Life-Cycles of Men and Trees in Sonatorrek

Abstract

According to Snorri Sturluson’s Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar, the warrior poet Egill Skallagrímsson composed Sonatorrek (‘On the Loss of Sons’) in response to the death by drowning of his son Böðvarr (c.960), who was shipwrecked off the coast of Iceland during a sudden storm. Egill found Böðvarr’s lifeless body washed up on the shores of Iceland, and bore it to be buried within the mound where his own father Skallagrímr lay at rest.1 Two strophes of the poem are devoted to another of Egill’s sons, Gunnarr, who had fallen victim to a sóttar brími (‘burning sea-fever’, Sonatorrek 20; Nordal 1933, 246-56) a little while before. In Sonatorrek, Egill appears to make a subtle allusion to an enigmatic tradition also preserved in the Old Norse Völuspá, in which wooden figures are found upon the seashore and brought to life through the endowment of human gifts.

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Bintley, M., (2009) “Life-Cycles of Men and Trees in Sonatorrek”, Opticon1826 6.

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Michael Bintley (UCL)

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