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Saga Lout

Rogues Gallery Uncovered

Episode 13

Egill Skallagrimsson


Rogues Gallery Uncovered, bad behaviour in period costume

History’s greatest libertines Lotharios and complete bastards

Watch out for adult themes and a bit of colourful language.

Saga Lout

“Extreme Violence, senseless butchery, tactical vomiting and poetry with hard drinking, hard rhyming easily offended Viking heart throb”

Egill Skallagrímsson

Thanks again to all you rogues for helping to make this podcast a success, download numbers are climbing nicely and I’m working on roguish merchandise and PATREON only goodies to tempt you with as we speak.

You are a thoroughly disreputable bunch

By the way….

If you are Icelandic or a Norse history enthusiast and ive pronounced the subject of his podcasts name incorrectly I can but apologise.

I’ve said it about 50 different ways over the years and have been told every time that’s its wrong.

I think this is the medieval pronunciation of Egill but If I sound like a buffoon who deserves to be given a grammatical blood eagle, just let me know.

And if you don’t know what a blood eagle is, ill leave a link in the show notes, it’s pretty unpleasant.

You know the score about this tale being set in the present tense of the time in which its set.

I’m not a 12th century Viking saga teller so OBVIOUSLY im not in favour of Egils more unpleasant behaviour – whether he really did any of it or not.

I do however enjoy the odd ale.

ICELAND 1241

Gather round and let me tell you a tale of a when men were men……not like the popinjays of today.

These were real men who waded in blood, consigned their enemies to hell….. and wrote fine poetry.

I speak of the Norsemen who bestrode the world three hundred years past, worshipping old gods with fire and fury in their hearts.

Of all these mighty warriors none was more worthy of Valhalla than Egilll Skallagrímsson

His saga is one of the finest works of Icelandic literature. Although it dates from a time before anyone in this country wrote anything down.

Are you prepared to hear my words and feel deep shame at your own

paltry achievements?

Do you accept that compared to Egilll Skallagrímsson

you are no more than worms feasting on the excrement of dogs?

You do...Then I’ll begin.

It was nine hundred and four years after the birth of Jesus that Egilll was born here in Iceland.

His father known as “Skalla-Grímr” or “Grímr the Bald”, had settled in this remote land after fleeing his native Norway.

Many years before, his brother had been killed by warriors of the Norwegian king, and Skalla-Grímr vowed revenge.

His grief-stricken family petitioned King Harold for compensation, but they were brusquely refused.

Outraged, Skalla-Grímr attacked one of the kings' ships. He killed all but two of the crew, including his brothers' murderers. In his fury, however, he also butchered two of the kings' cousins.

By performing this deed, he had made himself an outlaw, forever banished from his homeland.

Despite being bald, during his exile Skalla-Grímr fathered two sons.

One was fair of face but his brother, Egill was…..not.

The lad possessed a wide protruding forehead topped with shaggy black hair. Thick joined-up eyebrows slanted above his huge jutting chin, which looked like the digging end of a spade.

In later years the unnatural thickness of his skull bones would inspire Egill to refer to his head as a “Helms Rock".

While not pleasing to the eye, this physical anomaly proved very useful in battle.

The saga begins during his childhood.

In his third year, Egill was already as tall and strong as boys twice his age and could converse with his elders in the most eloquent manner.

His father had been invited to a feast where there would be much drinking and merriment. Little Egill asked if he could attend but his request was refused. “You shall not go,” his father, said ‘for you know not how to behave yourself in company where there is much drinking.”

What three-year-old warrior of spirit does?

As the party rode away, mischievous Egill mounted one of his father’s horses and though the hour was getting late followed them many miles to the feasting hall. When he entered the host greeted him with much joy although his father was furious at being disobeyed.

Later as the ale flowed the men recited poetry in praise of heroic deeds. Young Egill composed and recited a verse in honour of the host, a verse that won the admiration of all who heard it.

