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Friday, December 5, 2014

Njal's Saga Available Online

I'm a big fan of Njal's Saga, which I read during my second year in law school after learning about it through a remedies course taught by Professor Samuel Bray. I just discovered that the entire saga is available online here as part of the Icelandic Saga Database. The language of this 1861 translation is a bit cumbersome compared to the Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson translation that I'm familiar with, but it's still worth checking out.

The saga tells the story of Njal, a lawyer and warrior who lived in 11th Century Iceland, and his friend Gunnar -- a warrior of unparalleled strength and prowess in battle. The saga includes a wide array of additional characters and spans a significant time period. The saga centers around battles, murders, and rivalries, but it devotes an almost equal amount of time to discussing the legal ramifications of the characters' violent actions -- and often rapidly pivots between violence and legal proceedings. Since disputes were occasionally settled by resorting to single combat between the parties, violence and legal proceedings are sometimes one and the same.

Njal's Saga is of interest for law students and others interested in law because it illustrates several themes that are recognizable in today's legal world. The saga addresses the mechanics of translating wrongful death into monetary compensation (and how a person's status may lead to increased or decreased valuation). It provides examples of how one may triumph in a seemingly hopeless legal dispute through a superior knowledge of procedure. Additionally, Njal's Saga contains an account of the possible origin of the term, "gunner."

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