The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America PDF/EPUB

The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America PDF/EPUB

The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America ❴Reading❵ ➷ The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America Author Unknown – Capitalsoftworks.co.uk One of the most arresting stories in the history of exploration, these two Icelandic sagas tell of the discovery of America by Norsemen five centuries before Christopher Columbus Together, the direct, One of Sagas: The Epub µ the most arresting stories in the history of exploration, these two Icelandic sagas tell of the discovery of America by Norsemen The Vinland PDF \ five centuries before Christopher Columbus Together, the direct, forceful twelfthcentury Grænlendinga Saga and the polished and scholarly Eirik's Saga, written some hundred years later, Vinland Sagas: The PDF ↠ recount how Eirik the Red founded an Icelandic colony in Greenland and how his son, Leif the Lucky, later sailed south to exploreand if possible exploitthe chance discovery by Bjarni Herjolfsson of an unknown land In spare and vigorous prose they record Europe's first surprise glimpse of the eastern shores of the North American continent and the natives who inhabited them.


10 thoughts on “The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America

  1. Antonomasia Antonomasia says:

    More fun than most medieval historical sources. These two very short sagas are charmingly uneven and direct (and quite unlike the usual dry monkish texts that survive from this era outside Iceland). The focus on relatively ordinary laypeople is refreshing, though will be familiar to those who've already read Icelandic family sagas - all I'd read previously of those was a few chapters of Njal's Saga. The introduction describes family sagas as the history of a republic in which all the original settlers had been nominally equal.

    Yet they are odd texts to modern literary sensibilities, and could be disappointing if one expected them to conform - just as medieval doodles wouldn't fit the standards of 19th century painting. Both sagas make apparently random zooms on to the detail of certain events or individuals, who often aren't the main features, e.g.
    Thorhall the Hunter; he had been in Eirik’s service for a long time, acting as his huntsman in summer, and had many responsibilities. He was a huge man, swarthy and uncouth; he was getting old now, bad-tempered and cunning, taciturn as a rule but abusive when he spoke, and always a trouble-maker. He had not had much to do with Christianity since it had come to Greenland. He was not particularly popular, but Eirik and he had always been close friends.
    (More character background than many more significant players get.)

    For all that the Graenlendinga Saga is described as 'primitive' in style, it feels measured in structure if labelled a 'Vinland Saga', because exploration takes place throughout. Whereas in Eirik's Saga (aka Eirik the Red's Saga), the interesting bit about Vinland is all bunched at the end - but that's because the voyage to, and life in Vinland is not directly about Eirik any more; the introduction keeps reminding us that the sagas are primarily about people.

    As there is much lamentation that Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Pálsson's translation of Njal's Saga is out of print, I was delighted to find that some of their other saga translations still are in print (though Laxdaela isn't). This ebook of their Vinland Sagas is even half the price of the new translation. The 1965 introduction felt thoroughly vintage near the end, when they mention excavations at L'Anse aux Meadows as a new and recent endeavour; twenty years ago I was adding that name in games of Civilization II. (Alongside this is an outdated reference to a pair of married archaeologists as Dr Helge Ingstad … and his wife, with her not named; ironic when female characters, such as the fearsome Freydis, are consistently named in the sagas and are pivotal in various episodes. The word 'primitive' is used in a few instances where anthropologists would now think better.) A 2003 Afterword by Magnusson is a memorial to Pálsson, who had died the previous year.

    This is a very short book, which won't outstay its welcome if you are interested in a quick look at the original sources (and is also potentially useful for various obscure categories in reading challenges).
    ----
    Themes:

    Northern exploration
    - the [Norse] descriptions of the Arctic regions (stretching from Russia to Greenland) and the eastern seaboard of the North American continent are nowhere to be found in contemporary geographical textbooks elsewhere in Europe – in which they were to remain terrae incognitae for a very long time.

    - To Icelanders of the period, life in Greenland held a certain fascination; to them it was rather an exotic country, although not an unfamiliar one.

    - It is also clear from all the evidence available that the climate of the north from the ninth to the twelfth centuries was warmer than it is even now, and did not begin to deteriorate until the fourteenth century.

    - it was not until the fourteenth century that sailors were forced to abandon the old route from Snæfellsness to Angmagssalik entirely, because of the increasing danger of polar ice.

    - A century after Thorfinn Karlsefni went to Vinland, its exact location seems to have been forgotten: the Icelandic Annals have an entry for the year 1121 – ‘Bishop Eirik of Greenland went in search of Vinland’ – which implies that the old sailing directions had become confused.

    - in the year 1347 a ship that had been to Markland (Labrador?) was driven off course on its way back to Greenland and eventually found haven in Iceland, anchorless and with seventeen survivors on board. Timber from Markland, apparently, was not unknown in Greenland for centuries after the Vinland expeditions

    - it could well be that stories about Vinland were current in the seaports of Europe in the fifteenth century, because throughout that period there was considerable, if illegal, trade between Iceland and Bristol and between Bristol and Portugal; and certainly the Icelanders themselves had not forgotten about Vinland, or the general direction in which it lay

    - this exhausted outpost of Norse exploration, just beyond the fringe of European endurance … died such a horrible and lonely death while a new age of exploration was dawning in southern Europe

    … and what they found there. (Eirik's Saga)
    - Altogether there were 160 people taking part in this expedition (to Vinland)
    Quite a lot.

