Vinland and wishful thinking: medieval and modern fantasies.
That an island named Winland or Vinland exists is asserted in four medieval texts. Three of them were written in Old Norse and one in Latin. The oldest texts-chronicles composed in the 1070s and 1120s--briefly mention Winland and its inhabitants. There exist two longer accounts in three manuscripts from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. These four written accounts are the only textual evidence about what the medieval Norse might have known about the Winland and its surroundings in the Middle Ages.
There are no contemporary, or near-contemporary, written records of journeys to Winland and the nearby islands. All reconstructions of those events spring from later texts, some of them written down three centuries or more after the fact. Yet what may, or may not, have happened has gradually been granted the status of a real event. A detailed analysis of these textual sources is essential for a reassessment of the Winland journeys, past and present. The focus of the present study will not be on whether events actually took place in the manner depicted by the sources, but rather on the conventions of their narration.
Reevaluating the wishful reality of the Vinland islands requires that the stories of the Vinland journeys be squarely situated in the context of the world geographic system adopted by those who told those stories. Did the worldview of medieval Christianity shape accounts of possible events at the western edges of the world? A careful dissection of the narrative of the Winland journeys might make it possible to comprehend the morphology of this worldview, its epistemic underpinnings, and the spell it continues to cast on the Western imagination.
II. The Evidence of the Texts
The earliest mention of Greenland is in the Latin source, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, composed by Adam of Bremen in the 1070s. It notes the fact of Greenland's settlement and Christianization, even if no particular date is mentioned, and, in addition to this, refers to an island even further away than Greenland, called Winland. It is described as follows, based on the testimony of King Svend of Denmark (r. 1047-1076):
Besides, he [the king] told of an island in that ocean round by many, which is called Winland, because of the wild grapes that grow there, out of which a very good wine can be made. Moreover, that grain unsown grows there plentifully is not a fabulous fancy, but is based on trustworthy accounts of the Danes. He said that following that island, there is no land to be found in this ocean, but all those regions which are beyond are filled with insufferable ice and boundless gloom. (Lat. Preterea unam adhuc insulam recitavit a multis in eo repertam oceano, quae dicitur Winland, eo quod ibi vites sponte nascantur, vinum optimum ferentes. Nam et fruges ibi non seminatas habundare non fabulosa opinione, sed certa comperimus relatione Danorum. Post quam insulam, ait, terra non invenitur habitabilis in illo oceano, sed omnia, quae ultra sunt, glacie intolerabili ac caligine inmensa plena sunt.) (1)
This description is very brief, and linked with King Harald of Norway's (r. 1046-66) attempt to discover the outermost extremity of the Earth. That the Norse had come upon a country known as Winland was thus a common belief in the late eleventh century, even if no details of the events connected with its exploration can be derived from these early sources.
In the early twelfth century the founder of Greenland was known in Iceland as Eirikr rauoi (Erik the Red), and he was also known as the man responsible for giving Greenland an attractive name in order to encourage settlement there. According to the earliest known Icelandic sources, Eirikr had organized a Norse settlement in Greenland in 985 or 986. All of this is related in a typically laconic manner in the Book of the Icelanders (ON. Islendingabok) written by Ari Porgilsson the learned (c. 1067-1148), in this instance quoting Porkell Gellisson, who, in turn, was said to have spoken to an eye-witness of the events. Ari also claims that Greenland was uninhabited at the time although there was evidence of an earlier settlement by "that kind of people ... which has inhabited Vinland and the Greenlanders call Skroelings." (ON. pess konar pjoo ... es Vinland hefir byggt ok Groenlendingar kalla Skroelinga.) (2) This tidbit of information is not elaborated upon by Ari, but from this source it can be deduced that Vinland was known as an inhabited country at the time.
The Norse community in Greenland was still thriving when sagas about Eirikr and the first generations of settlers were written down in the thirteenth century. There are two main accounts of the exploits of the Greenlanders; one of them, Eiriks saga rauoa, is found in two medieval manuscripts, Hauksbok (c. 1302-1310) and Skalholtsbok (fifteenth century), both of which are based on a common original that was composed sometime between 1263 and 1302. (3) The other account, Groenlendinga saga, is found in only one manuscript, Flateyjarbok, written between 1387 and 1394. As the sagas seem to have been composed independently of each other it has been surmised that they must have been composed at a similar time. (4) This would, however, depend on the context within the manuscripts in which they were written. Hauksbok, for example, is replete with material concerning Greenland and it is evident that the compiler, Haukr Erlendsson (c. 1265-1334) made great efforts to collect and write down such evidence. It would thus seem unlikely that he knew of Groenlendinga saga, as he did not make use of it. (5) The context of Grcenlendinga saga in Flateyjarbok is different, as it is preserved in two parts and placed within a biography of King Olafr Tryggvason of Norway. (6)
The time span between the discovery of Winland and the composition of these two sagas is measured in centuries rather than decades. They are evidently unreliable sources as to the events they describe, and their accounts of these events are also widely different. What symmetry appears to exist between the sagas must derive from a common tradition, be it of oral or literary nature, and it is this common thread that has generated the greatest scholarly interest and regarded as a key to "what actually happened." The fact that a common oral tradition existed concerning the Norse settlement in Winland--one that influenced both sagas--does not, however, make their narrative a more credible guide to events that had occurred many centuries ago. In fact, in most respects the divergence between the narratives is considerable. (7)
Despite the evident differences between the two sagas, Eirlks saga rauoa and Groenlendinga saga are often interpreted as a single unit, "the Vinland sagas." (8) This is possible only because the texts are not seen as distinct pieces of evidence which are open to interpretation, but rather as manifestations of a truth that is already taken for granted: the reality of the Norse journeys to North America. Consequently, the narratives have then been evaluated as to how they correlate with this reality. (9) A more open-ended reading of the evidence provided by the sagas would consist of an evaluation of this evidence independent from modern geographical and ethnographical interpretations. It would then be evident that the compatibility of the accounts given in the sagas is far from great, except for a few basic facts. The next step would be to examine the reasons for this dissonance.
The journeys to Winland/Vinland were thought to have taken place when Christianity was first introduced to the region, but in the centuries between these events and the writing of the sagas Christian learning and the Christian worldview gained much ground among the literate community in Iceland. This view entailed particular ideas about the world, its shape and its inhabitants, which Icelandic clerics incorporated and drew upon when narrating the sagas of the alleged journeys to Winland. In their different ways, Eiriks saga rauoa and Groenlendinga saga are important testimonies to this worldview, especially as they deal with journeys to unknown islands which were not a part of the world depicted in Latin sources. How could such new knowledge be harmonized with what was already known about the world?
