, Kevin. “What Made the Vikings Tick?”.
  8. LIBRIS, 2018. március 26. (Hozzáférés: 2018. augusztus 24.)
  9. Bernáth István: Nem mondhatjuk, hogy semmi újság (in: Kopasz Grím-fia Egill – A felperzselt tanya, Bp., Tóni Túra Utazási Iroda, 1995)
  11. (en) Peter Stride (Physician, Redcliffe Hospital, Redcliffe, Queensland, Australia), « Egill Skallagrímsson: the first case of Van Buchem disease? », Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 2011 (lire en ligne).
  12. Vgl. Kurt Schier (Hrsg.): Egils Saga. Die Saga von Egil Skalla-Grimsson. Diederichs Verlag, München, 1996. ISBN 3-424-01262-9, S. 299, dazu Die Egil-Sage und das Paget-Syndrom: In Spektrum der Wissenschaften, März 1995, S. 90–95
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