A brief commentary of Iceland, by Arngrimus Ionas

Breuis Commentarius de Islandia: quo Scriptorum de hac Insula errores deteguntur, & extraneorum quorundam conuitijs, ac calumnijs, quibus Islandis liberiùs insultare solent, occurritur: per Arngrimum Ionam Islandum. Serenissimo Principi ac Domino, domino Christiano IIII, Daniæ, Noruegiæ, Vandalorum, Gothorúmque, Regi electo: Slesuici, Holsatiæ, Stormariæ & Dithmarsiæ Duci: Comiti in Oldenburg & Delmenhorst: Domino suo clementissimo.

Præclaram sanè apud Historicos meretur laudem, Sereniss. Princeps, Anchuri illius Midæ regis filij ausus plusquam humanus, & in patriam pietas, ferè exemplo carens, quòd ad occludendum ingentem circa Celænam Phrygiæ oppidum, terræ hiatum, quotidie homines haud exiguo numero, & quicquid in propinquo erat, absorbentem, sese vltrò obtulerit. Cum enim ab oraculo Midas pater accepisset, non prius conclusum iri istam voraginem, quam res eò preciosissimæ immitterentur: Anchurus existimans, nihil esse anima pretiosius, sese viuum in illud profundissimum chasma præcipitem dedit: ídque tanto animi cum feruore, vt neque parentis desiderio, neque dulcissimæ coniugis amplexu vel lachrymis, ab isto proposito se retrahi passus sit.

Nec inferiorem multò consecuti sunt gloriam Sperthius & Bulis, Lacedæmonij, qui ad auertendam potentissimi Regis Persarum Xerxis, ob occisos à Lacedemonijs Darij patris legatos, vltionem, ad Regem profecti sunt, & vt legatorum necem in se, non in patria vlcisceretur, erectis & constantibus animis sese obtulerunt.

Quæ verò res, Sereniss. Princeps, illos ac alios complures mouit, vt patriæ flagrantes amore, nullum pro ea periculum, nullas molestias, imò ne mortem ipsam recusarint, ea profectò me quoque impulit, non quidem, vt quemadmodum illi, mortem sponte oppeterem, aut me mactandum vltro offerrem, sed tamen, vt id quòd solum possem, in gratiam patriæ tentarem: Hoc est, vt scriptorum de ea errores colligerem & rumusculos vanos refellerem: Ac ita rem profectò periculosam, & multorum forsan sinistro obnoxiam iudicio, aggrederer.

In eo proposito me etiam Cn. Pompeij exemplum confirmauit: Quem rei frumentariaæ apud Romanos procuratorem, cum in summa Vrbis annonæ charitate, in Sicilia, Sardinia & Africa frumentum collegisset, maiorem patriæ, quàm sui, tradunt rationem habuisse. Cum enim Romam versus properaret, & ingenti ac periculosa oborta tempestate, Naucleros trepidare, nec se ventorum aut maris sævitiæ committere velle animaduerteret, ipse nauim primus ingressus, anchoras tolli iussit, in hæc verba exclamans: Vt nauigemus vrget necessitas: vt viuamus, non vrget. Quibus vir prudentissimus innuisse videtur, patriæ periclitantis maiorem habendam rationem, quàm priuatæ incolumitatis.

Hunc ego sic imitor,

(Si parua licet componere magnis, & muscam Elephanto conferre) vt collectis ac comportatis ijs, quibus ad succurrendum gentis nostræ nomini ac famæ, apud extraneos, ex maleuolorum quorundam inuidia iam diu laboranti vterer; paucula hæc in lucem emittere, méque pelago huic quantumuis turbulento committere, lintea ventis tradere, cúmque illo exclamare non dubitem: Vt scribamus, vrget necessitas: Vt verò scriptum nostrum, cuiusuis, delicato palato, vbíque satisfaciat, aut omnem Momi proteruiam effugiat, non vrget. Institutum meum complures probaturos spero: successum forsan non itidem omnes probabunt. Nihiiominus tamen maiorem habendam rationem patriæ, multorum hactenus opprobria & contumelias sustinentis, quàm siue laudis, siue vituperationis, ad me ipsum hinc forsan redituræ, existimabam. Quid enim causæ esse potest, cur nonnullorum odium & inuidentiam, cum hoc patriæ, benefaciendi seu gratificandi studio fortè coniunctam recusem?

Quodsi scriptorum errores liberius notare, si quorundam calumnias durius perstringere videbor, eos tamen æquos me habiturum censores confido, qui paulò diligentius animaduertere volent, quam parùm tolerabiles sint scriptorum de nostra gente errores: quot etiam & quàm graues quorundam in nos calumniæ, quibus nationem nostram varijs modis laccssiuere, & etiamnum lacessere non desistunt. Dandum etiam aliquid omnibus congenito soli natalis amori est; Dandum iusto, ob hanc patriæ illatam iniuriam, dolori. Et ego quidem, quantum fieri potuit, vbíque mihi temperaui, ac à conuitijs abstinere volui: quòd si quid videatur mollius dicendnm fuisse, id prædicta ratione veniam, spero, merebitur.

