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"Rediscovering Vinland, Evidence of Ancient Viking Presence in America"   

 

Speaking of Sagas

 

The Vinland narrative as collated by this program and accepted as of interest in the National Library of Iceland. Difficult to find in as detailed a form as here, scholars might also refer to: "The Sagas of the Icelanders, a Selection", edited by Ornolfur Thorsson, Penguin Publishing Inc., New York © Jane Smiley, 2000 and "Norroena" (1906) works of the late Professor Rasmus B. Anderson. But these versions are limited mostly to the more readable "Flateybok" and it is our opinion that the fullest version is found only in this website and in the book "Rediscovering Vinland, Evidence of Ancient Viking Presence in America" by Fred N. Brown, published by iUniverse.com. This renaming of the important source material formerly referred to as the Vinland, or Icelandic, Sagas is meaningful by recognizing the previously fragmented tales into a comprehensive whole. Those interested in closer examination of the subject are advised that there are resources in Reykjavik, Iceland with preserved documents, museums and websites.

See: <    http://sagadb.org/eiriks_saga_rauda.en    > ( click your back arrow to return here) for an excellent example of how the documented sagas read. This apparently is from Hauksbok - Sagas of the Greenlanders. The narrative from which we draw is from both books as well as some Icelandic legends. We work from episode to episode from whatever source records them. 

The Vinland Sagas have been published on this website for free access with the purpose of stimulating interest in this neglected literature of Scandinavian Iceland. Since access to the ebook format in which they are included is so reasonable in cost, it is removed from the website.

However, the subject of the tales requires examination because, while the Vinland Narrative is recognized as being an extract of superior literature, they are difficult to access and "penetrate" for understanding in modern languages and mindsets. Often relegated to "myth", they do not read that way and valuable Scandinavian genealogies can be traced further back in European history than almost any other with the exception, perhaps, of certain segments of Roman, Grecian, Egyptian royal lines.

Sagas generally are from folklore and for that reason academically suspect. Yet, genealogies generally hold true and many vivid descriptions allow almost photographic insights to the people and their culture. This culture is ancient and constant. The people we read of in the Sagas were pretty much like Scandinavians today. The period of the Vinland Voyages was one of transition from their adoption of Christianity and systematic emigration away from the Baltic environs of perpetually expanding populations.

Try to imagine conditions in winter when daylight might only four hours long. Most dwelt in "long-houses" dimly lit from smoky, open hearth fire-banks casting a low, orange glow with beds and benches near the walls in deep shadow. Extended families were constrained to live in these conditions for perhaps four or five months of the year. These conditions over time evolved the Scandinavian personality to what it is today - conservative and considerate in personal relations combined with a well honed sense of depression that sometime drives them to suicide from no apparent outward cause.

In that society existed a class of person who held the histories and genealogies of the people in their minds and memories, which were finely tuned and trained. "Sagas", strictly means "sayings", tales and relations held in memory. I think in Scandinavia, this type of person, often a woman, might be called a seer or seeress. They traveled from place to place, from settlement to settlement, from farm to farm and would speak for hours from the gloom of orange cast shadow for all sorts of subjects of interest to the silent audience reclining upon benches near the walls. Outside the turf covered structure might be severe winter conditions, but inside, a secure and probably comfortable congregation seeking entertainment.

There are forms of control over this type of historical transmission, for by and large, the tales, genealogies, and adventures that emanated from the gloom were already known to those elderly folk in the audience who had heard the story many times. Any transgression from the norm would most likely be corrected immediately. As often as not the stories originated in participants themselves to children, grandchildren onward and outward. These interactive discussions concerning accuracy would make deep impressions on the younger folk who, as they aged, kept the records perhaps as clear as if written. For an example of controls in American legend, if I were narrating the discipline meted out by George Washington’s father and I were to describe the incident as stemming from an ax applied to a peach tree, I am sure my audience would suspend activities until I was informed of my error and the commonly known fact that it was, in truth, a cherry tree. True, this incident is known as purely myth, yet it indicates how collective memories sustain themselves in a culture. 

But grapes, the famous grapes of Vinland, are another matter far from myth, for the discovery of them is described in detail. Moreover, several other people at different times and places in Vinland also mention grapes and wine at Vinland. Their original discoverer, Tyrkur, whom Leif addressed as "foster father", did not discover grapes themselves but the vines upon which grapes would appear. The ships-crew likely appearance at Leifsbudir was probably near July/August when wild grapes would only be in small bud but Tyrkur was emphatic concerning the plant (a tree and cliff climber) because he said that he knew them in the land of his birth, which may have been Germany or possibly even Turkey. To give further emphasis to the belief in historical grapes, Leif's Saga goes on to say that "--they filled the afterboat with them", thus indicating considerable quantity and the nature of the fruit.

