The following account of the discovery of North America by Leif Ericsson is contained in the “Saga of Eric the Red” and this translation was by A. M. Reeves from the version of the Saga in the Flateyar-bok, compiled by Jon Thordharson about 1387.
Leif the Lucky BaptizedAFTER the sixteen winters had lapsed, from the time when Eric the Red went to colonize Greenland, Leif, Eric’s son, sailed out from Greenland to Norway. He arrived in Drontheim in the autumn, when King Olaf Tryggvason was come down from the North, out of Halagoland. Leif put into Nidaros with his ship, & set out at once to visit the king. King Olaf expounded the faith to him, as he did to other heathen men who came to visit him. It proved easy for the king to persuade Leif, & he was accordingly baptized, together with all of his shipmates. Leif remained throughout the winter with the king, by whom he was well entertained.
Biarni Goes in Quest of GreenlandHERIULF was a son of Bard Heriulfsson. He was a kinsman of Ingolf, the first colonist. Ingolf allotted land to Heriulf between Vág & Reykianess, & he dwelt at first at Drepstokk. Heriulf’s wife’s name was Thorgerd, & their son, whose name was Biarni, was a most promising man. He formed an inclination for voyaging while he was still young, & he prospered both in property & public esteem. It was his custom to pass his winters alternately abroad & with his father. Biarni soon became the owner of a trading-ship; & during the last winter that he spent in Norway [his father] Heriulf determined to accompany Eric on his voyage to Greenland, & made his preparations to give up his farm. Upon the ship with Heriulf was a Christian man from the Hebrides; he it was who composed the Sea-Roller’s Song, which contains this stave: Monk-heart-searcher, I commit now; Heriulf settled at Heriulfsness, & was a most distinguished man. Eric the Red dwelt at Brattahlid, where he was held in the highest esteem, & all men paid him homage. These were Eric’s children: Leif, Thorvald, & Thorstein, & a daughter whose name was Freydis; she was wedded to a man named Thorvard, & they dwelt at Gardar, where the episcopal seat now is. She was a very haughty woman, while Thorvard was a man of little force of character, & Freydis had been wedded to him chiefly because of his wealth. At that time the people of Greenland were heathen.Biarni arrived with his ship at Eyrar [in Iceland] in the summer of the same year, in the spring of which his father had sailed away. Biarni was much surprised when he heard this news, & would not discharge his cargo. His shipmates inquired of him what he intended to do, & he replied that it was his purpose to keep to his custom, & make his home for the winter with his father; “and I will take the ship to Greenland, if you will bear me company.” They all replied that they would abide by his decision. Then said Biarni, “Our voyage must be regarded as foolhardy, seeing that no one of us has ever been in the Greenland Sea.” Nevertheless, they put out to sea when they were equipped for the voyage, & sailed for three days, until the land was hidden by the water, & then the fair wind died out, & north winds arose, & fogs, & they knew not whither they were drifting, & thus it lasted for many “dœgr.” Then they saw the sun again, & were able to determine the quarters of the heavens; they hoisted sail, & sailed that “dœgr” through before they saw land. They discussed among themselves what land it could be, & Biarni said that he did not believe that it could be Greenland. They asked whether he wished to sail to this land or not. “It is my counsel” [said he] “to sail close to the land.” They did so, & soon saw that the land was level, & covered with woods, & that there were small hillocks upon it. They left the land on their larboard, & let the sheet turn toward the land. They sailed for two “dœgr” before they saw another land. They asked whether Biarni thought this was Greenland yet. He replied that he did not think this any more like Greenland than the former, “because in Greenland there are said to be many great ice mountains.” They soon approached this land, & saw that it was a flat & wooded country. The fair wind failed them then, & the crew took counsel together, & concluded that it would be wise to land there, but Biarni would not consent to this. They alleged that they were in need of both wood & water. “Ye have no lack of either of these,” says Biarni,—a course, forsooth, which won him blame among his shipmates. He bade them hoist sail, which they did, & turning the prow from the land they sailed out upon the high seas, with south-westerly gales, for three “dœgr,” when they saw the third land; this land was high & mountainous, with ice mountains upon it. They asked Biarni then whether he would land there, & he replied that he was not disposed to do so, “because this land does not appear to me to offer any attractions.” Nor did they lower their sail, but held their course off the land, & saw that it was an island. They left this land astern, & held out to sea with the same fair wind. The wind waxed amain, & Biarni directed them to reef, & not to sail at a speed unbefitting their ship & rigging. They sailed now for four “dœgr,” when they saw the fourth land. Again they asked Biarni whether he thought this could be Greenland or not. Biarni answers, “This is likest Greenland, according to that which has been reported to me concerning it, & here we will steer to the land.” They directed their course thither, & landed in the evening, below a cape upon which there was a boat, & there, upon this cape, dwelt Heriulf, Biarni’s father, whence the cape took its name, & was afterward called Heriulfsness. Biarni now went to his father, gave up his voyaging, & remained with his father while Heriulf lived, & continued to live there after his father.