The sagas differ greatly in the evidence they provide about the actual moment of the encounter with the new lands. In this respect, Eiriks saga rauoa is much more brief. According to this source, the son of Erik the Red, Leifr Eiriksson, was on his way as a missionary to Greenland at the behest of King Olafr Tryggvason, but got lost along the way. After Leifr, along with his crew, had been tossed about at sea for a long time,
... he chanced upon land where he had not expected any to be round. Fields of self-sown wheat and vines were growing there; also, there were trees known as maple, and they took specimens of all of them. (ON. ok hitti a lond pau er hann vissi aor enga von til. Voru par hveitiakrar sjalfsanir ok vinvior vaxinn. Par voru pau tre er mosurr heita ok hofou peir af pessu ollu nokkur merki.) (10)
This is a very brief description and no further clues are provided to the whereabouts of Winland; Leifr might have chanced upon almost anywhere.
In contrast, Groenlendinga saga contains a long narrative concerning the first encounters with Winland involving not only Leifr, but also the Icelander Bjarni Herjolfsson who, shortly after its settlement, went to Greenland to seek his father. According to the saga, Bjarni and his companions got lost and had no idea where they were going. They came upon three lands on their journey to Greenland, the third of which they learned was an island, but Bjarni declined to explore them as none of them seemed to be anything like the land of glaciers and ice-caps, for which he had been searching. Leifr Eiriksson then went on an expedition to seek the lands that Bjarni had found. He went briefly ashore on two of them, and named them Rocky Land (ON. Helluland) and Forest Land (ON. Markland). He made a longer stop on the third land, which he later named Vinland. No description is provided of the course of his journey, other than that they had sailed for two days and nights with a "north-easterly wind" (ON. landnyroingsveor) between Markland and this third land. This land is described as containing grapes, on which a German traveling with Leifr gets inebriated, and an abundance of large salmon.
As for its climate, the narrative relates that:
The temperature never dropped below freezing during the winter and the grass only withered very slightly. The days and nights were much more equal in length than in either Greenland or Iceland. In the depth of winter the sun was aloft by mid-morning and still visible at mid-afternoon. (ON. par komu eingi frost a vetrum ok litt renuou par gros. Meira var par jafndoegri en a Groenlandi eor Islandi, sol hafoi par eyktarstao ok dagmalastao um skammdegi.) (11)
It is, however, not made clear in the saga whether Leifr's journey took him westward or eastward from Greenland. Although Old Norse sources confirm that sailing due east or west was possible at such northern latitudes, this always depended on known points of departure and arrival. (12) Such points were indispensable, if a ship happened to lose its way.
In Eiriks saga rauoa more claims are made about the possible location of Vinland, with the factual narrative differing on major points. A large expedition led by the Icelander porfinnr karlsefni (also called Karlsefni in the narrative) is described as sailing South for two days and two nights before coming to a land which they named Rocky Land. (13) From there, when the wind shifted to a southeasterly direction (ON. bra til landsuors or suori), they sailed again for two days, and they came upon a land they called Forest Land. They sailed south along the shores of this land, which they named Shores of Wonder (ON. Furoustrandir), (14) and then came to a bay, which they named Current Fjord (ON. Straumfjoror). From here, Karlsefni and his men again sailed southwards to search for Vinland until they found a land fitting the description given by Leifr: a land with self-sown wheat and an abundance of vines, fish and game. (15)
Thus, both of the sagas describe the first encounters with Winland, but both also tell of later journeys in which attempts were made to colonize it. These tales are much different in detail, although both sagas name porvaldr Eiriksson, Leifr's brother; Porfinnr karlsefni; and Freydis Eiriksdottir, the sister of Leifr; as leaders of one such expedition. According to Eiriks saga rauoa, these people all traveled together whereas in Groenlendinga saga they each went on a separate expedition.
Despite great variation in detail, a common theme in both sagas is that resistance by the inhabitants of Winland, the aforementioned Skraelings, was instrumental in thwarting the attempts of the Norse to settle in Winland. According to Groenlendinga saga, the first encounter with the natives was during the mission of Porvaldr Eiriksson when he and his companions found three hide-covered boats (ON. huokeipar) with three men lying under each of them. Porvaldr and his crew killed eight of the men but one of them escaped. Afterwards, they were mysteriously stricken by sleep but an unknown voice woke them just as a vast number of men in hide-covered boats began to attack. Porvaldr was shot by an arrow and killed, and his companions gave him a Christian burial before leaving Winland. (16)
In Groenlendinga saga, it is then related that Porfinnur Karlsefni and his company became aware of the natives after a winter's sojourn. The Skraelings were startled by the bull which the Norsemen had brought with them, but then trading began, with the natives offering fur pelts and sables. The natives were reportedly extremely interested in dairy products and, having been offered them once, wished to purchase nothing else. In the end, a fight broke out, when one of the natives was killed while trying to seize weapons from one of Karlsefni's companions.
In this source, two of the natives were described in more detail. A woman who encountered Karlsefni's wife Guorior turned out also to be named Guorior. She was described as short and pale with light red-brown hair and very large eyes. No one but Guorior saw this woman, who might thus have been an apparition. (17) The second native was described as a tall and handsome man and, in Karlsefni's opinion, likely to be the leader of the Skroelings. This tall man intervened when one of the natives tried to use one of the Norse weapons, an ax, by striking one of his companions with it and killing him. "The tall man then picked up the ax, examined it awhile, and then hurled it as far out onto the sea as he could." (ON. pa tok sa hinn mikli maor vit oxinni ok leit d um stund ok varp henni sioan a sjoinn sem lengst matti hann.) (18) After successfully fending off the natives, Karlsefni and his men returned to Greenland and then traveled on to Iceland. "It was said that no ship sailing from Greenland had been loaded with more valuable goods than the one he commanded." (ON. er pat mal manna at eigi mundi auogara skip gengit hafa af Groenlandi en pat er hann styroi.) (19)
Following Karlsefni's undertaking, there is a third expedition to Winland, led by Freydis Eiriksdottir. This time the natives were absent but the members of the expedition were divided into two groups, who eventually turned on each other. Ultimately, one of the two factions was annihilated. Freydis turned out to be the most vicious and cruel person fighting. She was personally responsible for killing all of the women of the other party. Her expedition then disintegrated owing to general ill-will, with Freydis gaining ill-repute upon her return to Greenland. (20)
In Eiriks saga rauoa, the narrative refers to only one expedition to Winland, led by porfirmur karlsefni. In that account, the travelers also had encounters with the native Skroelings, beginning about a fortnight after the Norse mariners arrived in Winland. At this time, they saw a number of hide-covered boats whose crews waved wooden poles that made a great sound as they turned them toward the sun (from east to west). Porfinnur and his men took this as a sign of peace and answered by raising a white shield. The visitors are depicted as "black men and malignant-looking with ill-looking hair; they had wide eyes and broad cheeks." (ON. svartir menn ok illigir ok hafou illt har a hofoi. Peir varu mjok eygoir ok breioir i kinnum.) (21) After a short inspection they [the natives] leave but after a mild winter they return. "There were so many of them [the natives] that it looked as if bits of coal had been tossed over the water, and there was a pole waving from each boat." (ON. sva mart sem kolum vceri sat fyri hopit. Var pa ok veift af hverju skipi trjonum.) (22) The Norse traded with the natives, who had a strong desire for red cloth, and for which they were prepared to pay a high price as the supply began to drain. The trading came to an end abruptly, when the natives were frightened by a bull belonging to the Norse.
