15. Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir (Icelandic Sagas)

In today's episode, we discuss Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir, the protagonist of the thrilling Laxdæla Saga. We talk about tragic love triangles, domineering women, and prophetic dreams.

This episode has a TRIGGER WARNING for transphobia, particularly transmisogyny.

Character guide (by order of appearance):


Laxdæla saga

Transcript Below:

[intro music]

Lizzie: Hello! And welcome to Mytholadies, a podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all around the world. We're your hosts—

Zoe: I'm Zoe.

Lizzie: And I'm Lizzie. So, Zoe, who are we talking about this week?

Zoe: Alright, so, today, we are continuing our dive through women of Icelandic sagas.

Lizzie: Ooh, okay.

Zoe: And we are talking about Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir from the Laxdæla Saga.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So—

Lizzie: And what is that saga?

Zoe: So, I'm glad you asked! My first section of notes is called "the saga". Laxdæla Saga is a saga of the people of the Laxardalr Valley, or the Salmon River Valley, translated. It says saga of Icelanders, so, again, that's a specific subset of Icelandic sagas that focus on conflicts between the early founding families of Iceland. It tells of the people of the Breiðafjörður area of Iceland. It's a big fjord in West Iceland in the late 9th and early 11th centuries. And, according to Google Translate, in case you were wondering, Breiðafjörður just means "wide fjord", so. It's a big fjord.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: [laughs] So, it was written in the 13th century around the end of a civil war between Iceland and Norway, right around when Iceland submitted to Norway, so it's got a pro-Norwegian royal bias. So, it's second only to Njáls Saga in number of medieval manuscripts preserved, so it was likely very popular in the Middle Ages and is quite popular among scholars now.

Lizzie: Nice!

Zoe: The earliest complete record of the saga is found in the Möðruvallabók, which is a large collection of preserved sagas. And the saga has been regarded as, quote, "unusually feminine".

Lizzie: Ooh!

Zoe: So, it has been speculated that it was written by a woman.

Lizzie: That's amazing!

Zoe: So that's, I really like that, it's like, the only saga I know of where that's considered, so I think that's really cool.

Lizzie: Yeah!

Zoe: Also, the protagonist of the saga is a woman! So, that's who we're gonna be talking about.

Lizzie: That's rare, also.

Zoe: Mm hmm. And, so, actually, one of the fun things that my professor talked about is that if it's called "The Saga of the people of this area", then it's more likely to have a female protagonist, as opposed to the male protagonist sagas, which are just named after the main character. So, like, Njáls Saga, Njál is the main character—

Lizzie: Saga of Erik the Red

Zoe: Yeah! [laughs] And stuff like that, so. Fun fact. And it focuses also on relationships between men and women, and is likely inspired by Arthurian romances, in particular, the theme of a love triangle.

Lizzie: Ooh.

Zoe: Which we will get into. Like most Icelandic sagas, it begins with a study of her ancestors as a preparatory ancestor sort of thing. So, again, preparatory ancestors are a method of characterization used in Icelandic sagas, and they're basically a way of highlighting key traits that will be found in the protagonists and other characters in the sagas that are important and want to be emphasized. So.

Lizzie: Nice.

Zoe: Again, so, you remember Auð the Deep-Minded?

Lizzie: I sure do. From Episode 8.

Zoe: She's back!

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: She's back, except this time they call her Unn the Deep-Minded. it's the same person.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: Just a different name. So, it begins with the story of her father, Ketil Flat-Nose, who's fleeing Norway, and the tyrannical king, King Harald Tangle-Hair who wants to conquer all of Norway. And that's actually, that's a really common theme among sagas, a lot of people came to Iceland as refugees trying to escape his violence and conquests and stuff.

Lizzie: Interesting.

Zoe: So, first, she travels to Ireland, and then to Scotland, and then, her son, Thorstein the Red, becomes the ruler of over half of Scotland. Eventually he dies, and she sails to the Faroes and the Orkneys, where she marries off her granddaughters to ruling families there. Then, she travels to Iceland. When she lands in Iceland, she meets up with a man named Helgi Bjolan, who is only willing to offer shelter to half her followers. She's got quite a lot of followers 'cause she's, everyone loves her and she's very wealthy.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: And she's very offended by this because he's not willing to give shelter to all of her followers, so she stays with another guy named Bjorn the Easterner instead. So, when she settles in Iceland, she frees all her slaves and shares her land with her family and followers.

