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The New World On The Map

May 2024
2min read

The portion of the Vinland Map which will most excite scholars of American history appears here. At right, depicted too far north, is Iceland, called isolanda Ibernica (literally, “Irish Iceland.” recalling the early contacts of the Irish monks with that island). In the center, shown too far south, is a remarkably accurate Greenland (Gronelãda in the map maker’s abbreviated Latin), which suggests that the compiler of the map was working from actual experience, the knowledge of someone who had sailed around it. At the left is the most intriguing portion of the map: a strange representation of “Vinland”: the large lettering reads Vinlanda Insula a Byarno repã et leipho socijs, which is to say, “Island of Vinland, discovered by Bjarni and Leil in company.” It probable is an attempt to depict not a literal Vinland but a generalized representation of the lands to the west known through saga and tradition. Some three or four centuries lie between the recorded Norse voyages and the chawing of this map about A.D. 1440. One can I fairly assume that the three parts of “Vinland” are, from the north, the Helluland, Markland, and Vinland named by the Norsemen. The long inscription has been translated as follows: “My Gods will, after a long voyage from the island ol Greenland to the south toward the most distant remaining parts of the western ocean sea. sailing southward amidst the ice. the companions Mjarni and Leif Eiriksson discovered a new land, extremely fertile and even having vines, the which island they named Vinland. Eirik [Henricus], legate of the Apostolic See and Bishop of Greenland and the neighboring regions, arrived in this truly vast and very rich land, in the name of Almighty God. in the last year of our most blessed father [Pope] Paschal [II], remained a long time in both summer and winter, and later returned northeastward toward Greenland and then proceeded [ i.e., home to Europe] in most humble obedience to the will of his superiors.” ( Volente deo post longū iter ab insula Gronelanda per meridiem ad / reliquas extremas partes occidentalis occeani maris iter facientes ad / austrū inter glacies byarnus et leiphus erissonius socij terram nouam uberrimã / videlicet viniferã inuenerunt quam Vinilandã [? or Vimlandã] insulã appellauerunt. Henricus / Gronelande regionumq finitimarū sedis apostolicae episcopus legatus in hac terra / spaciosa vero et opulentissima in postmo anno p. ss. nrj. [this stands for pontificis, or patris, sanctissimi notri] Pascali accessit in nomine dei / omniptetis longo tempore mansit estiuo et brumali postea versus Gronelandã redit / ad orientem hiemalē deindo humillima obediencia superiori vo-/ lūtati processit.)

The Vinland Map is worm-eaten and mended. Two holes, with the dim outline of square patches showing through from the back of the map, appear just south of Iceland and at the right of the legend Mare Occeanum (Ocean Sea). Above the long legend just translated may be seen dim writing showing through from the back of the map, a note from the scribe to the binder reading Delineation 1° ps: 2° ps. 3° ps. specl’i , or “Delineation of the first part, the second part, (and) the third part of the Speculum.” Just what parts of the reunited Speculum and Tartar Relation—and what other conceivably missing parts—this note refers to is the subject of lively speculation by the experts. Possibly the original book might have contained sagas or other Norse materials, but nothing short of another manuscript discovery could settle that problem. The great Speculum Historiale, or Mirror of History, was a vast chronicle, from Creation to his own time, written by the Dominican Friar Vincent of Beauvais (ca. 1190—ca. 1264), a familiar at the court of Louis IX (later Saint Louis). Numerous copies were made of it for monastic libraries. It included an abridged version of the Carpini mission to the Mongols, which Vincent probably learned about from Carpini himself at Paris in 1248. Nothing would have been more natural than to have bound in with a copy of the Speculum a copy of de Bridia’s Tartar Relation—more on the same subject, so to speak—and with it the relatively simple map which someone still unknown prepared in order to illustrate the general shape of the world as he understood it. Apparently the compiler of the map was interested in new knowledge, especially about the periphery of the familiar world. We know that he sometimes took his material on Asia word for word from the Tartar Relation. But where did he find out about Vinland?

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