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WHAT THE SAGAS SAY OF GREENLAND.
BY REV. JOHN SEPHTON, M.A.
The earliest European inhabitants of Greenland were a colony of Norsemen from Iceland, who settled in the south-west, in the district now known as Julianshaab, containing many large fiords and islands. The settlement gradually stretched as far north as Godthaab, wherever the sheltered slopes and valleys of the fiords afforded vegetation for the cattle. The southern part of it was known as Osterbygd—the eastern settlement; and the northern as Vesterbygd—the western settlement. The scanty records of the colony, from its foundation about A.D. 985 until A.D. 1400, are found chiefly in the Icelandic literature, in four or five Sagas, and the Icelandic annals. The earliest is the Saga of Eirik the Red, remarkable because it relates the discovery of the mainland of America five hundred years before Columbus. There are translations of it into English; one of which, made from the text of the Saga printed in Vigfusson and Powell's Icelandic Prose Reader, may be found in vol. xxxiv of the Transactions of this Society. On the present occasion, I propose to bring to your notice the other Sagas which mention the colony from the time of Eirik to its extinction.
Eirik, as his Saga tells us, was a Norseman, compelled to leave Norway because of man-slaying feuds. He settled in Iceland, where he lived many years, and was then forced, again because of man-slaying feuds, to leave the country. As vague rumours of a land lying to the west of Iceland were in the air, he determined to seek it. He found it, and called it Greenland ; “For,” said he, “people will be much more eager to migrate to it if the land has a tempting name.” He returned, therefore, to Iceland to proclaim its virtues, and induced twenty-five ship-loads of colonists to go back with him to Greenland. Fourteen of these reached the land. Fifteen years afterwards the colony was converted to Christianity by Eirik's son, Leif, at the command of Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway.
The next Saga which refers to Greenland is the Floamanna, the Saga of the men of Floi, a small district in the south-west of Iceland. The Saga tells the life of a man named Thorgils, who, after many adventures, settled at Tradarholt in the Floi, and became a Christian.
“ Thorgils,” says the Saga, “ was a very important personage. There came to him messages from Greenland, sent by Eirik the Red, bidding him come and accept the best of all the land afforded. To this invitation Thorgils gave little heed,” until his son Thorleif, a young man twenty years of age, returned home from a voyage to Norway. “And now Thorgils asked of his wife, Thorey, if she was willing to go to Greenland; but she spoke of the risks of change. He told her of Eirik's message. ‘But you,' said he, 'may remain behind, if you wish.' 'It is an ill-advised voyage,' answered Thorey; but if you go, I will go too.'"
“Thorgils now determined upon the journey, and decided to take with him his son Thorleif, two foster brothers of Thorey named Kol and Starkad, with their sister Gudrun, his thralls Snækoll and Ozur, and ten others; and as he was minded to set up house in Greenland, Thorarin, his steward, should go too. Thorey's foster father, Jostein of Kalfholt, resolved to accompany Thorgils, and to take with him his wife Thorgerd, his son, and nine other persons. Thorgils now sold his estate at Tradarholt and bought a ship.
“While they waited for a fair wind, Thorgils had a dream in which a tall red-bearded man appeared to him. [This was Thor.] 'You propose to make a voyage, he said; it will prove toilsome,' and as he spoke he looked to have an ugly frown. It will go hard with you,' he said, unless you turn again to your faith in me, and then I will aid you.' But Thorgils replied: Never will I ask aid from you. Away from me, and speedily, my voyage will have such success as Almighty God grants.' Then it seemed to Thorgils, in his dream, that Thor led him to some rocks against whose precipitous front the sea broke into foam. Into such a sea shall you come,' said he, "and never escape out of it, unless you turn to me.' "No!' replied Thorgils, `away from me, loathed fiend! He will help me, who ransomed all men with his blood.' Then he awoke and told his wife the dream. 'I should remain behind,' she said, “if such a dream had happened to me; but I will not tell it either to Jostein or the others.' A fair wind now blew, and they sailed out of the fiord, the fore part of the ship in front of the mast being given up to Jostein and his company.
“When land was no longer to be seen the wind abated altogether, and they were tossed about at sea for a long time, until both meat and drink became scarce. Once again Thor appeared to Thorgils in a dream, and said : * Has it not happened as I told you ?' and he added many other words, but Thorgils drove him away with stern rebukes. Autumn came on and some of the men on board spoke of making vows to Thor. But Thorgils forbade them : Those who offer sacrifice on board,' said he, will find out their mistake;' and after that, no man ventured to call upon Thor. Again there appeared to Thorgils a
vision of Thor, who said : ‘you showed how faithful you were to me, when your men wanted to make vows. But I have heard them, and if I aid them not they are at the last gasp. In seven days you shall reach harbour if you turn to me with any show of earnestness.' 'I will do thee no service' answered Thorgils, though I never reach harbour.' And Thor replied : “though you do me no service, pay me yet what is mine.' Thorgils now pondered in his dream on the meaning of these words, and understood that they referred to an ox, which, when a calf, he had dedicated to Thor. He awoke and resolved to cast the ox overboard, but Thorgerd, Jostein's wife, becoming aware of his resolution, offered to purchase it, for she was running short of provisions. Thorgils declared that he would neither use the ox nor sell it, and, notwithstanding Thorgerd's displeasure, he had it thrown overboard : “No wonder our voyage is unfortunate,' he said, when we have Thor's property on board.'
“For a while longer they remained out at sea, and had a hard time. . .. Then the ship was wrecked on a gravelly bank at a certain creek under the glaciers of Greenland. It broke asunder in the after part, but all hands were saved, and the cargo likewise. The boat, too, was uninjured, and the stern of the ship drifted southwards to shore. This happened one week before the beginning of winter. Huge glaciers descended to the creek on both sides.
“ They now put up a shed, dividing it into two by a partition, so that each family had a separate room. As their cattle were all dead, they subsisted on the meal they had brought with them, and on the seals they caught. These were shared by all, though the greater part were caught by Thorgils and his men, he being especially fortunate. In the evenings his men kept quiet, by his command, and were well behaved, holding firmly to their religious faith ; but as for Jostein and his men, they made a great din, playing games in the night time and speaking loudly. Thorey, Thorgils' wife, was much depressed, and at the beginning of winter gave birth to a boy child whom they named Thorfinn, but she made only slow recovery because the food suited her not. And now winter came on, and Yule drew nigh, and Thorgils made his men keep quiet and go early to bed. On Yule morning the weather was fine, and those who went out to sea during the day heard a great shouting in the northwest. As night approached, Thorgils' household went to bed early, and when they had slept awhile, Jostein and his men came home making a great noise. After they all had gone to rest, a loud knock was heard at the door, and one of them, saying that must be good news, sprang up and went out, but he was straightway seized with madness and died the next morning. So again the next night, when another man became frantic, and in his ravings cried out that the dead man was leaping on him. He died also, and sickness then attacked Jostein's household, and six persons died. Jostein next fell ill and died also, and the dead were all buried in the snow. Thorgils discoursed of these things to his household, bidding all be warned by these portents. After Yule, the ghosts of the dead all came forth from their graves. Thorgerd fell ill and died; and finally, one after another, the rest of these who had come out with Jostein. All were dead by the end of February. Thenceforward ghosts appeared with terrible frequency, and made Thorgils, in particular, the object of their attacks. Neither he nor his men were able to stir from the spot, while the ghosts wandered and haunted mainly that half of the shed they had occupied when alive. At Thorgils' command the dead bodies were