By Lois Bragg
Alvíssmál, Vol. 4 (1994 )
Introduction: Near the end of Sturlunga saga, an enigmatic, harelipped figure bursts onto the scene as an arrogant, rebellious, altogether insufferable child, goes on to a career of fomenting murder and mayhem among his own kin, and dies a saintly martyr’s death just a few years before the end of Icelandic independence, an end that he did so much to bring about. He is Þorgils skarði Boðvarsson, a great-grandson of Hvamm-Sturla through Þórðr Sturluson and Boðvarr Þórðarson, the eldest sons in each case and, ironically, the quietest. His first appearance in the compilation is in Íslendinga saga, chapter 152, where he is put out as a hostage to Gizurr jarl by his own father, who would rather hand his eldest son over to his mortal enemy than swear a loyalty oath to him — a not uncommon saga preference for truth in public speech over all other values, including blood kinship. Here, Þorgils bears his byname, skarði, without explanation. In the first chapter of Þorgils saga skarða, however, we have the following description:
Þorgils was a handsome man in appearance, big-shouldered and accomplished, fair of hair and complexion, very fine-eyed, slim-waisted and broad-shouldered, with fine hair that fell attractively. He was strong and hardy, a good swimmer, and very vigorous in whatever he entered upon. He was close-mouthed but kept his word. Whatever he promised, for good or ill, he was energetic in carrying out. In his upper lip was a cleft that he was born with — on that account he was called Þorgils skarði (harelip).