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THE LITERATURE RELATING TO THE NORSE VOYAGES TO AMERICA OR amere layman toinvade the highly controversial field of the Norsevoyagesto America in the middle agesmay smack of temerity. The subjectis socomplexthat it involvesa knowledgeof Old Norse literature, medieval cosmographyand navigation ,archaeology, anthropology,zoology,botany, and climatology ;and the presentwriter mustdisclaimanythingbut the most superficial acquaintance with anyof thosebranches of knowledge. But the bibliographer has always a useful purposeto serve; and a surveyof the literaturerelatingto theNorsevoyages to America may not now be without value, especially when interestin the subjecthas beenrevived by the recentdiscoveryof what seem to be Viking weaponsnear Beardmorein northern Ontario, and their acquisitionby the Royal Ontario Museum, as describedby Professor Currelly in the precedingpaper. If, in the courseof this bibliographicalsurvey,the writer attempts to passjudgment on the validity of someof the contributionsmade to the subject, it must be rememberedthat even in a court of law a simplejuryman is oft•encalledupon to assess the value of the evidenceof expert witnesses. Ourknowledge of the Norsevoyages to Americarestsprimarily on (1) the detailed narratives of two apparently independent Icelandicsagas, knownasthe Sagaof Eric the Red and the Flatey book,committedto writing many yearsafter the eventsthey purport to describe;(2) a reference to Vinlandin Adam of Bremen's Descriptioinsularurnaquilonis,written before 1070, but not printeduntil 115015; and (8) severalreferences to Vinland, Markland , and "Newland" in Icelandic and Norwegian annals. This evidence places, andhasplacedfora longtime,beyondanyreasonable doubt the fact that the Norsemen found their way to the shoresof the North American continent about the year 1000, and continued to visit it for about three and a half centuries. But aboutthedetailsof thesevoyages thewidestdiversityof opinion hasprevailed. Therearethosewhoregardthesagas asin largepart mythical, and admit no more than the bare fact of the voyages themselves; andthereare thosewhotreat the sagasasif they were actualship'slogs. Amongthe latter, thereare thosewho have identifiedVinlandwith placesin the north-eastern coastof North Americaas far apart as Hamilton inlet in Labrador and Long Island soundoff New York; thosewho have identifiedthe "Skrae- LITERATURE RELATING TO THE NORSE VOYAGES TO AMERICA 9 lings" or natives of the sagasas Indians or as Eskimo; and those who have arguedthat the "wine-berries" of the sagaswere grapes or cranberries. The imaginationand ingenuity displayedby each subsequent commentatoron the sagashashad, whenoneconsiders the divergent resultsobtained, almosta humorousside. Finally, attempts have beenmadeto provethe existencein North America (apart from Greenland) of archaeologicalremains of the Norse visits. Of these only one, the Runic inscription found in 1028 on the island of Kingitorsook in Baffin bay, and now lodged in the National Museum in Copenhagen,has, sofar as I know, been universally acceptedas genuine. Others, suchas the inscription on the Dighton Rock or the Rhode Island watch-tower to which Longfellow had referencein his ballad "The skeleton in armour," have been conclusivelyproved to have no connection with the Norsemen. Still others, such as the so-called Kensington runestone found in Minnesota and the Beardmore sword found in northern Ontario, are still the subjectsof controversy. A knowledgeof the Norse voyagesto America must have been common property among the people of Iceland and Norway in the middle ages, and (as we have seen) they were known to a German writer in the eleventh century. The fact that in 1121 Eric Gnupssonwas appointed by Pope Paschal II "bishop of Greenlandand Vinland in partibusinfidelium," and went in search of Vinland, has suggestedthat there may be documentsin the archives of the Vatican which might throw light on the Norse voyages to America; but no such documents have been found. It would seemprobable that someknowledgeof the Norse visits to America must have percolatedthrough to southernEurope in the middle ages;but, if so, such knowledge must have been lost and forgotten. It appearsthat when ChristopherColumbusand John Cabot set out on their epoch-makingvoyages,they knew little or nothing of the bold mariners who had preceded them. Even Adam of Bremen's brief description of Vinland was not printed until a century later. The first printed bookgiving an accountof the Norsevoyages to America was the Historia Vinlandiae Antiquae,publishedin Latin in 17015 by Thormod Torfaeus,an Icelander who was born in 1686 and died in Norway in 1710, and who actually had in his possession the Flatey book. Torfaeusattempted only a summary of the Norse sagas,and did not reproducethem...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 8-16
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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