Cook, Robert. Heroism and heroes in Njáls saga

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  • Author: Cook, Robert
  • Title: Heroes and Heroism in Njáls saga
  • Published in: Greppaminni: rit til heiðurs Vésteini Ólasyni sjötugum
  • Place, Publisher: Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Bókmenntafélag
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 71–90
  • E-text:
  • Reference: Cook, Robert. "Heroes and Heroism in 'Njáls saga'". 'Greppaminni: rit til heiðurs Vésteini Ólasyni sjötugum', pp. 71-90. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Bókmenntafélag, 2009.

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The three sections of this article present, respectively, an examination of scholarly arguments concerning honor in the family sagas; a demonstration of heroic themes and motifs apparent in Njáls saga; and a ranking of its characters as potential heroes, in terms of both traditional heroic and newer social values. Cook argues that the family sagas’ engagement with honor is substantial yet problematic: their vision of honor is complicated and moderated by a new kind of social ethic. We see in the character of Kári (whom Cook holds as the "true hero of the saga", p. 88) the fusion of respectable heroic honor with peace and moderation. This constitutes a "triumph" (p. 88) for the society of the saga.


Texta vantar

See also


Chapter 75: mun eg ríða heim aftur: "This can be seen as a final concern with his honor – as with Achilles (Iliad 9, 412–416), he [Gunnar] has a choice between a long and inglorious life, and a short but glorious life, and like a true hero he chooses the latter." (p. 75)

Chapter 131: fann engi maðr hræzlu á honum: "He has both the fearlessness of a true warrior and a modest nature. It is unfortunate that this peaceful and honorable man was forced by circumstances into a disastrous choice." (p. 84)

Chapter 152: er vit drápum báðir saman: "Kari’s vengeance is steady, systematic and purposeful, and when he has committed the last of his planned slayings, against Kol Thorsteinsson in the second-to-last chapter, the events of the saga come to a peaceful end. This is vengeance as it should be." (p. 87)


  • Written by: Harriet Allen
  • Icelandic/English translation:
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