Guðríður Žorbjarnardóttir was a pioneering Icelandic woman who one thousand years ago traveled to the New World and gave birth to the first child of European descent in North America, before returning to Iceland. She then went to Rome on pilgrimage, very likely offering the Vatican a first-person account of her journeys. Her story is just one facet of "Living and Reliving the Icelandic Sagas," the fall exhibition on display in Kroch Library from August 17 through October 10. The exhibition is an initiative of the National and University Library of Iceland, the Library of Congress, the University of Manitoba Libraries and Cornell University Library. It has already been on display in Iceland and at the Library of Congress, and moves in October to Winnipeg. The final venue on the international tour of "Living and Reliving the Icelandic Sagas," slated for January 2001, is Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America, the New York City home of The American-Scandinavian Foundation.


Rare Books and Rarer Manuscripts

The exhibition chronicles the history of Icelandic saga literature and consists of scores of items, including Icelandic paper manuscripts never seen before in North America and a selection of rare printed books from our own renowned Fiske Icelandic Collection. With more than 39,000 volumes, the Fiske Collection is the most comprehensive compilation on Old Norse literature, Icelandic civilization and Nordic medieval studies in the Western Hemisphere.

By special permission of the Government of Iceland, a vellum manuscript from about 1460 of Njáls saga occupies a prominent place among the texts in the exhibition. This text, Oddabók Njálu, is on loan from the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland, national repository for most of Iceland's medieval manuscripts.


Interactive Media Presentation

An Interactive Media Presentation (IMP), designed by our Icelandic colleagues in the National Library, accompanies the exhibition of rare texts. The IMP, accessible from computers in the entrance lobbies of Olin Library, of Uris Library and in the exhibition gallery, utilizes digital images and an electronic tutorial to create an in-depth complement to "Living and Reliving the Icelandic Sagas."

Eric the Red

Echoes of the North Atlantic

More than a thousand years ago, Northmen and Celts sailed across the North Atlantic and settled a volcanic island they called Iceland. During the Middle Ages, their descendants established colonies in Greenland and explored the North American seaboard. Today, North Americans are discovering the rich culture and literary tradition, preserved for centuries in the Icelandic sagas, of the people who explored America long before Columbus. These works rank alongside the masterpieces of western civilization, as precious a contribution to literary history as the writings of the Greeks and Romans. For us, however, the sagas are literally and geographically much closer to home than the works of Homer or Herodotus.


The World of the Icelanders

Icelanders lived in a world of feuding and vengeance, yet developed a unique form of democratic government under the rule of law. They lived in a world in which valiant men and women became heroes and heroines in oral tradition and literature. The account of their lives and legends is embodied in the sagas, recorded and handed down through the centuries.


Guðríður Žorbjarnardóttir

Guðríður Žorbjarnardóttir, who lived between the cultural worlds of receding Norse paganism and advancing Christianity, is emblematic of medieval Iceland's restless, brilliant spirit. Her story, which is documented in both the Saga of Eric the Red and the Greenlanders' Saga, is a remarkable tale and reflects the dynamic role Icelandic women have played throughout that country's history.

In welcoming you to this exhibition, we suggest keeping Guðríður in mind as you contemplate the precious manuscripts and rare books that have preserved so much of Iceland's–and America's–early heritage.

Patrick J. Stevens
Curator of the Fiske Icelandic Collection


"Living and Reliving the Icelandic Sagas"
is open August 17 - October 10, 2000
from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday - Friday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

return to RMC