HERE is no chapter in the history of the Norsemen abroad that is finer reading than the tale of those brave and simple seamen who discovered America. For they were only poor Greenlanders and Icelanders, these first white men in the New World, not commanding for their explorations a well- equipped and magnificent fleet from Norway, but embarking upon their audacious enterprise, a most fearless navigation of unknown seas, if not in a single ship, at most only in tiny companies of two or three vessels.
Their names are Bjarni Herjolfsson of Iceland, who in the hazard of the winds and storm found America when he sought Greenland; Leif Ericsson of Greenland who discovered 'Wine- land the Good', the fair and pleasant country of Maryland and Virginia; Thorvald Ericsson, his brother, who was killed out in Wineland by the Indians; and Thorfinn Karlsefni, an Icelandic merchant who spent three years in America and whose son, Snorri, was born there.
But before the narratives of these brave voyages are repeated, it is necessary to say something about the historical worth of the passages in the sagas that record them. At the outset one may with a full confidence dismiss any uncertainty as to whether the Norsemen really did discover America, for this few have dared to doubt. And in that matter there is an early testimony that is independent of the sagas since the pious geographer, Adam of Bremen, declared, less than half a century after the voyage of Karlsefni, that he had been told by Svein Estridsson, king of Denmark, of the existence in the Atlantic of an 'island', discovered by many, and called Wineland because grapes were found growing there. Moreover, he had heard that there was also self-sown corn abounding, and this report he knew depended not on mythical tales but on trustworthy information from the Danes.
Nevertheless it is the wild vine and the self-sown corn of Wineland that laid the saga-tales of the voyages under the suspicion of containing much legendary matter, and on this score