“The dawn in Iceland must be translucent”, supposes Julio Cortázar one day in 1976 in Nairobi – poem “Ándele”, integrated into “Salvo el twilight” -, and with this passing presumption we allude to the old enigma that this represents. island … close to the pole and whose midnight sun, active several months a year, puts life on constant watch. The mystery of Iceland is ancient and epic, disconcerting and magnetic: it comes from the Vikings who, represented by Uderzo and Goscinny in the Asterix adventure “The Great Voyage” (1975), were perhaps the first to cross the Atlantic and set foot on land of Indians, and to reach today, even if the country has emerged from its isolation and lack of communication.

It is precisely because of the distance and little contact with the outside world that the Icelandic language has remained unchanged for centuries: Northern Latin has hardly changed in eight hundred years, which is why the language used by the historian Snorri Stúrluson (1179-1241) in his “Lesser Edda” is similar to that of Steinn Steinarr (1908-1958)initiator of lyrical and existentialist poetry in Iceland, or the autobiographical work “The Magic of My Childhood” (2004) of Gudbergur Bergsson – who died last September after living for decades in Spain; translator of “Don Quixote” into Icelandic. Invention and realism go hand in hand in a literary tradition based on orality and myths that still survive in the form of pagan gods.

“Iceland has enriched world literature with two main contributions, on the one hand the sagas, ancient stories of heroes in which reality mixes with fiction, and on the other hand Scandinavian mythology, since it is not in vain that it was the Icelandic poets who were the first to “They put them in writing”, explains Aitor Yraola in his edition of “The Atomic Base”, the novel by the Icelandic Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness. It was throughout the 19th century that the “island of ice” appeared in European literature as this land from which eccentric beings came – the novel “Han of Iceland” (1823), by Victor Hugo, had as its protagonist an evil man – as the platform on which to situate extraordinary events – “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1864), by Jules Verne – or as the environment in which the drama of the fishing families was explained – “Fisherman in Iceland” (1886), by Pierre Loti. Iceland, with its fabulous and crazy landscapes, attracts the eye of creators, and two young poets went there in 1937, WH Auden and Louis McNeice, who wrote “Letters from Iceland” with humorous aspirations, a sort of travel chronicle where informative prose about the country was mixed with epistolary poems.

Poems and volcanoes

It was almost time for the U.S. military’s peaceful occupation in the midst of World War II; so that finally, in 1944, Iceland ceased to be a colony of Denmark and its Republic was born. The nation is modernizing like no other, it is a pioneer in terms of tolerance of all types of social and personal freedoms. and yet it retains intact the beauty of its legendary past, so attractive to Jorge Luis Borges, who, as a child, discovered the Volsung Saga, thus opening up to him one of the literary motifs that he would exploit the most in all his literature.

The list of Icelandic references in the Argentine author is very long: in the story “Ulrica”, which has an epigraph taken from the “Vólsung Saga”; the story “Undr”, in which the protagonist refers to the god Odin and “the story of my dialogue with the Icelander Ulf Sigurdarson”, who admits to belonging to the “line of the skalds”, i.e. skalds or court poets (the first known dates from the 9th century); Gram, the sword of the god Sigurd, in “The Deep Rose” (1975); a poem in “The Iron Coin”, a book where verses are read about Einar Tambarskelver, Norwegian archer and fighter in Iceland. Finally, in “The Other, the Same” (1964), he dedicates a poem to Stúrluson: “In the Icelandic night, the brine / The storm moves the sea”.

All this literary fascination with Iceland is continually reflected in current publishing, especially in the Nórdica publishing house, which recently published the “New Atlas of Icelandic Volcanoes”, by Leonardo Piccione; It was a large illustrated book which, based on the fact that the country has thirty different active volcanic systems, covered nearly fifty stories related to the adventures of the island’s first colonizers even NASA missions in the “lunar” canyons of the highlands. Added to this is another equally striking title, “In Search of the Black Viking”, (translation by Enrique Bernárdez), by Bergsveinn Birgisson (Reykjavík, 1971), poet and novelist who lived in Oslo for a long time and who earned a doctorate in medieval Scandinavian literature.

The beginnings of the Icelandic nation

The reader will be able to travel to Rogaland (Norway), where in 846 Geirmundur Hjörsson, Black Skin, the so-called Black Viking, a nickname that comes from his dark skin and his Mongolian facial features, was born. A completely forgotten character, who did not deserve to appear in any saga but who had a great influence in his time. This all comes from a family friend of Birgisson, whom the author treated like a child and who idolized Geirmundur, who owned a large number of Irish slaves. One day, they tried to escape by boat and arrived on an islet in the middle of the sea; they could not go any further. “Today, this islet is still called “Irish Reef”. If they had continued to go to the sea, there is no doubt that the poor would have ended up at the North Pole,” explains Birgisson at the beginning of the text.

This legendary anecdote remained in the writer’s memory and he began to conjecture what had happened to these men lost at sea and What might have been Geirmundur Blackskin’s reaction when he realized they were missing? Later, in 1992, by chance, Birgisson took up the life of this Viking, the medieval scholars who wrote the history of the colonization of Iceland were not interested in it. Could his friend’s story be a tale that has survived hundreds of years through oral tradition and, more importantly, who Blackskin really was and why he used slaves?

The questions the researcher asks himself will lead him to try to find out, for example, where he obtained Irish slaves, and to separate reality from literary inventions. Thus, he relates that Geirmundur had various residences in Iceland and follows his footprint in the Arctic Ocean. He calls him “a large and, to some extent, ruthless slave owner.” What is surprising is that a guy of this ilk is a distant ancestor of Birgisson on the paternal line, so, to put things in context, he is referring to Guðbrandur, his great-great-great-great -father, who died in a blizzard in the Tröllatunguheiði moors and was found months later. So that delving into the family past means talking about genealogies and written sources, sagas and historical figures who have become practically mythological.

“Geirmundur represents the beginning of the Icelandic nation,” says Birgisson. The beginning of a nation that collected the memories of the country’s first settlers, a nation that organized fragments and wrote them down, which explains the paradox that we know more about many of the first inhabitants of the Icelandic history that we. who are closest to us in time. Remembering the colonizers means discovering what seemed relevant to the first story writers; There is the case of a saga like the story of Njáll, very famous in Iceland, which contrasts rather with a Black Skin Geirmundur who “is a shadow, since no one has decided to write his saga. Or, if this saga was ever written, it has not come down to us. However, the book will piece together pieces of this Viking life, until we see that he grew up among slaves and came from the greatest royal line in Norway, until he became the most important aristocrat in the history of Iceland, or as he was called “the noblest of all colonizers”.


► “Chronicles of Iceland” has just been released. The best country in the world” (The Horizon Line), by John Carlin, who has a weakness for the country which he presents as the safest, the one which brings together the best of Europe and the United States. “I think to Iceland and my eyes shine. As a society it represents the pinnacle of human evolution. As individuals, Icelanders are tough and charming people, cultured and folksy, often brilliant but always down-to-earth. -land,” he said. “His land, a hostile and beautiful place at the same time, cold, rocky and surrounded by sea, bathed in a particular, unique, magical light. And what’s more, he eats wonderfully.” The first opportunity he had to observe such things was in 2006, attracted by a fact: according to the United Nations, Iceland had the best quality of life of any country in the world. “I saw with my own eyes that it was true,” concludes the author in this series of articles published over a decade and which takes us to an Iceland that “offers an oasis of calm and a model to follow. “The political party that aspires to emulate what the Icelanders did has my vote.”

By wbu4c

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