My Top 10 Favorite Quotes from Icelandic Sagas

Viking1. One’s back is vulnerable, unless one has a brother.
Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong, chapter 82

2. There are more things to be thought of by men than money alone.
En fleira er mönnum til hugganar en fébætur einar.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong, chapter 47

3. Never slay more than one man in the same stock, and never break the peace which good men and true make between thee and others.
Veg þú aldrei meir í hinn sama knérunn en um sinn og rjúf aldrei sætt þá er góðir menn gera meðal þín og annarra.

The Saga of Burnt Njal, chapter 55

4. Then said Atli, when he got the thrust, “These broad spears are becoming a fashion.” After that he fell forward over the threshold.
Atli mælti við er hann fékk lagið: “Þau tíðkast hin breiðu spjótin,” segir hann. Síðan féll hann fram á þröskuldinn.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong, chapter 45

5. He is bad-tempered, and may be that I shall let another’s wound be my warning.
Hann er skapillur og búið eg láti annars víti að varnaði.

The Saga of Burnt Njal, chapter 37

6. There are few more certain tokens of ill than not to know how to accept the good.
Fátt vísara til ills en kunna eiga gott að þiggja.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong, chapter 78

7. Where fault can be found, the good is ignored.
Fár bregður hinu betra ef hann veit hið verra.

The Saga of Burnt Njal, chapter 139

8. A tale is but half told when only one person tells it.
Jafnan er hálfsögð saga ef einn segir.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong, chapter 46

9. No one is a total fool if he can be silent.
Enginn er alheimskur, ef þegja má.

The Saga of Grettir the Strong, chapter 88

10. Eyes can not hide a woman’s love for a man.
Eigi leyna augu ef ann kona manni.

The Saga of Gunnlaugur the Worm-tongue, chapter 13

For the full texts of the sagas (both in English and Icelandic) see Icelandic Saga Database. Note that all texts are given in normalized modern Icelandic orthography. Feel free to share your own favorite Viking quotes from Icelandic sagas in the comments below.

Photo courtesy Stefán Freyr Margrétarson. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence.

7 comments… add one
  • callum

    I have come across an excerpt from a saga I would like to translate for my father.

    “The hand turns to its wonted skill, and that learned in youth is always most familiar.”

    I have viewed a number of books and resources but I have noticed that you guys have a fantastic knowledge of this area. I was wondering if you could provide any insight and assistance in this regard. I was hoping to do a similar format to what you have done above with an English translation, then an Icelandic, and finally a Rune translation.

    Thanks again for all your help.
    Kind regards,

  • Serge

    Great resource. You really did put an effort into explaining a lot. There are some things however that require some more clarification.

    In regards to writing your 1st favourite quote in Long Branch Futhark
    Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi.
    I got as far as this (see .jpg in the link below), following your recommendations on writing in Runes.
    I do need some help allocating the correct “r” sounds (ᚱ reidh or ᛦ yr). Not exactly sure which of the words in the proverb would have the r derive from a “Z”.

    Any and all help with this would be much appreciated.
    Stay safe,

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Serge. Note that the quotes above are given in the standard modern Icelandic orthography, which is slightly different from Old Norse. ON hverr (modern Icelandic hver) is from Proto-Germanic *hwarjaz, so my guess is that the final -rr would be spelled with the reið rune (as in the case of Þórr derived from *Þunraz). ON berr (modern Icelandic ber) is from Proto-Germanic *bazaz, so ýr rune. Same rune, I think, for ON genitive singular ending in bróður and dative singular ending in sér. As for er, it is the third-person singular indicative present form of vera, and I’ll have to check it in the actual runic inscriptions.

  • KCGustav

    I read this at the Museum at Roskilde in Denmark. Not sure if it’s from a saga or just an old saying:

    Better Gear
    Than good sense
    A traveler cannot carry.
    A worse burden
    Than too much drink,
    A traveler cannot carry.

    • Viking Rune

      This saying is from Hávamál, which is part of the Elder Edda. In Old Norse the text is as follows:

      Byrði betri
      ber-at maður brautu að
      en sé manvit mikið;
      vegnest verra
      vegur-a hann velli að
      en sé ofdrykkja öls.

  • Richard

    Excellent advice.

    • Viking Rune

      To be sure, Richard!

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