Here Begins the Brief History of the GreenlandersNEXTto this is now to be told how Biarni Heriulfsson came out from Greenland on a visit to Earl Eric, by whom he was well received. Biarni gave an account of his travels [upon the occasion] when he saw the lands, & the people though that he had been lacking in enterprise, since he had no report to give concerning these countries; & the fact brought him reproach. Biarni was appointed one of the Earl’s men, & went out to Greenland the following summer. There was now much talk about voyages of discovery. Leif, the son of Eric the Red, of Brattahlid, visited Biarni Heriulfsson & bought a ship of him, & collected a crew, until they formed altogether a company of thirty-five men. Leif invited his father, Eric, to become the leader of the expedition, but Eric declined, saying that he was then stricken in years, & adding that he was less able to endure the exposure of sea life than he had been. Leif replied that he would nevertheless be the one who would be most apt to bring good luck & Eric yielded to Leif’s solicitation, & rode from home when they were ready to sail. When he was but a short distance from the ship, the horse which Eric was riding stumbled, & he was thrown from his back & wounded his foot, whereupon he exclaimed, “It is not designed for me to discover more lands than the one in which we are now living, nor can we now continue longer together.” Eric returned home to Brattahlid, & Leif pursued his way to the ship with his companions, thirty-five men. One of the company was a German, named Tyrker. They put the ship in order; &, when they were ready, they sailed out to sea, & found first that land which Biarni & his shipmates found last. They sailed up to the land, & cast anchor, & launched a boat, & went ashore, & saw no grass there. Great ice mountains lay inland back from the sea, & it was as a [tableland of] flat rock all the way from the sea to the ice mountains; & the country seemed to them to be entirely devoid of good qualities. Then said, Leif “It has not come to pass with us in regard to this land as with Biarni, that we have not gone upon it. To this country I will now give a name, & call it Helluland.” They returned to the ship, put out to sea, & found a second land. They sailed again to the land, & came to anchor, & launched the boat, & went ashore. This was a level wooded land; & there were broad stretches of white sand where they went, & the land was level by the sea. Then said Leif, “This land shall have a name after its nature; & we will call it Markland.” They returned to the ship forthwith, & sailed away upon the main with north-east winds, & were out two “dœgr” before they sighted land. They sailed toward this land, & came to an island which lay to the northward off the land. There they went ashore & looked about them, the weather being fine, & they observed that there was dew upon the grass, & it so happened that they touched the dew with their hands, & touched their hands to their mouths, & it seemed to them that they had never before tasted anything so sweet as this. They went aboard their ship again & sailed into a certain sound, which lay between the island & a cape, which jutted out from the land on the north, & they stood in westering past the cape. At ebb-tide, there were broad reaches of shallow water there, & they ran their ship aground there, & it was a long distance from the ship to the ocean; yet were they so anxious to go ashore that they could not wait until the tide should rise under their ship, but hastened to the land, where a certain river flows out from a lake. As soon as the tide rose beneath their ship, however, they took the boat & rowed to the ship, which they conveyed up the river, & so into the lake, where they cast anchor & carried their hammocks ashore from the ship, & built themselves booths there. They afterward determined to establish themselves there for the winter, & they accordingly built a large house. There was no lack of salmon there either in the river or in the lake, & larger salmon than they had ever seen before. The country thereabouts seemed to be possessed of such good qualities that cattle would need no fodder there during the winters. There was no frost there in the winters, & the grass withered but little. The days & nights there were of more nearly equal length than in Greenland or Iceland. On the shortest day of winter, the sun was up between “eykarstad” & “dagmalastad.” When they had completed their house, Leif said to his companions, “I propose now to divide our company into two groups, & to set about an exploration of the country. One-half of our party shall remain at home at the house, while the other half shall investigate the land; & they must not go beyond a point from which they can return home the same evening, & are not to separate [from each other]. Thus they did for a time. Leif, himself, by turns joined the exploring party, or remained behind at the house. Leif was a large a powerful man, & of a most imposing bearing,—a man of sagacity, & a very just man in all things.
