244. The Grænlendinga Saga (c.1190) and Eirik’s Saga (c.1260)

Two short Icelandic sagas describing the exploration and early settlement of Greenland and Vinland (the latter more commonly now known as North America) by Icelandic sailors. My version was The Vinland Sagas : The Norse Discovery of America, translated by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson, published by Penguin, 1965.

Thoughts : Essentially the same stories told with some discrepancies. Eirik the Red is outlawed from Iceland for murder and sails off to explore lands to the west. After wintering in Greenland for three years, he returns to Iceland to gather settlers to populate the country (Eirik calls the new country Greenland to make it sound enticing – the world’s first real estate agent!)

His son, Leif Eiriksson, sets off to explore further west and reaches Vinland, a rich land of grapes and wheat, where the winters are mild and the dew tastes sweet. Later settlers fare worse, attacking and attacked by what they call the Skraelings (actually American indigenous people)

What might have just been family histories take on global significance.

The pattern for European discovery and early settlement of both Greenland and America are the same. Increasing population pressures drive Norwegian explorers first to Iceland, then Greenland and Vinland. The latter two are first discovered as sailors are blown off course and merely noted as land masses. Then someone decides to explore and reports back on conditions, which encourages settlers to try wintering in these new lands.

The second and later Eirik’s Saga is suggested to be more polished and sophisticated, but I found with more characters introduced, it tended to ramble about as if it too was lost at sea, not telling the story as clearly as the earlier Grænlendinga Saga.

Favourite quotes/scenes:  Both versions included the corpse of Eirik’s second son Thorstein coming back to life before burial to reassure (??!!) his wife that all would be well.

Digressions/diversions:   (Memo to self : read some early North American indigenous stories)

Personal rating:  Very quick read (whole book including lengthy introduction, appendices and maps is only 125 pages) for such a significant step in world history. 7/10

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