Monday, 9 July 2018

The Vinland Sagas.

The Vinland Sagas are two Icelandic sagas written in the 13th century (c. 1220 - 1280): The Saga of the Greenlanders (Grænlendinga Saga) and The Saga of Erik the Red (Eiríks Saga Rauða). They are two different accounts of the Norse discovery of Vinland (Vínland) - the Icelandic word for North America - in around 970 - 1030. These two texts are the main source of information for the expedition. 

The Saga of the Greenlanders (found in the Flateyjarbók manuscript) describes how Erik the Red and his father Þorvaldr (Thorvald) Ásvaldsson left Norway for Iceland to avoid murder charges. He soon found himself in trouble once more in Iceland so left with his wife Thjodhild for Greenland, which he colonised at Brattahlid. They are later joined by Bjarni Herjolfsson then Leif Eriksson, and they persuade Erik the Red to continue the expedition further west, however when Erik is injured Leif leads the expedition. It is this exploration that lead the Icelanders to discover America, land of the grapes (literally 'Vinland'). Thorvald, Leif's brother, explores the continent further and when he is killed, his brother Thorstein resolves to find his body. In the search he discovers more of Vinland, and on his death he prophecies that his wife Gudrid will re-marry and have a long line of successful descendants. She does indeed marry, marrying Thorfinn Karlsefni, and they continue their exploration of America, along with Erik's daughter Freydis and her brothers Helgi and Finnbogi. The work ends with a description of the descendants of Thorfinn Karlsefni.

The Saga of Erik the Red (found in the Hauksbók and Skálholtsbók manuscripts) is the same story more or less. It begins with a description of King Olaf Tryggvason, or Olaf the White, and his descendants including Thorstein the Red. The second chapter goes into further detail on why Erik the Red left Norway, how he went to Greenland, returned to make amends for his crimes, then returned once again to Greenland. The settlement there is then described as well as its inhabitants, one of whom is Gudrid who is told her future by the prophetess Thorbjorg (much the same prophecy as in the Greenland Saga), and in the final chapters it is told of how Leif discovers Vinland (along with Karlsefni) and, as directed by King Olaf, preaches the Christian message. It ends with the death of Bjarni Grimolfsson and a description of Karlsefni's descendants.

Both of these are fascinating accounts of the discovery of America, centuries before Christopher Columbus. They're easy reads, and very short too, though I think, as with the Greeks, more enjoyment comes from more familiarity with the names (a problem I've had so far with Norse literature). Still it does encourage me to read more Icelandic sagas, Njal's Saga being the next one on my list.

4 comments:

  1. i became interested in Eddas and Sagas as a result of being heavily involved with George Borrow, who translated some of them... Njal's Saga is much more like a novel, with a complicated plot and an exciting finish... i read the George Dassent translation...

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    1. I'm looking forward to Njal's Saga.Not sure which translation I've got (I've got the pup on my knee and daresn't disturb him!)...

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  2. Such is my ignorance, I didn't even know this discovery was first mentioned in a saga. This sounds fascinating!

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    1. It is :) My knowledge of Icelandic sags is dire - all I know is the books I've stumbled on in bookshops. I must try and read some more, I really must...

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