Lizzie: That's nice.

Zoe: And she names — yeah — and she names her grandson Olaf her heir. She has a magnificent party and feast in celebration of her last granddaughter getting married and then the next day she dies.

Lizzie: Oh.

Zoe: This is like, over a longer period of time, but, like, I'm simplifying it because we need to get to other details of the story. So she was very poised, elegant, and dignified, until the very end; throughout her final feast, she greeted all her guests, everyone remarked on how elegant and dignified she was, and she was overall a very honorable woman. So, then, the saga goes on to describe various female descendants and their lives, there's too many to discuss in depth, but it's an important theme to note that it always describes whether or not their marriages were happy. And, if the woman is not happy in the marriage or does not choose to marry the man, then it's not gonna be a happy marriage. So, one important story involves a descendant of a guy named Olaf the Peacock—

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: He's different than her grandson that she—

Lizzie: Why is he called "The Peacock"?

Zoe: Because he wears really fine clothes all the time.

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: And the reason why he does that is 'cause he's got a lot of insecurities because he's the son of Melkorka, who was captured by his father as a slave, but then revealed to be the daughter of an Irish king. So, actually, she has some status.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So, Olaf has a son named Kjartan, and he is the handsomest man ever born in Iceland.

Lizzie: Ooh! That's fun!

Zoe: So the story says. Yes. So the story says, “No fairer or more handsome man had ever been born in Iceland... No man cut a better figure than Kjartan, and people were always struck by his appearance when they saw him. He was a better fighter than most, skilled with his hands, and a top swimmer. He was superior to other men in all skills, and yet he was the humblest of men, and so popular that every child loved him. He also had a cheerful and generous disposition. Of all his children, Kjartan was Olaf’s favorite.”

Lizzie: Wow.

Zoe: So.

Lizzie: So he's amazing.

Zoe: That's our boy Kjartan, he's— everyone loves him, he's— he's handsome, he's super athletic, and, also, Olaf offers to foster his brother Thorleik's son, Bolli, who is like Kjartan, but just not as good. [Lizzie laughs] So, in the saga, it says, quote, "Next to Kjartan, he was the best at all skills and in other accomplishments.” So, yeah. He is Kjartan's brother, and he is basically, like, overshadowed by Kjartan constantly. And that will be a theme. So, then, another thing that Olaf does, is he forces his daughter, Thurid, into marriage with a man named Geirmund Thunder, or "The Noisy", depending on which translation you read. Either way, he's loud.

Lizzie: Wow.

Zoe: So, of course, as in all marriages in the saga where the woman does not get to choose, she is unhappy, and, after three years, she steals Geirmund's sword, "Leg-Biter," and leaves her daughter and her husband.

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: So, then, Geirmund curses Leg-Biter the sword, and says, quote, "It will be the death of that man in your family who will most be missed and least deserve it.” And then, later, Olaf also gets an angry message from a woman in a dream who kills a four-horned ox, and she says, “I will make sure you see a son of yours covered with blood. I will also choose the one whom I know you will least want to part with.” So.

Lizzie: Huh. So, like, was it like a sacred ox or something?

Zoe: It's kind of unclear, like, I mean obviously there's something special about him because he had four horns, but, like, and he used to use one of the horns as an ice breaker, to, like, break ice off of things, but then it broke off, and then he was like, "well I guess this isn't useful anymore" and then killed it.

Lizzie: Wow, okay.

Zoe: And then they were like, "you shouldn't have killed this special ox." So now you're cursed.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So, now, with all that context, we're gonna move on to the lady, Guðrún. So, Guðrún is the daughter of Osvif, who is the grandson of Bjorn the Easterner, if you remember, he sheltered Unn and her followers when she first came to Iceland. So, she's the protagonist of the saga, as I said earlier, and she is, quote, "the most beautiful woman ever to have grown up in Iceland".

Lizzie: Oh, okay.

Zoe: And, also, she is, quote, "no less clever than she was good-looking. She took great care with her appearance, so much so that the adornments of other women were considered to be mere child’s play in comparison. She was the shrewdest of women, highly articulate, and generous as well.” So, she's super beautiful, super smart, super dignified, like, articulate, generous, like, amazing.

Lizzie: She sounds like a match for Kjartan.

