In Iceland, the age of the Vikings is also called the Saga Age. A unique body of medieval literature, the Sagas rank with the world's great literary treasures--as epic as Homer, as deep in tragedy as Sophocles, as engagingly human as Shakespeare. Set around the turn of the last millennium, these stories depict with an astonishly modern realism the lives and deeds of the Norse men and women who first settled Iceland and of their descendants, who ventured farther west--to Greenland and, ultimately, the coast of North America.
The Sagas are not typical heroic literature, but rather tales of flesh-and-blood people burdened with a heroic legacy--the Viking traditions of honor and blood vengeance. Deeply rooted in the real world of their day, concise and straightforward in style, the Sagas explore perennial human problems; love and hate, fate and freedom, crime and punishment, travel and exile. For the modern reader, it is a pyschological intensity and depth of the characters as much as the codes of honor and ethics that capture the imagination.
Though strong men dominate the Saga stage, it is often clever and beautiful women who manipulate the course of events behind the scenes. Among the colorful cast of women found throughout the Sagas, perhaps none is more intriguing than Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir. Born in Iceland, married in Greenland, Gudrid sailed to Vinland, where she bore a son--the first person of European ancestry born in North America. Formidable and independent-minded Gudrid was the most widely traveled woman in the world--and would remain so for another five hundred years.
The eleven Sagas and six shorter tales in this volume recount the adventures of the settlers who first came from Norway to Iceland's shores, and how they founded a unique commonwealth of chieftains with no king in this brave new world of towering mountains and lonely fjords. The celebrated 'Vinland Sagas' began a new chapter in world history, telling of Lief Erifksson's pioneering voyag to the New World; these sagas contain the oldest descriptions of the North American continent and mark the first contact between Europeans and Native Americans.