    - named it Straum Island. There were so many birds on it that one could scarcely set foot between their eggs.

    - No one recognized what kind of a whale it was, not even Karlsefni, who was an expert on whales. The cooks boiled the meat, but when it was eaten it made them all ill.

    Horror-movie stuff: sea full of maggots that eat the ship itself. (Not heard of this before, perhaps those who read more nautical literature have?)

    - Bjarni Grimolfsson’s ship was blown into the Greenland Sea. They found themselves in waters infested with maggots, and before they knew it the ship was riddled under them and had begun to sink…
    They had one ship’s-boat which had been treated with tar made from seal-blubber; it is said that shell-maggots cannot penetrate timber which has been so treated…
    The boat, however, would not hold them all and so they agreed to this suggestion of drawing lots for places in it...
    The Icelander stepped into the boat and Bjarni went back on board the ship; and it is said that Bjarni and all those who were on the ship with him perished there in the maggot sea.

    A world with more equal military technologies
    - (Intro) it is safe to assume that voyages to Labrador to fetch timber continued for a long time; it had not been the distance that had deterred colonization, but the Native Americans.

    Eirik's Saga:
    - Vinland where, it was said, there was excellent land to be had.
    Outlook strikingly similar to later European colonisers: thinking that there was land for the taking. However, unlike those of 500 years later, they did not have guns and so they were on a relatively more equal footing with the indigenous people.

    - Karlsefni and his men had realized by now that although the land was excellent they could never live there in safety or freedom from fear, because of the native inhabitants.

    - It was a dog-eat-dog world, and things might not end well if you ended up elsewhere, either:
    With that they parted company. Thorhall and his crew sailed northward past Furdustrands and Kjalarness, and tried to beat westward from there. But they ran into fierce headwinds and were driven right across to Ireland. There they were brutally beaten and enslaved; and there Thorhall died.

    - Even those who should have had an excellent chance of getting away, were at risk of getting captured and enslaved:
    When Leif Eirikson had been with King Olaf Tryggvason and had been asked to preach Christianity in Greenland, the king had given him a Scottish couple, a man called Haki and a woman called Hekja. The king told Leif to use them if he ever needed speed, for they could run faster than deer. Leif and Eirik had turned them over to Karlsefni for this expedition.
    I always wonder how the fittest people from the past, who had to spend most of their days in physical activity, would compare with modern athletes.

    Native Americans
    Introduction: This twelfth-century identification of the Inuit natives of Greenland with the Native Americans of North America, based on the similarity between two primitive material cultures, is an interesting deduction.

    From Eirik's Saga: the Norse have been in Vinland a while:
    they caught sight of nine skin-boats; the men in them were waving sticks which made a noise like flails, and the motion was sunwise…

    [Note: Native Americans are known to have used rattle-sticks during various rituals, which may well be the explanation of this threshing sound the Norsemen could hear.]

    What the natives wanted most to buy was red cloth; they also wanted to buy swords and spears, but Karlsefni and Snorri forbade that…

    The natives took a span of red cloth for each pelt, and tied the cloth round their heads. The trading went on like this for a while until the cloth began to run short; then Karlsefni and his men cut it up into pieces which were no more than a finger’s breadth wide

    The Graenlendinga Saga says they traded milk, not cloth, for the pelts, and drank it on the spot. Cloth seems more logical to the modern reader, at least.

    A later visit from the locals is less amicable:
    This time all the sticks were being waved anti-clockwise and all the Skrælings were howling loudly…

    Karlsefni and Snorri saw them hoist a large sphere on a pole; it was dark blue in colour. It came flying in over the heads of Karlsefni’s men and made an ugly din when it struck the ground. This terrified Karlsefni and his men so much that their only thought was to flee, and they retreated farther up the river.

    Religion: a transitional period when Christianity and paganism co-existed
    Another, even more strikingly detailed portrait of a minor character: Greenlandic prophetess Thorbjorg, in Eirik's Saga:
    she wore a blue mantle fastened with straps and adorned with stones all the way down to the hem. She had a necklace of glass beads. On her head she wore a black lambskin hood lined with white cat’s-fur. She carried a staff with a brass-bound knob studded with stones. She wore a belt made of touchwood, from which hung a large pouch, and in this she kept the charms she needed for her witchcraft. On her feet were hairy calfskin shoes with long thick laces which had large tin buttons on the ends. She wore catskin gloves, with the white fur inside…
    she was given a gruel made from goat’s milk, and a main dish of hearts from the various kinds of animals that were available there…
    She used a brass spoon, and a knife with a walrus-tusk handle bound with two rings of copper; the blade had a broken point.
    I was curious what attempts to recreate this costume would look like: some examples below.

    Christian converts and pagans lived side-by-side, and the examples in these two sagas suggest it was generally civil, though sometimes uneasy, with Christians in particular setting boundaries for themselves.