Zoe: She sure does, doesn't she?

Lizzie: [laughs] Yes!

Zoe: So, when she's 14, she goes to speak to this guy named Gest Oddleifsson, who is a renowned sage in Sagas of Icelanders, about four dreams she has had that have distressed her. So, in the first dream, she's wearing an ill-fitting headdress that makes her uncomfortable. So, eventually, she throws it away. In the second dream, a silver ring that she's wearing on her arm falls into the water and disappears. In the third dream, a golden ring she had thought to keep longer than the silver ring breaks against a rock and begins to bleed. And she says that makes her think it was faulty to begin with, but, it might still be whole if she had taken better care of it. Finally, in the fourth dream, she is wearing a golden helmet, covered in gemstones, and beautiful, but too heavy for her to wear. So it rolls off her head and over the edge of a fjord into the water.

Lizzie: Huh.

Zoe: So, Gest Oddliefsson interprets her dreams to represent her future husbands. So, he says, the first one will not be a good match and she'll divorce him. The second one will be someone she loves, but she'll lose him, likely through drowning. The third marriage will have something wrong with it that she'll only realize after the husband's violent death.

Lizzie: Ooh...

Zoe: And then the fourth husband will be better than the previous three, but would also drown. Then, later, he meets Kjartan and Bolli, the two brothers, just being cool brothers together, and then, after he meets them, his son finds him crying.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So, onto the first husband.

Lizzie: Ooh, okay.

Zoe: Which has a trigger warning for abuse.

Lizzie: Oh, alright.

Zoe: So, Guðrún is married against her will to a man named Thorvald Halldórsson, at the age of 15.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So, this is like right after she had these dreams. And it's a very unhappy marriage. He offers her little affection and she's super demanding that he buy her things or do things for her. And, eventually, he slaps her, and she realizes she needs a divorce.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: So, mm hmm. Onto husband number 2, which has a trigger warning for transphobia, in particular transmisogyny. So, while she's married to Thorvald, she is falling in love with another man named Thord Ingunnarson, who is also married. So, they basically come up with a plan to get divorced from both of their spouses. So, basically, Thord has an idea: Guðrún can make Thorvald a shirt that is very low cut. And, if he wears it, she is able to successfully accuse him of crossdressing and then get her divorce.

Lizzie: Wow, okay.

Zoe: Which I guess was law at the time. Then, Thord does the same with his wife on Guðrún's urgings, he falsely accuses her of crossdressing and is able to gain a divorce. After that, they are married happily, however, Thord suffers from his wife's violent revenge attempts and he loses his arm. And, so, he eventually drowns from the witchcraft of a sorcerer named Kotkell and his family. He can't steer the ship probably due to his loss of the arm, so he drowns. And, so, after that, Guðrún gives birth to a son named Thord the Cat, and she gives him to a man named Snorri Goði to be fostered. So, goðis are local government officials, and Snorri Goði is a recurring character in multiple sagas of Icelanders, he often serves as an impartial third party that offers good advice and help to protagonists. Onto husband number three. So, you remember that guy, Kjartan?

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: He and Guðrún start seeing a lot of each other after her husband dies.

Lizzie: How old is she at this point?

Zoe: Gosh, like, 18 or something? I don't even know.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: But, also, when they're hanging out, often times Bolli is tagging along. And, everyone expects they're gonna get married. They're like the "it" couple, they're the most attractive man and woman in Iceland, Kjartan's super strong, and, like, a great fighter, super nice; and Guðrún is super smart and beautiful, and they're like the perfect match. So, everyone's like, "they're gonna get married." But, suddenly, Kjartan goes off on an expedition to Norway without warning. That really upsets both Guðrún and Kjartan's father. Because, suddenly, he's gone, and they're like, "why did you leave?" So, they arrive to find out that the pagan king Hákon has died, and he has been replaced by King and Christian Olaf Tryggvason, who wants to convert Iceland to Christianity. And, basically, what Olaf Tryggvason does, is he decides to hold Kjartan and his men as hostages in Norway until Iceland agrees to convert, and, Kjartan kind of allows this, 'cause he gets a lot of favors with the king. [Lizzie laughs] He gets a lot of, like, nice clothes, he's dressing in scarlet, like, and he's just chilling in Norway.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: Yeah, so, this lasts for three years. And, eventually, Bolli is allowed to return, and Kjartan, when Bolli leaves, he doesn't have any special message to give Guðrún, even though it's been three years since he left her. And, like, they haven't communicated since. So, when he comes back, Bolli tells her that Kjartan is in great favor with the king and she shouldn't expect him back anytime soon. However, he also mentions that Kjartan has gotten close to the king's sister, Ingibjorg.

