The Norse Discovery of America, by A.M Reeves, N.L. Beamish and R.B. Anderson, , at sacred-texts.com
WINELAND the Good is first mentioned in Icelandic literature by the Priest Ari Thorgilsson, in a passage contained in his so-called Islendingabok [Icelanders' Book]. Ari, commonly called the Learned, an agnomen which he received after his death, was born in Iceland in the year 1067, and lived to the ripe age of eighty-one, acquiring a positive claim to the appellation "hinn gamli" [the Old, the Elder], which is once given him; in this instance, however, to distinguish him from another of the same name. Of Ari, the father of Icelandic historiography, the author of Heimskringla, the most comprehensive of Icelandic histories, says in the prologue to his work:
"The Priest Ari Thorgilsson the Learned, Gelli's grandson, was the first of men here in the land [Iceland] to write ancient and modern lore in the Northern tongue; he wrote chiefly in the beginning of his book concerning Iceland's colonization and legislation, then of the law-speakers ( 2), how long each was in office, down to the introduction of Christianity into Iceland, and then on to his own day. Therein he also treats of much other old lore, both of the lives of the kings of Norway and Denmark, as well as of those of England, as likewise of the
important events, which have befallen here in the land, and all of his narrations seem to me most trustworthy. . . . It is not strange that Ari should have been well-informed in the ancient lore, both here and abroad, since he had both acquired it from old men and wise, and was himself eager to learn and gifted with a good memory."
In the introduction to the Islendingabok, Ari says:
"I first composed an Islendingabok for our Bishops Thorlak [Thorlakr] and Ketil [Ketill], and showed it to them, as well as to Sæmund (Sæmundr) the Priest. And forasmuch as they were pleased [either] to have it thus, or augmented, I accordingly wrote this, similar in character, with the exception of the genealogy and lives of the kings, and have added that of which I have since acquired closer knowledge, and which is now more accurately set forth in this [the 'libellus'] than in that."
These words conjoined with the quoted statement concerning the character of the historian's work, and supplemented by references to Ari in other Icelandic writings, have given rise to a controversy as to the probable scope of Ari's literary activity. Whether the conclusion be reached that Ari was the author of several books, as has been claimed, or that the Islendingabok, which has perished, to which he refers in the words above quoted, was a much larger and more comprehensive work than the so-called Islendingabok which has been preserved to us, there seems to be abundant reason for the belief that all of Ari's historical material was by no means comprised in the only book of his now existing, about whose authorship there can be no room for dispute. Of this book, the
so-called Islendingabok, the oldest manuscripts are two paper copies, of a lost parchment manuscript, belonging to the Arna-Magnæan Collection in the University Library of Copenhagen, which are known as 113a and 113b fol. At the end of 113a, the scribe has written as follows:
"These 'Schedæ' and narratives of the priest Ari the Learned are copied from a vellum in his own hand, as men believe, at Villingaholt, by the priest John Ellindsson [Jon Erlendsson], Anno domini 1651, the next Monday after the third Sunday after Easter."
This John Erlendsson is known to have made transcripts of many of the sagas for Bryniolf [Brynjolfr] Sveinsson, Bishop of Skalholt. To this worthy bishop's literary ardour, and zeal in collecting the neglected treasures of his language, we owe the preservation of many manuscripts, which would, but for him, doubtless, have perished before the coming of the indefatigable collector, Arni Magnusson.
