|A Book of Discovery|
|by M. B. Synge|
|A fascinating account of the world's famous explorers, including the early travelers in ancient times, the discovery of the New World, explorations in Africa and Australia, and the expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Many of the explorers tell part of their story in their own words. Amply illustrated with reproductions of early maps and charts, as well as old woodcuts, drawings, paintings, and miniatures. Emphasis is placed on the explorers' 'record of splendid endurance, of hardships bravely borne, of silent toil, of courage and resolution unequalled in the annals of mankind, of self-sacrifice unrivalled and faithful lives laid ungrudgingly down.' Ages 12-18 |
THE VIKINGS SAIL THE NORTHERN SEAS
 A MORE interesting force than the pilgrim travellers now claims our attention, and we turn to the frozen north, to
the wild region at the back of the north wind, for new activity and discovery. Out of this land of fable and
myth, legend and poetry, the fierce inhabitants of Scandinavia begin to take shape. Tacitus speaks of them as
"mighty in fame," Ptolemy as "savage and clothed in the skins of wild beasts."
From time to time we have glimpses of these folk sailing about in the Baltic Sea. They were known to the Finns
of the north as "sea-rovers." "The sea is their school of war and the storm their friend; they are sea-wolves
that live on the pillage of the world," sang an old Roman long years ago. The daring spirit of their race had
already attracted the attention of Britons across the seas. The careless glee with which they seized either
sword or oar and waged war with the stormy seas for a scanty livelihood, raiding all the neighbouring coasts,
had earned them the name of Vikings or creek men. Their black-sailed ships stood high out of the water, prow
and stern ending in the head and tail of some strange animal, while their long beards, their loose shirts, and
battleaxe made them conspicuous. "From the fury of the Northmen save us, Lord," prayed those who had come in
contact with these Vikings.
In the ninth century they spring into fame as
ex-  plorers by the discovery of Iceland. It was in this wise. The chief of a band of pirates, one Naddod, during a
voyage to the Faroe Islands was driven by a storm upon the eastern coast of an unknown land. Not a soul was to
be seen. He climbed a high mountain covered with snow and took a look round, but though he could see far and
wide, not a human being could he detect. So he named it Snow-land and sailed home to relate his adventures.
A few years later another Viking, Gardar, bound for the west coast of Scotland, was likewise blown by a storm
on to the coast of Snow-land. He sailed right round and found it to be an island. Considering that it was
unsafe to navigate the icy northern seas in winter; he built himself a hut on the island, lived there till the
spring, and returned home. His account of the island fired the enthusiasm of an old Viking called Floki, who
sailed away, meaning to take possession of the newly discovered country. At the Faroe Islands he let fly three
ravens. The first returned, the second came back to the ship, the third guided the navigator to the island
which he sought. He met a quantity of drift ice about the northern part of the island and called it Ice-land,
the name it has borne ever since. But amid the Arctic ice he spent a desolate winter; the island seemed full
of lofty mountains covered with eternal snow. His companions, however, were delighted with the climate and the
"Milk drops from every plant and butter from every twig," they said; "this was a land where men might live
free from the tyranny of kings." Free, indeed, for the island was totally uninhabited.
Iceland soon became a refuge for pirates and other lawless characters. Among these was a young Viking called
Erik the Red. He was too lawless even for Iceland,
 and, being banished for three years, he sailed away in 985 in search of new lands. At the end of his three
years he returned and reported that he had discovered land with rich meadows, fine woods, and good fishing,
which he had named Green-land. So glowing was his description that soon a party of men and women, with
household goods and cattle, started forth in twenty-five ships to colonise the new land. Still the passion for
discovery continued, and Erik's son Lief fitted out a vessel to carry thirty-five men in quest of land already
sighted to the west.
A VIKING SHIP.
It was in the year 1000 that they reached the coast of North America. It was a barren and rocky shore to which
Lief gave the name of Rock-land. Sailing farther, they found a low coast wooded to its edge, to which they
gave the simple name of Woody-land. Two days later an island appeared, and on the mainland they discovered a
river up which they sailed. On low bushes by the
 banks of the river they found sweet berries or wild grapes from which a sort of wine was made, so Lief called
the land Vin-land. It is now supposed that Vinland and Woodyland are really Newfoundland and Labrador on the
shores of North America. After this, shipload followed shipload from Iceland to colonise Vinland. But without
So the Viking discoveries in these cold and inhospitable regions were but transitory. The clouds lifted but
for a moment to settle down again over America, till it was rediscovered some five hundred years later.
Before leaving these northern explorers let us remind ourselves of the old saga so graphic in its description
of their ocean lives
"Down the fiord sweep wind and rain;
Our sails and tackle sway and strain;
Wet to the skin
We'd sound within.
Our sea-steed through the foam goes prancing,
While shields and spears and helms are glancing
From fiord to sea,
Our ships ride free,
And down the wind with swelling sail
We scud before the gathering gale."
Now, while these fierce old Vikings were navigating unknown seas, Alfred the Great was reigning over England.
Among his many and varied interests he was deeply thrilled in the geography of the world. He was always ready
to listen to those who had been on voyages of discovery, and in his account of the geography of Europe he
tells us of a famous old sea captain called Othere, who had navigated the unknown seas to the north of Europe.
"Othere told his lord, King Alfred, that he dwelt northmost of all Northmen, on the land by the western sea.
He said that the land is very long thence to the
 north; but it is all waste save that in a few places here and there Finns reside. He said that he wished to
find out how far the land lay right north, or whether any man dwelt to the north of the waste. Then he went
right north near the land, and he left all the way the waste land on the right and the wide sea on the left
for three days. There was he as far north as the whale-hunters ever go. He then went yet right north, as far
as he could sail in the next three days. After sailing for another nine days he came to a great river; they
turned up into the river, but they durst not sail beyond it on account of hostility, for the land was all
inhabited on the other side. He had not before met with any inhabited land since he came from his own home,
for the land was uninhabited all the way on his right save by fishermen, hunters, and fowlers, and they were
all Finns, and there was always a wide sea on his left."
And as a trophy of distant lands and a proof of his having reached farthest north, Othere presented the King
with a "snow-white walrus tooth."
But King Alfred wanted his subjects to know more of the world around them, and even in the midst of his busy
life he managed to write a book in Anglo-Saxon, which sums up for us the world's knowledge some nine hundred
years after Ptolemy—nine hundred barren years as far as much geographical progress was concerned. Alfred
does not even allude to Iceland, Greenland, or Vinland. The news of these discoveries had evidently not
reached him. He repeats the old legend of Thule to the north-west of Ireland, "which is known to few, on
account of its very great distance."
So ends the brief but thrilling discoveries of the Northmen, who knew not fear, and we turn again to landsmen
and the east.
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