December 18, 2014


Poet, historian and chieftain who was the author of the Prose Edda and the probable author of the Egils saga one of the finest of Icelandic family sagas.

Snorri a descendant of the great poet and hero of the Egils saga, Egill Skallagrímsson, was brought up at Oddi from the age of three in the home of Jón Loptsson the most influential chieftain in Iceland.
Jón was the grandson of Saemundr Sigfússon the Wise the first known Icelandic historian and of King Magnus III Barfot or Barefoot of Norway.
Like many chieftains Jón also was an ordained priest and was keenly interested in history.
From him Snorri acquired both a deep knowledge of Icelandic tradition and a European breadth of outlook.

In 1199 Snorri married an heiress and began to acquire lands and power.
In 1206 he settled at Reykjaholt (modern Reyholt) where most of his works were written (between 1223 and 1235). There he built a magnificent house with a tiled bath, heated by volcanic springs.
During 1215-18 and 1222-32 he was lawspeaker or president of the Icelandic high court.
In 1218 he was invited to Norway by King Haakon IV. He also visited noble families in Sweden. 
He became involved in politics while visiting the Norwegians who were planning a punitive raid on the Icelanders of Oddi.
Snorri was able to persuade Haakon that he could become king of Iceland and win the Icelanders over to him.
He became Haakon´s vassal and on his return to Iceland in 1220 sent his son to Haakon as hostage.
But when Snorri failed to further Haakon´s cause Haakon took revenge by stirring up a feud between Snorri and his kinsman Sturla.
Snorri was outlawed and fled to Norway in 1237.
In 1239 he returned to Iceland against Haakon´s express command.
By Haakon´s order Snorri was attacked and killed in his home by his son-in-law and enemy Gissur Thorvaldsson.

Snorri´s writings are remarkable both for their scope and for their formal assurance.
The Prose Edda is a handbook on poetics in which he explains the ornate diction and obscure allusions of the skalds (ancient bards who recited or sang their heroic poetry) and illustrates their metres often with verses of his own.
Of greater general interest is his retelling of the old Norse myths within a frame-story of his own creation.

He also wrote a life of St. Oláf of Norway which he included in the Heimskringla a history of the Norwegian kings from their legendary descent from the warrior-wizard god Odin down to Magnus Erlingsson (1184).
Snorri based the Heimskringla on earlier histories but contributed much new material of his own. As sources he particularly valued poems handed down orally from the times of the events themselves and he selected the traditions that seemed most authoritative and true to the politics of the times and to human nature. His genius lay in his power to present all that he perceived critically as a historian with the immediacy of drama.

The qualities of intelligence, warmth and scholarly industry in Snorri´s writings contrast sharply with the weak, shifty character that emerges in the account of his life by his nephew in the Sturlunga saga.
In that record he is presented as cold and miserly toward his family, opportunistic in politics and ambitious for greatness but lacking the courage and will power to achieve it.
It is possible that the critical detachment that was an advantage to Snorri as a writer did not suit him for the role of a powerful man of action in a ruthless age.

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