Gunnar Hámundarson was a 10th century Icelandic chieftain. He lived in Hlíðarendi in Fljótshlíð and is probably better known as Gunnar 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. One of my favorite moments of all in the Icelandic Sagas is when Þorgrim and a few other grudge-bearing men are scouting around Gunnar Hámundarson’s house. Gunnar wakes up and stabs Þorgrim through a gap with his axe. Þorgrim returns calmly to his comrades, who ask if Gunnar was home. “Find that out for yourselves, but I am sure of, that his axe is home,” he says, and then fall down dead.
This is how you are supposed to act in the Nordic countries in general and in Iceland specifically during a time of a crisis. Then the bards will sing thy name for hundreds of years to come. It is said that Iceland is on the edge of bankruptcy but I have a hard time to believe that would be true. Icelanders have been out in bad weather before and always made it back again. It’s part of the Icelandic history – thus also a part of their identity; get beaten down, jump back on your feet, and then strike back two seconds before you’re done for. Risk everything, live hard, and get plastered during weekends. Who knows, tomorrow our island might be covered in lava!
If Iceland would have had a normal population development there would have been living around 4-5 million people in Iceland today (about the same population size as Norway). But horrific natural disasters made sure to hold the increase in population down.
Another story that would depict this would be the story of Hrafnkel Freysgoða, a rich man who had it all lost it all and then got it back again – and in the end achieves revenge on his enemies. Will Iceland be as bad as it was 60 years ago? Will they have to sell their island to the Danes and live under Scandinavian oppression once more? I don’t think so. Gunnar and Hrafnkel are still alive, they are just dressed differently these days. Now, they are fighting in white striped Armani suits, the atgeir axe has transformed into cell phones and pocket calculators, and they’ve conquered not monasteries and castles but Wall Street in New York and Stureplan in Stockholm.
Will the Icelanders once more be grazing sheep, live in shacks, and eat salted herring? I doubt it. If they, contrary to my expectations, would hit the bottom floor and go bankrupt, I’m sure they will get back on their feet somehow – just like Hrafnkel Freysgoða. And hopefully they will also achieve a gruesome revenge on their enemies …