Leif the Lucky Finds Men Upon a Skerry at SeaIT was discovered one evening that one of their company was missing; & this proved to be Tyrker, the German. Leif was sorely troubled by this, for Tyrker had lived with Leif & his father for a long time, & had been very devoted to Leif when he was a child. Leif severely reprimanded his companions, & prepared to go in search of him, taking twelve men with him. They had proceeded but a short distance from the house, when they were met by Tyrker, whom they received most cordially. Leif observed at once that his foster-father was in lively spirits. Tyrker had a prominent forehead, restless eyes, small features, was diminutive in stature, & rather a sorry-looking individual withal, but was, nevertheless, a most capable handicraftsman. Leif addressed him, & asked, “Wherefore art thou so belated, foster-father mine, & astray from the others?” In the beginning Tyrker spoke for some time in German, rolling his eyes & grinning, & they could not understand him; but after a time he addressed them in the Northern tongue: “I did not go much further [than you], & yet I have something of novelty to relate. I have found vines & grapes.” “Is this indeed true, foster-father?” said Leif. “Of a certainty it is true,” quoth he, “for I was born where there is no lack of either grapes or vines.” They slept the night through, & on the morrow Leif said to his shipmates, “We will now divide our labors, & each day will either gather grapes or cut vines & fell trees, so as to obtain a cargo of these for my ship.” They acted upon this advice, & it is said that their after-boat was filled with grapes. A cargo sufficient for the ship was cut, & when the spring came they made their ship ready, & sailed away; & from its products Leif gave the land a name, & called it Wineland. They sailed out to sea, & had fair winds until they sighted Greenland & the fells below the glaciers. Then one of the men spoke up & said, “Why do you steer the ship so much into the wind?” Leif answers: “I have my mind upon my steering, but on other matters as well. Do ye not see anything out of the common?” They replied that they saw nothing strange. “I do not know,” says Leif, “whether it is a ship or a skerry that I see.” Now they saw it, & said that it must be a skerry; but he was so much keener of sight than they that he was able to discern men upon the skerry. “I think it best to tack,” says Leif, “so that we may draw near to them, that we may be able to render them assistance if they should stand in need of it; &, if they should not be peaceably disposed, we shall still have better command of the situation than they.” They approached the skerry, &, lowering their sail, cast anchor, & launched a second small boat, which they had brought with them. Tyrker inquired who was the leader of the party. He replied that his name was Thori, & that he was a Norseman; “but what is thy name?” Leif gave his name. “Art thou a son of Eric the Red of Brattahlid?” says he. Leif responded that he was. “It is now my wish,” says Leif, “to take you all into my ship, & likewise so much of your possessions as the ship will hold.” This offer was accepted, & [with their ship] thus laden they held away to Ericsfirth, & sailed until they arrived at Brattahlid. Having discharged the cargo, Leif invited Thori, with his wife, Gudrid, & three others, to make their home with him, & procured quarters for the other members of the crew, both for his own & Thori’s men. Leif rescued fifteen persons from the skerry. He was afterwards called Leif the Lucky. Leif had now goodly store both of property & honor. There was serious illness that winter in Thori’s party, & Thori & a great number of his people died. Eric the Red also died that winter. There was now much talk about Leif’s Wineland journey; & his brother, Thorvald, held that the country had not been sufficiently explored. Thereupon Leif said to Thorvald, “If it be thy will, brother, thou mayest go to Wineland with my ship; but I wish the ship first to fetch the wood which Thori had upon the skerry.” & so it was done.
