1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Snorri Sturlason
SNORRI STURLASON (1179-1241), the celebrated Icelandic historian, the youngest son of a chief in the Vestfirðir (western fiords), was brought up by a powerful chief, Jon Loptsson, in Odda, who seems first to have awakened in him an interest for history and poetry. His career begins with his marriage, which made him a wealthy man; in 1206 he settled at Reykjaholt, where he constructed magnificent buildings and a bath of hewn stones, preserved to the present day, to which water was conducted from a neighbouring hot spring. He early made himself known as a poet, especially by glorifying the exploits of the contemporary Norse kings and earls; at the same time he was a learned lawyer, and from 1215 became the lögsögumaðr, or president of the legislative assembly and supreme court of Iceland. The prominent features of his character seem to have been cunning, ambition and avarice, combined with want of courage and aversion from effort. By royal invitation he went in 1218 to Norway, where he remained a long time with the young king Haakon and his tutor Earl Skuli. When, owing to disputes between Icelandic and Norwegian merchants, Skuli thought of a military expedition to Iceland, Snorri promised to make the inhabitants submit to Haakon of their own free will. Snorri himself became the lendrmaðr, vassal or baron, of the king of Norway, and held his lands as a fief under him. On his return home Snorri sent his son to the king as a hostage, and made peace between Norway and Iceland, but his power and influence were used more for his own enrichment and aggrandizement—he was lögsögumaðr again from 1222 to 1232—than for the advantage of the king. Haakon, therefore, stirred up strife between Snorri's kinsman Sturla and Snorri, who had to fly from Reykjaholt in 1236; and in 1237 he left the country and went back to Norway. Here he joined the party of Skuli, who was meditating a revolt. Learning that his cousin Sturla in Iceland had fallen in battle against Gissur, Snorri's son-in-law, Snorri, although expressly forbidden by his liege lord, returned to Iceland in 1239 and once more took possession of his property. Meanwhile Haakon, who had vanquished Skuli in 1240, sent orders to Gissur to punish Snorri for his disobedience either by capturing him and sending him back to Norway or by putting him to death. Gissur took the latter course, attacked Snorri at his residence, Reykjaholt, and slew him on the 22nd of September 1241.
Heimskringla or Sagas of the Norwegian Kings, a connected series of biographies of the kings of Norway down to Sverri in 1177. The later work opens with the Ynglinga Saga, a brief history of the pretended immigration into Sweden of the Aesir, of their successors in that country, the kings of Upsala, and of the oldest Norwegian kings, their descendants. Next come the biographies of the succeeding Norwegian kings, the most detailed being those of the two missionary kings Olaf Tryggvason and St Olaf. Snorri's sources were partly succinct histories of the realm, as the chronological sketch of Ari; partly more voluminous early collections of traditions, as the Noregs Konungatal (Fagrskinna) and the Jarlasaga; partly legendary biographies of the two Olafs; and, in addition to these, studies and collections which he himself made during his journeys in Norway. His critical principles are explained in the preface, where he dwells on the necessity of starting as much as possible from trustworthy contemporary sources, or at least from those nearest to antiquity—the touchstone by which verbal traditions can be tested being contemporary poems. He inclines to rationalism, rejecting the marvellous and recasting legends containing it in a more historical spirit; but he makes an exception in the accounts of the introduction of Christianity into Norway and of the national saint St Olaf. Snorri strives everywhere to impart life and vigour to his narrative, and he gives the dialogues in the individual character of each person. Especially in this last he shows a tendency to epigram and often uses humorous and pathetic expressions. Besides his principal work, he elaborated in a separate form its better and larger part, the History of St Olaf (the great Olaf's Saga). In the preface to this he gives a brief extract of the earlier history, and, as an appendix, a short account of St Olaf's miracles after his death; here, too, he employs critical art, as appears from a comparison with his source,the Latin legend. See further Iceland, Literature, and Edda.