Three weeks after the first encounter, the natives returned, this time waving the poles counter-clockwise and shrieking loudly. Karlsefni and his companions answered by raising a red shield, and then a battle ensued. The natives used catapults in their attack, and then:
Karlsefni and his men saw the Skroelings raise a pole on top of which was a large round object, about the size of a sheep's gut, and rather bluish in color. They threw it from the pole at Karlsefni's group, and it made a terrible noise where it landed.
(ON. pat sa peir Karlsefni at Skroelingar foerdu upp a stong knott stundar mikinn, pvi noer til at jafna sem saudarvomb, ok helst blan at lit, ok fleygdu af stonginni upp a landit yfir lid peirra Karlsefnis ok let illilega uidr par sem nidr kom.) (23)
This caused panic among Karlsefni's party and they fled, with the natives attacking from all sides. In the end, only two of the Norsemen were killed but a great number of the Skroelings were slain, and when the Norsemen return to the site again they began to think that the attackers had only come from the boats, and that the rest of the other attackers had only been an illusion. The Skroelings had taken an ax from one of the fallen, but they threw it away once they discovered that it was not able to cut a rock.
After this battle Karlsefni's party decided to retreat, after they had realized that "despite everything the land had to offer there, they would be under constant threat from its prior inhabitants." (ON. pott par voeri landzkostir godir, at par myndi jafnan otti ok ufridr a liggja af peim er fyri bjuggu.) (24) On their way north they encountered a party of five sleeping Skroelings. They reckoned them to be outlaws and killed them. Further north they encountered a uniped (ON. einfoetingr) who shot and killed porvaldr Eiriksson with an arrow. They thought that they saw the country of unipeds but did not dare take any further risk in exploring it. When they returned to Markland they encountered five natives: one man and two women who escaped, and two children whom they captured. They took the two boys with them and taught them their language. These boys described the customs of the Skroelings, who had no houses, but rather slept in caves or holes. Their father they called Ovoegir and their mother Vethildr. They told of two kings ruling the country, one named Avaldamon, the other Avaldidida. They also spoke of another land, across from their own, inhabited by men in white clothing, who carried poles, banners, and shouted loudly. This land the Norse reckoned to be the kingdom of the white men (ON. Hvitramannaland).
This is the basic storyline, recounting the discovery and colonization of Winland. While the details vary greatly, some basic facts of the story seem to have formed a commonly known tradition in thirteenth-century Iceland: the name of the three lands found by the seafarers, the names of some of the principal protagonists, the conflict with the Skroelings, and the strange role of the bull in startling the natives. There are also several problems that call for closer inspection, and it is to them that we now turn.
III. Escaping the Teleological Perspective
In modern times, the narratives of the Winland expeditions have been the subject of intensive study by historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, scientists, and enthusiasts of exploration. Yet some aspects of the narratives remain relatively unexplored. The reason for this is that almost all modern research has concentrated on harmonizing the evidence of the sagas with the modern belief that the journeys were directed towards North America. The sagas are thus approached primarily in connection with American history, rather than as sources of evidence for the history of the culture of the seafarers themselves and/or those who told stories of their journeys.
This is a perfectly legitimate approach which has provided many fruitful insights. The unearthing of Norse settlements in L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland in 1960 brought a new dimension to the history and archeology of European contacts with North America. It also opened up new avenues for speculation into the events of the early eleventh century. (25) This archaeological discovery has generally been regarded as proof "that something, at least, of the Sagas was history rather than fiction." (26) As exciting as these findings are, their value for the study of the Winland narratives does not reach much further. If the presence of Norse seafarers in North America can now be regarded as a historical fact, the evidence of the sagas concerning the voyages of Leifr Eiriksson or porfinnr Karlsefni remains problematic and filled with contradictions.
The single most important difference between Winland, as it existed in the medieval imagination, and the present-day imagined Vinland is that while the latter is located in North America the former was not. Modern cartographic representations of the Vinland expeditions show the continents of Europe and North America with the possible route of the Norse between them. They are shown traveling southwards but mostly towards the West. (27) This is not in accordance with the evidence of the sagas, which fail to indicate a westward trajectory for any of the expeditions going to Vinland. In the tenth and eleventh centuries it was impossible to measure longitude with any precision. (28) Journeys from east to west were nevertheless common and are well documented. In Hauksbok, where Eiriks saga rauoa is round, there is also a detailed description of common sea routes from Norway to Iceland and then to Greenland, in a generally westward direction. (29) No similar information is provided about the route from Greenland to Winland, most likely because it had never become customary enough to be documented in similar fashion.
Thus geographers must have been at a loss as to where and how to locate Winland, and in the earliest works where the land is mentioned, no clue is given with respect to its geographic location. In the geographical treatise in Hauksbok, for example, while there is mention of Iceland and Greenland, there is no reference to Winland. (30) In another geographical treatise preserved in two manuscripts (31)--the elder of which was written in Iceland around 1300--there is a reference to Winland and an attempt is made to locate it, due south of Greenland:
South from Greenland, there is Helluland (Rocky Land), then there is Markland (Forest Land), where there is not a long way to Vinland the good, which some men reckon is connected to Africa. (ON. Fra Grcenlandi i sudr liggr Helluland, pa er Markland; padan er eigi langt til Vinlands, er sumir menn oetla at gangi af Affrika.) (32)
In the earlier manuscript there is a further explanation: "And if such is the case, then an ocean flows into a strait between Markland and Vinland." (ON. ok ef sva er, pa er uthaf innfallanda a milli Vinlands ok Marklands.) (33)
Thus, instead of discovering America, it seems that learned Icelanders thought that their ancestors might have gone to Africa. This idea also made sense in light of an earlier belief, found in the twelfth-century Historia Norwegie, that Greenland "marks the western boundary of Europe, and almost touches the islands of Africa, where the Ocean tides surge in." (Lat. terminus est ad occasum Europe, fere contingens Africanas insulas, ubi inundant occeani refluenta.) (34) In this text, Winland is not mentioned but might be considered a part of the islands referred to therein.
Both the careful phraseology in the fourteenth-century manuscripts, as well as the fact that no attempt is made to locate Winland in Africa in either Eiriks saga rauoa or Groenlendinga saga, serve to alert us to the fact that the position of Winland within the world system was very far from being regarded as a certainty in the fourteenth century. However, during the same period, at no time was there an attempt made to identify Winland with a "New world" unknown to the medieval authorities. (35)
The issue here is not, however, the failure of the Norse geographers to discover America, but rather: what options did they have when it came to locating new geographical findings, that is, with islands or continents that were not accounted for in the standard classical and catholic works? How was new geographical information adapted in order to fit the prevailing model, and what would the nature of that information have to be in order to challenge the model?