Lizzie: Oh no!

Zoe: So, basically, he says, "yeah, Kjartan's gone, you're not gonna see him for a while, also he's like definitely in with the queen right now, like the king's sister right now, so, like, give it up," basically. So.

Lizzie: That's sad for Guðrún.

Zoe: Yeah. And, so, after that happens, Bolli proposes to Guðrún and she rejects him.

Lizzie: Oh! Okay.

Zoe: But what does Bolli do now that the woman has rejected him? He goes over her head.

Lizzie: Oh...

Zoe: He asks, Osvif and Guðrún's brothers. And they basically convinced her to marry him. But she is quote, "reluctant in all respects", and shows quote, little affection for him after the marriage occurs."

Lizzie: So that's her third husband.

Zoe: That's the third husband is Bolli. So eventually, Iceland converts to Christianity and King Olaf Tryggvason lets Kjartan leave. And he has an emotional goodbye with Ingibjorg who gives him a beautiful headdress to give to Guðrún as a wedding present. It's kind of a passive aggressive gift because it's clear that she really likes him. But she knows he's leaving. And she's not gonna see him again. But when he returns to Iceland, what does he find out?

Lizzie: That Bolli is married to Guðrún.

Zoe: Yeah, he finds out that Guðrún is already married to Bolli. And when he comes back, Guðrún is really upset and believes that Bolli hasn't told the whole truth about Kjartan's time in Norway, which is sort of the case and sort of not the case. Like he told her some truths, he told her that he's in favor with the king and that he was into the sister, which is true. And he also kind of exaggerated like, made it seem like oh, there's no chance ever, which like might not have actually been true either in order to like, marry her instead. And so one day Kjartan finds a woman named Hrefna, who is said to be quote, "the most beautiful woman in all the northern country" trying on the headdress that Ingibjorg gave him and so he decides to marry her on the rebound.

Lizzie: Oh.

Zoe: And their marriage is one of quote, "great affection." So that's nice.

Lizzie: That's nice.

Zoe: So there are tensions between Bolli and Kjartan, however. Basically, one night at dinner, Kjartan insists that Hrefna wears her headdress and sits at the place of honor at the table, which is a place that Guðrún is used to inhabiting. So, she's really offended by this and turns red. And that night, Guðrún's brother steals Kjartan's sword, which was a gift from King Olaf. And it's eventually recovered in a swamp without the sheath. So, like.

Lizzie: Oh...

Zoe: And the sheath was supposed to protect him from all wounds. So like that was a big deal. So Kjartan is very angry, but that his father Olaf convinces him not to pursue the matter. But then at the next feast, Hrefna's headdress is stolen and Guðrún does not admit to the act. But she says that, quote, "if it were true, someone here was involved in the disappearance of the headdress, in my opinion, they've done nothing but to take what is rightfully belonging to them."

Lizzie: [laughs] Okay.

Zoe: Okay, so like, the headdress is never recovered. But I do think it's heavily implied that, like, she stole it,

Lizzie: It sounds like it.

Zoe: Kjartan refuses to accept this insult and begins to act aggressively toward Guðrún and Bolli. And so what he does is he stations guards around their houses for three days, and prevents them from leaving the house. And in this time, they didn't have bathrooms inside their houses, they had outhouses.

Lizzie: Oh...

Zoe: And so for three days, basically, they're forced to be inside their house and use the bathroom inside their house.

Lizzie: That's so gross.

Zoe: So that's what he does in revenge. And then he also prevents them from buying land that they really wanted to buy, which is a big deal because land is like one of the few ways you can show wealth in Iceland.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: So despite these serious insults, Bolli refuses to retaliate against Kjartan, but Guðrún threatens him with a divorce if he doesn't take revenge on Kjartan.

Lizzie: Oh, well, that's kind of sad for him. Brothers.

