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The Representation of Hakon Sigurdsson and other Heathen Characters in Viking Age Literature

Thomas Roswell

Published Online (2012)

Hakon Sigurdsson was a unique figure in Icelandic literature during the Viking age. He spear-headed a new type of state-paganism intended to validate his authority and appease the Norwegian population. As the last heathen leader before Olaf Tryggvason assumed power in Norway, he features heavily in saga literature and many examples of heathen ritual and custom are associated with him. In this essay I will attempt to understand the motives behind the portrayals of Hakon jarl and other heathen characters in several sagas and to decipher the symbolic meaning of some literary depictions of heathen ritual.

The rituals involving gods in sagas are complex and difficult to decipher, due in part to the fact that they are filtered through the mind-set of Christian Icelanders, centuries after paganism had been replaced and also because the sources containing information about paganism, to which they may be compared, such as the Prose Edda, are equally as problematic for the same reasons. I will briefly examine theories that attribute symbolic significance to Hakon Jarl, drawing parallels with the Gods Freyr and Oðinn. I will also compare the representation of Hakon Jarl and other heathen heroes in Færeyinga Saga, Heimskringla, Egil’s Saga and Njáls Saga and examine the representation of pre-Christian rituals and themes depicted in these sagas.

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