Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Iceland and the Vikings

Each year I lead a week-long tour to West Iceland called "Sagas & Vikings." So I took it personally when an article on Iceland Monitor, the English language website of Iceland's newspaper Morgunblaðið, called it "exaggerated or distorted" to speak about Vikings in Iceland.

I disagree. Iceland, to me, is the best place in the world to learn about Vikings. I've been going there for the past 30 years for that very purpose.

What does "Viking" mean? "Raider" or "plunderer" are medieval synonyms for Viking; some translators use the term "pirate," which tends to make my head spin. (Think Captain Hook, eye-patch, aargh.)

But I use "Viking," like many other modern scholars, to describe any Norse-speaker during the Viking Age, which is traditionally dated from 783 to 1066.

And raiding was not the sole defining characteristic of the age: Exploration was just as significant.

I feel quite justified, for instance, in calling my book about the Norse explorations of North America The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman. In fact, one of my goals in that book was to redefine the word "Viking" to include the role of women.

Few people have trouble imagining Leif Eiriksson, who discovered America in around the year 1000, as a Viking. Every representation of him that I have ever seen includes a spear or large axe--like this one in front of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik. But why does Leif get all the credit? After his first sight of the New World, he never went back Gudrid, Leif's sister-in-law, was the real explorer. She tried to settle there twice, with two different husbands. If you want to learn about Viking explorers, put Gudrid the Far-Traveler at the top of your list.

Gudrid's voyages appear in two of the medieval Icelandic sagas, written a hundred or more years after her death. The article in Iceland Monitor suggests the importance of the Icelandic sagas is "exaggerated or distorted" too, and again, I disagree. As I point out in Ivory Vikings, more medieval literature exists in Icelandic than in any other European language except Latin.

If you want to learn about Vikings and the Viking Age, medieval Icelandic literature is your best--and often your only--source. Without the works of Snorri Sturluson alone, as I wrote in Song of the Vikings, we would know next to nothing about Viking Age culture.

Because of Snorri’s Edda, tiny Iceland has had an enormous impact on our modern world. All the stories we know of the Vikings’ pagan religion, the Norse myths of Valhalla and the valkyries, of one-eyed Odin and the well of wisdom, of red-bearded Thor and his hammer of might, of two-faced Loki and the death of beautiful Baldur, of lovesick Freyr and lovely Freyja, the rainbow bridge, the great ash tree Yggdrasil, the world-wrapping Midgard Serpent, Heimdall’s horn, the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, Ragnarok or the Twilight of the Gods…

All the stories we know of the gods whom we still honor with the names Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday—for all of these stories Snorri is our main, and sometimes our only, source.

Snorri wrote his Edda originally to teach the young King Hakon (here on the left) the ins and outs of Viking poetry. For the Vikings were not only fierce warriors, they were very subtle artists. Because of the work of Snorri and his followers, we know the names of over 200 Viking skálds. We can read hundreds of their verses: In the standard edition, they fill 1,000 two-column pages. What skalds thought important enough to put into words provides most of what we know today about the inner lives of people in the Viking Age.

We also know the history of Scandinavia in the Viking Age almost entirely through Snorri. His second book, Heimskringla, is a set of sixteen sagas about Norse kings and earls, both pagan and Christian, from the ancient days of Odin the Wizard-King through King Magnus, who was deposed in 1177, the year before Snorri’s birth. Through his vivid portraits of kings and sea-kings, raiders and traders in these sagas, Snorri created the Viking image so prevalent today.

In his third book, Egil’s Saga, Snorri expanded the archetype, creating the two competing heroic types who would give Norse culture its lasting appeal. The perfect Viking is tall, blond, and blue-eyed, a stellar athlete, a courageous fighter, an independent, honorable man who laughs in the face of danger, dying with a poem or quip on his lips. He is like Egil’s brother and uncle in this saga. Or he is like Egil, his father, and his grandfather: dark and ugly, a werewolf, a wizard, a poet, a crafty schemer who knows every promise is contingent—in fact, somewhat like Snorri himself, as he is portrayed in a saga written by his nephew.

On my "Sagas & Vikings" tour, we visit many of the places Snorri lived and wrote about, as well as the site of Gudrid's birth. We discuss the two competing stories of Iceland's settlement by Vikings--explorers and raiders both--and learn how they negotiated a society with no king. We see saga manuscripts and archaeological sites and talk about what that word "Viking" really means in the landscape that inspired our best--and often only--descriptions of Viking life. I hope you'll join me.

For more information on this year's "Sagas & Vikings" tour, see Hestaland.net. The tour is limited to 12 people. Horseback riding is optional.



64 comments:

  1. It's a good thing Snorri was so prolific. I have wanted to go on your tour for a long time, but it is still just a dream, unfortunately.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have a 19 hour lay over in Iceland.....a dream manifested. What can I see in that time?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nancy I'm working my way through "Song of the Vikings" now, having read most of the available sagas as well as your very informative book on Gudrid Far-Traveler.

    You make a comment in the chapter 'Norse Gods and Giants' that Laexdaela Saga is a "in many ways a response to Njal's Saga." I just wondered if you might elaborate on that in a blog post. I read Laexdaela saga before Njala so I may have completely missed that context.

    Thanks! Love your work.

    ReplyDelete
  4. For a long time I'm going to go to Iceland to see with my own eyes this beauty. It's worth it!

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is very clear that you are not a properly trained scholar of the Scandinavian middle ages. There is a reason people have to go through rigorous training to gain a doctorate which is only the beginning of a long life in trying to understand what happened and why back then.
    But you got it all figured out already, of course.

