"Being Iceland, it gets complicated."
February 28, 2016 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Saga Thing is a podcast [iTunes link] about the Sagas of the Icelanders by Professors Andrew Pfrenger and John P. Sexton. The format is simple, the two of them discuss a single saga over the course of one or more episodes. Then they render judgment at the end, on such issues as the quality of its nicknames, witticisms, characters and bloodshed. If you need a refresher on the medieval literature and history of Iceland, Saga Thing has you covered with three introductory episodes (1, 2, 3), or you could listen to the BBC's In Our Time episode about the sagas. Andy and John also have a few short episodes on related topics, such as the gruesome blood eagle, dueling and Norse remains in Newfoundland.
posted by Kattullus (15 comments total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
What a wonderful find for this Iceland-loving US household, thank you! We've been twice and can't get enough of Iceland. If the US election goes a certain way, we may be coming for a third trip--and never leaving.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:16 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've only read two sagas, neither yet covered, but this gives me an excuse to read more.
posted by acrasis at 3:19 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Aud the Podminded would approve of this, I think, and she was pretty hard to please.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:19 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow wow wow. This is relevant to my interests!
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:01 PM on February 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Was this brought to us by the North Malden Icelandic Saga Society?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:01 PM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

A bit of a word to the wise - the guys' attitudes on women can be a bit atavistic and crude. Just a bit, but enough to notice.
posted by wotsac at 7:28 PM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

People may see "Icelandic saga" and think "ponderous, dull, probably like the Silmarillion or something," but, no, the best are accessible and tremendously entertaining. Like, Njal's Saga is approximately fifty times more readable than Beowulf. The sagas are basically the stories of a deranged lot of relatively small farmers who spent half their time trying to kill each other and the half suing each other in an elaborate court system, all to the tune of extremely dry-witted insults. Do yourself a favor and give Njal or the Laxdaele Saga a try.
posted by praemunire at 8:12 PM on February 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

I have only listened to a few of the episodes, but there was nothing in there that seemed too much for a rather mature 11 year old. Though nothing compares to listening first yourself, of course.
posted by Kattullus at 10:38 PM on February 28, 2016

Thanks for this! I am just recently back from a trip to Iceland (adored it) and excited to dig in to this post.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:10 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I heard about this from the goofy Rex Factor Podcast dudes - their podcast about English and Scottish monarchs has a similar feel. Thanks for reminding me to download Saga Thing!
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:02 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just listened to the In Our Time episode last week.
I was surprised that a high percentage of the sagas are about domestic events- family sagas.
I would have guessed they were all about battles and voyages.
posted by MtDewd at 9:33 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am definitely going to listen, but to get all AskMe for a second - I have a (rather mature but still) 11 year old who loves podcasts and loves sagas.

I've listened to all of them, and it's totally fine for an 11 year old.
posted by wotsac at 11:13 AM on February 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

... all to the tune of extremely dry-witted insults.

I was reading an essay (which I now cannot find) on Njal's Saga in the London Review of Books, which mentioned in passing a couple of interesting, though perhaps among the less dry insults (one might hope!): Hrútr's remark to her father about his beautiful niece Hallgerðr, "I do not know how thieves' eyes came into the family", and Hallgerðr's insult to Njal and his sons, calling them "Little Shit-Beards", meaning that their beards lacked the heaviness and vitality of a true man's beard and thereby impugning their manhood.

The first clearly calls Hallgerðr's character, ancestry, and even legitimacy into question, and I wondered whether the second, which I saw described as "the forbidden 'Little Shit-Beards'" on the page of a professor who teaches the sagas, might even amount to a race-based slur, considering that Nordic Icelanders must have come into occasional contact with relatively less-bearded Amerindians over the centuries, and that the two peoples could well have left surviving children in each other's societies -- and I did find a page on a genetics blog noting that DNA analysis has found mitochondrial Amerindian DNA among contemporary Icelanders that
raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century.
posted by jamjam at 2:23 PM on March 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

How to Tell If You're in a Viking Saga by Leonora Craig Cohen for The Toast. Excerpt:
You have started a bloody multi-generational feud by stealing cheese.

You have gone away to Constantinople and left your dashing blond brother to manage all your property. You are confident nothing can go wrong.

Everyone around you is named Thorolf, except for Thorstein Cod-Biter, who lives over in the next valley. Many say he is part-troll. But they have learnt not to say it to his face.

The current feud in which you are embroiled seems likely to be resolved by prodding a blindfolded horse off a cliff with poles. This horse is known for its malice.
posted by Kattullus at 4:50 AM on March 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Megami: I am definitely going to listen, but to get all AskMe for a second - I have a (rather mature but still) 11 year old who loves podcasts and loves sagas. Before I let him loose is this appropriate for him or he only listens to podcasts I have listened to and approved or just don't tell him this exists before a certain age?

I just listened to the Grettir's Saga episodes. There is some discussion of explicit scenes, but there's nothing in it that's more explicit than the saga itself. Of the Sagas of the Icelanders, it's the most explicit, which doesn't make it explicit by modern standards.
posted by Kattullus at 4:52 PM on March 6, 2016

« Older Mine and Theirs   |   What's inside that £500 battery pack. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments