Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


First Advisor

Paul Schach

Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College in the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Under the Supervision of Professor Paul Schach. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 1973

Copyright 1973 Duane Victor Keilstrup



Concerning current research to 1973 in the Old Norse sagas generally, R. G. Cook suggests that scholars turn more of their attention to the finished product, that is, a return to Grimm’s principle of "die Andacht zum Text," and to a responsible historical criticism which is also responsive to the artistic integrity of the text. He thus believes that we should read the sagas as works of art by concentrating on what we find in them and not so much where and when they might have originated, as scholars in this field have tended to do. Hence, it is in the spirit of Cook’s suggestion that we approach our research.


It is our purpose in this study to explore the Islendingasogur for salient forms of contrast and to determine, as far as possible, their functions. Our method will be to survey carefully the entire corpus of the Sagas of Icelanders, including Old Norse short stories, for occurrences of contrast, with special emphasis on the points of contrast between characters. Then, a selective gathering of the more significant types of contrast will be presented and discussed. In order to keep the Islendingasogur in perspective, the entire procedure will be carried out with Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, and we shall make appropriate comparisons with Heimskringla throughout the text.

In our discussion Chapter I will include some of the outstanding contrasts between kinsmen. Chapter II will present some of the intriguing contrasts which involve heroes and villains. Chapter III will entail a number of stylistic contrasts. Finally, Chapter IV will offer a brief summary and some conclusions based on our findings.

We then ultimately come to a consideration of questions as to whether the society depicted by the sagas actually reflects the spirit of the Saga Age or whether the authors introduced values into this society which reflect values from the thirteenth century when the sagas were written. In other words, does the spirit of reconciliation in several sagas derive from an ideal of moderation older than Christianity? Or is this spirit of reconciliation a reflection of Christianity's concepts of mercy and forgiveness which the Christian authors introduced as an alternative to the endless chain of vengeance? The answer to these questions could explain why saga heroes like Blund-Ketill and Njall, in an Age in which honor and reputation were foremost, sacrifice their honor, reputation, and even their lives without even one gesture of resistance.


The evidence of this study reveals that the authors of the Sagas of Icelanders created characters who collectively by contrasts indeed reflected a new value system; so, too, the authors subtly, but deliberately, intruded into the celebrated objectivity of their tales to create the maximum credibility and effectiveness for the events which they related, especially through supernatural happenings and dreams.

Further revealing the craft of subjective authorship is a form of contrast involving the use of language and the manner of narration: the clear contrast between regularly alternating units of violence and units of description during scenes of conflict.

While we have been able to discuss only a small fraction of the vast number of contrasts which we have carefully recorded from the Islendingasogur, we have, as far as the present study is concerned, focused some of the outstanding forms of contrasts, especially those concerning character and conflict.

Our findings suggest that the writers of the Sagas of Icelanders perceived and artistically exploited the fundamental truth: "Der Gegensatz gehoert zum Menschendasein/Um uns mit allen Wesen zu verbinden/Und ihres Wesens teilhaft zu machen." — Leopold Schefer, Laienbrevier (Leipzig, 1834), p. 47.