A consideration of the ethnography of Winland, often explored in the context of what was happening in North America around 1000, and less with respect to the epistemological models available to the Norse narrators of the Vinland sagas, raises similar questions. On the basis of the limited information offered by the sagas, speculation has been rife as to which Native American tribe fits the description given of the Skroelings in the narratives. (36) Such hypotheses must necessarily accept the veracity or partial authenticity of the narratives as a precondition. Yet it is evident that the information provided about the Skroelings in the narratives is often contradictory. The narrators did not possess the modern ethnographical or anthropographical knowledge by which the Skroelings could be identified with a particular Inuit or Amerindian tribe. Instead their information about the Skroelings had to accord to the models available to medieval geographers.
Several problems had to be addressed when determining the identity of the Skroelings. According to the oldest available evidence, the twelfth-century Islendingabok, the Skroelings had formerly inhabited Greenland. This was also known to the author of Historia Norwegiae, who depicted the Skroelings as residents of the North, in the following manner:
Farther north beyond the Greenlanders, hunters have come across dwarfs whom they call Skroelings. If these creatures are struck with weapons and survive, their wounds grow white without bleeding, but if the blows are fatal the blood scarcely stops flowing. They are totally without iron and employ walrus teeth as missiles, sharp stones as knives. (Lat. Trans Viridenses ad aquilonem quidam homunciones a uenatoribus reperiuntur, quos Screlinga appellant. Qui dum uiui armis feriuntur, uulnera eorum absque cruore albescunt, mortuis uero uix cessat sanguis manare. Sed ferri metallo penitus carent; dentibus cetinis pro missilibus, saxis acutis pro cultris utuntur.) (37)
In general this description does not fit very well with the ethnographic information provided by later narratives, in which no mention is made of the Skroelings as dwarfs (Lat. homunciones) or as residents of the far North. Neither are the strange effects of wounds upon them mentioned. One thing, though, is common to this description and to the narrative of the Vinland sagas: that the Skroelings are unfamiliar with iron and weapons made of iron.
One of the common features in the descriptions of the Skroelings in both Eiriks saga rauoa and Groenlendinga saga is the mention of their hide-covered boats. The Islendingabok mentions fragments of hide-covered boats (ON. keiplabrot) but within Old Norse literature, their occurrence seems limited to those narratives concerning Greenland. In Floamanna saga, for instance, an Icelandic saga connected to Haukr Erlendsson, the redactor of Hauksbok, the protagonist builds himself a hide-covered boat during his travels in Greenland. (38)
The Skroelings's fear of cattle is another feature which occurs in both Eiriks saga rauoa and Groenlendinga saga, easily explained by the fact that these peoples were evidently unfamiliar with such animals. It is less evident why this particular feature is emphasized in both narratives. Does this reflect genuine ethnographical information on the habits of some North American tribe, or rather literary convention? Again the uncertainty revolves around the possible models and methods which were available to the narrators for the purpose of constructing an image of a people hitherto unknown. In this sense, the Skroelings are a representative case of medieval anthropology, within the Old Norse literary world and that of Christianity in general.
Here, a distinction should be made between the concise narrative of Groenlendinga saga and the much more learned Eiriks saga rauoa. In Groenlendinga saga, apart from the emphasis on the wide eyes of the otherwise unremarkable woman whom Guorior encounters, there is little information provided on the appearance of the Skraelings. There is no suggestion of alien ethnicity inherent in this description, as the phrase "eygor mjok" was on occasions applied to Icelanders. (39) Among the Skroelings there is one person of great stature who seems to be their leader, and he is described rather respectfully. Thus, despite their inability to understand each other's language, the Norse and the Skroelings do not seem to be worlds apart. Also, in this version, the Skroelings are hardly responsible for the failure of the settlement, as the last attempt led by Freydis Eiriksdottir goes awry for purely internal reasons.
Not much is said about the customs of the Skroelings other than references to their hide-covered boats, and to their unfamiliarity with cattle and iron weapons. The items of their trade are gray skin and sable whereas they desire Norse milk products. And mysteriously, their land seems to be protected by some sort of charm that causes drowsiness, which leads to the death of porvaldr Eiriksson. This mystical element is present throughout the narrative, indicated again by the fact that, apart from her Icelandic namesake, no one sees the other Guorior. It is an important key to understanding Groenlendinga saga's narration of cultural contact.
Here Eiriks saga rauoa draws a different picture, as the saga's emphasis on the differences between the Norse party and the Skraelings is much greater. The Skroelings are described as very dissimilar in looks to the Norsemen, and much is made of the difficulty between the two peoples in understanding each other. As observed by Victoria Hanselmann, the semiotic interests of the narrator are evident in the depiction of the first contacts between Karlsefni's group and the Skroelings through the medium of sign language. (40) The technology of the Skroelings is described in greater detail, including the catapults and the mysterious round bluish object, which make the Skroelings seem rather advanced in some respects, despite their ignorance of iron.
According to Eiriks saga rauoa, the Skroelings are only one among a number peoples inhabiting the lands south of Greenland. Porfinnur Karlsefni's group also encounters a uniped and they hear rumors of a nearby country of white men. In this saga, there is an obvious reference to a wider world which is lacking in Groenlendinga saga.
The issues identified so far are as follows: what parameters did the Old Nurse narrators of the Vinland journeys have at their disposal to locate Winland, Helluland, or Markland, whether in Africa or somewhere else within the hegemonic model of the world? And correspondingly: what tools were available to them for an ethnographic definition of the peoples that the Norse had encountered in Winland? The divergence between the two main narratives, Groenlendinga saga and Eiriks saga rauoa, is of paramount importance here, as it allows us to study how a common paradigm could serve various purposes and strategies.
IV. Winland and the Medieval System of the World
In medieval geography there was a general consensus that there were three continents, Europe, Africa, and Asia. This model of the world was not only reinforced by its reference to the Greco-Roman classical tradition, but also was regarded as harmonious with the sacred word of the Bible. This much had been clarified by the greatest authority within Roman Catholic Christianity, St. Augustine (354-430), who had ascertained that no antipodeans living beyond the equator could exist, as they were not mentioned in the Bible. (41) Similarly, the inhabitants of any "new worlds" would, in this line of reasoning, have to be descendants of Adam. However, no Biblical authority made any mention of such peoples.
In the Norwegian King's Mirror (ON. Konungs skuggsja) the existence of antipodeans is discussed as a hypothesis. The narrator notes that such people (if they existed) would see the sun in the north in the middle of the day, and that they would have the opposite seasons of the people living in the Northern Hemisphere. (42) In most Old Norse scientific textbooks the Earth is described as a globe or a sphere (ON. bollr) and the climate belts on both sides of the Equator are listed. (43) This had no reflection on maps of the T-O type that portray the Earth as a disc (ON. kringla) divided between three continents. Such maps could easily appear in the same manuscripts that note the spherical nature of the Earth. The T-O maps were a graphic representation of the inhabited part of the Earth with no regard for the other two-thirds of the globe. (44)
The implications of regarding the disc-shaped Earth of the maps as the northernmost part of a spherical Earth did not affect most medieval map-makers who put the poles at the extremities of their maps instead of placing the North Pole at its center, which would have been more consistent with the idea of a spherical Earth. It may, however, have occurred to Old Norse geographers, who postulated that Greenland--the northernmost land of Europe--would be adjacent to the northernmost fringes of Asia or Africa. It is thus stated: "From Permia [Bjarmaland] northwards the lands are uninhabited until one reaches Greenland." (ON. Af Bjarmalandi ganga lond obyggo af nororoett, uns viotekr Groenland.) (45)
The idea that a journey beyond Greenland would naturally lead westwards would have seemed unfamiliar to avid connoisseurs of medieval maps or medieval geographical treatises. Indeed, if Greenland was situated at the northern fringe of the world, as was the consensus among Old Norse geographers, one could travel from there equally in every possible longitudinal direction. The only certainty was that the journey would be southwards, as is indicated in the narratives, most clearly in Eiriks saga rauoa. Such a conclusion might have gained some support from the fact that Winland was evidently a land much further south than Greenland, Iceland or Scandinavia.
