16 August 2013

Sagas of the Vikings, Truth or Fiction

Norse sagas are generally acknowledged to be written versions of the oral tales of the medieval Norse people. I make no attempt to cover any saga in detail, for that is not my purpose. Reference is made to both the Vinland Saga and the Saga of the Greenlanders. Except where noted the content of this article are my own opinions and observations from many years of research into the lives of the Greenland Norse.

While the sagas are certainly entertaining, they cannot be regarded as factual representations of actual exploration or settlement on the North American continent, the islands of Greenland and Iceland, or anyplace else that the Norse visited in the western hemisphere. Why, because the explorers themselves did not write the saga about their purported deed. Let me say that again, the Norse explorers, or characters of the story played no part in writing the saga, any of them. Not a single document originating in Greenland is known to exist.  Excerpted from Dr. Birgitta Wallace, Archaeologists Interpretation of the Vinland Sagas, 2000, P-225. The sagas are a body of verse, albeit fanciful verse, or medieval Norse literature if you prefer. But history, I think not.

The Greenland and Vinland sagas were written as long as 200 years after the facts they portend to portray. In most cases the authors lived long after the “disappearance” of the settlers from Greenland, and they were writers who had never been to Greenland. Some were not even of Norse extraction. One such case, a man responsible for centuries of misconceptions, Adam of Bremen, a German cleric of the 11th century, wrote a four-volume treatise on the Norse, or Vikings as history has dubbed them. Volume IV deals specifically with Greenland and Vinland. It is his reference to “the profusion of grapes and self-sown wheat” found in Vinland that has perpetuated the myth of grapes and grain. In fact grapes have never grown north of the 45th parallel at any time in history - Nova Scotia and Maine - and the wet weather of the Canadian Maritimes will not support the growth of wheat. Excerpted from, The Quest for Vinland, Gisli Sigurdsson, 2000, P-234. So, since wheat and grapes have never grown where Adam says they did, what is he talking about? Not much of substance. He is telling a tale that has been accepted as gospel for centuries, up to and including the present time, from a religious standpoint, that will not hold up under scrutiny.

Psychiatrists have long held that memory consists of things held in memory from the time of the event but which have been mixed with information acquired later. The greater the time lapse from the actual event to the recollection of that event, the more learned material will be mixed with original material so that the disparity between reality and what is remembered will become distorted until the memory is no longer truthful. Excerpted from an article in Confederate Veteran, Dr. Michael R. Bradley, July/August 2013, P-18. We are referring to fireside stories of exploration and sea voyages, tales of valiant warriors, heroes and mythological gods that come to us from a culture that existed 1000-years ago. That is 40-generations ago, in round numbers, in a period of history when few common men were literate in any sense. Collective memories were transmitted verbally. Now we are asked to believe that these memories, unscathed by the passage of some 200-years of time, were written down in a body of prose we now know as the Norse Sagas. It is little wonder that many of the places mentioned in these sagas have not been found.

Many scholars and authors have spent a large portion of their lives, translating, codifying, parsing, and publishing their opinions on the sagas. Most have mentioned that many of the place names and areas portrayed have never been found. There is a reason for that, they do not exist. Read the sagas for what they are, verbal stories carried in the collective memories of men and women that lived centuries before their deeds were written down by writers that knew nothing about what really happened. The sagas are historical flights of fancy, nothing more.

©2013 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved

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