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The Eiríkssynir in Vínland : Family exploration or family myth?
journal contributionposted on 2014-11-12, 14:07 authored by Pragya Vohra
In the heart of modern-day Reykjavík, in front of one of the city’s most imposing landmarks – Hallgrímskirkja – stands the statue of a Norse warrior, facing out to sea, a gift from the United States of America to the people of Iceland, which bears the inscription ‘LEIFR EIRICSSON, SON OF ICELAND, DISCOVERER OF VÍNLAND...’ This reflection of popular belief establishes Leifr as the undisputed discoverer of the new lands west of Greenland, and more importantly as an enduring, recognisable symbol of the western voyages of exploration and discovery undertaken by the Norse around the turn of the last millennium, which resulted in the establishment of what may legitimately be regarded as the westernmost outposts of European civilisation in the Medieval period. The two so-called ‘Vínland sagas’ – Eiríks saga rauða and Grœnlendinga saga – however, are not quite so clear about this status accorded to Leifr; neither are they in agreement about the activities of the brothers mentioned in the title. Nevertheless, there is a fair amount that these sagas do agree on – that land was sighted west of Greenland circa 1000 AD, that Norsemen from both Greenland and Iceland were involved in the attempt to explore and settle this new land, and that the Vínland ‘experiment’ failed to crystallise into a new Norse colony.