The Place of Greenland In Medieval Icelandic Saga Narrative
Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 2 (2009)
This paper explores the accounts of Norse Greenland in the medieval Icelandic sagas, looking past the Vínland sagas to examine ways in which Greenlandic settings are employed in the “post-classical” saga-tradition and other texts. The style and content of these tales varied over time, but the recurrence of certain conventional patterns indicates that stories set in Greenland retained important thematic continuities for Icelandic saga audiences. From as early as the 12th century, Icelandic writers identified Greenland as a peripheral space in the Norse world, connected with Iceland, but markedly distinct and remote. This marginalization is evident in the Vinland sagas and developed further in the post-classical tradition, which made Greenland a place of exile in which Icelandic heroes were tested by extreme adversity in the settlements and wilderness. Embodying the preoccupations of Icelandic writers and audiences, these writings tell us little about historical realities in Norse Greenland; but they do show how details of geographical and historical lore were subsumed and transformed in the Icelandic narrative tradition.