Law and Literature in Medieval Iceland: 'Ljosvetninga Saga' and 'Valla-Ljots Saga'

The two sagas here presented in translation with commentary belong to a class of medieval Icelandic texts commonly called family sagas. There are some three dozen of these sagas, composed for the most part in the thirteenth century, which tell stories about leading Icelandic figures and families from the time of the island's colonization around 900 to the middle of the eleventh century. This book contains the only complete translation of Ljosvetninga saga in English and the only English commentary on either saga. The authors aim to present the basic material needed for an informed reading of the Icelandic sagas. Both represent a school that urges that the sagas be refocused as historical documents, and they represent the two approaches to rehistorian (Andersson), the other a social and legal historian (Miller). One attempts to tie the sagas more closely to medieval literature and oral literature in general. The other attempts to define the relationship between the sagas and the social systems in which they evolved, and is much influenced by American legal realism and law-and-society scholarship. The authors assert that the case can be plausibly made that the sagas at times surpass the quality of other, more 'historical' sources for purposes of historical inquiry. Saga authors, for instance, took great care to contextualize the disputes that form the core of these narratives. Disputants are situated in kin groups, in households, in neighborhoods, and amidst juridical institutions confirmed by other sources, and the disputes themselves are traced through time.<