Zoe: Yeah. So, a revenge party sets out to attack Kjartan and Bolli is still reluctant and holds back. But when they're fighting, they attack Kjartan and they start fighting him. But it becomes quickly clear that despite the numbers, they can't defeat Kjartan, he's just such a good fighter.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: And they call for Bolli to join them. So Kjartan goads Bolli into joining him, makes— basically makes fun of him a bunch. And then once Bolli joins, he lays down his weapons. He basically stands there defenseless in front of his brother.

Lizzie: Wait, which one?

Zoe: And Bolli kills him— Kjartan does that.

Lizzie: Oh, okay.

Zoe: And so Bolli kills him but he immediately regrets it and Kjartan dies in his arms.

Lizzie: I honestly thought Kjartan was gonna be the fourth husband.

Zoe: Well..

Lizzie: Oh!

Zoe: So, husband number four. Bolli is spared being outlawed through his foster father Olaf's work, however, Guðrún brothers who participated in this big like revenge party to fight Kjartan are outlawed. And Guðrún has a son with Bolli named Thorleik and basically so like, this kind of implies they finally consummated their marriage after Kjartan's death.

Lizzie: Oh, okay.

Zoe: So after Olaf dies, Kjartan's brothers begin to conspire in revenge against Bolli. They're really upset that he's not outlawed. And he's like, they just have to see him. They're really angry. And they're led by their mother Thorgerd. Who says that their grandfather Egil, if you remember me talking about him before, he's this grand hero of another saga. Super violent, super good poet. And she basically says that their grandfather would never let a death like this go unavenged. So they set out on a revenge party. And Bolli is killed while Guðrún is doing laundry. And afterwards she speaks with great composure to her husband's murderers, and then she bears another son posthumously named Bolli, after his father, and now she's pleased with her marriage to Bolli because she feels as though she's made him into a hero.

Lizzie: Huh, okay.

Zoe: There's a new man named Thorgils Holluson who wants to marry Guðrún and so in order to win favor with her he fosters Guðrún's, son Thorleik. However, another man Thorkel Eyjolfsson demonstrates superior character to Thorgils. And, so, basically, Snorri Goði plans to have Guðrún marry him instead. So he advises her to have Thorgils lead attack on— the attack on Bolli's killers with a false promise that she will marry him if he does. And she motivates her sons by showing them Bolli's bloody clothes from the day he was murdered. Which I think is a reflection of the laundry motif associated with Bolli's death. Like she was washing clothes while he was killed, and now she's showing his bloody clothes. I just think it's interesting. So, they succeed in killing Bolli's killer, but they spare his son and then Thorgils tries to claim Guðrún, but she reveals her plan to marry Thorkel instead. And the two get married and grow to love each other very deeply.

So this is husband number four. However, eventually, he drowns while transferring timber from Norway. And there's this really great moment, which I thought was so funny, where basically his spirit appears to Guðrún while she's leaving church, and he's like, I have to tell you something. And she says something like, "don't trouble me with this now." Like, she doesn't want to hear about her husband's death. But eventually, like, obviously, she has to find out and here she's widowed once again. So she becomes very religious and spends the nights praying. And she becomes a nun an anchoress and the first woman in Iceland to do so. And she was the most noble woman of her rank in this country. And also all her children have descendants that are prominent in the church.

Lizzie: Sounds like Gudrid.

Zoe: Yep, sure does. So, one night, when she's very old and weighed down with grief, her son, Bolli, returns after getting much success and wealth, and he asks her which man she loved the most in her life. So she discusses each of her husbands; she calls Thorkell, "most powerful men and most outstanding," Bolli, "most valued and accomplished," Thord "wisest and most skilled in law," and then doesn't comment on her first husband, Thorvald. Because he sucked.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: And then Bolli says, "but those are all husbands. I asked what man you loved the most."

Lizzie: Okay...

Zoe: And Guðrún simply responds, "though I treated him the worst, I loved him best." And that's about the end of her story.

Lizzie: So, Kjartan?

Zoe: So, I mean, it's not said; I believe that's the implication. But, you can discuss, you know, like—

Lizzie: I choose to believe it was Kjartan because I wanted them to be together.

Zoe: Yeah, so I definitely, I think that the specification of Bolli saying, okay, but what man, not necessarily husband, means that we're supposed to read it as the implication that it was Kjartan and not like any of her actual husbands. So I think that's really sad.

Lizzie: It is very sad. It's sort of like a tragic love story.

Zoe: So what are your thoughts?

