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Freydís Eiríksdóttir

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Title: Freydís Eiríksdóttir  
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Subject: Vinland, Leif Erikson, Greenland saga, Norse colonization of the Americas, NorseAmerica
Collection: Viking Age Women, Viking Exploration of North America, Women in Medieval European Warfare
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Freydís Eiríksdóttir

Freydís Eiríksdóttir was said to be born around 950 to Erik the Red (as in her patronym) who was associated with the Norse exploration of North America and the finding of Vinland with his son Leif Erikson. The only medieval and primary sources we have of Freydís are the two Vinland sagas; the Grœnlendinga saga and the Eiríks saga rauða. The two sagas offer differing accounts, though in both Freydís appears as a masculine, strong-willed woman who would defy the odds of her society.

Contents

  • Grœnlendinga saga 1
  • Eiríks saga rauða 2
  • Defying her culture? 3
  • Adaptations in fiction 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6

Grœnlendinga saga

Freydís is described as Leif Erikson’s full sister. This was the first saga written in the late twelfth century and is a crude version of the accounts that happened in Vinland. Freydís is mentioned only once in this saga. This is the most famous account we have of Freydís.

After expeditions to Vinland led by Leif Erikson, Þorvaldr Eiríksson and Þorfinnr Karlsefni met with some success, Freydís wants the prestige and wealth associated with a Vinland journey. She makes a deal with two Icelandic men, Helgi and Finnbogi, that they should go together to Vinland and share all profits half-and-half. Freydis asks her brother Leifr Eiríksson to use the homes and stables that he has built in Vinland. He agrees that they all can use the houses. Helgi and Finnbogi agree that they will bring the same number of men and supplies, but Freydis ends up leaving after the brothers because she had smuggled more men into her ship. Helgi and Finnbogi, arriving early, take refuge in the houses until Freydís appears and orders the brothers to move, as the houses were her brothers and meant for her. This is one of the many disagreements that would happen in the time they are there.

In Vinland, there was tension between the two groups. Helgi and Finnbogi set up a settlement separate from Freydis and her crew. Freydis eventually went to the brothers' hut and asked how they were faring. "Well," responded the brothers, "but we do not like this ill-feeling that has sprung up between us." The two sides made peace.

Freydis, once outside, beat herself so that it would appear as if she had been ill-treated. When she returned to her husband, he asked who had beaten her. Freydis claimed Helgi and Finnbogi were the culprits, and, calling him a coward, demanded that he exact revenge on her behalf, or else she would divorce him. He gathered his men and killed Helgi and Finnbogi as well as the men in their camp when they were sleeping. When he refused to kill the women, Freydis herself picked up an axe and massacred them.

Freydís wanted to conceal her treachery and threatened death to anyone who would tell of the killings. She went back to Greenland after a year's stay and told her brother Leif Eiriksson that Helgi and Finnbogi had decided to stay in Vinland. However, word of the killings eventually reached the ears of Leif. He had three men from Freydís's expedition tortured until they confessed the whole occurrence. Thinking ill of the deeds, Leif still did not want "to do that to Freydís, my sister, which she has deserved".

Eiríks saga rauða

Freydís is described as the half sister to Leif Erikson. Written after the Grœnlendinga saga in the thirteenth century, this story portrays Freydis as a fearless, and protective woman. She joins an expedition to Vinland led by Þorfinnr Karlsefni, but is only mentioned once in the Saga when her camp is attacked by the Red Skins, or the Skrælingjar. The natives sneak up on the Viking camp in the night and shoot what are believed to be catapults at the warriors. Many of the men, having never seen such weaponry, flee. Freydís hears the commotion and comes out to see the men retreating.

She calls out, "Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon; I think I could fight better than any of you." They give no heed to what she says. Freydis is eight months pregnant at the time, but this does not stop her from running out of her tent and grabbing the sword from her fallen brother in arms, Thorbrand, Snorri's son. Then come the Skrælingjar upon her. She lets down her sark so that one breast is exposed, and strikes her breast with the sword, letting out a furious battle cry. At this the Skrælingjar are frightened and rush off to their boats, and flee away. Karlsefni and the rest come up to her and, instead of praise, rebuffs her behaviour.[1]

Defying her culture?

Freydís is a memorable character, and could very well be one of the first stories to give us the stereotype about Viking women. However, through more extensive research we find that Freydís does not act like the most of the women we learn about through historical documents. Although most Viking women would go on expeditions, it was very rare that women would lead an expedition, themselves; mainly they would provide money for these adventures. Many times, the women would stay and work on the house, and on the trade. It is remarkable that many women shared the responsibilities of the trade and also hunted and fished. We see Freydís as a masculine woman who is not afraid to take risks and even takes killing into her own hands; but if we look more closely we see that Freydís is defying the norms of her culture by not only asking to lead a voyage, in the Greenland sagas, but also by financing them to find a new land. Few women have ever done this, although one notable woman would be Aud the Deep-Minded. Freydís also goes against her culture when she slays the five innocent women, as it was looked down upon to kill women, especially women who were unarmed. In the Eirik Sagas we see that she clearly breaks her boundaries not only by exposing herself but by acting like a warrior and running into battle, therefore emasculating the men around her.[2]

She ends up giving herself a bad name and reputation, and neither she nor her children are ever heard about again. Some tie this to the fact that this was also during the Christian reform and that since she refused to reform, she and her family were never prosperous and were no longer recorded in history; but there is no solid evidence to support this.

Adaptations in fiction

Icelandic artist Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir and Spanish writer Salva Rubio published an illustrated book telling the story of Freydís Eiríksdottir in 2015. [3][4][3]

Australian children's author Jackie French used Freydis as one of her characters in her 2005 novel They Came on Viking Ships.

References

  1. ^ Magnusson and Palsson, Vinland Sagas, 2004
  2. ^ Jesch, Women in the Viking Age 1991
  3. ^ a b "Nuevo libro ilustrado sobre vikingos: Vinland New illustrated book about vikings: Vinland |". Salvarubio.info. 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2015-09-19. 
  4. ^ Rubio, Salva and Stebba Ósk Ómarsdóttir, Vinland: La Saga de Freydís Eiríksdóttir, Thule Eds, 2015, ISBN 978-84-15357-68-1

Bibliography

  • Gunnar Karlsson (2000). Iceland's 1100 Years: History of a Marginal Society. London: Hurst. ISBN 1-85065-420-4.
  • Magnusson, Magnus and Hermann Pálsson (translators) (2004). Vinland Sagas. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-044154-9. First ed. 1965.
  • Reeves, Arthur M. et al. (1906). The Norse Discovery of America. New York: Norrœna Society. Available online
  • Örnólfur Thorsson (ed.) (2001). The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-100003-1
  • Judith Jesch, Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge,Boydell Press, 1991)
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