Thus the expeditions to Winland went south and in the end they came to a land populated by the Skraelings. As any student of Saint Augustine (or, for that matter, of most Biblical authorities) would have known, these Skraelings had to be a people of some ancient pedigree, and the land which they inhabited would have to be connected to the known world somehow. The problem was determining which people they might be. As to that matter, Groenlendinga saga and Eiriks saga rauoa offer somewhat different answers.
In the context of the manuscript in which Groenlendinga saga is preserved--the late fourtheenth-century Flateyjarbok--a pattern can be detected in the way it depicts inter-ethnic relations. For example, the Skroelings are depicted as sellers of fur pelts and sable. A similar description is also to be found in another text in Flateyjarbok, that is, in Olafs saga helga, describing the voyage of the lord porir hundr to the eastern country of Permia, also known as Bjarmaland (ON. Bjarmaland), which supposedly took place in the 1020S. (46) According to this text, porir and his companions first went to a town where they traded and bought "grey cloaks, beaver skin and sable" (ON. gravoru ok bjor ok safala). Then they sailed along the Dvina and began to raid the local population. At the instigation of porir, the Norse mariners looted silver and jewelery from local graves, including gems belonging to the local deity called Jomali. (47) Then they were chased by the Bjarmar "with yells and ill-sounding howling" (ON. meo kalli ok gaulun illiligri), though they managed to escape through the use of magic. There seems to be a pattern of interaction between Norsemen and exotic peoples, which applies equally to the Bjarmar and to the Skroelings. According to the geographical description found in an aforementioned manuscript, (48) there was a link between Greenland and Bjarmaland, and a journey from the former to the latter would be directed southwards. And thus, geographically, Winland might not have been situated far from Bjarmaland. Yet, there is no suggestion that the Skroelings of Winland are the same as the Bjarmar. Rather, the depictions of how the Norse related to these exotic peoples shared a common element: a pattern of inter-ethnic relations.
Another narrative in Flateyjarbok also has similarities to Groenlendinga saga. This is the episode in Orkneyinga saga depicting the journey of Earl Ragnvald (d. 1156) to the East Roman Empire and the Holy Land. The Earl and his companions travelled by sea through the Mediterranean and, in the vicinity of Sardinia, they encountered a band of Saracens, with whom they proceeded to do battle. Among the Saracens there was "a man both taller and more handsome than the rest, and the Norsemen reckoned him to be their leader." (ON. einn madr sa, at boedi var meiri ok fridari en adrir; bat hofdu Nordmenn fyrir satt, at sa mundi vera hofoingi peirra.) This man was captured by the Norsemen who tried to sell him into slavery in North Africa. As no one would purchase him he was released, but soon returned with a flock of men. He graciously allowed the Norsemen to continue on their journey, after informing them that he was actually "a prince of the Saracens" (ON. oolingr af Serklandi). (49) This description of the prince recalls the supposed leader of the Skraelings, who also was tall and more imposing than his companions. The respect accorded to the leader of the exotic antagonists was a marked exception to a relationship otherwise characterized by hostility. And yet, the Saracens were not so different from the Skraelings or the Bjarmar. Relations with them also alternated between bouts of trading and raiding.
The similarities between the interactions of the Norsemen with the Skraelings and their encounters with Bjarmar in the East and Saracens in the South are unmistakable. This is less due to literary borrowing than a common typology of interethnic relations. All of these peoples share a common exotic feature, which is that of Paganism, of not belonging to the Christian oecumene. We need not look far beyond Graenlendinga saga to note this pattern of relations, as it can be found in several narratives within the same manuscript, Flateyjarbok. The narrator of Graenlendinga saga notes this important characteristic of the Skraelings, their status among the pagans, which is an important step in their classification. A further effort in classifying them, by distinguishing them from peoples such as the Bjarmar of the East or the Saracens of North Africa, is not attempted in Graenlendinga saga. The identity of the Skraelings is thus left open to interpretation.
The same typological connection between exotic peoples in different places can also be seen in Eiriks saga rauoa. There is a similarity between Yngvars saga and Eiriks saga rauoa, which has been noted both by Theodore M. Andersson and the present author, in the depiction of the use of sign language and patterns of trade between Norsemen and pagan peoples. (50) The main difference is that the narrative in Yngvars saga takes place beyond the eastern confines of Russia, while the narrative in Eiriks saga rauoa takes place in Winland. This would suggest the same pattern in depicting inter-ethnic relations which was prevalent in Groenlendinga saga.
In contrast, Eiriks saga rauoa ventures much further in locating the Skraelings both geographically and ethnographically. To begin with, there is the Uniped. This strange figure kills porvaldr Eiriksson and lives in the "country of the unipeds" (ON. Einfoetingaland), next to Winland. This clue to the location of Winland is more definitive than any information given in Grcenlendinga saga. It is located next to the country of unipeds, and, in fact, the unipeds were much better known in medieval sources than the Skraelings.
The nation of the unipeds appears in several ancient sources, most famously in the Naturalis historia of Pliny the Older (23-79). (51) He quotes the more ancient authority of Ctesias who
... describes a tribe of men called Monocoli who have only one leg, and who move in jumps with surprising speed; the same are called Sciapodes (Shadow-Feet) tribe, because in hotter weather they lie on their backs on the ground and protect themselves with the shadow of their feet. (Lat. idem hominum genus, qui Monocoli vocarentur, singulis cruribus, mirae pernicitatis ad saltum; eosdem Sciapodas vocari, quod in maiore aestu humi iacentes resupini umbra Se pedum protegant.) (52)
This information provided the background for much of the speculation surrounding unipeds in medieval learned works.
The unipeds were also known in Iceland; a picture of a uniped is found in a manuscript of the Old Icelandic Physiologus from around 1200. (53) Also, they are listed among "nations with peculiar customs" (ON. marghattadarbjodir) in Hauksbok, the manuscript which contains the oldest version of Eiriks saga rauoa. (54) In Hauksbok the location of their country is not given. (55) However, such medieval authorities as Honorius Augustodunensis and Hugo of St. Victor had unambiguously stated that the unipeds lived in India. (56) This influenced the notion that became current at the court of Erik of Pomerania in the early fifteenth century, namely that India might be reached from Greenland, via the land of the unipeds. (57) In the Middle Ages, stories of unipeds were far from regarded as fables, and so the proximity of their land to Winland could inherently be regarded as evidence for the possibility of circumnavigating the Earth. But, while this became a matter of speculation in some circles in the fifteenth century, the narrator of Eiriks saga rauoa did not go that far. The appearance of the Uniped in the saga, however, clearly called for interpretative analysis, as it provided a link between the unknown and entrenched knowledge. In this case, the existence of unipeds was the established fact onto which new information about the Skroelings could be grafted.
