Mythmoot V: 06 - Narrative Functions of Sickness in Egils Saga Skallagrimssonar and Laxdaela Saga

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Getting Sick of It: Narrative Functions of Sickness in Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar and Laxdæla 

Saga

Laura Lee Smith

Many characters die in the course of Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar and Laxdæla Saga, most from battle wounds or homicide, and some from old age or other natural causes. Characters may also take to their beds for various reasons, including grief. But in some instances, the narrator specifically reports that a character is sick. Such mentions warrant attention, because “illness and healing are not presented as central themes of medieval Scandinavians’ mythical understanding of the world” (Hall 196). Indeed, illness in these two sagas, where it is mentioned at all, serves one of three main narrative functions. The first function may be simple “housekeeping”: that is, death moves characters off-stage or furthers the plot by setting up inheritance disputes or the like, and illness is an efficient way of justifying a death without special groundwork or explanation. The second function is that an illness, foreseen by the sufferer to be a fatal one, gives him one last chance to influence the future. The third function is that of a temporary disability that reveals something about the sufferer’s mental or emotional state, or other qualities that would have remained hidden.

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