Iceland in “Chapter 36”

Chapter 36

About the island Thule, which is situated at an immense distance out in the Ocean far from all other islands, it is told that it is till rather unknown. However both Roman writers as well as barbarians mention many things worth telling. ‘Thule,’ they say, is the last of all islands in the ocean. There is never night there at summer solstice when the sun passes through the sign of Tropic of Cancer. Correspondingly there is never daylight at midwinter solstice. There are those who mean that this happens every half-year.’ Beda writes that the light nights in summer in Britain show that at summer solstice there has to be perennial day for half a year and, by contrast, perennial night at midwinter solstice, when the sun is far away. Pythius from Marseille tells us that this is also the case in Thule, which lies at a distance of six days’ sailing from Britain. The said Thule is the island called Iceland because of its ice which makes the sea solid. About this island people tell among other things the following remarkable fact: the ice is so black and dry because of its high age that it will burn if one sets it afire. However the island is so big that it is the home for many people. They live exclusively from livestock farming and dress in animal skins. There is no cereal there and only sparse lumber. They live in subterranean pits and enjoy sharing house, food and company with their animals. Thus they live in a holy simplicity because they do not demand more than what nature brings them and in beatitude they can say like the apostle: ‘As long as we have food and clothing, we can live happily.’ The mountains are their cities and the springs their happiness. I say that they are a happy people whom nobody envies their poverty. They are even happier now as they now all have adopted Christianity. They have many laudatory traits in their characters, above all their love for their fellow men which makes them share everything, and this is true about both foreigners and locals. They revere their bishop like a king, and everybody subjects themselves to his will [...]

Source: Adam of Bremen, "[Iceland in] Chapter 36" in Beskrivelse af °erne i Nordern [Description of the Islands in the North], (Copenhagen: Wormianum, 1978), 59-60. Notes: Original Latin text and Danish translation, with commentaries by Allan A. Lund English translation by B. Wallace Original tile: Descriptio insularum Aquilonis. Written c. 1075

Return to parent page