Tuesday, February 9, 1999

King Harald's Saga

by Snorri Sturluson

translated and annotated, with an introduction by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson

This book is comprised of a brief excerpt from Snorri’s Heimskringla, his complete history of Norway.  It tells the story of Harald Sigurdsson, half-brother of St. Olaf, who through cunning and treachery became king of Norway, then in 1066 vied for the English throne with Harold of England, just before the latter was defeated by William the Bastard.  Although Snorri doesn’t preach the moral of the story, it becomes clear that Harald is not a noble man.  He breaks his word several times: for example he promises his enemies safe passage and then murders them; and he tests his co-king and nephew Magnus by insisting (unjustly) on his right to use the royal jetty.

It is a quite vivid picture of what men had to do in those conditions to gain and keep power, although other personages in the saga can be chivalrous, and are evidently disgusted with Harald’s duplicity.  My sympathies never lay with Harald, even given his context.  The editors note, interestingly, that Harold might have defeated William if he hadn’t been drawn into the mass slaughter with Harald at Stamford Bridge.

four stars

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