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Icelandic Sagas

            The Sagas of Icelanders have also been known, rather imprecisely, as Icelandic Family Sagas. They constitute the best-known grouping within the richly diverse range of Icelandic Sagas (see the separate essay Icelandic Sagas in The Literary Encyclopedia). There are some forty in total (this being, for instance, the number translated in The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, 1997). Collectively, they cover events running from the mid ninth century to the mid eleventh and located in all inhabited parts of Iceland (and some uninhabited), though saga-writing flourished above all in the West and North. Individual sagas vary in length from the compact Saga of Thorstein the White orsteins saga hvíta and The Saga of the Greenlanders Grnlendinga saga which occupy 8 and 13 pages respectively in The Complete Sagas, to the 220-page Njáls saga. The latter, together with Egils saga, Grettis saga, Eyrbyggja saga, and Laxdla saga, have sometimes been counted as the 'big five' sagas. The titular heroes of the first three are Njáll, a man of outstanding intelligence and wisdom, though not a fighter; Egill, farmer, warrior, adventurer, thug and outstanding poet; and Grettir, whose combination of extraordinary strength, stubbornness and ill fate leads to outlawry and death. Eyrbyggja saga and Laxdla saga are named from neighbourhoods, their titles referring to the people of Eyrr and Laxárdalr in the west of Iceland. Like all the Sagas of Icelanders, these five are concerned with social interactions, especially with conflict and its resolution, and with the way that outstanding individuals function in the wider community. .
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             A typical saga will depict conflict which enmeshes families and neighbourhoods in feuds driven by the imperative of preserving personal and familial honour, though hunger for power and competition for scarce resources may also be in play.

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