Medieval Icelandic Sagas

The Saga of Illugi, the Foster Son of Grid

13th century, Old Norse.

The mother is assaulted by seven giantesses every night who tear her to pieces. But she does not die, and like Prometheus before her, she recovers every morning.

'Illugi is the son of a farmer who lives near the city where King Hring of Denmark holds his court,' said Quintin. 'Illugi becomes great friends with the king’s son Sigurd, and when Sigurd is given a ship by his father to go and learn manhood in, Illugi sails with him.

'They sail first of all to Scotland and do a lot of the unspeakable things that viking raiders used to like to do in those days; but unfortunately, they aren’t slowly roasted alive over a fire for it. Their just deserts do come, though, because a storm blows them north and then east, and we are prepared for what might happen next because this is the direction in which the Scandinavian Otherworld always lies, in these stories: far to the east.

'At last they come to land and put to shore in a sound. On the other side of the sound are signs of life and Illugi is sent across the water to try to fetch fire, to warm themselves with. He crosses the sound and comes to a cave where he discovers that they have definitely sailed into the Otherworld!

'Illugi finds a hideous old hag living there with her beautiful young daughter. She is a trollwife. In the Icelandic family sagas, a troll is always a dead person who is still alive and terrorising the neighbourhood; rather like a modern-day zombie. But these two are being terrorised themselves, by some giantesses. Their story is this:

'The old hag was once the daughter of a king whose wife had died, and so he married again. The classic 'wicked stepmother' story kicks in and she describes how she and her daughter found themselves in this godforsaken place, with the mother in the form of a hideous creature with eagles’ claws for hands who gets set upon by seven giantesses every night who tear her to pieces. But she does not die, and like Prometheus before her, she recovers every morning. But the only way of escaping from the horror of this ordeal is for her to find a man who is unafraid of death. This she does by holding a knife at the head of every man she can lure into her cave with the promise of sleeping with her beautiful daughter.'

'I bet Illugi rescues them,' said Miranda.

'You bet he does! He shows no fear in the face of death, when the knife is in his face, so he gets to sleep properly with the beautiful daughter. And then they are rescued.'

'So sex releases the hag and her daughter back into the real world,' said Miranda, thoughtfully.

'Accompanied by fearlessness in the face of death,' said Quintin.

Story recounted from: the medieval Icelandic saga of Illugi, Foster Son of Grid, translated by Gavin Chappell.

See for yourself

Icelandic saga – Wikipedia

Legendary sagas – Wikipedia

Illuga saga Gríðarfóstra – Wikipedia

The Saga of Illugi the foster son of Grid – Modern English translation by Gavin Chappell.


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