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What distinguished the sagas from almost all other literature written during this period of European history was its psychological realism. The Icelandic saga writers cultivated on austere, clean style. The prose was direct, the descriptions precise and free of ornament. This was a form of functionalism that blossomed seven centuries before our own, reflecting the functionalist ethos of Iceland itself, rooted in the land, individual in approach, democratic in ideal but often complicated and conflicted by the social reality of competition between persons, families and social groups.
Few European writers between Sophocles and Shakespeare were as direct in the unembellished representation of human emotion as the saga writers, and almost none before the end of the last century addressed social reality so forcefully. On the continent, the social structures of patronage worked against social realism. The courtly tradition and the love of ornament took European literature in another direction. Iceland was unique, founded by farmers and adventurers opposed to the establishment of national monarchy in Norway, it was Europe's first republic.
The idea of republicanism was astonishing, even heretical to the world of the middle Ages. The reaction from the continent set in motion the forces that were later to swamp Iceland, bringing it under the Norwegian and later the Danish crown, but during the saga age, Icelandic literature celebrated freedom, low and the rights of the individual in a manner all its own. This core of fierce individualism, the pride of person and individual liberty before the law simply did not exist in Europe itself. Europe was filled with proud nations, and each notion was filled with people, but each person was subject to a lord, each lord to an overlord and all finally to king, Pope or Emperor.
Several centuries passed between the enunciation of Iceland's founding law and the signing of the Magna Carta - and several more before central monarchy was tempered by the rule of law in a modern and democratic sense. In some nations, over a millennium passed before the essential idea of individual liberty before the law became central to political life, as we understand it today. Only during the last decade has this theory of law become the qualifying characteristic of European life. Set in time-shortly after the year 800.