Updated: Apr 24, 2022
Flóamanna saga is the only of the 40 family sagas centered in Árnessýsla. It begins about 15 km south of the modern town "Selfoss" at a farm called Traðarholt (pictured courtesy of Max Wibe Lund Photography).
On that farm lived a man named Þorgils (IR# I137057). He was one of the first Christians in the south part of Iceland.
The saga is notable for how Þorgils responds to events as a practicing Christian in a mostly Pagan world. Þorgils' experiences pressure him to return to Paganism. However, he is resolute in his new faith. Sometimes supernatural elements enter into the story. They manifest as miracles much like is told in the stories of the Christian saints.
In the early part of the saga, Þorgils travels to Scandanavia. There he is successful in killing ghosts and defeating thieves. He earns the respect of others there before returning to Traðarholt, Árnessýsla. In Traðarholt he owns land and farms with his brother. He marries an Icelandic woman named Þórey. Þórey was fostered on a farm called Kálfaholt by a man named Jósteinn, who is described as a good farmer.
Dreams figure prominently in this saga. Soon after adopting Christianity, Þorgils has a dream. In this dream, the Pagan god Þórr threatens him and demands he return to the Pagan faith. Þorgils stays strong against Þórr and does not give up his newfound religion. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds one of his prized farm animals, a well-fed boar, dead. Þorgils believes the animal has been cursed by Þórr and buries it in a remote area of the farm. In subsequent nights, he has this recurring dream and when he wakes up more of his livestock are killed.
He decides to go on a night watch to see who is killing his animals. In the morning he returns from the barn bruised and scuffed up as if he has been wrestling someone. People at the farm believed he had wrestled the god Þórr. After this event, the killing of the livestock ends. We are led to believe that Þorgils had overcome Þórr.
As Christianity was growing in Iceland, so was the settlement Icelanders had established in Greenland under the leadership of Eiríkr rauði (Eric 'the red'), a Pagan. Þorgils and Þórey decide to settle in Greenland upon the invitation of Eiríkr. Þórey has an intuition that this will not work out well. However, they go. During their sea travel, they are stuck in irons and drift for days. Much of their food and water are gone and they fear for their lives. At this point, the god Þórr tries to bargain with Þorgils offering him protection on his journey if Þorgils gives up Christianity. The crew urges Þorgils to pray to Þórr to end this suffering, but Þorgils remains strong.
Drifting on the sea and starving, Þorgils deduces that a cow on the ship, one that in his Pagan days he previously dedicated Þórr, may be causing this trouble at sea. Against the advice of his crew, he throws the cow overboard. At least for a while, this seems to help as they make it to land.
They do make it to Greenland but are shipwrecked far from Eiríkr rauði´s settlement. The group has to make do in the cold and inhospitable coastline of Greenland. They stay for two years, and many bad things happen. Þórey gives birth to a boy named Þórfinnr. Þórey asks Þorgils to go scouting for others to help them. He leaves the area and is unsuccessful in finding anyone. When he returns he finds his crew gone, all the provisions stolen, his wife dead and his young infant son Þórfinnr trying to nurse on the breast of his deceased mother.
Þorgils decides that he must breastfeed his son in order for the boy to survive. He cuts his nipple. First, blood comes out. Then blood is mixed with milk. Finally, milk comes out. This scene is reminiscent of miracle stories. Male lactation figures in religious writings, fiction, and some real instances have been reported. However, this aspect of the story relates to Þorgils faith and his willingness to put others before himself. Notably, he relinquishes his identity as a man for the love of his son. Þorgils is able to keep Þórfinnr alive this way.
Soon Þorgils builds a small boat out of animal hides to try and row to a human settlement with Þórfinnr. Þórfinnr is remarkable for his age. He is a toddler, but can speak eloquently and is moral and wise. In one scene, during their search for a human settlement, Þórfinnr is given a bird's egg, but he refuses to eat all of it. He sees that his father does not have enough food and decides that they both should share and not have enough together. The saga writer depicts Þórfinnr as a prodigy, someone who is instructive on how to live a moral, and perhaps Christian, life.
Þórfinnr and a crew of men decide to return to Iceland. However, they encounter a bad storm as they approach the coast and are washed up at Hjörleifshofði, a small town just past the modern town of Vik on the south coast, farther to the east by 80 km than Traðarholt in the historic county of Vestur Skaftafellssýsla.
Þórfinnr dies in the the storm. And, Þorgils cannot let go of his son's body. There is a church there and his crew wants Þórfinnr buried properly. But since Þorgils will not let go of the body, they devise a scheme to deceive him into letting go so they can bury the child. At first, Þorgils is upset for being tricked like this but later comes to terms with the death of his son. He makes remarks that show an understanding of motherhood, given his unique experience as parent:
"Þorgils kvaðst mundu vorkynna konunum þótt þær ynnu brjóstbörnunum meira en öðrum mönnum." Translated this means he will no longer blame women for loving the children that they breastfed above all other people. Þorgils returns to Traðarholt and marries a second time. His new wife, Helga Þóroddsdóttir (IR# I136155) is from Ölfushreppur, Árnessýsla. They have three children, Þórný, Grimur, and Jórunn (see Family ID F40421). One of the descendants of this family is Þorlákur Þórhallsson (IR# I136911) of Skálholt in Árnessýsla. He is the only patron saint of Iceland and was bishop of Skalholt from 1178 to his death. Þorlákur Þórhallsson is the 2nd great-grandson of Þorgils Þórðarson, his great grandfather being Jórunn.
At age 85, Þorgils attends a feast at Hjallakirkja (Church at Hjalli) in Hjallasókn, Ölfushreppur, Árnessýsla. He falls ill and dies at the feast. He is buried at Hjallakirkja. While the ancient church is gone, if the saga is true then Þorgils´ remains lie somewhere in Hjallakirkjugarður, Hjallasókn, Ölfushreppur, Árnessýsla. To conclude, Þorgils triumphs over the Pagan god Þórr and other adversity he faces as a Christian. His journey to Greenland is unsuccessful, but his life ultimately is successful. The reader is left to think that his newfound faith played a role in his ultimate success.