    - ‘This is the sort of knowledge and ceremony that I want nothing to do with,’ said Gudrid, ‘for I am a Christian.’ ‘It may well be,’ said Thorbjorg, ‘that you could be of help to others over this, and not be any the worse a woman for that. But I shall leave it to Thorkel to provide whatever is required.

    Then Thorbjorn was sent for; he had refused to remain in the house while such pagan practices were being performed.

    - Thjodhild refused to live with Eirik after she was converted, and this annoyed him greatly.

    - Then Thorhall the Hunter walked over and said, ‘Has not Redbeard turned out to be more successful than your Christ? This was my reward for the poem I composed in honour of my patron, Thor; he has seldom failed me.

    In these early days of Christianity, curious hybrid customs emerged, as here from Eirik's Saga:
    Gudrid went in to see Thorstein... He whispered in her ear a few words that she alone could hear, and then said that blessed were they who were true to their faith, for that way came help and mercy; but, he said, there were many who did not observe the faith properly:
    ‘It is a bad custom, as has been done in Greenland since Christianity came here, to bury people in unconsecrated ground with scarcely any funeral rites. I want to be taken to church, along with the other people who have died here – all except Gardi, whom I want to have burned on a pyre as soon as possible, for he is responsible for all the hauntings that have gone on here this winter.’…
    It had been the custom in Greenland since Christianity came there to bury people in unconsecrated ground near the farms where they died; a stake was driven into the ground above the dead person’s breast and later, when the priests arrived, the stake would be pulled out and holy water poured down the hole and funeral rites performed, however long after the burial it might then be.

    Other customs and details of life
    - That common saga background phrase: that a man left a place 'because of some killings', and the complicated stories it could mean:
    Eirik’s slaves started a landslide that destroyed the farm of a man called Valthjof, at Valthjofstead; so Eyjolf Saur, one of Valthjof’s kinsmen, killed the slaves at Skeidsbrekkur, above Vatnshorn. For this, Eirik killed Eyjolf Saur; he also killed Hrafn the Dueller, at Leikskalar. Geirstein and Odd of Jorvi, who were Eyjolf’s kinsmen, took action over his killing, and Eirik was banished from Haukadale.
    So, either a slave rebellion or an accident led to a feud.

    He then asked for his bench-boards back, but they were not returned; so Eirik went to Breidabolstead and seized them. Thorgest pursued him, and they fought a battle near the farmstead at Drangar. Two of Thorgest’s sons and several other men were killed there.
    Scandinavian furniture was a lot more trouble in those days, there being much less of it, and taking far longer to make.

    Women going to the loo together:
    One evening Sigrid wanted to go outside to the privy that was opposite the main door. Gudrid went with her.

    A leader's role back then could also involve encouraging positive thinking:
    - Then Eirik said, ‘You were much more cheerful in the summer when you were sailing out of the fjord than we are now; but there are still many good things in store for us.’

    - They returned to Straumfjord and spent the third winter there. But now quarrels broke out frequently; those who were unmarried kept pestering the married men.
    Huh? Why? To get pissed, like in a Will Ferrell movie?

    - What people did indoors in winter and and at Christmas:
    the Christmas feast was extended into a wedding feast. They all had a splendid time at Brattahlid that winter; there was much chess-playing and story-telling, and many other entertainments that enrich a household.


  2. E. G. E. G. says:

    Acknowledgements
    Introduction & Notes
    Further Reading
    A Note on the Translation

    The Vinland Sagas

    --The Saga of the Greenlanders

    --Eirik the Red's Saga

    Notes

    Reference Section:
    Maps
    Family Tree
    Chronology of the 'Vinland Sagas'
    Ships
    The Farm
    Social, Political and Legal Structure
    Glossary
    Indexes of Characters and Places


  3. J.L. Sutton J.L. Sutton says:

    These sagas provide great context for the Norse discovery of America. They also offer a glimpse at the character and motivation of some of the chief figures in this age of discovery, especially Erik the Red and Leif Erikson. The sagas also reveal importance of the colonization of Iceland and how this colonization led to further exploration.


  4. Etienne Etienne says:

    Great book, a must read if you're interest in viking history and their exploration. In contain two sagas, an introduction that explain how the saga were born/created and some annexes that contain maps, glossary, and informations about ships and building of the vikings age. Less dense and hard to read then I thought, it was pretty easy to go through but at the same time I've learn a lot so that's great! Love it!!


  5. Siria Siria says:

    I read this in a slim little Penguin Classics edition which brings together The Saga of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red's Saga (both together are about 50 pages long), together with some good introductory material and lots of informative appendices. Because it's so well-contextualised, I think this would be a very good edition to use in an undergrad classroom—the maps in particular are really excellent, though some of the introductory material is perhaps slightly out of date/not as certain as they present it. (I'm not sure that Olaif the White has ever been definitely identified with Amblaíb Cunung of Dublin? I need to dig out my notes from undergrad.) Kunz' translation is also mostly pretty good, though there were times where I wished she'd intervened in the text a little more, for the sake of clarity—there was one point in particular, where two Thorsteins and their wives both die, and then someone comes back from the dead and... something. I read it three times and I'm still not entirely sure what was going on. Those quibbles aside, however, this is a good edition to use.


