The Gobar in Egils saga Skalla-Grimssonar


  • John Kennedy


Egils saga Skalla Grimssonar is unusual among the Islendingasogur in setting most of its action outside Iceland. Its eponymous central figure lives quietly when at home in south-west Iceland: he does not generally meddle in local affairs, and few are anxious to challenge him. The saga might, therefore, seem an unpromising source for a student of the gobar: Icelandic sources very rarely portray gobar exercising their authority outside that country; and the powers and responsibilities of the Icelandic gobar naturally impinged most on those who actively involved themselves in the life of the community. Yet the saga is, in part, the story of the establishment, in their new country, of a powerful and prosperous Icelandic family, the Myramenn, and both Egill and his son, Porsteinn, are gobar. If, as has often been suggested, Egils saga was written by the famous author and statesman Snorri Sturluson (1178/79-1241), it is the work of a man who was a descendant of the early Myramenn, a gobi himself, and a leading panicipant in the thirteenth-century power struggle whose protagonists strove, inter alia, to accumulate goborb ('Chieftainship'), the rights and powers attached to the gobi's office. If, as generally believed, Snorri came to possess the Myramannagoborb, one might expect him to take a shrewd interest in its ninth- and tenth-century origins, and perhaps even to present it in a way which subtly bolstered his own claims to authority in the Borgarfjqor district.