From Iceland — Saga Stories #6: Harðar Saga

Photo by
Art Bicnick

Join Dr Matthew Roby on a trip around southwest Iceland and he’ll tell you all about Harðar saga, the tale of an unlucky hero, some tough outlaws, and two even tougher women.

For the first story, we travel to the southwestern shore of Þingvallavatn, about 15 km south of Þingvellir, to the ruins of an old farmstead at Ölfus. These ruins are relatively recent, but it’s thought that they lie on the same site of the medieval farmstead of the same name, and it’s possible that this was the very same farm where Hörðr is said to be born in the saga. Here, we learn of Hörðr’s catastrophic first steps at the age of three, for which he is cursed by his mother.

For the second story, we travel to Dögurðarnes, a peninsula at the head of Hvalfjörður, about 40 km northeast of Reykjavík. Here, we learn about Hörðr’s years as an outlaw on the tiny island of Geirshólmr, which can be seen from the shore. We also learn about how Hörðr and his outlaw band are eventually lured from their island fortress to Dögurðarnes, where they are betrayed and executed.

For the third and final story, we travel just a few kilometres further north along the head of the fjord to the mouth of the Bláskeggsá river. Here, we learn about how Hörðr’s courageous wife Helga escapes from the island in the middle of the night. She manages to swim to shore, carrying her four-year-old child and helping her eight-year-old child as she does so, before making the exhausting trek through the mountains to the home of her sister-in-law, Þorbjörg. We also learn about how these two women, Helga and Þorbjörg, ensure that Hörðr is properly avenged by organising twenty-four vengeance killings.

To watch, hear, and read more about the sagas, you can find Dr Matthew Roby at his website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

You can also buy a book in English at our online shop.

If you are struggling to understand the Icelandic names of people or places in this video, don’t forget to turn on closed captioning.

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