[Old Norse saga (related to segja, "to say") means "what is said, or told".
This derivation indicates the importance of oral tradition.]
Sagas are prose narrative recorded in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries of historic or legendary figures and events of Norway and Iceland. Modern sagas would then be heroic narrative resembling the Icelandic saga.
The so-called saga age was about 930 to 1050 and the sagas were written down during the period from about 1190 to 1320.
One of the greatest Icelandic skaldic poets was Egill Skallagrimsson (910-990). He wrote Egils saga (c. 1220), attributed to Snorri Sturluson. After the death of two sons, he composed Sonatorrek ("Loss of Sons," or "Revenge Denied") (961).
Another great Icelander was Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), poet, historian, and chieftain, and a descendant of Egill Skallagrimsson.
The sagas are classified like this:
- Kings' sagas; recounting the lives of Scandinavian rulers, and reflecting the continued interest of the Icelanders in their old homeland. The earliest collections of them appeared in the period from 1200 to 1235.
- Morkinskinna, anonymous.
- Fagrskinna, anonymous.
- Heimskringla ("Orb of the World") by Snorri Sturluson. A history of the Norwegian kings from their legendary descent from the warrior-wizard god Odin down to Magnus Erlingsson (1184).
A three-volume English translation by Samuel Laing (1844) has been frequently reprinted.
- Icelanders' sagas, or family sagas; heroic prose narratives written 1200-20 about the great families who lived in Iceland from 930 to 1030. They represent the highest development of the classical age of Icelandic saga writing.
- Egils saga, often attributed to Snorri Sturluson.
- Gísla saga, a great outlaw story. The best English translation, by G.
Johnstone, was published in 1963.
- Njáls saga; usually considered the greatest Icelandic saga of all, telling of the fortunes of the hero Gunnar and of the wise Njáland his sons.
- Legendary sagas; essentially romantic literature, with an idealized picture of the remote past, often strongly influenced by French romance literature. The main emphasis is on a lively narrative, entertainment being their primary aim and function. For the learned men on Iceland, the pagan past was a proud inspiration. They copied traditional poems on mythological and legendary themes. Some of these narrative poems served as the basis for sagas in prose.
- Edda (probably written c. 1225), a handbook on poetics, by Snorri Sturluson. He arranges and recounts the legends of Norse mythology in an entertaining way.
- Edda also contains a summary of the legendary Nibelungen cycle.
- Hrólfs saga kraka; which is related to the Old English poem Beowulf.
- ... and more ...