Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Do not Smite!" "Smite!" "Do not Smite!"

The first and third of those phrases were the last words of Snorri Sturluson, the great medieval Icelandic poet, Saga writer, lawyer, historian and political leader.

If you go to Iceland (which I strongly recommend), you will find few surviving buildings from before WW2.  This is because Iceland was an extremely poor country from the 13th-century to the first half of the 20th, exploited by it's Scandinavian brothers--Norway, Sweden and Denmark--on an almost continuous basis for 700 years.  Mud and wood shacks don't last.  But most of the the natural locations described in the great Sagas of Iceland's Golden Age still survive--the great plain of Thingvellir where the refined farmer-vikings of the 12th and 13th centuries used to meet at the Althing once a year to pursue their intricate lawsuits, the lonely and foreboding isle of Drangey where the misunderstood and wronged Grettir made his last stand, abandoned by his friends, and Snorri Sturluson's property where he also made a last stand against the assassins (70 in total) sent to kill him.

They found him in the cellar.  The appropriately named Arni the Bitter raised his weapon . . .

"Do not smite", said Snorri.
"Smite", said one of Arni's companions.
"Do not smite", said Snorri.

That's the pool where he bathed and there's the entrance to that cellar.

Once you hear that sequence of words they are impossible to forget.

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