  6. Ian Ian says:

    I’ve actually read the Vinland Sagas before, though not in this translation. Back in the 90s I was also lucky enough to visit the site of the Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows, in Newfoundland. You might say the subject interests me!

    This translation confirms my previous impression, which is that I prefer the Greenlanders’ Saga to Eirik The Red’s Saga. The former is a bit more grounded in reality, whereas the latter has been embellished to include stories of mythical beasts and the like, something medieval storytellers were fond of doing. These two Sagas aren’t the greatest pieces of literature, but they are of course priceless records of the extraordinary Norse voyages to North America.

    This edition comes with a longish but excellent introduction by the translators, Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson, two Icelanders who spent most of their lives living in Edinburgh.


  7. Marquise Marquise says:

    Very interesting sagas, and very easy to read despite the style being rather dry, the passages too brief and devoid of details when describing anything.

    This Penguin Classics edition comprises two sagas, the Groenlandinga Saga and the Saga of Erik the Red, the first dealing with the discovery and early settlement of Greenland and the second with the immediately following accidental discovery of Vinland (actual North America), both by intrepid Norwegian vikings sailing out of their most recent colony of Iceland. Although the main man in both is Leif Eiriksson (Leif the Lucky), eldest son of Eirik Thorvaldsson (Eirik the Red), it's not only about him or his father's exploits. Both sagas also gives credit to the first Norseman who sighted America, Bjarni Herfjölfsson (though he never landed, just sighted the land) and includes the voyages of the next four people after Leif who sailed to and tried to establish themselves in Vinland: Thorvald Eiriksson, another of Eirik the Red's sons, and Thorstein Eiriksson, also a son of the same whom illness prevented from reaching Vinland; then Thorfinn Karlsefni, the first who attempted to establish permanent colonies and settle down in Vinland, going as far as fathering a child while in the precarious little Norse settlement, who'd be the first European born in America if the saga is true; and Freydis Eiriksdóttir, daughter of the Red. Yes, there was actually a woman amongst the discoverers. 'Tis a pity she turned out to be . . . er, something else.


  8. Phrodrick Phrodrick says:

    Four stars or not, it is hard for me to write excitedly about the Penguin Classics Edition of the Vineland Sagas. The very short book consist of some accessible and generally interesting introduction and very helpful maps and notes by Gisli Sigurdsson and the Sagas of The Greenlanders and Erik the Red both translated by Keneve Sigurdsson. Total page count is about 100.

    My notion of the importance of sagas is that they combine history, local legends and perhaps enough facts to transmit travel directions to the careful reader. That is sagas should be somewhat like a Bible, being the oral traditions, and history and generally the main way to carry vital information forward across generations. More than incidentally these particular sagas reflect the arrival of Christianity among the Vikings with some obvious changes in priorities and emphasis.

    Speaking only of this translation, for this is the only version I know; these sagas read like academic documents. They seem edited to be dry, documentary, summary and absent any of the kinds of drama and entertainment that would keep pagans, adult or children wide eyed at the communal fireside. Look elsewhere for the heroics of Beowulf. Check your insurance before you depend on these sagas as your sailing directions while exploring in an open boat with neither back up compass nor web based aps.

    The sagas do recite the same stories we heard in school about European discovery of Greenland, so named as a sales ploy to promote immigration and do not expect to be thrilled by the early battles between the Viking settlers on what they called Vineland and would come 500 years later to be called America (more exactly the Canadian Maritime) and the ‘Skraelings’. This being the earlier Viking name for most likely Eskimos. Or perhaps what the Canadians now call the people of the First Nations. I rather wish we could have played cowboys and skræingjar (plural). However here the fights were not steel and gunpowder, versus bows and arrows, but rather iron verses large number of locals. Where Iron won, the sagas got to be written.

    My decision to read the Vineland Sagas was to learn about the tales of early travelers and non-Greco-Roman mythologies. This deck chair exploration is academically interesting, but too sanitized


  9. Melanti Melanti says:

    I'm fascinated by history and pseudoarcheology, so this seemed like a great way of dipping my toe into the Icelandic Sagas, which I've been meaning to get around to for quite a while now. It was fascinating to read both accounts and try to contemplate & imagine where all along the coast they'd been, what all they'd seen, and what future encampments we might be able to find in the future.

    This particular edition was pretty cool in that it had footnotes confirming the existence of various structures mentioned in the verses - chapels, barns, etc - and the excellent (though dated) introduction that gives an abbreviated history of Iceland & Greenland.

    That being said, I think I would have enjoyed Eirik's saga on its own merits more if I hadn't read them back to back. Reading them back to back makes it easier to compare the conflicting historical accounts which is good for historical purposes but it just highlights the parts where Christianity was shoe-horned in, giving it a bigger role than it probably had in reality.

    An extra star awarded just because I love pseudoarcheology despite fully acknowledging the validity of the pseudo prefix. (I can't help it... it's just so entertaining to read about the Knights Templar exploring the Grand Canyon or Ancient Egyptians having light bulbs.)