The options for defining the inhabitants of Winland were circumscribed by the necessity for the Skroelings to belong to one of 72 nations inhabiting the Earth, a medieval dogma well established in Iceland. (58) If all of the inhabitants of the Oecumene had to be descendants of one or another of these nations, this would equally apply to the Skroelings as well as any other tribe inhabiting any land that Norse seafarers would come upon. Yet, in contrast to the lively discussion concerning the concerning the identity of Native Americans which arose in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these problems were never discussed systematically in any Old Norse text. (59)
Beyond the land of the unipeds, according to Eiriks saga rauoa, there lay another country. This was "the land of white men or Ireland the great" (ON. Hvitramannaland eda Irland hit mikla). This land was a staple of Icelandic legend. In the Book of Settlements (ON. Landnamabok) a tale is told of a man who drifted to this land, "which some people call Ireland the great. It lies west in the sea near Vinland the good. It is said to be six days and six nights sailing westwards from Ireland." (ON. pao kallao sumir Irland hit mikla. Pat liggr vestr i hafi naer Vinlandi hinu goda. Pad er kallad sex doegra sigling vestr fra Irlandi.) The authority for this tale is reported to have spent time in Limerick in Ireland and to have heard the tale there. (60) Another tale about a country of white men is related in Eyrbyggja saga, which mentions its westerly location but does not refer to Winland. (61) The proximity to the land of white men is the main evidence for a possible westward location of Winland. However, the narrative in Eiriks saga rauoa adds a twist to this tradition by linking this western isle to the land of the unipeds, which was not usually associated with the Atlantic Ocean. These conflicting traditions made locating Winland a difficult task, but in Eiriks saga rauoa an attempt is certainly made to place it within a geographical and ethnographical context. This is in contrast to the rather generalized picture offered by Groenlendinga saga, in which the Skroelings appear similar to the inhabitants of most other exotic nations.
In Eiriks saga rauoa the Skroelings are evidently not savages, but are rather depicted as living in an ordered society with their own kings. It also made clear that the Skroelings possess some technology that placed them on a more superior footing to the Norsemen in warfare. Of particular interest was the "large round object, about the size of a sheep's gut, which was rather bluish in color" which they catapulted into the throng of Norsemen, creating great mayhem. This appeared to be remarkably similar to some superior eastern technology of warfare, such as a gunpowder bomb that was hurled by a kind of catapult, and which had been known in China since the ninth century. In the thirteenth century, owing to Mongol expansion westwards, knowledge of such things was transmitted to Europe. Among the first to spread the word may have been Scandinavian trader-envoys who reached China in 1261. (62) Whatever the explanation behind this catapult marvel--assuming that it incorporates a valid knowledge of some superior technology--its origins must surely be sought in the East rather than the West.
Indications of the Skroeling's affinity with eastern peoples are not surprising in the context Of the time of composition of Eiriks saga rauoa and Groenlendinga saga. The most important event in thirteenth-century western history was the opening of new avenues to the East and interaction with Eastern rulers such as the Mongols. Even in far away Iceland, the activities of the Mongol rulers were mentioned in chronicles and narratives of contemporary history. In the following centuries, tales about the wealth and wonders of the East fed the longing of Europeans for travel and exploration. They spurred on adventurers such as Christopher Columbus who went on a hazardous journey to seek the westward route to the "Indies," fueled in equal measure by boldness and poor mathematics. Just like the Greenlanders, who had made these journeys five centuries earlier, and the Icelandic narrators, who sought to describe their epic travels just two centuries prior, Columbus had never expected to discover a new world. Such was the resilience of the medieval worldview.
V. America: An Idea Whose Time Had Not Yet Come
The Vinland sagas contain narratives about Norse mariners traveling to and from Greenland around the year 1000 who came upon lands that turned out to be inhabited. In hindsight, the stories of the unsuccessful attempt to settle Winland have been enduringly linked to the consequent discoveries of the American continents, which occurred five centuries later. Their importance is seen as an early precursor to a world-historic event that shaped all future history. The discovery of America occasioned the rise of the European nations to world powers, as they became equal and ultimately superior to the great Eastern powers. It also contributed to a paradigmatic shift in the worldview of the Christian nations, and consequently led to the Scientific Revolution. The voyages of the Norse travelers to Winland are thus connected to some of the most important grand narratives of modern history. However, they did not themselves herald any world-historic event.
The Norse failure to discover America does not, however, detract from the significance of their expeditions. On the contrary, their lack of success is precisely what makes them an interesting subject of historical inquiry. The fact that Winland was never depicted as a new world is one of the best illustrations of both the strength and the limits of the medieval Catholic worldview, understood as an epistemological and scientific paradigm. An analysis of the evidence of the Winland expeditions provides an opportunity to examine how a coherently structured paradigm (or "episteme") is able to absorb new knowledge without shaking the foundations of the system to the core. (63) The Winland expeditions did not count as a historical event, in the sense of a definite break in the spirit of the age. On the contrary, they were incorporated into the existing body of knowledge through literary descriptions, absorbed by the medieval worldview without forcing a paradigm shift.
The Old Norse narratives that depicted the events of the Winland expeditions first appeared in written form centuries after they had taken place. And thus, in one respect, they can be seen as impressive monuments to the tenacity of this particular historical memory. However, they also serve their function as chapters in an altogether different story, that of the Norse colonization of the islands at the margins of Europe. In the medieval narratives, this is the only context in which they could be placed, as, at the time of writing, the later event of the discovery of the New World had not yet occurred. The missions to Winland are thus linked to the earlier colonization of the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland, a context that is often missing in modern historiography where they are placed in the context of the later Columbian discovery of America.
The evidence of the Vinland sagas concerning these findings is often ambiguous, in large part due to major differences between Groenlendinga saga and Eiriks saga rauoa. Neither of the sagas places the newly found lands unhesitatingly to the west, whereas their southern location was beyond dispute. An examination of the events depicted in the sagas contained epistemological problems for anyone wishing to account for these unknown lands and their natives, and to fit knowledge about their existence and customs into the paradigmatic model of the world that shaped the reception of new knowledge. This was done through a historical narrative that offered clues, which were often vague and conflicting, rather than definitive answers to the riddle of the location of the new-round islands and their exotic inhabitants.
