A Layered Landscape: How the Family Sagas Mapped Medieval Iceland
Limina, Vol.16 (2010)
Abstract: The Icelandic Family Sagas – Old-Norse prose narratives written during the 1200s – inscribe in retrospect a process by which the unknown terrain of late ninth-century settlement Iceland is ‘mapped’ through association with human story. Space begs history: family sagas locate past deeds in a present landscape. At the most evident level, sagas explain how places received their names by reference to the people who had lived there. Another layer of meaning is created by the movement of stories and journeys over this named geography. Furthermore, the saga landscape thus constructed is shown to have continuing relevance: the sagas link past and present, with physical evidence of saga action still evident in thirteenth- or even twentieth-century Iceland. Yet family sagas do not claim that all responsibility for this construction of landscape lay with the early settlers. The land too is shown to have had agency, so choosing its people and history.