Thorvald Goes to WinelandNOW Thorvald, with the advice of his brother, Leif, prepared to make this voyage with thirty men. They put their ship in order, & sailed out to sea; & there is no account of their voyage before their arrival at Leifs-booths in Wineland. They laid up their ship there, & remained there quietly during the winter, supplying themselves with food by fishing. In the spring, however, Thorvald said that they should put their ship in order, & that a few men should take the after-boat, & proceed along the western coast, & explore [the region] thereabouts during the summer. They found it a fair, well-wooded country. It was but a short distance from the woods to the sea, & [there were] white sands, as well as great numbers of islands & shallows. They found neither dwelling of man nor lair of beast; but in one of the westerly islands they found a wooden building for the shelter of grain. They found no other trace of human handiwork; & they turned back, & arrived at Leifs-booths in the autumn. The following summer Thorvald set out toward the east with the ship, & along the northern coast. They were met by a high wind off a certain promontory, & were driven ashore there, & damaged the keel of their ship, & were compelled to remain there for a long time & repair the injury to their vessel. Then said Thorvald to his companions, “I propose that we raise the keel upon this cape, & call it “Keelness”; & so they did. Then they sailed away to the eastward off the land & into the mouth of the adjoining firth & to a headland, which projected into the sea there, & which was entirely covered with woods. They found an anchorage for their ship, & put out the gangway to the land; & Thorvald & all of his companions went ashore. “It is a fair region here, said he; “and here I should like to make my home.” They then returned to the ship, & discovered on the sands, in beyond the headland, three mounds: they went up to these, & saw that they were three skin canoes with three men under each. They thereupon divided their party, & succeeded in seizing all of the men but one, who escaped with his canoe. They killed the eight men, & then ascended the headland again, & looked about them, & discovered within the firth certain hillocks, which they concluded must be habitations. They were then so overpowered with sleep that they could not keep awake, & all fell into a [heavy] slumber from which they were awakened by the sound of a cry uttered above them; & the words of the cry were these: “Awake, Thorvald, thou & all thy company, if thou wouldst save thy life; & board thy ship with all thy men, & sail with all speed from the land!” A countless number of skin canoes then advanced toward them from the inner part of the firth, whereupon Thorvald exclaimed, “We must put out the war-boards on both sides of the ship, & defend ourselves to the best of our ability, but offer little attack.” This they did; & the Skrellings, after they had shot at them for a time, fled precipitately, each as best he could. Thorvald then inquired of his men whether any of them had been wounded, & they informed him that no one of them had received a wound. “I have been wounded in my armpit,” says he. “An arrow flew in between the gunwale & the shield, below my arm. Here is the shaft, & it will bring me to my end. I counsel you now to retrace your way with the utmost speed. But me ye shall convey to that headland which seemed to me to offer so pleasant a dwelling-place: thus it may be fulfilled that the truth sprang to my lips when I expressed the wish to abide there for a time. Ye shall bury me there, & place a cross at my head, & another at my feet, & call it Crossness forever after.” At that time Christianity had obtained in Greenland: Eric the Red died, however, before [the introduction of] Christianity. Thorvald died; &, when they had carried out his injunctions, they took their departure, & rejoined their companions, & they told each other of the experiences which had befallen them. They remained there during the winter, & gathered grapes & wood with which to freight the ship. In the following spring they returned to Greenland, & arrived with their ship in Ericsfirth, where they were able to recount great tidings to Leif.
