Gunnar Hámundarson

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Gunnar Hámundarson was a 10th century Icelandic chieftain. He lived in Hlíðarendi in Fljótshlíð and is probably better known as Gunnar of Hlíðarendi (Old Norse: Gunnarr á Hlíðarenda). He features prominently in the first half of Njáls saga, which tells of the chain of events ultimately leading to his death in battle.

Contents

Lineage and family

Gunnar was the son of Hámundr Gunnarsson and Rannveig Sigfúsdóttur (according to Njáls saga) or Rannveig Sigmundardóttur (according to Landnáma). He had two brothers, Kolskeggr and Hjörtr, and one sister named Arngunnr, who was the wife of Hróar Tungugoði.

He was married to Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir of Höskuldsstaðir in Laxárdal in Dalasýsla, who was known as Hallgerðr langbrók ("Hallgerður longpants"). He was her third husband. It was said that she had killed both her former husbands, but had in fact only killed the first. Their marriage was considered imprudent by Gunnar's friend Njáll Þorgeirsson, because it was caused by lust and not practicality.

Gunnar the hero

Gunnar was a great warrior — he is described as nearly invincible in combat. According to Njáls saga, he was a powerful, athletic man "capable of jumping his own height in full body armour, both back and front". He was a skilled archer, and in close combat his weapon of choice was the "atgeir", which scholars consider to have been a halberd or glaive of some sort. He was also skilful stone-thrower, able to hit enemies between the eyes from miles away, and a godlike swimmer. There was supposedly no game at which he had an equal. His behaviour was always polite, but firm — he gave good advice, and was kind and mild, yet he wasn't thought of as an intelligent man because of his way of talking. However, Gunnar's wise insights and deep understanding strongly suggested that he was as smart as he was handsome. He was loyal to his friends and kept good company. Gunnar has been called "handsome and beautiful of skin and had a straight nose, turned up at its tip. He was blue-eyed and keen-eyed and ruddy-cheeked with thick lustrous hair, blond and well-combed." He was described as the most beautiful man in the world, and had no equal. He was the perfect human; he was Gunnar.

Gunnar's death

Gunnar was a close friend of Njáll Þorgeirsson of Bergþórshvol and came to him often for advice. Njáll tells him not to kill two men of the same family — this would lead to his death. Njáll's prediction proves right. When Gunnar kills two family members of Gissur the White, the family seeks vengeance and the men set out to Hlíðarendi to do murder. Njáll advises Gunnar to leave Iceland and head abroad to escape them. Initially, Gunnar intends to depart, but when he sees his homestead from the distance, he is so moved by the beauty of it that he changes his mind and decides to remain behind. This leads to the epic battle in which Gunnar is killed.

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