The Saga of Snorri
Note: That is not a real quote, but rather the general impression that the works of Sturluson give the reader.
Unfortunately for Sturluson, neither the new gods nor the old ones he’d written so much about bothered to intervene on his behalf.
Despite his love of pre-Christian Norse culture, Sturluson never quite got the hang of being a viking himself, though he did try very hard. The legends of Thor and Odin, however, were just a little bit too difficult to live up to for poor Snorri. Where the gods and heroes he wrote about would have bravely faced death, perhaps even welcomed it, Sturluson died groveling in his basement. Not exactly a heroic death, but then again he wasn’t exactly a hero.
For those of you unfamiliar with the man, Stuluson is the writer of both the Prose Edda and Heimskringla and is generally attributed as the author of the Poetic Edda (though there are doubts on this point!), our primary sources for understanding much of Norse mythology and legend. Sturluson is also thought to be the writer of Egil’s Saga, but that one’s a little less clear cut. Either way, it is largely through this one man that we have come to know the stories of the Vikings as they might have told them. Archeological evidence and histories have shaped our general understanding of what the Vikings did and who they were, but Sturluson gives us tales and spirit.
Despite the rather pathetic way he died, Snorri Sturluson was a very influential figure during his life. As a native Icelander growing up in the care of a wealthy family, he often heard stories about the Old Gods and heroes. When he was young, he hoped to become a royal poet and penned a number of skaldic poems for the court but realized the art was quickly dying out. Christianity had come to Iceland two hundred years before and by the time of Sturluson, the island nation was considered a Christian one. Thankfully, it took quite some time for the old ways to fully die out. Though Snorri was, indeed, a Christian, the old stories and legends held a deep fascination for him. Unfortunately for him, the same couldn’t be said for most of his contemporaries. Skaldic poetry made many references to ancient deeds and legends, a confusing thing for Christians not familiar with the stories of their forefathers. Sturluson, knowing that prose was a more compelling choice for readers in Iceland, decided to give up his dream of becoming a royal skald and began his work on a collection of tales about the old gods and heroes he’d heard about as a boy in an attempt to familiarize his contemporaries with these near forgotten tales.
Of course, this wasn’t his only occupation. Sturluson was a lawyer and later came to power as a chief in Iceland. He even visited Norway several times and maintained connections with the king and the royal family. When he initially came into his chiefdom, he was a voice for unification with Norway and pushed his fellow Icelanders to accept the king of Norway as their own, a rather unpopular opinion. A lot of tangled history follows, too much for this blog post, but in the end, Sturluson was assassinated in a bid for power by one of his rivals. Several times, in his life, Sturluson attempted to live up to the grandeur of his heroes, writing of the need for bold and resolute action like those in the Sagas, but he never seems to have got the hang of it.
In the end, Sturluson died begging his murderers not to swing their blades. He died quite scared and alone, as many of us sadly do, but his writing has lived on. It is because of him that we have stories and not just a few deciphered rune stones or pieces of art. It is because of Snorri that the Old Gods live on. It is because of him that the Sagas continue to intrigue and inspire us today. Without him, our view of Viking culture would be entirely different.
Though he wasn’t a hero like those in his works, I like to think he was a hero of culture. So everybody (especially if you enjoy Norse myth) say thanks to Snorri Sturluson.