For many not of the culture, the Sagas are a difficult read for a number of reasons. Ancient Norsemen had their own mindset and often an indirect, sort of left hand approach to what in other cultures would be more forthright stated. Leif condemned his half-sister "I have not a mind to do to Freydis what justice demands, but ----". This statement might not have been the actual way that Leif spoke it, but seems to be the manner that the seers described it. The meaning is clear enough to those interested. The Sagas are best understood as spoken rather then written.

The Sagas also are replete with genealogies. Unless the listener is of the people or family, these segments can become tedious indeed, yet they generally stand the test of comparison with history and limited written records. A listener or reader is easily diverted from the main thrust of a story by these genealogies, which can go on for what must have been hours in a long-house. Likely, members of the family in question were wide awake at these times while others, distant relatives and perhaps antagonists, were not so far from scrutiny and near supine positions as to take advantage of any opportunity to "rest their eyes".

Another possible cause of diversion is the fact that very many of the males, and some females of the era were named in some way referring to an Old Norse god named Thor with some sort of suffix to identify the person. In any story with some complexity any number of these Thor---s might appear and unless one is alert some odd but erroneous conclusions can be drawn. Apparently the ancients had somewhat the same problem, for the frequency of referring to individuals by a nick-name is common; the most notable being Leif’s father, Erick the Red. Others: Egil Skallagrimsson (bald head), Olaf the Stout (famous king), Ragnar Forkbeard and so on. The name Karlsefni (below) also is not a name but means something like "well favored" or even "some hunk of a man" (his name actually was "Thordursson", descended eight generations from renowned warrior Ragnar Lodbrok). No apparent loss of respect seems to have been involved with this custom but nowadays to apply a descriptive of the sort is accepted as somewhat pejorative in American culture, especially as applied to society's criminal elements.

On the other hand, if one persists, from time to time vivid descriptions and events are told in such a way as to almost see the people and their lifestyle - what they were wearing, "nutshell" personalities, adventures, duels, rivalries, sea-battles. As we view our "wild-west" as much more violent than it actually was, so also does it appear that occasional violence kept the audience enraptured. They seemed fascinated by use of deceit in both business and military affairs. Whether they actually practiced this is unknown, but does contribute to the tales.

An important example - to seamen and explorers - of such eloquent descriptions is the fact that Leif's landing is well described. While it does not really tell us much directly of what the place was like, the narrative does inform an experienced seaman of what it wasn't. Reading this adventure, really a misadventure for Leif, draws history out of mists of time and dimly suggests what appears as something of the environs of the first landing in the New World was like.

What we assume in reading Erick’s name is rather different than examination describes. The only thing accurate in this name is the description "red" which means he had both red hair and a red beard. The name is accurately translated to "Eirickur Raude" – Erick the Red, and even this does little good in genealogy. "Eirick" is not name but a title, being the equivalent of an English "Earl" and the "ur" indicates nominative case, one particular Erick the Red and no other. His real name, so far as I can determine, was "Thorvald", the same as his second son. So, to find the man in truth his name would be Thorvald followed by his patriarchy, "--son" with a possessive double "s".

An Eirick ("Earl") would be a sort of "petty princeling", a man of substance, extended family and alliances contributing to social power and wealth. He usually owned a ship or two, was jealous of property and power and often was engaged in blood feuds and family rivalries. In one way he was democratic by participating in a form of legislature called "Things", while on the other hand he reigned omnipotent over his extended family. This class of men – his widow might sustain his role – came late to Christianity, for the older Paganism perpetuated the climate of his position. By the time of the Vinland Voyages, a considerable portion of the commoners – yeomanry – were Christian, faithful to their "Earl", hard working, industrious, and superb craftsmen. Thus, the tale of Leif’s forced conversion to Christianity in Norway, his assigned Mission to his Greenland home and his conversion of his mother. She, Thjothilde, in her turn, failed to convert Eirickur Raude which caused her to evict him from his own household. It seems to have been partially this as well as a negative backlash by neighboring Greenland Eiricks that caused Leif to consider exploring parts unknown. The episode brings us closer to conditions of the times and the humanity of the people.

