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7. Geography and Travel

Judith Jesch

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00010.x


The literature of the medieval Icelanders shows a strong awareness of their place in the physical world. This was on a remote North Atlantic island which they well knew had been discovered by their recent ancestors in the course of the Scandinavians' Viking-Age explorations of half the northern hemisphere. The theme of travel both near and far resonates throughout Old Icelandic literature, from the practical opening stanzas of Hávamál to the fantastical voyages of romances such as Yngvars saga . The Viking voyages of war, trade, discovery and settlement extended the world known to the Scandinavians, and many medieval Icelandic texts grew out of the desire to capture this world for posterity in literary form. The coming of Christianity by the end of the Viking Age not only made such writings possible, but provided new opportunities for travel with an emphasis on pilgrimage and crusades, and an introduction to the world of learned speculation about far-flung places. The version of Landnámabók produced by the lawman Haukr Erlendsson in the first decade of the fourteenth century describes the regular sailing routes to and from Iceland: Learned men say that it is seven days' sailing from Stad in Norway to Horn in eastern Iceland, and four days' sailing from Snæfellsnes [in western Iceland] to Hvarf in Greenland. Hvarf is reached by sailing due west from Hennøya in Norway, and then ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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