To locate Winland close to Africa was thus a reasonable assumption given the known facts. The ethnic identity of the Skraelings was also a matter of uncertainty, about which the sources are disharmonious. Graenlendinga saga depicts them as stock examples of exotic peoples, resembling examples of other pagans encountered in the East or in the South. On this matter, Eiriks saga rauoa offers further clues, mainly due to the proximity of Winland to the land of the unipeds and the land of the white men. However, one of these places was usually located in the East and the other in the West. In the end, the medieval Icelandic literati never managed to solve the mystery of the location of Winland and the identity of its inhabitants, not even to their own satisfaction. Winland remained a nebulous apparition within Icelandic medieval geography. The evidence of how the information about the newly encountered lands was processed within the parameters of the dominant system of defining and classifying knowledge is nevertheless not without interest, as it casts a light on the workings of that particular system, which became obsolete in the early modern period.
(1) Magistri Adam Bremensis Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae Pontificum 4.39, in Werner Trillmich and Rudolf Buchner (eds.), Quellen des 9. und 11. Jahrhunderts zur Geschichte der hamburgisehen Kirche und des Reiches. Ausgewahlte Quellen zur deutschen Geschichte des Mittelalters. Freiherr vom Stein-Gedachtnisaufgabe, 11 (Berlin, 1961), pp. 488, 490.
(2) Ari frooi porgilsson, Islendingabok, cap. 6, in Islenzkfornrit 1. Islendingabok, Landnamabok, ed. Jakob Benediktsson (Reykjavik, 1968), pp. 13-14.
(3) Olafur Halldorsson, Groenland i mioaldaritum (Reykjavik, 1978), pp. 398-400.
(4) Sigurour Nordal, "Sagalitteraturen," in Sigurour Nordal (ed.), Nordisk kultur 8B. Litteraturhistorie B. Norge og Island (Uppsala, 1953), pp. 180-273, at p. 248.
(5) Sverrir Jakobsson, "Hauksbok and the Construction of an Icelandic World View," Saga-Book 31 (2007), pp. 22-38, at p. 32.
(6) Eireks pattr rauoa, in Guobrandur Vigfusson (ed.), Flateyjarbok: En samling af norske kongesagaer med indskudte mindre fortcellinger om begivenheder i og udenfor Norge saint annaler, 3 vols (Christiania [Oslo], 1860-1868), 1: pp. 429-32; Groenlendinga pattr, in Flateyjarbok 1: pp. 538-49.
(7) As Jonas Kristjansson states, "when it comes to the description of the events, the sagas are rarely in full agreement. The characters change roles, accounts of the same events are inconsistent and many events are only mentioned in one of the sagas," The First Settler of the New World. The Vinland Expedition of Thorfinn Karlsefni (Reykjavik, 2005), p. 30.
(8) See for instance, Hermann Palsson and Magnus Magnusson (eds.), The Vinland Sagas (Harmondsworth, 1965).
(9) See for instance Gisli Sigurosson's attempt to evaluate the information from the sagas by the yardstick of how it "appears to correlate ... with the geographical facts" (in other words, the modern worldview); Gisli Sigurrsson (transl. Nicholas Jones), The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition: A Discourse on Method. Publications of the Milman Parry Collections of Oral Literature no. 2 (Cambridge, Mass., 2004), p. 297.
(10) Eiriks saga rauoa, in Finnur Jonsson and Eirikur Jonsson (eds.), Hauksbok udgiven efter de arnamagnceanske handskrifter no. 371, 544 og 675, 40 samt forskellige papirshandskrifter (Copenhagen, 1892-1896), p. 432.
(11) Flateyjarbok 1, p. 539. This would seem to indicate a location south of 50[degrees] North, using the modern coordinate system, sec Gustav Storm, "Oto Betydningen af 'Eyktarstaor' i Flatobogens Beretning om Vinlandsreiserne," Arkiv for nordisk filologi 3 (1888), pp. 121-31, at p. 128. According to porsteinn Vilhjalmsson, this only implies a location south of 58 degress north, see "Navigation and Vinland," in Andrew Wawn and Porunn Siguroardottir (eds.), Approaches to Vinland. A Conference on the Written and Archaeological Sources for the Norse Settlements in the North Atlantic Region and Exploration of America. The Nordic House, Reykjavik 9-11 August 1999. Proceedings, Sigurour Nordal Institute Studies, 4 (Reykjavik, 2001), pp. 107-21, at p. 112.
(12) On latitude sailing G.J. Marcus, The Conquest of the North Atlantic, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1998; 1st ed. 1980), pp. 106-18.
(13) In the saga text porfinnr is usually only referred to by his nickname, and called Karlsefni.
(14) Richard Perkins regards the place-name Furoustrandir as a later invention by the author of the saga, "The Furoustrandir of Eiriks saga rauoa," Mediaeval Scandinavia, 9 (1976), pp. 51-98.
(15) Hauksbok, pp. 437-39.
(16) Flateyjarbok I, pp. 541-42.
(17) For a further discussion of this apparition see Gunnar Karlsson, "Frioarbooskapur og kvenlegt sjonarhom i Groenlendinga sogu," in Soffia Auour Birgisdottir (ed.), Kynlegir kvistir tindir til heiours Dagnyju Kristjansdottur fimmtugri (Reykjavik, 1999), pp. 95-99.
(18) Flateyjarbok I, pp. 546.
(19) Flateyjarbok I, pp. 548.
(20) According to Jenny Jochens, "sexual tension, fully as much as the hostility of the natives, forced the Norse to go back," "Vikings Westward to Vinland: The Problem of Women," in Sarah M. Anderson and Karen Swenson (eds.), Cold Counsel: Women in Old Norse Literature and Mythology (New York and London, 2002), pp. 129-58, at p. 147.
(21) Hauksbok, p. 440.
(24) Ibid., p. 441.
(25) See Anne Stine Ingstad and Helge Ingstad, The Norse Discovery of America (Oslo, 1985).
(26) David B. Quinn, "Norse America: Reports and Reassessments," Journal of American Studies 22 (1988), pp. 269-73, at p. 269.
(27) See the map in Gisli Sigurdsson, The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition, p. 286, in which to sail "out to sea" (ON. i haf) is translated to a map as sailing directly to the west.
(28) On the quest to discover longitude in the eighteenth century see for instance, Dava Sobel, Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (London, 1998; 1st ed. 1995). According to Sobel, with the best techniques available to Medieval mariners, "one could hope to get a longitude fix once a year" (p. 22).
(29) Hauksbok, p. 4.
(30) Ibid., p. 155.
(31) AM 736 I, 4to and AM 194 8vo.
(32) Carl Christian Rafn (ed.), Antiqvitates Americanoe sive Scriptores septentrionales rerum antecolumbianarum in America: Samling af de i Nordens oldskrifter indeholdte efterretninger om de gamle Nordboers opdagelsesreiser til America fra det 10de til det 14de Aarhundrede (Copenhagen, 1837), p. 289. Cf. Kristian Kalund (ed.), Alfroedi islenzk: Islandsk encyklopoedisk litteratur 1. Cod. mbr. AM. 194, 8vo., Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur, 37 (Copenhagen, 1908), p. 12.
(33) Alfroedi islenzk 1, p. 12. In the later manuscript there is also a brief tale of Karlsefni's travels which does not stem from either Eiriks saga or Groenlendinga saga: "It is said that porfinnr Karlsefni cut down a tree for carved decoration on the prow and then went to seek Vinland the good, and they came there where they thought this land to be but did not manage to explore or derive any benefits of the land." (pat er sagt, at porfidr Karlsefni hjoggi husasnotru tre ok foeri sidan at leita Vinlands ins goda ok koemi par er peir oetluou bat land ok naou eigi at kanna ok engum landskostum.)