Bishop Bryniolf, unfortunately, left no heir interested in the preservation of his library, and his books were soon scattered. When Arni Magnusson visited Iceland, thirty years after the Bishop's death and ransacked the island for surviving manuscripts, the vellum of the Islendingabok, doubtless one of the oldest of Icelandic manuscripts, had entirely disappeared. Concerning the two paper copies of this vellum, which he succeeded in obtaining. Arni has inserted the following memorandum in the manuscript described at 113b fol.:
"The various different readings noted here throughout in my hand, are taken from another copy [113a,. fol.]
written by the Rev. John Erlendsson in 1651. This was formerly the property of the Rev. Torfi Jonsson [Jons-son] of Bær, who inherited it from Bishop Bryniolf Sveinsson; I obtained it, however, from Thorlak, son of Bishop Thord [Thorlakr Pordarson]; it formed originally a portion of a large book, which I took apart, separating the treatises. This copy I have called "Codex B," signifying either "Baiensis," or the second., from the order of the letters of the alphabet. Concerning 'Codex B,' it is my conjecture that the Rev. John copied it first from the vellum; that Bishop Bryniolf did not like the copy [for this Codex is less exact than Codex A, as may be seen by comparing them] . . . wherefore the Rev. John made a new copy of the parchment manuscript, taking greater care to follow the original literally, whence it is probable that this Codex A was both the later and the better copy.
Both of the paper manuscripts "A" and "B" were written, it is believed, within the same year, and in each of them the paragraphs containing the reference to. Wineland are almost identical; the Icelandic name in 'W' being spelt Winland, in "B" Vinland, a clerical variation, devoid of significance. This paragraph, which is the sixth in Ari's history, is as follows:
"That country which is called Greenland, was discovered and colonized from Iceland. Eric the Red [Eirekr enn Rauthi] was the name of the man, an inhabitant of Breidafirth, who went out thither from here, and settled at that place, which has since been called Ericsfirth [Eiriksfiorthr]. He gave a name to the country, and
called it Greenland, and said that it must persuade men to go thither, if the land had a good name. They found there, both east and west in the country, the dwellings of men, and fragments of boats, and stone implements, such that it may be perceived from these that that manner of people had been there who have inhabited Wineland, and whom the Greenlanders call Skrellings. And this, when he set about the colonization of the country, was XIV or XV winters before the introduction of Christianity here in Iceland, according to that which a certain man [lit. he], who himself accompanied Eric the Red thither, informed Thorkel Gellisson."
This mention of Wineland, which in itself may appear to be of little importance, acquires its greatest value from that which it leaves unsaid; for had Ari not known that his reference to Wineland and its inhabitants would be entirely intelligible to his readers, he would hardly have employed it, as he does, to inform his Greenland chronicle. This passing notice, therefore, indicates a general diffusion of the knowledge of the Wineland discoveries among Ari's contemporaries at the time when the paragraph was composed. The "libellus" [Islendingabok] was probably written about the year 1134, and we are accordingly apprised that at that time the facts concerning the Wineland discovery, upon an acquaintance with which Ari seems to rely, were notorious. It is impossible, however, to determine whether Ari presumed upon a knowledge derived from particulars, which he had himself previously published, or upon a prevalent acquaintance with the accounts of the explorers themselves. It
is, at least, questionable whether Ari would have been content to presuppose such local historical knowledge if he had not already scaled it with his own authority elsewhere. Nor is the importance which he may have assigned to the Wineland discovery material to this view. He had set about writing a chronicle of his fatherland, and his passing allusion to Wineland, without a word of explanation, appears incompatible with the duty which he had assumed, unless, indeed, he had already dealt with the subject of the Wineland discovery in a previous work. Be this as it may, however, certain it is that Wineland has found further mention in two Icelandic works, which in their primitive form have been very generally accredited to Ari, namely the Landnamabok [Book of Sentiment] and the Kristni-Saga [the Narrative of the Introduction of Christianity into Iceland]. The first of these, in a passage already cited, expressly acknowledges Ari's share in the authorship. One manuscript of this work, from which the passage is taken [No. 371, 4to, in the Arna-Magnæan Collection], while it is the oldest extant manuscript containing the Landnamabok [now in an incomplete state] presents this in a later review of the original work, than that which is contained in the much more modern manuscript, AM. 107, fol. This latter manuscript, like the copy of Islendingabok, was written by the Rev. John Erlendsson for Bishop Bryniolf Sveinsson. Both of the references to Wineland in the Landnamabok occur incidentally in the course of the history, and are of the briefest. The first of these treats of the adventure of Ari Marsson [Mars-son];
it is to be found in Chapter 22, of the second part of the book, and is as follows:
". . . their son was Ari. He was driven out of his course at sea to White-men's-land [Hvitramanna-land], which is called by some persons Ireland the Great ( 58); it lies westward in the sea near Wineland the Good; it is said to he six "dgra" sail west of Ireland; Ari could not depart thence, and was baptized there." The first account of this was given by Rafn who sailed to Limerick ( 3) [Hlimreksfari], and who remained for a long time at Limerick in Ireland. So Thorkel Geitisson states that Icelanders report, who have heard Thorfirm, Earl of the Orkneys ( 4) say, that Ari had been recognized there, and was not permitted to leave [lit. could not leave], but was treated with great respect there.
