The Saint and the Saga Hero: Hagiography and Early Icelandic Literature
A compelling argument that far from developing in a literary vacuum, saga literature interacts in lively, creative and critical ways with one of the central genres of the European middle ages.
The relationship between that most popular of medieval genres, the saint's life, and the sagas of the Icelanders is investigated here. Although saga heroes are rarely saints themselves - indeed rather the reverse - they interact with saints in a variety of ways: as ancestors or friends of saints, as noble heathens or converts to Christianity, as innocent victims of violent death, or even as anti-saints, interrogating aspects of saintly ideology. Via detailed readings of a range of the sagas, this book explores how saints' lives contributed to the widening of medieval horizons, allowing the saga authors to develop multiple perspectives (moral, eschatological, psychological) on traditional feud narratives and family dramas. The saint's life introduced new ideals to the saga world, such as suffering, patience and feminine nurture, and provided, through dreams, visions and signs, ways of representing the interior life and of engaging with questions of merit and reward. In dialogue with the ideology of the saint, the saga hero develops into a complex and multi-faceted figure.