  10. Christine Spoors Christine Spoors says:

    This book is all about The Vinland Sagas, which follow the first Vikings to reach North America from Greenland and Iceland. I classed it as non-fiction because much of the book is discussing Viking culture at the time and giving context, such as maps, about the sagas. Although I find the Vikings fascinating, I've never read many books about them, so this was a brilliant Christmas present to receive.


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10 thoughts on “The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America

  1. Antonomasia Antonomasia says:

    More fun than most medieval historical sources. These two very short sagas are charmingly uneven and direct (and quite unlike the usual dry monkish texts that survive from this era outside Iceland). The focus on relatively ordinary laypeople is refreshing, though will be familiar to those who've already read Icelandic family sagas - all I'd read previously of those was a few chapters of Njal's Saga. The introduction describes family sagas as the history of a republic in which all the original settlers had been nominally equal.

    Yet they are odd texts to modern literary sensibilities, and could be disappointing if one expected them to conform - just as medieval doodles wouldn't fit the standards of 19th century painting. Both sagas make apparently random zooms on to the detail of certain events or individuals, who often aren't the main features, e.g.
    Thorhall the Hunter; he had been in Eirik’s service for a long time, acting as his huntsman in summer, and had many responsibilities. He was a huge man, swarthy and uncouth; he was getting old now, bad-tempered and cunning, taciturn as a rule but abusive when he spoke, and always a trouble-maker. He had not had much to do with Christianity since it had come to Greenland. He was not particularly popular, but Eirik and he had always been close friends.
    (More character background than many more significant players get.)

    For all that the Graenlendinga Saga is described as 'primitive' in style, it feels measured in structure if labelled a 'Vinland Saga', because exploration takes place throughout. Whereas in Eirik's Saga (aka Eirik the Red's Saga), the interesting bit about Vinland is all bunched at the end - but that's because the voyage to, and life in Vinland is not directly about Eirik any more; the introduction keeps reminding us that the sagas are primarily about people.

    As there is much lamentation that Magnus Magnusson & Hermann Pálsson's translation of Njal's Saga is out of print, I was delighted to find that some of their other saga translations still are in print (though Laxdaela isn't). This ebook of their Vinland Sagas is even half the price of the new translation. The 1965 introduction felt thoroughly vintage near the end, when they mention excavations at L'Anse aux Meadows as a new and recent endeavour; twenty years ago I was adding that name in games of Civilization II. (Alongside this is an outdated reference to a pair of married archaeologists as Dr Helge Ingstad … and his wife, with her not named; ironic when female characters, such as the fearsome Freydis, are consistently named in the sagas and are pivotal in various episodes. The word 'primitive' is used in a few instances where anthropologists would now think better.) A 2003 Afterword by Magnusson is a memorial to Pálsson, who had died the previous year.

    This is a very short book, which won't outstay its welcome if you are interested in a quick look at the original sources (and is also potentially useful for various obscure categories in reading challenges).
    ----
    Themes:

    Northern exploration
    - the [Norse] descriptions of the Arctic regions (stretching from Russia to Greenland) and the eastern seaboard of the North American continent are nowhere to be found in contemporary geographical textbooks elsewhere in Europe – in which they were to remain terrae incognitae for a very long time.

    - To Icelanders of the period, life in Greenland held a certain fascination; to them it was rather an exotic country, although not an unfamiliar one.

    - It is also clear from all the evidence available that the climate of the north from the ninth to the twelfth centuries was warmer than it is even now, and did not begin to deteriorate until the fourteenth century.

    - it was not until the fourteenth century that sailors were forced to abandon the old route from Snæfellsness to Angmagssalik entirely, because of the increasing danger of polar ice.

    - A century after Thorfinn Karlsefni went to Vinland, its exact location seems to have been forgotten: the Icelandic Annals have an entry for the year 1121 – ‘Bishop Eirik of Greenland went in search of Vinland’ – which implies that the old sailing directions had become confused.

    - in the year 1347 a ship that had been to Markland (Labrador?) was driven off course on its way back to Greenland and eventually found haven in Iceland, anchorless and with seventeen survivors on board. Timber from Markland, apparently, was not unknown in Greenland for centuries after the Vinland expeditions

    - it could well be that stories about Vinland were current in the seaports of Europe in the fifteenth century, because throughout that period there was considerable, if illegal, trade between Iceland and Bristol and between Bristol and Portugal; and certainly the Icelanders themselves had not forgotten about Vinland, or the general direction in which it lay

    - this exhausted outpost of Norse exploration, just beyond the fringe of European endurance … died such a horrible and lonely death while a new age of exploration was dawning in southern Europe

    … and what they found there. (Eirik's Saga)
    - Altogether there were 160 people taking part in this expedition (to Vinland)
    Quite a lot.

    - named it Straum Island. There were so many birds on it that one could scarcely set foot between their eggs.

    - No one recognized what kind of a whale it was, not even Karlsefni, who was an expert on whales. The cooks boiled the meat, but when it was eaten it made them all ill.