The man we know as Leif Erickson would more accurately be "Leifur Eirickuraudesson", "Leif, son of that Eirickur known as Raude", but his true name probably was more precisely "Leifur Thorvaldsson" for the purist. I do not profess to be expert in this field but this is where my understanding from extensive readings leads me.

Only segments of the voluminous Saga literature refer to Leif Erickson or Vinland. The tales were nearly lost at the mysterious dissolution of the long lasting Greenland colony that took place apparently not very long before 1492. As it happens, those participants in the long voyages Thorfinn Karlsefni and spouse Gudrid Thorbjornsdottir returned from Liefsbudir to Greenland with their son Snorri when he was three years old and settled a farm known as Sandness in Greenland. Following a stay there, they removed yet again to another farm in (northern?) Iceland and thus carried their chronicle with them. The family became renowned and devout in Iceland, pillars of the Catholic Church, Snorri himself rising to Bishop, and Gudrid herself making a pilgrimage to Rome in her Widowed years. They had the two sons, Snorri, the Vinlander and a brother Bjorne. Bjorne commenced a line that can be traced down to the present and, amazingly, with some descendents residing in the United States today! There is at least some suggestion that Bjorne also may have been born at Leifsbudir.

Besides the aforementioned difficulties in readings, recorded Vinland sagas are fragmented and drawn from several sources. Logically, it seems that for some time, the tales were dynamic in Greenland and Iceland and so valuable that they were set down in writing from oral legends apparently by Catholic scribes commencing some seven or eight decades after the events.

Two major tomes have survived, "Flateybok", from an outlying island of Iceland named Flatey, and another called "Hauksbok", compiled by an Icelander named Hauk. There is more material extant in certain other incidental Sagas as well as continuing Icelandic folklore itself. They are sometimes referred to as Sagas of the Icelanders and Sagas of the Greenlanders and readings of the two approaches raises some conflicts which can be resolved, as it seems herein has been done, by arranging events in context. Flateybok seems to be the most direct and comprehensive work. Scholars seem suspicious of Hauksbok by apparent forays into myth-like and mystical narrative.

The manner in which I formulated the Vinland Narratives which led to my discovery was by the enforced means of dividing events and persons into the separate "Sagas" involved in the five expeditions to Vinland from both Greenland and Iceland. That is, if a person is named in an event described in such a way as to determine which expedition he/she had engaged in, the events and descriptions were entered into one or the other expeditions and eventually the resulting compendium came to be seen as a comprehensive narrative of the tale entire. They do not exist in this form anywhere else but can be argued and clarified if and when challenged by reference back to the sagas themselves.

First, some amazing results ensued from this, the most remarkable being realization that two separate destinations almost universally thought to be disparate and possibly distant from each other, were, in fact, one and the same place. These were Leifsbudir itself, where Leif landed, and Hop, where his follower Thorfinn Karlsefni attempted to - did, in fact - settle. Leifsbudir was never referred to as such in the sagas and here simply clarifies the original landing site. Neither is "Hop" a name but a descriptive of a particular type of estuary. The realization that these were the same place enabled such combination of clues which led to the site at Pettaquamscutt near Narragansett Bay. Pettaquamscutt is a Narragansett Indian word whose meaning I cannot yet determine but it is notable in that it shares a practice comparing with Teutonic habit of stringing segments into longer words.

A second was clarification of the neglected expedition of Leif’s brother Thorvald, slain in Vinland, who made major contributions with his recorded voyage. Possibly scholars of the past have overlooked Thorvald because his Saga says nothing whatsoever concerning his voyage toward his brother Leif’s encampment. But he, or rather his surviving crewmen, did record in considerable detail their return voyage toward Greenland. As with the helmsman who constantly examines his wake for trueness of his ship's course, a homeward journey is often as descriptive as one outward bound. It is these recordings of Thorvald that permit analysis of the coastline of Vinland and constraining the location of Leifsbudir itself.

The best description of what is published in "Rediscovering Vinland ---" is that it is a collation of events and episodes drawn from the Sagas. It is a narrative. Nothing is invented, there is nothing in them that is not drawn from the ancient records. I call it narrative, and by arranging events into a chronological order that is imposed within the complexity of the tales, what comes is a memorable sea story, a chronicle of human daring and drama, the very stuff of grand opera, the equal indeed of anything from Homer and, at last, discovery of where Leif Erickson first settled in America.

