A powerful storm hit eastern New York on Wednesday and took out electrical service for much of the area. While some parts of the region are still without power, fortunately my power has been restored. My internet service came back on just before 10 PM last night. As a result, I have been unable to keep up with my usual work this week. However, I could not let the week pass without noting the proclamation that Pres. Trump issued yesterday declaring Oct. 9 to be Leif Erikson Day, in honor of the Norse explorer often credited as the first European to reach the Americas.
More than 1,000 years ago, the Norse explorer and Viking Leif Erikson made landfall in modern-day Newfoundland, likely becoming the first European to discover the New World. [...] Accomplished in the face of daunting danger and carried out in service of Judeo-Christian values, Leif Erikson’s story reflects the fundamental truths about the American character. On a mission to evangelize Greenland, Leif Erikson and his crew were blown off course. They had to brave the cold waters of the northern Atlantic to find safe harbor on the North American coastline. In surviving this ordeal, these hardened Vikings tested the limits of human exploration in a way that continues to inspire us today.
It is interesting that the White House uses outdated terminology about “discovery” to describe the Norse arriving in a continent teeming with people, but it is more interesting that the Trump team have interpolated Judeo-Christian “values” into a story that the Sagas do not describe as motivated primarily by Christianity, much less an ahistorical “Judeo-Christian” set of a values that Europeans of the Middle Ages would not have recognized. The Sagas describe Erikson, newly baptized, bringing a priest to Greenland in 999 to baptize the natives, but this does not extend to Vinland, which Leif only reached in 1002, presumably without the priest still working back in Greenland, and it is unclear why the White House wants to associate Christian “values” with violent, forced conversion of the natives anyway. I guess that is the fundamental truth about the American character Trump was talking about.
The interesting thing about this is that in the nineteenth century, during the creation of the myth of Viking discoverers of America as a foil to Italian claims based on Columbus, propagandists used these same arguments. While the Sagas do not describe any priests traveling with Leif beyond Greenland, Victorian writers assumed that one did because of those same Christian values. “He and those with him must, therefore, have gone as Christians,” one typical Victorian source writes, “and as they went to remain, they must have been accompanies by a Christian minister or ministers.” That assumption is not necessarily true. History records the first notice of a priest visiting Vinland in 1059.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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