Thorstein Ericsson Dies In The Western SettlementIN the mean time it had come to pass in Greenland that Thorstein of Ericsfirth had married, & taken to wife Gudrid, Thorbrion’s daughter, [she] who had been the spouse of Thori Eastman, as has been already related. Now Thorstein Ericsson, being minded to make the voyage to Wineland after the body of his brother, Thorvald, equipped the same ship, & selected a crew of twenty-five men of good size & strength, & taking with him his wife, Gudrid, when all was in readiness, they sailed out into the open ocean, & out of sight of land. They were driven hither & thither over the sea all that summer, & lost all reckoning; & at the end of the first week of winter they made the land at Lysufirth in Greenland, in the Western settlement. Thorstein set out in search of quarters for his crew, & succeeded in procuring homes for all of his shipmates; but he & his wife were unprovided for, & remained together upon the ship for two or more days. At this time Christianity was still in its infancy in Greenland. [Here follows the account of Thorstein’s sickness & death in the winter.]… When he had thus spoken, Thorstein sank back again; & his body was laid out for burial, & borne to the ship. Thorstein, the master, faithfully performed all his promises to Gudrid. He sold his lands & live stock in the spring, & accompanied Gudrid to the ship, with all his possessions. He put the ship in order, procured a crew, & then sailed for Ericsfirth. The bodies of the dead were now buried at the church; & Gudrid then went home to Leif at Brattahlid, while Thorstein the Swarthy made a home for himself on Ericsfirth, & remained there as long as he lived, & was looked upon as a very superior man.
Of the Wineland Voyages of Thorfinn & His Companions
Freydis Causes the Brothers to be Put to Death
Freydis now went to her home, since it had remained unharmed during her absence. She bestowed liberal gifts upon all of her companions, for she was anxious to screen her guilt. She now established herself at her home; but her companions were not all so close-mouthed concerning their misdeeds & wickedness that rumors did not get abroad at last. These finally reached her brother, Leif, & he thought it a most shameful story. He thereupon took three of the men, who had been of Freydis’ party, & forced them all at the same time to a confession of the affair, & their stories entirely agreed. “I have no heart,” says Leif, “to punish my sister, Freydis, as she deserves, but this I predict of them, that there is little prosperity in store for their offspring.” Hence it came to pass that no one from that time forward thought them worthy of aught but evil. It now remains to take up the story from the time when Karlsefni made his ship ready, & sailed out to sea. He had a successful voyage, & arrived in Norway safe & sound. He remained there during the winter, & sold his wares; & both he & his wife were received with great favor by the most distinguished men of Norway. The following spring he put his ship in order for the voyage to Iceland; & when all his preparations had been made, & his ship was lying at the wharf, awaiting favorable winds, there came to him a Southerner, a native of Bremen in the Saxonland, who wished to buy his “house-neat.” “I do not wish to sell it,” says he. “I will give thee half a ‘mork’ in gold for it,” says the Southerner. This Karlsefni thought a good offer, & accordingly closed the bargain. The Southerner went his way with the “house-neat,” & Karlsefni knew not what wood it was, but it was “mösur,” come from Wineland.Karlsefni sailed away, & arrived with his ship in the north of Iceland, in Skagafirth. His vessel was beached there during the winter, & in the spring he bought Glaumboeiar-land, & made his home there, & dwelt there as long as he lived, & was a man of the greatest prominence. From his & his wife, Gudrid, a numerous & goodly lineage is descended. After Karlsefni’s death Gudrid, together with her son Snorri, who was born in Wineland, took charge of the farmstead; &, when Snorri was married, Gudrid went abroad, & made a pilgrimage to the South, after which she returned again to the home of her son Snorri, who had caused a church to be built at Glaumboeiar. Gudrid then took the veil & became an anchorite, & lived there the rest of her days. Snorri had a son, named Thorgeir, who was the father of Ingveld, the mother of Bishop Brand. Hallfrid was the name of the daughter of Snorri, Karlsefni’s son: she was the mother of Runolf, Bishop Thorlak’s father. Biorn was the name of [another] son of Karlsefni & Gudrid: he was the father of Thorunn, the mother of Bishop Biorn. Many men are descended from Karlsefni, & he has been blessed with a numerous & famous posterity; & of all men Karlsefni has given the most exact accounts of all these voyages, of which something has now been recounted.