 Sequence of the expeditions:

Bjarni Herjolfsson: (~AD986) First sighting of the New World. Sold his trading ship to Leif Ericksson.

 Leifur Eiricksson: (~AD1000/1001) Leif the Lucky, Viking adventurer. Purchased Bjarni's ship and set forth on counter-courses southward.

Thorvald Eiricksson: (~AD1002/1004) younger brother who borrowed Leif's ship. May have accompanied his brother earlier but wrangled with him for "not exploring Vinland sufficiently". Leif, sounding somewhat exasperated, loans him the ship, saying he can go there and explore to his heart's content. Thorvald's homeward courses give us the "key" to Vinland. His Saga has been almost entirely overlooked by prior historians because he recorded very little of his trip down. But his surviving crewman detailed his return trip so meticulously that the oversight is insignificant.

Thorstein Eiricksson: (~?) another brother, unluckiest of men. Started an expedition but became lost and returned. Later died of a pestilence in the "Western Settlement" of Greenland while nursed by wife Gudrid Thorbjornsdottir. Contributes nothing to the Sagas except his widow who became Leif's ward and who soon wedded wealthy trader Thorfinn Karlsefni:

Thorfinn Karlsefni: (~AD1004/1010?). Father of the first naturalized European/American. He and his bride request sale of Leifsbudir but are given permission to use it without sale. Wife Gudrid Thorbjornsdottir, widow of Thorstein, mother of Snorri and the first known trans-Atlantic traveler between American Vinland and Rome, Italy was surely one of the most remarkable women of history!

Freydis Eiricksdottir: (~1015/1020?) Evil spirit of Vinland. Traveler to Vinland twice, the first time accompanying the Karlsefni company where she also gave birth shortly after Gudrid. Her  second trip was with a companion vessel for fleet of two. Events of this trip as well as the length of the return are most significant on Viking navigation and range of Vinland from Greenland.

Interesting details stated specifically in the Sagas is counts  of persons in transit to Vinland. Just as interesting is that the actual names of three of the ships seem to have been mentioned; and this supposition is in our book. 

Expedition and stated numerical census' of Vinland:

Leif Eiricksson's complement: 35.

Thorvald Ericksson's complement with the same ship: 30.

Thorfinn Karlsefni's complement with three ships (possibly named): 151/168 plus cattle and livestock.

Freydis Eiricksdottir complement with two ships: 25 on one ship and 30 on the other - 55.

Total thus is at least 271 persons who traveled to Vinland. A difficulty is in estimating how many were women, especially when it is known that the Scandinavian culture seems to have been one of successful integration of women into ship's crews. This is an indication of Norse social discipline, for in most seafaring cultures the sense of ill luck accompanying women aboard actually stems from their effect on repressed libidos of deprived crewmen - fighting and diminishing of normal prudence. A Viking Eirick or ship Captain by his social position had intrinsic power to keep these sort of things in hand. To add to the problem is that Sagas seldom stipulated how many of the complement were women, for the most part simply listing males. 

But we know that a number of women did reach Vinland, Leif's half sister making the trip twice. Leif's and Thorvald's expeditions were exploratory and may possibly have had several women aboard but this is not recorded. Thorfinn's settlement expedition certainly must have contained a number of women as the effort was intended as a settlement. We know only of Gudrid herself and the younger Freydis, both of whom bore children at Leifsbudir, but there must have been a number of others.

At a later time, this same Freydis conducted her own expedition and it is stated that the ship on which she was not present had five women accompanying, while her own ship's complement only records Freydis herself; yet it would seem she must have had companions or servants.

In light of the theme of this work, which here hold and offer as proven, that Vikings left genetic legacies at the place where they had landed, it is interesting to speculate the contribution of women to the genetic makeup of the people that resulted. It would seem that mainly the majority of unattached males would be the major contributors by obtaining native women as spouses - a most normal and expected result necessary for survival into old age. We can here account for 271 persons arriving. How can we account for those returning to a harsher climate, crowded population, and little opportunity for them? Possibly a first generation of women would be firmly attached to a spouse and inactive in the nascent racial mixture. Reasonably, for a number of generations, there must have been a group of individuals keeping genetics pure for a few, but sooner or later this would fade so that by the 15/16 generations until 1635 when Roger Williams met and speculated that they had originated in Iceland, the new race of Narragansett Indians that we here attempt to describe would be effectively stable.

 

 "Rediscovering Vinland, Evidence of Ancient Viking Presence in America"   

 

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