(34) Inger Ekrem and Lars Boje Mortensen (eds.), Historia Norwegie (Copenhagen, 2003), pp. 54-55.
(35) This also applies to the description of the physical features and climate of the lands, they were "simply an extension of an existing frame of reference," Geraldine Barnes, Viking America: The First Millennium (Cambridge, 2001), p. xiv.
(36) For an overview see Robert McGhee, "Contact between Native North Americans and the Medieval Norse: A Review of the Evidence," American Antiquity, 49 (1984), pp. 4-26.
(37) Historia Norwegie, pp. 54-55.
(38) Islenzk fornrit 13. porhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjalmsson (eds.), Haroar saga, Baroar saga, porskfirdinga saga, Floamanna saga (Reykjavik, 1991), p. 289. On Haukr's relationship with Floamanna saga see Richard Perkins, Floamanna saga, Gaulverjaboer and Haukr Erlendsson, Studia Islandica 36 (Reykjavik, 1978).
(39) See the description of Viga-Styrr in Eyrbyggja saga, or one of the companions of the Vatnsfiroingar in Sturlunga saga. Islenzk fornrit 4. Einar Olafur Sveinsson and Matthias pordarson (eds.), Eyrbyggja saga, Groenlendinga sogur (Reykjavik 1935), p. 21; Jon Johannesson, Magnus Finnbogason and Kristjan Eldjarn (eds.), Sturlunga saga, 2 vols (Reykjavik 1946), 1, p. 351.
(40) Victoria Hanselmann, "Perifera representationer: Vinlandssagorna, "det andra" och representationens strategier," Arkiv for nordisk filologi, 120 (2005), pp. 83-110, at pp. 88-89.
(41) According to Augustine, "For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, does not lie; it is too absurd to state that some men might have taken a ship and traversed the whole ocean, and crossing from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region would be descended from that one first man." (Lat. Quoniam nullo modo scriptura ista mentitur, quae narratis praeteritis facit fidem eo, quod eius praedicta conplentur, nimisque absurdum est, ut dicatur aliquos homines ex hac in illam partem, Oceani inmensitate traiecta, nauigare ac peruenire potuisse, ut etiam illic ex uno illo primo homine genus institueretur humanum.)
(42) Magnus Mar Larusson (ed.), Konungs skuggsja--Speculum Regale (Reykjavik, 1955), pp. 67-68.
(43) Nathanael Beckman and Kristian Kalund (eds.), Alfroedi islenzk--Islandsk eneyklopaedisk litteratur 2. Rimtol. Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur 41 (Copenhagen, 1914-16), pp. 85-87, 112-116, and 124.
(44) For a more thorough discussion of this dichotomy between the worldview of natural philosophy in the Middle Ages and that of the schematic mapmakers see Rudolf Simek, Erde und Kosmos im Mittelalter: Das Weltbild vor Kolumbus (Munich, 1992), pp. 55-73.
(45) AM 194, 8vo; Alfroedi islenzk, 1, p. 12.
(46) Flateyjarbok 2, p. 256.
(47) On this particular episode see Alan S.C. Ross, The Terfinnas and Beormas of Ohthere (Leeds, 1940; 2nd ed. London, 1981), pp. 48-56.
(48) AM 194, 8vo.
(49) Flateyjarbok 2, p. 486.
(50) Cf. Theodore M. Andersson, "Exoticism in Early Iceland," in Michael Dallapiazza, Olaf Hansen, Preben Meulengracht Sorensen, and Yvonne Bonnetain (eds.), International Scandinavian and Medieval Studies in Memory of Gerd Wolfgang Weber (Trieste, 2000), pp. 19-28, at p. 27; Sverrir Jakobsson, "'Black Men and Malignant-Looking': The Place of the.Indigenous Peoples of North America in the Icelandic World View," in Andrew Wawn and porunn Sigurdardottir (eds.), Approaches to Vinland. A Conference on the Written and Archaeological Sources for the Norse Settlements in the North Atlantic Region and Exploration of America. The Nordic House, Reykjavik 9-11 August 1999. Proceedings, Sigurdur Nordal Institute Studies, 4 (Reykjavik, 2001), pp.88-104, at pp. 90-91.
(51) Teresa Paroli, "How many are the unipeds' feet? Their tracks in texts and sources," in Wilhelm Heizmann, Klans Boldl and Heinrich Beck (eds.), Analecta Septentrionalia: Beitrage zur nordgermanischen Kultur- und Literaturgeschichte. Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde--Erganzungsbande 65 (Berlin, New York, 2009), pp. 281-327.
(52) Plinius major, Naturalis historia 7.2, in Ludwig von Jan and Karl Mayhoff (eds.), C. Plinivs Secvndvs Naturalis historia. Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana, 5 vols (Munich and Leipzig, 1892-1909), 2, p. 9.
(53) Halldor Hermannsson (ed.), The Icelandic Physiologus. Islandica, 27 (Ithaca, New York, 1938).
(54) Hauksbok, p. 166.
(55) According to Paroli the phrase "this people in Africa" refers to the Unipeds, "How many are the unipeds' feet?" p. 306, but to me it seems quite clear that this statement applies to the next nation on the list, the one that is immune to the poison of snakes, see Hauksbok, p. 166.
(56) Paroli, "How many are the unipeds' feet?" pp. 295-96. Another possible location, popularized by S. Isidore of Seville, was Ethiopia.
(57) Janus Mailer Jensen, Denmark and the Crusades 1400-1650. The Northen World series, number 30 (Leiden, 2007), pp. 190-91.
(58) See for instance, Hauksbok, pp. 157-58.
(59) Lee E. Huddleston, Origins of the American Indians: European Concepts 1492-1729 (Austin, Texas, 1967).
(60) Islendingabok, Landnamabok, p. 162. This episode is missing from the Hauksbok edition of the Landnamabok.
(61) On this tradition see Hermann Palsson, "Hvitramannaland," Timarit Mals og menningar, 21 (1960), pp. 48-54.
(62) Joseph Needham and Lin Wang, Science and Civilization in China 5.7: The Gunpowder Epic (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 571-72; Herbert Franke, "Sino-Western Contacts under the Mongol Empire," Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 6 (1966), pp. 49-72, at pp. 54-55.
(63) For a discussion of these particular terms cf. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd edition, Chicago, 1970), pp. 23-24; Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses. Une archeologie des sciences humaines (Paris, 1966), pp. 355-59.
Sverrir Jakobsson is adjunct lecturer in medieval history at Haskoli Islands (University of Iceland) in Reykjavik. His research interests include Icelandic and western Scandinavian worldviews in the Middle Ages, medieval thought systems, and the history of space. He has published the book Vid og veroldin. Heimsmynd Islendinga 1100-1400 (2005), as well as several articles on Scandinavian medieval history.
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2012|
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