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The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America Study Guide & Plot Summary

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This Study Guide consists of approximately 30 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Vinland Sagas.
This section contains 472 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America Summary & Study Guide Description

The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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Plot Summary

The Vinland Sagas are two of the classic Icelandic Sagas, but even among these special works of literature, they have a special place. They both tell the story of the Norse exploration and attempted colonization of North America, over five centuries prior to Columbus. Both sagas tell the legendary story of Eirik the Red (Erik, for the Anglicized), who was outlawed from Iceland in the tenth century, founded a colony of Icelanders in Greenland, and even suggest that he named Greenland in order to attract more settlers there.

The stories also introduce a sharp, rich sea merchant, Bjarni Herjolfsson, who on his way to Greenland, was caught up in winds that sent him across the Atlantic and to three previously undiscovered islands. Fifteen years later, Eirik the Red's famous son, Leif Eiriksson, known as Leif the Lucky, brought his own ship to the New World to explore it. Leif and his thirty-five crewmen found wild grapes, open fields of grass, massive amounts of timber, new game, and rivers stuffed with salmon. Leif named his new land Vinland, or 'the land of grapes.'

Other voyages followed, some of which were led by Leif's brothers. In both sagas, Thorstein leads a voyage. However, these later voyages encountered a native people the Icelanders called the Skrælings and were probably the Red Indians of New England. The greatest expedition was led by Leif's brother-in-law Thorfinn Karlsefni, who attempted to create the first permanent Icelandic colony in North America.

The Vinland Sagas contain two sagas that tell these stories differently, the Grænlendinga Saga and Eirik's Saga. Both sagas discuss all of the events mentioned thus far, but they vary the events and include information the other leaves out. In both sagas, Gudrid, Karlsefni's wife, receives prophesy from her dead husband Thorstein's corpse that predicts that she will have a great life and many wonderful progeny, but the details are delivered differently. Both sagas discuss encounters with the Skrælings but the events unfold differently. In other cases the events simply differ entirely.

These differences make it somewhat difficult for historians to uncover which of these events actually occurred and which did not. Many of the events include beings and stories from Icelandic lore but in other cases the events have actual archaeological evidence. For instance, the church Gudrid founded towards the end of her life has very likely been unearthed. There is also strong archaeological evidence that both Eirik the Red and Leif Eiriksson were real.

However, the sagas were written at the height of the Viking Age in a period where Iceland's primary export was literature, and this perhaps led to exaggeration and tall tales. Nonetheless, the Vinland Sagas stand as strong historical evidence that it was the Icelander Leif Eiriksson and not the Genoan Christopher Columbus, who was the first European to discover North America.

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This section contains 472 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America Study Guide
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The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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