Lizzie: Yeah, like, it's very tragic.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: But I really like the whole like, "Oh, I've been in love with Kjartan" implication.

Zoe: Mm hmm.

Lizzie: —Thing, but like, I had to settle for other people.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Like, imagine how much it would have sucked for her that her husband killed Kjartan.

Zoe: Yeah.

Lizzie: Even though, I guess she wanted him to do that. But, still.

Zoe: But then she definitely felt bad about it afterwards, I think. I don't know.

Lizzie: Yeah, I think she's pretty cool, though.

Zoe: Mm hmm. Yeah. Let's talk about that. Let's talk about that relationship.

Lizzie: Yes.

Zoe: So, a lot of the stories of Guðrún's husbands involved Guðrún sort of asserting control over them. So, the first marriage with Thorvald, he bas— she basically emasculates him by challenging his manhood, allowing for divorce.

Lizzie: Yeah.

Zoe: And he also slaps her, which is an unmanly gesture. Women are passive and not, they're not supposed to fight with them. And so then in the next marriage with Thord, he loves Guðrún, but he also loses an arm due to her advice and actions, which could also be considered a form of emasculation in the marriage, she has too much power. And he ultimately dies because he doesn't have his arm. He can't sail the ship properly, and so he drowns. And so in these two marriages, it's possible that Kjartan was watching this. So it's clear that Kjartan has been set up to marry Guðrún next, but he runs away to Norway instead. So like, some theories is basically it's uncertain of whether or not he feels the way everyone wants them to feel about her and doesn't want to be subordinate to her. He doesn't want to be subordinate. He thinks—

Lizzie: He can tell that Guðrún is sort of like, much stronger, less passive, sort of person. And also a bit manipulative as well.

Zoe: Yeah, so one of the things that's really important is that there's a ton of emphasis on Guðrún's intelligence throughout the saga. However, I don't know if you noticed this, but when I was reading that passage that described Kjartan's skills, it doesn't mention intelligence.

Lizzie: Oh, okay.

Zoe: And neither is Bolli. So it's possible that the reason why Kjartan doesn't want to marry her is because he's very insecure, like his father Olaf the Peacock. And he doesn't want to be overshadowed by Guðrún's beauty and intelligence.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So she, he, like he leaves, he doesn't send regards when he's in Norway, and he'd likely doesn't actually have strong feelings for her even though she loves him.

Lizzie: Oh.

Zoe: However, eventually, he gains enough wealth and status in Norway that he feels he can be her equal and returns by then it's too late. She's already married to Bolli. And so this makes Kjartan angry because now he can never be with the best woman. He can never truly be the best.

Lizzie: Well, it's his own fault.

Zoe: Yeah, it is his own fault, because he's too insecure. He's too vain. He wasn't willing to just marry her in the first place if he really loved her. But then, of course, does he actually love her? Or does he just view her as an object to further his own success and image?

Lizzie: Hmm.

Zoe: And so, but I do think that like, there is the implication that Guðrún did love him, even if he might not necessarily love her. And I also sort of wonder if there's like, the question of, you know, like, the one man I never got to have is the one man I love the most,

Lizzie: And treated the worst.

Zoe: Yeah. And then there's the, you know, the way that she, you know, retaliates, she sort of she retaliates like a man, because she has been dishonored in like a really gross, invasive way, and Bolli doesn't want to do anything because he loves his brother too much. But she's like, no, this was bad. This is dishonor. This dishonored us, we need to reclaim that honor. So she's the one who's pushing it. And that's also something we see with the other revenge campaigns. So like Thorgerd was the one who was really advocating for Bolli's death and convincing her sons that they had to go kill him, even though they weren't necessarily super riled up about it before she started talking to them, and Guðrún again, convinced her sons to go and kill Bolli's killer, whose name was Helgi, by the way. And so like, it shows that women are definitely still involved in that quest for honor that's ever present in Viking sagas and stories.

Lizzie: That's interesting.

Zoe: And also, it's still like a gender distribution of power. You know, the men are the ones doing the fighting in the killing, but the women are using their wiles to make things happen.

Lizzie: True.

Zoe: After Bolli kills Kjartan, he's very upset while Guðrún is very happy. But she also talks Bolli about his lower status compared to Kjartan and it's clear that she still liked the other brother all along and Bolli gets angry and says she doesn't care about him. But Guðrún says that she likes him now that she knows he'll obey her.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: So she's willing to accept him as the subordinate member of the couple now that she knows what he'll do for her. Basically, she's not in it for love. She's in it for the power in the relationship, she knows that she'll be more powerful. And then that way she's a little similar to Kjartan, she knows that she wants to have the power in the relationship.

