Born: on estate of Hvamm, Iceland, in 1179. Grew up in the cultivated household of Jon Loptsson at Oddi, 1181-97. Family: Married Herdfs Bersadottir in 1199 (separated 1206 or 1207); had children by several other women. Career: Lived in Reykholt after his separation from his wife, and became leading chieftain in Iceland; served as Law-Speaker of the Althing, 1215-18, 1222-31; visited Norway and Sweden, 1218—20, and made a later visit to Norway under political threat, 1237-39. Collector of earlier court poetry. Died: Murdered by political rival, 23 September 1241.



Heimskringla [The Orb of the World], edited by Bjarni Aalbjarnarson, in Islensk fornrit, vols. 26-28. 1941-51; as Heimskringla: Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, translated by Samuel Laing, 3 vols., 1844, revised by Peter Foote, as Heimskringla: Sagas of the Norse Kings, 1961; as The Stories of the Kings of Norway, Called The Round World, translated by William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson, 4 vols., 1893-1905; as Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, translated by Lee M. Hollander, 1964; as Heimskringla: The Lives of the Norse Kings, edited by Erling Monsen, translated by Monsen and A.H. Smith, 1932; part as King Harald’s Saga, translated by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson, 1966. Edda (prose), edited by Finnur Jonsson. 1900; revised edition, 1931; translated by G.W. Dasent, 1842; also translated by Arthur G. Brodeur, 1916; Jean I. Young, 1954; Anthony Faulkes, 1987.

Critical Studies:

Snorri Sturluson (in Icelandic) by Sigurur Nordal, 1920, revised edition, 1973; The Meaning of Snorri’s Categories by Arthur G. Brodeur, 1952; Origins of Icelandic Literature by G. Turville-Petre, 1953; The Icelandic Saga by Peter Hallberg, 1956; Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson, 1964; Snorri Sturluson by Marlene Ciklamini, 1978; Skaldskaparmal: Snorri Sturluson’s ars poetica and Medieval Theories of Language by Margaret Clunies Ross, 1987.

Snorri Sturluson lived during the great age of saga-writing in Iceland, the 13th century; and his name has survived where the names of most other saga-writers have long been forgotten. He was a child of his time, combining a love of learning and intellectual pursuits with greed for wealth and power, and participation in the political machinations of the power struggle between Iceland and Norway, which at first brought him royal patronage, but finally a violent end. However, it is for his historical and imaginative writings, composed during the period 1222-35, that he is now remembered, and still read in Scandinavia as is no other medieval writer.

Snorri’s major achievement as a historical writer is Heimskringla [The Orb of the World], a history of the kings of Norway from the earliest days (based on semi-mythical tales) to 1177. It is actually a collection of 17 sagas, of which one—the saga of King Olaf the Saint—dominates over all the others. Although Olaf ruled for only 15 years, his saga takes up one-third of the work; the Christian warrior-king was a figure who fascinated Snorri, and there is evidence that his saga was written first and then incorporated into the longer work. Snorri was a painstaking and meticulous historian, who used all the available source material, including written histories, earlier sagas, verbal reports, and scaldic poetry, in order to arrive at as accurate a version as possible of past events. He was, however, not merely a scientific recorder; his aim was rather to give a personal interpretation of events, to reconstruct the past. History was in his view formed by great men—a view with which many modern historians would disagree; yet his skilful reconstructions of the lives of the kings, combining fact with imagination and inventiveness, bring the atmosphere of the age vividly before us.

The other work which Snorri is known to have composed, the prose Edda, gave full scope to his creative literary talents. It fulfils several aims, but its most important function is as a preserver of literary and mythological tradition. It contains a mythology of the old Norse gods and the heathen world-view, ostensibly as an aid to poets who needed to know the origins of the myths from which scaldic poetry drew its images—material which was in danger of being forgotten in the new Christian era. But is is also clearly a story that Snorri relishes telling; his enthusiasm for the myths turns the textbook into a lively and humorous re-creation. The Edda further records and gives examples of all the different forms of scaldic verse, of which it provides an invaluable collection; and it explains and exemplifies the use of poetic imagery in scaldic verse. Thus in several areas it has preserved material that would otherwise have been lost.

In addition to these two works, Snorri wrote other poems, mainly to wealthy patrons; and there is a large body of scholarly opinion which attributes to him the authorship of Egil’s Saga, the life-story of the poet Egil Skalla-Grfmsson.

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