But he was not always so sensitive.

At the age of seven, Egill was known to be headstrong and passionate. He enjoyed wrestling and playing rough games of ball with other boys.

During one such game, he met his match in the eleven-year-old son of a rival chieftain. He threw Egill to the ground and taunted him, saying that he would thrash the boy if he did not behave. His pride in tatters, Egill picked himself up and walked away to hoots of derision from the other players.

He returned a few minutes later carrying his brother’s war axe.

As his tormenter ran laughing with the ball he sprinted up behind him and with a vicious swing cleft his head in two leaving the older boy dead upon the playing field.

No more laughter was heard, that day, I can tell you.

In the resulting fight, seven men lost their lives. Egill’s mother was heard to say that the deed showed her son had the makings of a fine freebooter.

This insane blinding berserker fury was something that – alongside baldness - he inherited from his father.

By twelve Egill was the size and strength of a full-grown man. His best friend was a twenty-year-old named Thord and they still played ball, but this time against adults – including his father.

During one lively game, they played so hard that the ageing warrior had to leave the field in exhaustion. He took this loss of face in good part until later that evening when, after a few ales, he savagely beat Thorn into a bloody pulp on the floor of the longhouse. Then - to remind everyone that he was still a Viking he began to throttle his own son.

A maid who had nursed Egill as a child intervened to stay his hand. At which point Skalla-Grimir turned upon her and chased the kindly woman screaming into the open air. Running in terror of her life she fled to the headland pursued by the rage consumed Norseman.

To avoid his choking grip, she leapt into the sea but as she swam away, Skalla-Grimir picked up a heavy stone from the shore and threw it with all his strength.

His aim was true and the stone struck her hard between the shoulder blades so that she sank lifeless below the waves. Back at the longhouse, he resumed his seat at table, oblivious to the somewhat awkward silence that he had left behind.

Egill however, had seen his comrade beaten and his former nurse senselessly killed. To a true Viking, no loss goes unavenged

Sitting nearby was a fellow who managed his fathers household and, more importantly, his money. A highly valued aide, he had become one of Skalla-Grimir’s closest friends.

He turned his head to watch as Egill, still rubbing his throat, angrily strode back into the room.

Egill — who knew how fond his father was of the coin counter — slew the innocent man with a single blow of his sword.

As his body slumped bleeding over the table the lad then calmly took his seat. The meal continued with not a word spoken.

For some months after the incident, relations between father and son remained somewhat strained but ultimately, they reconciled.

Many are the examples of young Egill’s passionate nature.

Once he accompanied a housecarl of his father’s on a visit to a small nearby island in order to collect rent money. They rowed all the way there and arrived soaked to the skin and freezing cold.

They were greeted by a royal steward named Bard, who served the islands king and queen.

He escorted the duo to a nearby farmstead and offered them food and shelter.

What he did not offer them, however, was ale.

Bard knew that the royal couple were on their way to the farm, and he wanted to save every drop for them.

By way of compromise, he offered the weary sailors a much inferior brew made from curds.

When the king and queen arrived, they invited the sailors to attend them at a feast — which included plenty of ale.

When he realised that he and his friend had been denied beer in their time of need, Egill took offence.

Accepting the offer of a friendly libation, he proceeded to drink the farmhouse dry. Horn after horn he guzzled, becoming louder and more abusive as he did so.

So disagreeable was he that the queen even tried to poison him in an attempt to stop him consuming any more.

Despite being heroically drunk, Egill quickly noticed her deception. When his companion staggered to the doorway to be sick, he accompanied him, with his sword drawn beneath his cloak.

Cunning Bard followed and tried to entice Egill to drink more of the poisoned ale.

Replying with a friendly embrace, Egill subtly thrust his sword through the conniving steward's bulging stomach.

Bard followed and tried to entice him to drink more poisoned ale.

Replying with a friendly embrace, Egill thrust his sword through the conniving steward's innards.

