Odd was a son of a man called Arngeir, who had settled in northeast Iceland during the Age of Settlement (c. 860-930). In their claimed section of the island, Odd, and his siblings, Thorgils and Thurid, helped their father raise a flock of sheep. These sheep, however, would later lead to a great tragedy for the family.
As the story goes, on a day when the family’s sheep were grazing far from home, Arngeir discovered that a blizzard was closing in on his land. Fearing for his flock, the old shepherd took his son, Thorgils, and rushed out into the pastures in an attempt to herd his sheep to a safe location. Odd and Thurid (if she had not yet married) remained at home as the blizzard rolled in. They waited and waited, feeling a growing sense of worry as neither Arngeir or Thorgils returned.
When the blizzard had calmed and daylight lit the sky, Odd ventured out in search of his missing family members. Find them, he did, but it was unfortunately a gruesome sight. To Odd’s horror, he allegedly interrupted a hungry polar bear that was in the midst of ravaging the bodies of Arngeir and Thorgils. From this point on, Odd’s story transitioned into legend. The Icelandic Book of Settlements claimed, “[Arngeir and Thorgils had] been killed by a polar bear which was still at the prey when Odd came there. Odd killed it and brought it home, and the story goes that he ate the whole bear” (Landnámabók, Stulubók manuscript, chapter 259). This alleged indirect cannibalism—eating the creature that might have eaten pieces of Arngeir and Thorgils—supposedly had a great influence on Odd’s future. According to folklore and legend, Odd Arngeirsson ultimately gained an evil reputation and was suspected of wielding magical powers.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Drawing signed D. Viel, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.