    Your statements about the word 'Viking' and the headache you get when you see it translated as 'corsair' or 'pirate' are a perfect example of how you know very little of what you are talking about. Reading some of Claire Downham's articles could be a good start to understanding why it is utterly wrong, and anachronistic, to call Old Norse speaker in the Viking Age a 'Viking', especially since they didn't do that themselves either.
    Also, no respectable modern scholar has ever applied this blanket term - which is a profession, if anything else - to all people from that region at that point in time.
    There are far too many issues at hand here, and I'm afraid I have not read any of your books, but judging from this article, it is highly unlikely anyone would gain any actual knowledge.

    Having spent most of my academic career working on Snorri, mostly directly from the earliest manuscripts, I would point out that almost everything you've said about him is wrong.

    Best wishes.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hello everyone, really dreams do come through, i no longer have to apply for loans and worry over my bad credit scores, i got my blank ATM card after so many trails all thanks to Mr George, if you are thinking if its actually real the answer is YES. Mr George is very good at his job i applied for the card and got it shipped to my country 5 days later and i have been using the card for two months its totally untraceable, my life has transformed from paring an apartment in the slums to purchasing an executive condo with luxury furniture's and now my children can now attend quality schools, Mr George is an angel sent from God to the poor and needy. i am writing this with tears of joy as Mr George has removed my family from the life of want to the life of satisfaction. you can contact him through this email: blankatm402@gmail.com
    BEST WISHES

    ReplyDelete
  7. The thousand of Viking antiquities discovered everywhere throughout the United States show that thery were here in 1010 AD. Some time before Columbus. For what reason isn't the Smithsonian revealing to us this? I find a very good website for the ragnar lothbrok, If you want you can visit this site.

    ReplyDelete
  8. INTO LIVING is an Australian owned company, based in Carrum Downs, Victoria. Formerly known as Vast Interior Carrum Downs, 'INTO LIVING' offers the consumer furniture and homewares, sourced from all over the world. We have been an established business since August 2002 and are widely known as 'the place', to get something completely different, for your home. From the moment you first walk into our store you will know that you have come to the right place.
    Online Homeware store in Mornington Peninsula
    Buy Furniture Online Carrum Downs
    Indoor living Online

    ReplyDelete
  9. Omg I Finally Got Helped  !! I'm so excited right now, I just have to share my testimony on this Forum.. The feeling of being loved takes away so much burden from our shoulders. I had all this but I made a big mistake when I cheated on my wife with another woman  and my wife left me for over 4 months after she found out..  I was lonely, sad and devastated. Luckily I was directed to a very powerful spell caster Dr Emu who helped me cast a spell of reconciliation on our Relationship and he brought back my wife and now she loves me far more than ever.. I'm so happy with life now. Thank you so much Dr Emu, kindly Contact  Dr Emu Today and get any kind of help you want.. Via Email emutemple@gmail.com or Call/WhatsApp +2347012841542

    ReplyDelete
  10. Congratulations on your article, it was very helpful and successful. 32c45190bf3a84c664d972dc21dff0a2
    numara onay
    website kurma
    sms onay

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you for your explanation, very good content. 38c61ce555388c6949bda7a00678073a
    altın dedektörü

    ReplyDelete
  12. Facials involve cleansing, exfoliating, and nourishing the skin to promote a healthy and radiant complexion.

    ReplyDelete
  13. It is known for its combination of gentle stretching, female to male massage home service near meacupressure, reflexology, and aromatherapy.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Unlock the secrets of female to male body massage at home Our comprehensive guide covers everything, from choosing the center to aftercare tips

    ReplyDelete
  15. If poor range of movement is left untreated the joint structures can become adhesive causing further restriction in range of movement in addition to a reduction in flexibility and tissue elasticity

    ReplyDelete
  16. Your website is really cool and this is a great inspiring article.

    ReplyDelete

  17. Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing the post!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Nice information, you write very nice articles, I visit your website for regular updates.

    ReplyDelete
  19. It was a really good content holding a great information.

    ReplyDelete
  20. From various body massage near me techniques to ambiance considerations,

    ReplyDelete
  21. That is a good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Brief but very accurate info…

    ReplyDelete
  22. Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Great Post for Beginner to understand. I finally found great post here. Thanks for information.keep sharing more articles.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Nice info, I love the way you express words with emotions.

    ReplyDelete

  25. I really liked it. I wanted to leave a note. I was reading your website. I also tried to share the site.

    ReplyDelete

  26. This is the best way to share the great article with everyone one, so that everyone can able to utilize this information

    ReplyDelete
  27. I want to to thank you for this good read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it.

    ReplyDelete

  28. "I would like to thanks' for the efforts you have put in writing this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I was impressed by your writing. Your writing is impressive.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Being active through sports can contribute to a healthier and more active lifestyle as people age, similarly you can change your body skin and lifestyle by accepting the services we provide at body to body massage in pune

    ReplyDelete
  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Thank you for sharing this useful information, I will regularly follow your blog. Excellent post!

    ReplyDelete
  34. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils extracted from plants to induce relaxation and diverse therapeutic effects. Aromatherapy is used with female to male massages or in the air. female to male massage in chennai therapists are certified and highly experienced, so you can relax and enjoy a great time while they take care of the skin on your body.

    ReplyDelete
  35. The b2b spa in chennai is designed for athletes who are looking to improve their athletic performance, prevent injuries and enhance flexibility. There's a spa near me. So relax and enjoy yourself.

    ReplyDelete