As his friend slumped dead drunk in the doorway, Bards actually dead body slid down to join him in an ever-widening pool of blood.

Egill, knowing that no good would come of this, then fled into the night.

A hunted man, he ran across the windswept landscape leaping into the frothing ocean and swimming to another smaller island nearby.

Three skilled warriors were sent to capture him; they never left its shores alive.

When he finally returned home the first thing Egill did was to compose an epic poem about the experience.

The matter of the stewards' death was swiftly resolved. Egill's family paid a substantial fine and the offended king admitted that the treacherous Bard got what was coming to him.

The queen, however, would forever bear a grudge.

As he grew to manhood Egill, roamed the seas around Iceland, fought as a mercenary in England, and ranged across Norway - raiding, fighting, and composing verses as he went.

Who can forget when Egill and his men were captured on a harrying expedition by a wealthy farmer and he was tied to a stout wooden post to await execution?

Straining against his bonds, the mighty warrior uprooted the post from the ground. He then used it to batter down the door of his prison.

Before he left, Egill freed his companions. He then stealthily crept into the landowner’s home and robbed it while all within slept. Back at the longship, his crew were eager to sail away with the gold but Egill turned back.

“Stealth in the night,” he said, “was not the Viking way”.

Returning to the farmhouse, he proceeded to set it ablaze and as the panicking landowner and his family fled in terror from the flames he slaughtered every last one of them.

It mattered to Egill that everyone in that house knew that it was he — and not some other thief — who had made off with their gold.

Before they died all indeed knew who had robbed them.

Do you know, at a feast, the daughter of an earl once chided him for sitting in his seat? Instead of killing her, Egill charmed the maiden by delivering a verse about setting his enemies roofs on fire and then butchering them with sword and spear.

As the bards say, “Write about what you know.”

The girl was taken with Egills ready wit and the two enjoyed much merriment till dawn.

Egill’s, skill with words was as powerful as his prowess with a blade.

Few hated him with as much passion as Erik Bloodaxe, the king of Norway who had not forgotten the debt owed to his family by Egill’s father.

When Egill found himself in Bloodaxe’s hands after becoming shipwrecked on the Norwegian coast, his death was all but assured. However, because the Norse tradition forbids anyone from being executed at night, Egill was kept imprisoned until the morning.

In that time, as he awaited his bloody fate, he composed a poem of such stirring magnificence that when Bloodaxe heard it he forgave him on the spot.

The poem was written in a style that was both new and exciting to a fellow Norseman, in that the words at the end of each line rhymed with one another.

Verse it is said is the spear of the poet

And Egill was a Viking who knew how to throw it.

Many challenged Egill to single combat but none could best him. YUOT Ljot the Pale was a giant of a man but after spending the whole day drinking; Egill still beat him into exhaustion.

He did this while taunting him with insulting poetry, before finally chopping Ljot's leg off above the knee.

And what of Atli the Short?

He fought well and in a savage combat, both men hacked the others shields into splintered fragments.

Powerfully well-matched the battle raged, without either warrior gaining the upper hand.

Finally, Egill stood before his opponent, with his shield destroyed and his sword knocked from his hand.

Another man may have foreseen his end but Egills only concern was that there was ale to be drunk and time was wasting

As Atli the Short closed in for the kill, a thirsty Egill sprang upon him and tore out his throat with his teeth.

Egill was, it’s true, quick to anger, but there was a kindness to him that sometimes led to acts of great mercy.

Armod the Beard was a wealthy landowner who hosted Egill and his men at a feast in their honour and much ale was drunk. When his young daughter, at her mother’s insistence, recited a verse of welcome, Armod struck her violently and scolded her to all present.

Offended, Egill spent many hours afterwards drinking Armods hall empty of ale.

He even ordered his men to stop drinking so he could imbibe their share. When even his mighty body could contain no more, as a gesture of his displeasure he held Armod down in his seat while vomiting the hosts' generosity copiously back into his face.

