Hrafnkel Essay, Research Paper
In Hrafnkel s Saga, the use of landscape and setting took on a different purpose than it has in the other three epics we have read. Throughout the saga, the description of the landscape seemed to be more prevalent and noticeable to the modern reader. To the 13th c. reader, however, it would have been less noticeable. This is because it was a landscape which most would have known as their own. I believe this is in part why the author used such descriptions of common landscapes and scenes: in order to convey a sense of familiarity to the reader.
Landscape alone could not have conveyed that sense of familiarity. It is the combination the author used of landscape, the representation of a certain socio-economic society, and the subject of the saga that come together to impart that sense on the reader. This is why in explaining the importance of landscape in the saga, I feel these three areas are so closely intertwined that one cannot be explained without the presence of the others.
The saga is set in 10th c. Iceland. There was no real head of the people in Iceland at this time. What was present instead were numerous chieftains who were the leaders to groups of people. This leads to a setup like we have seen in The Cid and Song of Roland, where you have numerous people in the top position of authority who are constantly in conflict with one another.
The population was small and spread widely apart. In the saga, we see reoccurring images of cliffs, bluffs, and deep valleys as a main part of the landscape.
They rode west from the swamp and up the ridge. West of the ridge there s a fine grassy valley, and west of the valley another ridge and west of the second ridge lies Hrafnkelsdale. They rode up the easternmost ridge. There are some humps on the ridge, and on the slope there stands a steep knoll, with lyme grass on top but eroded by wind on all sides. This is fine land for grazing, but it lies near a bog. (66)
The valleys and lowlands were where farms were settled. This society was one of animal raising, and this made having plenty of grassy areas important. The farmers seem to have spread themselves out because of this and because of the tradition of transhumance. It seems that often numerous hills separated the farms from one another and farmers therefore had little interaction. This is the type of landscape the contemporary readers of the author would have recognized as theirs, or one that was not too far in the past to be pictured vividly.