Weather, Climate, Culture

By Sarah Strauss; Ben Orlove | Go to book overview

14
Mood, Magic, and Metaphor: Allusions
to Weather and Climate in the
Sagas of Icelanders 1
Astrid E. J. Ogilvie and Gísli Pálsson

… like the dark mists that are drawn up out of the ocean, dispersing slowly to sunshine and gentle weather, so did these verses draw all reserve and darkness from Thordis' mind and Thormod was once again bathed in all the brightness of her warm and gentle love.

(The Saga of the Sworn Brothers, vol. II, p. 355) 2


Culture, Fiction, and Historical Truth

In 1783, when modern scientific understanding as we know it was very much in its infancy, a massive volcanic eruption took place in the Lakagígar area in southeast Iceland. Not only did the ash from the eruption settle on pastures throughout Iceland, it was also carried over great distances, covering the Northern Hemisphere like a large veil. The summer of 1783 was characterized by a phenomenon described by contemporaries as the ‘great dry fog’, in areas as far apart as many countries in Europe, Alaska, Labrador, Newfoundland, Tunisia, Asia Minor, and possibly China (Demarée and Ogilvie 2001). Icelanders carefully observed the eruption, which occurred at a time when the Enlightenment had brought new methods of scientific description to Iceland; and indeed, they could hardly fail to see where the ash came from. It was only months later, however, when the merchant ships of the Danish monopoly arrived in Copenhagen with the news from Iceland, that the larger world learned about the actual origin of the ‘fog’. Meanwhile, continental Europeans remained puzzled, eagerly commenting upon the causes of the fog as well as its implications. For some, it signified the end of the world. Many interpreters rushed to conclusions. These were later judged to be unfounded, even bizarre, freely mixing myth, theology, and natural science. The contemporary discussion surrounding the Lakagígar event underlines important general points: first, environmental and climatic events are frequently not confined to the local domain; second, they sometimes have massive repercussions

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