Today in Literary History – September 23, 1241 – the murder of Snorri Sturluson

On September 23, 1241, the great Icelandic poet, historian and clan chieftain Snorri Sturluson was murdered in his home, probably on the orders of the Norwegian king Haakon, who had once been Snorri’s patron but whom Snorri had disobeyed.

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Snorri was an important man in 13th century Icelandic life, twice elected as the “law speaker” of the Althing, the ruling council. But he is best remembered – even revered – as being the man who preserved the old Norse myths in writing at a time when the Christian church was suppressing their memory.

He wrote two hugely influential books The Prose Edda and Heimskringla and probably was also the author of Egil’s Saga.

He recounted all of the old Norse and Germanic myths that we know now. He got away with doing this through two stratagems.

First, he recounted them to explain ancient poetic techniques and secondly he used them to explain how the stories arose from tales of actual heroes – not gods – in an anthropological way. Thus, he satisfied the Church authorities.

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J.R.R. Tolkien famously said that he’d rather have students read Snorri Sturluson than Shakespeare. If it weren’t for Snorri we wouldn’t have the dynamic stories of Odin, Thor, Valhalla, Ragnarök and all of the elves, dwarves and dragons of Viking lore!

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