In the morning, still offended, he broke into Armod’s bedchamber and as his wife and daughter begged, sobbing for his life, cut off the man’s impressive beard with a dagger before gouging out one of his eyes as a reminder to be gentler in future.

Indeed, a great mercy

Egills saga is full of, battle, bloodshed, vengeance, harrying, murder, and poetry. It’s also 92 chapters long and I need a piss, so let’s skip to the end.

Such was his skill at arms Egill never met his death in battle as is a Norseman’s right.

Sadly, he grew old and racked with headaches, the increasing weight of his boulder-like skull pulling his shoulders down into a hunched stoop.

As he felt deaths hand approaching and in a final act worthy of a Viking warrior, he took his servant with him into the woods and buried the silver treasure of a lifetime of plundering in a secluded location.

Then with the last of his remaining strength, he gently murdered the servant to keep his secret safe and returned home to die.

Where is the treasure? No one knows.

How much of the saga is true? How much of ANY saga is true?

Was Egill Skallagrímsson a man among men? Without doubt.

Does he compare to Sven forkbeard – Now THERE was a fighter.

There’s an ongoing debate about how much sagas-particularly Icelandic sagas should be seen as accurate history.

The consensus seems to be that they are based on oral history which becomes embellished and re written over time, so while they are undoudedly based on real people and events a lot of the details need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The sagas mostly cover a period between the settlement of Iceland around 870 to the country’s conversion to Christianity in the 10 hundreds.

They are usually family sagas telling the stories of generations of pagan Vikings and give a fascinating glimpse into how they lived and thought

A bit like viking soap operas I suppose – north enders

Most of them were first written down in the 13th and 14th centuries – the suspected author of Egils Saga was a chap by the name of Snorri Sturluson.

He’s a major figure in Icelandic literature and is responsible for not only definitively recording a lot of Norse history but also immortalizing much of what most of us now recognise as Norse mythology.

Would Thor be in the Avengers without him?

Maybe snori should have taken a leaf out of egils book and been as handy with a sword as he was with a pen because he ended up getting assassinated in 1241.

Egill is a complex character – I have included a link to the full text of his saga in the show notes and you’ll see how he could go from berserk violence to sensitive thoughtfulness in the blink of a stanza.

As a poet he is best known for a series of verses he wrote after the tragic death of his son.

Consumed by grief Egill is said to have shut himself away after his son drowned in an accident

He refused to eat or drink and all were convinced that his Greif was so overwhelming that he intended to die.

His daughter however is supposed to have tricked him into eating again and then told him that because the lad had not died in battle his deeds would not be remembered unless Egill wrote a poem in his honour.

Egill picked up a pen and by the time he had finished he had rediscovered his own desire to live

One of the verses reads

A leaden weight

Lies on my tongue,

I cannot sustain

The measure of a song

Odin has stolen

My heart's treasure;

I draw no succour

From the stores of my soul

The pride of my house

Is beaten to the ground

Like trees of the forest

Bowed before the storm.

How can a man rejoice

Who has borne to the grave

The bodies of his kin

From their earthly seats?

That hardly sounds like the vomiting, axe hungry piss head of legend – but Egill was both.

A lot has also been written about egils famously hard skull.

Apparently 150 years after he died someone dug up his remains and was amazed to see how thick and disfigured his skull was.

They tried smashing it with an axe handle but the wood simply splintered and the skull remained intact – although it did turn white where it had been struck.

Modern medicine suggests that Egill may have been suffering from Paget’s disease

This condition causes thickening of the bones, mental instability, deafness, coldness of the feet, headaches, lethargy, and facial disfigurement all of which Egill is said to have suffered from.

No wonder he was bad tempered.

Next time on Rogues Gallery Uncovered

THE ELECTRIC SEX BED

Sparks fly between the sheets with the 18th century’s most techonlocally advanced sex expert

Dr James Graham

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That’s all for now, ill see you yesterday

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