Lizzie: In a way, they're a very good match.

Zoe: And then in a way, it just doesn't really work because neither of them would be willing to submit to the other and they would both want the other to submit to them.

Lizzie: Which would be kind of funny to see.

Zoe: Yeah. So also the it's very much believed that this love triangle between Guðrún, Bolli, and Kjartan, is inspired by the love triangle between Lancelot, King Arthur, and Guinevere in the Arthurian legends.

Lizzie: Okay.

Zoe: That's just a fun fact.

Lizzie: Wait, so, who's who?

Zoe: So it's not like an exact, you know, match for match. But it's like basically, inspiration of having a love triangle where all the characters care deeply about each other. Or, at least in this case, everyone really loves Kjartan. Like, Guðrún loves Kjartan, Bolli loves Kjartan, Kjartan loves Kjartan. And so basically, and that creates tragedy, because that's what makes like a good like tragic love triangle is that they all love each other. And so like when eventually tensions escalate, and one of them has to die, it creates like this big tragedy, soup sort of thing. It's like he did it, but he regrets it. But then also, like, they wouldn't have been able to, like live the way they were living at this point. So.

Lizzie: Hm.

Zoe: And in a similar way, like the tragedy between Lancelot and Arthur and Guinevere, like King Arthur really tried to deny that Guinevere and Lancelot were having a thing as long as possible, because he loved both Lancelot and Guinevere so much that he didn't want to have to consider what he would have to do if he found- if it was true.

Lizzie: Hm. Yeah.

Zoe: Stuff like that, yeah. So some more fun facts. There's a lot of comparison of the saga to the to Egil's Saga, which actually is an anti monarchical saga about a hardy individualists and a narcissistic hero. So this saga is a lot more pro monarchy, but it needs to be remembered and included, he's very confident he's willing to challenge authority he's willing to commit acts of violence in order to restore honor. And so it's believed that the author of Laxdaela saga was looking to create a female version of Egil through Guðrún.

Lizzie: Huh, okay.

Zoe: So, like interesting, and the ideas of mothers who are also community leaders and have complex emotions, which we see also in the character of Unn the Deep-Minded, who is the preparatory ancestor. And one thing that really stuck out to me when I was looking through my class notes was that we were talking about how, Unn the Deep-Minded gets angry when she's disrespected by Helgi Bjolan, because he won't accommodate all her followers. And so, when we see angry women in the saga, it's a reflection of Unn the Deep-Minded's anger, justified anger about not being respected. She shows very much like a very complex character, that very much reflects the male characters and male protagonists and sagas. You know, she's very focused on honor and keeping her honor present, marriages to help preserve her honor, willing to manipulate the systems of honor to her advantage, willing to fight in order to uphold her family's honor or have other people do the fighting because she's a woman.

But then at the end, I think it shows that she sort of regrets what she's done. And that sort of is the catalyst for her conversion or at least like Thorkel's death is like the catalyst for her conversion, because she believes he was the best one of all of them. He was a great man, a very good moral man. And then she believes that she needs to become a better person and work for forgiveness for past mistakes. And so when she becomes a nun and an anchoress she's praying for forgiveness, I believe for all the things she's done, in particular, the things she did to Kjartan.

Lizzie: Yeah, that makes sense. Also, did it have to do with like the conversion of Iceland into Christianity?

Zoe: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. [laughs] It was definitely also, um, propaganda, but you know.

Lizzie: [laughs] Okay.

Zoe: Yeah, that's the story of Guðrún. And she's a very interesting character. I think she really develops a bunch over this series of just like over this story over her life, and kind of never really gets a chance to be happy. But she does a lot.

Lizzie: Yeah, she's pretty cool. So thank you, Zoe, for today's episode and thank you for listening. And please feel free to subscribe and leave a review. And yeah, thank you.

Zoe: Bye!

[outro music]

Lizzie: Mytholadies podcast is produced by Elizabeth LaCroix and Zoe Koeninger. Today's episode was researched and presented by Zoe Koeninger. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @mytholadies and find us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree. Thanks for listening! See you next week!