The names of Ari Marsson's wife, and of his three sons are given in the same passage from which the quotation is made, and additional concurrent evidence is not wanting to serve to establish the existence of this man; any particulars, however, which might serve to enlighten this narrative, or aid in determining whence Rain and Earl Thorfirm derived their intelligence, are lacking. Without free conjectural emendation to aid in its interpretation, this description of Ari Marsson's visit to Ireland the Great is of the same doubtful historical value as a later account of another visit to an unknown land, to be considered hereafter.
The second reference to Wineland in the Landnamabok is contained in a list of the descendants of Snorri Head-Thord's son.
"Their son was Thord Horse-head, father of Karlsefni, who found Wineland the Good, Snorri's father," etc. A genealogy which entirely coincides with that of the histories of the discovery of Wineland, as well as with that of the episcopal genealogy appended to the Islendingabok. The Landnamabok contained no other mention of Wineland, but a more extended notice is contained in the work already named, which, in its present form, is supposed to retain evidence of the learned Ari's pen.
The Kristni-Saga, which is supplementary, historically, to the Landnamabok, is given in its entirety in AM. 105, fol. This is a paper copy of an earlier manuscript made by the same industrious cleric, John Erlendsson, for Bishop Bryniolf. A portion of the same history has also been preserved along with the detached leaves of the Landnamabok now deposited in the Arna-Magnæan Collection, No. 371, 4to. These fragments of the two, histories originally belonged to one work, the so called Hauk's Book, a vellum manuscript of the fourteenth century, hereafter to be more fully described. The history of the Wineland discovery is contained in the eleventh chapter of the printed edition of the Kristni-Saga, in the following words:
"That summer ( 5) King Olaf [Tryggvason] went from the country southward to Vindland [the land of the Wends]; then, moreover, he sent Leif Ericsson [Leifr Eiriksson] to Greenland, to proclaim the faith there. On this voyage [lit. then] Leif found Wineland the Good; he also found men on a wreck at sea, wherefore he was called Leif the Lucky."