    Horror-movie stuff: sea full of maggots that eat the ship itself. (Not heard of this before, perhaps those who read more nautical literature have?)

    - Bjarni Grimolfsson’s ship was blown into the Greenland Sea. They found themselves in waters infested with maggots, and before they knew it the ship was riddled under them and had begun to sink…
    They had one ship’s-boat which had been treated with tar made from seal-blubber; it is said that shell-maggots cannot penetrate timber which has been so treated…
    The boat, however, would not hold them all and so they agreed to this suggestion of drawing lots for places in it...
    The Icelander stepped into the boat and Bjarni went back on board the ship; and it is said that Bjarni and all those who were on the ship with him perished there in the maggot sea.

    A world with more equal military technologies
    - (Intro) it is safe to assume that voyages to Labrador to fetch timber continued for a long time; it had not been the distance that had deterred colonization, but the Native Americans.

    Eirik's Saga:
    - Vinland where, it was said, there was excellent land to be had.
    Outlook strikingly similar to later European colonisers: thinking that there was land for the taking. However, unlike those of 500 years later, they did not have guns and so they were on a relatively more equal footing with the indigenous people.

    - Karlsefni and his men had realized by now that although the land was excellent they could never live there in safety or freedom from fear, because of the native inhabitants.

    - It was a dog-eat-dog world, and things might not end well if you ended up elsewhere, either:
    With that they parted company. Thorhall and his crew sailed northward past Furdustrands and Kjalarness, and tried to beat westward from there. But they ran into fierce headwinds and were driven right across to Ireland. There they were brutally beaten and enslaved; and there Thorhall died.

    - Even those who should have had an excellent chance of getting away, were at risk of getting captured and enslaved:
    When Leif Eirikson had been with King Olaf Tryggvason and had been asked to preach Christianity in Greenland, the king had given him a Scottish couple, a man called Haki and a woman called Hekja. The king told Leif to use them if he ever needed speed, for they could run faster than deer. Leif and Eirik had turned them over to Karlsefni for this expedition.
    I always wonder how the fittest people from the past, who had to spend most of their days in physical activity, would compare with modern athletes.

    Native Americans
    Introduction: This twelfth-century identification of the Inuit natives of Greenland with the Native Americans of North America, based on the similarity between two primitive material cultures, is an interesting deduction.

    From Eirik's Saga: the Norse have been in Vinland a while:
    they caught sight of nine skin-boats; the men in them were waving sticks which made a noise like flails, and the motion was sunwise…

    [Note: Native Americans are known to have used rattle-sticks during various rituals, which may well be the explanation of this threshing sound the Norsemen could hear.]

    What the natives wanted most to buy was red cloth; they also wanted to buy swords and spears, but Karlsefni and Snorri forbade that…

    The natives took a span of red cloth for each pelt, and tied the cloth round their heads. The trading went on like this for a while until the cloth began to run short; then Karlsefni and his men cut it up into pieces which were no more than a finger’s breadth wide

    The Graenlendinga Saga says they traded milk, not cloth, for the pelts, and drank it on the spot. Cloth seems more logical to the modern reader, at least.

    A later visit from the locals is less amicable:
    This time all the sticks were being waved anti-clockwise and all the Skrælings were howling loudly…

    Karlsefni and Snorri saw them hoist a large sphere on a pole; it was dark blue in colour. It came flying in over the heads of Karlsefni’s men and made an ugly din when it struck the ground. This terrified Karlsefni and his men so much that their only thought was to flee, and they retreated farther up the river.

    Religion: a transitional period when Christianity and paganism co-existed
    Another, even more strikingly detailed portrait of a minor character: Greenlandic prophetess Thorbjorg, in Eirik's Saga:
    she wore a blue mantle fastened with straps and adorned with stones all the way down to the hem. She had a necklace of glass beads. On her head she wore a black lambskin hood lined with white cat’s-fur. She carried a staff with a brass-bound knob studded with stones. She wore a belt made of touchwood, from which hung a large pouch, and in this she kept the charms she needed for her witchcraft. On her feet were hairy calfskin shoes with long thick laces which had large tin buttons on the ends. She wore catskin gloves, with the white fur inside…
    she was given a gruel made from goat’s milk, and a main dish of hearts from the various kinds of animals that were available there…
    She used a brass spoon, and a knife with a walrus-tusk handle bound with two rings of copper; the blade had a broken point.
    I was curious what attempts to recreate this costume would look like: some examples below.

    Christian converts and pagans lived side-by-side, and the examples in these two sagas suggest it was generally civil, though sometimes uneasy, with Christians in particular setting boundaries for themselves.

    - ‘This is the sort of knowledge and ceremony that I want nothing to do with,’ said Gudrid, ‘for I am a Christian.’ ‘It may well be,’ said Thorbjorg, ‘that you could be of help to others over this, and not be any the worse a woman for that. But I shall leave it to Thorkel to provide whatever is required.

    Then Thorbjorn was sent for; he had refused to remain in the house while such pagan practices were being performed.

    - Thjodhild refused to live with Eirik after she was converted, and this annoyed him greatly.