Of the same tenor as this brief paragraph of the Kristni-Saga, is a chapter in the Codex Frisianus [Frissbok], number 45, fol., of the Arna-Magnæan manuscripts. This Codex Frisianus, or, as it has been more appropriately called, the Book of Kings, is a beautifully written and well-preserved parchment manuscript of 124 leaves; it obtains its name from a former owner, Otto Friis, of Salling; it subsequently became the property of one Jens Rosenkranz, and next passed into the possession of Arni Magnusson. Friis' Book was, in all probabilities, written about the beginning of the fourteenth century; and if the conjectures as to its age are correct, it is, perhaps, the oldest extant Icelandic manuscript containing all account of the Wineland discovery. It is believed, from internal evidence, that the greater part of the Codex was written by an Icelander, in Norway, possibly for a Norwegian, and that the manuscript was never in Iceland. The early history of the Codex is not known. Certain marginal notes appear to have been inserted in the manuscript about the year 1550 by Lawman Laurents Hansson, and it is conjectured that the book was then owned in Bergen; fifty years later we find it in Denmark; for about the year 1600 a Dane, by the name of Slangerup, inserted his name upon a fly-leaf in the book, which leaf, Arni Magnusson tells us, was removed when he had the manuscript bound. This "Book of Kings," the saga of Olaf Tryggvason, in which the history of the discovery of Wineland occurs, follows closely the same saga as it was written in the two lost parchment manuscripts of the "Heimskringla," as
we are enabled to determine from the copies of these lost vellums made by the Icelander, Asgeir Jonsson. It is not known whether the author of the "Heimskringla" had access; to the history of the Wineland discovery in some such extended form as that contained in Hauk's Book; indeed it has been suggested that he may only have been acquainted with the brief narrative of the Kristni-Saga; but certain it is, that his account of the discovery was not influenced by the version presented in the Flatey Book, which narrative appears in the first printed edition of the "Heimskringla," where it was interpolated by the editor, Johann Peringskiold. Similarly, any trace of the Flatey Book version of the discovery is lacking from Friis' Book, although the author of the saga of Olaf Tryggvason, therein contained, appears to have been acquainted with a somewhat more detailed account of Leif Ericssons' life than that afforded by the Kristni-Saga, if we may judge from his own language, as we find it in column 136, page 34b, of the manuscript:
"Leif, a son of Eric the Red, passed this same winter, in good repute, with King Olaf, and accepted Christianity. And that summer, when Gizur went to Iceland, King Olaf sent Leif to Greenland to proclaim Christianity there. He sailed that summer to Greenland. He found men upon a wreck at sea and succoured them. Then, likewise, he discovered Wineland the Good, and arrived in Greenland in the autumn. He took with him thither a priest and other spiritual teachers, and went to Brattahlid
to make his home with his father, Eric. People afterwards called him Leif the Lucky. But his father, Eric, said that one account should balance the other, that Leif had rescued the ship's crew, and that he had brought the trickster to Greenland. This was the priest."
Almost identical with the history of the discovery contained in Friis' Book is that of the so-called longer saga of Olaf Tryggvason. This saga, in its printed form, has been compiled from several manuscripts of the Arna-Magnæan collection, the most important of which is No. 61, fol., a codex dating from about the year 1400. This account is contained in the 231st chapter of the printed version as follows:
"King Olaf then sent Leif to Greenland to proclaim Christianity there. The king sent a priest and other holy men with him, to baptize the people there, and to instruct them in the true faith. Leif sailed to Greenland that summer, and rescued at sea the men of a ship's crew, who were in great peril and were clinging to [lit. lay upon] the shattered wreckage of a ship; and on this same voyage be found Wineland the Good, and at the end of the summer arrived in Greenland, and betook himself to Brattahlid, to make his home with his father, Eric. People afterwards called him Leif the Lucky, but his father, Eric, said that the one [deed] offset the other, in that Leif had on the one hand rescued and restored the men of the ship's crew to life, while on the other he had brought the trickster to Greenland, for thus he called the priest."
In composition, doubtless, much more recent than the
notices already cited, is a passage in the collectanea of Middle-age wisdom of the Arna-Magnæan Library. This manuscript contains fifty-two pages, part of which are in Icelandic and part in Latin, written between the years 1400-1450. From a slip in Arni Magnusson's hand, inserted in the collection, it appears that Arni obtained it from the Rev. Thorvald Stephensson in the year 1707. Whatever its condition may have been at that time, the parchment upon which it is written is now in a sad state of decay. In this respect page 10 of the vellum, upon the back of which the Wineland chirography is written, is Icelandic, is no exception; fortunately, however, the lacunae are so inconsiderable in this page that they may be readily supplied from that which survives, and the Wineland passage appears as follows:
"Southward from Greenland is Helluland, then comes [lit. is] Markland; thence it is not far to Wineland the Good, which some men believe extends from Africa, and, if this be so, then there is an open sea flowing in between Wineland and Markland. It is said, that Thorfinn Karlsefni hewed a "house-neat-timber" ( 6) and then went to seek Wineland the Good, and came to where they believed this land to be, but they did not succeed in exploring it, or in obtaining any of its products ( 7). Leif the Lucky first found Wineland, and he then found merchants in evil plight at sea, and restored them to life by God's mercy; and he introduced Christianity into Greenland, which waxed there so that an episcopal seat was established there, at the place called Gardar. England and Scotland are one island, although each of them is a kingdom.