    - Then Thorhall the Hunter walked over and said, ‘Has not Redbeard turned out to be more successful than your Christ? This was my reward for the poem I composed in honour of my patron, Thor; he has seldom failed me.

    In these early days of Christianity, curious hybrid customs emerged, as here from Eirik's Saga:
    Gudrid went in to see Thorstein... He whispered in her ear a few words that she alone could hear, and then said that blessed were they who were true to their faith, for that way came help and mercy; but, he said, there were many who did not observe the faith properly:
    ‘It is a bad custom, as has been done in Greenland since Christianity came here, to bury people in unconsecrated ground with scarcely any funeral rites. I want to be taken to church, along with the other people who have died here – all except Gardi, whom I want to have burned on a pyre as soon as possible, for he is responsible for all the hauntings that have gone on here this winter.’…
    It had been the custom in Greenland since Christianity came there to bury people in unconsecrated ground near the farms where they died; a stake was driven into the ground above the dead person’s breast and later, when the priests arrived, the stake would be pulled out and holy water poured down the hole and funeral rites performed, however long after the burial it might then be.

    Other customs and details of life
    - That common saga background phrase: that a man left a place 'because of some killings', and the complicated stories it could mean:
    Eirik’s slaves started a landslide that destroyed the farm of a man called Valthjof, at Valthjofstead; so Eyjolf Saur, one of Valthjof’s kinsmen, killed the slaves at Skeidsbrekkur, above Vatnshorn. For this, Eirik killed Eyjolf Saur; he also killed Hrafn the Dueller, at Leikskalar. Geirstein and Odd of Jorvi, who were Eyjolf’s kinsmen, took action over his killing, and Eirik was banished from Haukadale.
    So, either a slave rebellion or an accident led to a feud.

    He then asked for his bench-boards back, but they were not returned; so Eirik went to Breidabolstead and seized them. Thorgest pursued him, and they fought a battle near the farmstead at Drangar. Two of Thorgest’s sons and several other men were killed there.
    Scandinavian furniture was a lot more trouble in those days, there being much less of it, and taking far longer to make.

    Women going to the loo together:
    One evening Sigrid wanted to go outside to the privy that was opposite the main door. Gudrid went with her.

    A leader's role back then could also involve encouraging positive thinking:
    - Then Eirik said, ‘You were much more cheerful in the summer when you were sailing out of the fjord than we are now; but there are still many good things in store for us.’

    - They returned to Straumfjord and spent the third winter there. But now quarrels broke out frequently; those who were unmarried kept pestering the married men.
    Huh? Why? To get pissed, like in a Will Ferrell movie?

    - What people did indoors in winter and and at Christmas:
    the Christmas feast was extended into a wedding feast. They all had a splendid time at Brattahlid that winter; there was much chess-playing and story-telling, and many other entertainments that enrich a household.

  2. E. G. E. G. says:

    Acknowledgements
    Introduction & Notes
    Further Reading
    A Note on the Translation

    The Vinland Sagas

    --The Saga of the Greenlanders

    --Eirik the Red's Saga

    Notes

    Reference Section:
    Maps
    Family Tree
    Chronology of the 'Vinland Sagas'
    Ships
    The Farm
    Social, Political and Legal Structure
    Glossary
    Indexes of Characters and Places

  3. J.L. Sutton J.L. Sutton says:

    These sagas provide great context for the Norse discovery of America. They also offer a glimpse at the character and motivation of some of the chief figures in this age of discovery, especially Erik the Red and Leif Erikson. The sagas also reveal importance of the colonization of Iceland and how this colonization led to further exploration.

  4. Etienne Etienne says:

    Great book, a must read if you're interest in viking history and their exploration. In contain two sagas, an introduction that explain how the saga were born/created and some annexes that contain maps, glossary, and informations about ships and building of the vikings age. Less dense and hard to read then I thought, it was pretty easy to go through but at the same time I've learn a lot so that's great! Love it!!

  5. Siria Siria says:

    I read this in a slim little Penguin Classics edition which brings together The Saga of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red's Saga (both together are about 50 pages long), together with some good introductory material and lots of informative appendices. Because it's so well-contextualised, I think this would be a very good edition to use in an undergrad classroom—the maps in particular are really excellent, though some of the introductory material is perhaps slightly out of date/not as certain as they present it. (I'm not sure that Olaif the White has ever been definitely identified with Amblaíb Cunung of Dublin? I need to dig out my notes from undergrad.) Kunz' translation is also mostly pretty good, though there were times where I wished she'd intervened in the text a little more, for the sake of clarity—there was one point in particular, where two Thorsteins and their wives both die, and then someone comes back from the dead and... something. I read it three times and I'm still not entirely sure what was going on. Those quibbles aside, however, this is a good edition to use.

  6. Ian Ian says:

    I’ve actually read the Vinland Sagas before, though not in this translation. Back in the 90s I was also lucky enough to visit the site of the Norse settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows, in Newfoundland. You might say the subject interests me!