[paragraph continues] Ireland is a great island. Iceland is also a great island [to the north of] Ireland. These countries are all in that part of the world which is called Europe."
In a fascicle of detached vellum fragments, brought together in AM. No. 736, 4to, there are two leaves containing, besides certain astronomical material, a concise geographical compilation. In this Wineland is assigned a location identical with that in the codex from which the quotation has just been made, and the notice of Wineland is limited to this brief statement:
"From Greenland to the southward lies Helluland, then Markland; thence it is not far to Wineland, which some men believe extends from Africa. England and Scotland are one island," etc.
While the reference to Wineland omits the account of Thorfin's visit and Leif's discovery, the language in which the location of the land is given, as well as the language of the context, has so great a likeness to that of 194, 8vo), that, although it was perhaps written a few years earlier, there seems to be a strong probability that each of the scribes of these manuscripts derived his material from a common source.
Somewhat similar in character to the above notices is the brief reference written in the vellum fragment contained in AM. 764, 4to,. This fragment comprises a so called "totius orbis brevis descriptio," written probably about the year 1400. Upon the second page of this "brief description" is the passage:
"From Biarmaland uninhabited regions extend from the north, until Greenland joins them. South from
[paragraph continues] Greenland lies Helluland, then Markland. Thence it is not so far to Wineland. Iceland is a great island," etc.
Differing in nature from these geographical notices [but of even greater interest and historical value by reason of the corroborative evidence which it affords of certain particulars set forth in the leading narrative of the Wineland discovery] is the mention of Wineland contained in a chapter of the Eyrbyggja Saga [Saga of the People of Eyrr]. No complete vellum manuscript of this saga has been preserved. The eldest manuscript remnant of the saga consists of two leaves written about 1300; these leaves do not, however, contain that portion of the saga, with which we are concerned. Of another vellum codex containing this saga, which has entirely perished, we have certain knowledge. This was the so-called Vatnshyrna or Vatnshorn's Book, a manuscript which at one time belonged to the eminent Danish scholar, Peder Hans Resen, from whom it received the name by which it is sometimes cited, Codex Resenianus. It was bequeathed by Resen to the University Library of Copenhagen, where it was deposited after his death in 1688. It perished in the great fire of October, 1728, but fortunately paper copies, which had been made from it, survived the conflagration. The Vatnshorn Codex, it has been conjectured, was prepared for the same John Haconsson, to whom we are indebted for the great Flatey Book, and was, apparently, written about the year 1400, or, possibly, toward the close of the fourteenth century. The most complete vellum manuscript of the Eyrbyggja Saga now extant
forms a part of the Ducal Library of Wolfenbuttel, purchased in the seventeenth century at a public sale in Holstein. This manuscript was probably written about the middle of the fourteenth century, and although the first third of the Eyrbyggja Saga has been lost from the codex, that portion of the history which contains the chapter referring to Wineland has been preserved, and is as follows:
"After the reconciliation between Steinthor and the people of Alpta-firth, Thorbrand's sons, Snorri and Thorleif Kimbi, went to Greenland. From him Kimbafirth (in Greenland), gets its name. Thorleif Kimbi lived in Greenland to old age. But Snorri went to Wineland the Good with Karlsefni; and when they were fighting with the Skrellings there in Wineland, Thorbrand Snorrason, a most valiant man, was killed."
The foregoing brief notices of Wineland, scattered through so many Icelandic writings, yield no very great amount of information concerning that country. They do afford, however, a clear insight into the wide diffusion of the intelligence of the discovery in the earlier saga period, and in every instance confirm the Wineland history as unfolded in the leading narrative of the discovery, now to be considered.