    This translation confirms my previous impression, which is that I prefer the Greenlanders’ Saga to Eirik The Red’s Saga. The former is a bit more grounded in reality, whereas the latter has been embellished to include stories of mythical beasts and the like, something medieval storytellers were fond of doing. These two Sagas aren’t the greatest pieces of literature, but they are of course priceless records of the extraordinary Norse voyages to North America.

    This edition comes with a longish but excellent introduction by the translators, Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson, two Icelanders who spent most of their lives living in Edinburgh.

  7. Marquise Marquise says:

    Very interesting sagas, and very easy to read despite the style being rather dry, the passages too brief and devoid of details when describing anything.

    This Penguin Classics edition comprises two sagas, the Groenlandinga Saga and the Saga of Erik the Red, the first dealing with the discovery and early settlement of Greenland and the second with the immediately following accidental discovery of Vinland (actual North America), both by intrepid Norwegian vikings sailing out of their most recent colony of Iceland. Although the main man in both is Leif Eiriksson (Leif the Lucky), eldest son of Eirik Thorvaldsson (Eirik the Red), it's not only about him or his father's exploits. Both sagas also gives credit to the first Norseman who sighted America, Bjarni Herfjölfsson (though he never landed, just sighted the land) and includes the voyages of the next four people after Leif who sailed to and tried to establish themselves in Vinland: Thorvald Eiriksson, another of Eirik the Red's sons, and Thorstein Eiriksson, also a son of the same whom illness prevented from reaching Vinland; then Thorfinn Karlsefni, the first who attempted to establish permanent colonies and settle down in Vinland, going as far as fathering a child while in the precarious little Norse settlement, who'd be the first European born in America if the saga is true; and Freydis Eiriksdóttir, daughter of the Red. Yes, there was actually a woman amongst the discoverers. 'Tis a pity she turned out to be . . . er, something else.

  8. Phrodrick Phrodrick says:

    Four stars or not, it is hard for me to write excitedly about the Penguin Classics Edition of the Vineland Sagas. The very short book consist of some accessible and generally interesting introduction and very helpful maps and notes by Gisli Sigurdsson and the Sagas of The Greenlanders and Erik the Red both translated by Keneve Sigurdsson. Total page count is about 100.

    My notion of the importance of sagas is that they combine history, local legends and perhaps enough facts to transmit travel directions to the careful reader. That is sagas should be somewhat like a Bible, being the oral traditions, and history and generally the main way to carry vital information forward across generations. More than incidentally these particular sagas reflect the arrival of Christianity among the Vikings with some obvious changes in priorities and emphasis.

    Speaking only of this translation, for this is the only version I know; these sagas read like academic documents. They seem edited to be dry, documentary, summary and absent any of the kinds of drama and entertainment that would keep pagans, adult or children wide eyed at the communal fireside. Look elsewhere for the heroics of Beowulf. Check your insurance before you depend on these sagas as your sailing directions while exploring in an open boat with neither back up compass nor web based aps.

    The sagas do recite the same stories we heard in school about European discovery of Greenland, so named as a sales ploy to promote immigration and do not expect to be thrilled by the early battles between the Viking settlers on what they called Vineland and would come 500 years later to be called America (more exactly the Canadian Maritime) and the ‘Skraelings’. This being the earlier Viking name for most likely Eskimos. Or perhaps what the Canadians now call the people of the First Nations. I rather wish we could have played cowboys and skræingjar (plural). However here the fights were not steel and gunpowder, versus bows and arrows, but rather iron verses large number of locals. Where Iron won, the sagas got to be written.

    My decision to read the Vineland Sagas was to learn about the tales of early travelers and non-Greco-Roman mythologies. This deck chair exploration is academically interesting, but too sanitized

  9. Melanti Melanti says:

    I'm fascinated by history and pseudoarcheology, so this seemed like a great way of dipping my toe into the Icelandic Sagas, which I've been meaning to get around to for quite a while now. It was fascinating to read both accounts and try to contemplate & imagine where all along the coast they'd been, what all they'd seen, and what future encampments we might be able to find in the future.

    This particular edition was pretty cool in that it had footnotes confirming the existence of various structures mentioned in the verses - chapels, barns, etc - and the excellent (though dated) introduction that gives an abbreviated history of Iceland & Greenland.

    That being said, I think I would have enjoyed Eirik's saga on its own merits more if I hadn't read them back to back. Reading them back to back makes it easier to compare the conflicting historical accounts which is good for historical purposes but it just highlights the parts where Christianity was shoe-horned in, giving it a bigger role than it probably had in reality.

    An extra star awarded just because I love pseudoarcheology despite fully acknowledging the validity of the pseudo prefix. (I can't help it... it's just so entertaining to read about the Knights Templar exploring the Grand Canyon or Ancient Egyptians having light bulbs.)

  10. Christine Spoors Christine Spoors says:

    This book is all about The Vinland Sagas, which follow the first Vikings to reach North America from Greenland and Iceland. I classed it as non-fiction because much of the book is discussing Viking culture at the time and giving context, such as maps, about the sagas. Although I find the Vikings fascinating, I've never read many books about them, so this was a brilliant Christmas present to receive.

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