Cum igitur hæc mihi subeunda sit alea, quod omnibus scriptum aliquod edituris in more positum animaduerto, id mihi hoc tempore solicitè curandum est: Nempè vt patronum & mecænatem aliquem huic meo commentariolo quæram, sub cuius nomine & numine, tutius in vulgi manus exeat.

Eam igitur ad rem nihil poterit contingere optatius, vestra, clementissime Princeps Sereniss. Maiestate: Et enim nos ei, qui vitam & fortunas nostras in suam potestatem & tutelam accepit, ei inquam, nomen quoque gentis nostræ innocenter contaminatum, curæ vt sit, supplices rogamus.

Imò verò, Rex clementiss. non solùm ad hanc rem, S. Maiestatis V. clemens implorare auxilium necessum habemus; Sed ad multa quoque alia, quæ in nostra patria desiderantur, aut quæ alioqui ad huius vtilitatem & salutem communem spectant: quæque non per me, sed per summorum nostræ gentis viroram libellos supplices hoc tempore exponuntur, aut certè breui exponentur. Nihil enim dubitamus quin S. V. Maiestas, Christianissimorum maiorum exemplo, etiam nostram patriam, inter reliquas imperij sui Insulas, sua cura & protectione regia dignari velit. Nam quæ nostra est ad S. Maiestatem V. confugiendi necessitas, ea est S. Maiestatis V. in nobis subleuandis, curandis & protegendis, gloria: Et ob nutritam extremi ferè orbis Arctoi ecclesiam, in remotissimis M. V. imperij finibus, quæ tranquillitatem & tuta singulari Dei beneficio halcyonia habet, præmium, ac reposita in coelis immarcessibilis vitæ æternæ corona.

Cæterum cùm illa huius loci non sint, id quod mei est propositi subiungo: & à S. Maiestate V. ea, qua par est, amimi submissione peto, vt huic meæ opellæ & studio in patriam collato, fauere, & patroni benigni esse loco, clementer dignetur. Quod superest, Sereniss. Princeps, Dom. clementissime, Maiestatem V. sapientiæ & prudentiæ, omniúmque adeò virtutnm heroicarum indies incrementa sumentem, ad summum imperij fastigium, summas ille regnorum, omniúmque adeò rerum humanaram dispensator, Deos opt. max. euehat: Euectam, omni rerum foelicissimo successu continuè beet: Beatámque hoc modo, vt summum horum regnorum ornamentum, columen, præesidium, Ecclesiæ clypeum & munimen, quàm diutissimè conseruet: Ac tandem in altera vita, in solido regni coelestis gaudio, cùm præcipuis ecclesiæ Dei nutritijs, syderis instar, illustrem fulgere faciat. Faxit etiam idem Pater clementis. vt hæc vota, quanto sæpius, in amplissimorum Maiestatis V. regnorum & Insularem quouis angulo, quotidiè repetuntur ac ingeminantur, tantò rata magis & certiora, maneant.

Haffniæ 1593. Mense Mart.

S. M. V. humiliter subiectus:

Arngrimos Ionas Islandus.

The same in English.

A briefe commentarie of Island: wherein the errors of such as haue written concerning this Island, are detected, and the slanders, and reproches of certaine strangers, which they haue vsed ouer-boldly against the people of Island are confuted.

By Arngrimus Ionas, of Island.

To the most mighty Prince and Lord, Lord Christian the 4. 1 of Denmarke, Norway, and of the Vandals and Gothes, King elect: of Sleswic, Holste, Stormar, and Dithmarse Duke: Earle of Oldenburg, and Delmenhorst: His most gratious Lord.

That heroical attempt of Anchurus, sonne of King Midas (most gratious prince) and that pietie towards his countrey in maner peerelesse, deserueth highly to be renowmed in histories: in that freely and couragiously he offered his owne person, for the stopping vp of an huge gulfe of earth, about Celoena, a towne in Phrigia, which daily swallowed multitudes of men and whatsoeuer else came neere vnto it. For when his father Midas was aduertised by the Oracle, that the said gulfe should not be shut vp, before things most precious were cast into it; Anchurus deeming nothing to be more inualuable then life plunged himselfe aliue downe headlong into that bottomless hole; and that with so great vehemencie of mind, that neither by his fathers request nor by the allurements and teares of his most amiable wife, he suffered himselfe to be drawne backe from this his enterprise.2

Sperthius also and Bulis, two Lacedemonians, were not much inferiour to the former, who to turne away the reuenge of Xerxes that most puissant King of the Persians, entended against the Lacedemonians, for killing the ambassadors of his father Darius, hyed them vnto the sayd king and that he might auenge the ambassadours death vpon them, not vpon their countrey, with hardy, and constant mindes presented themselues before him.

The very same thing (most gracious prince) which moued them and many others being enflamed with the loue of their countrey, to refuse for the benefite thereof, no danger, no trouble, no nor death it selfe, the same thing (I say) hath also enforced me, not indeed to vndergoe voluntarie death, or freely to offer my selfe vnto the slaughter, but yet to assay that which I am able for the good of my countrey: namely, that I may gather together and refute the errors, and vaine reports of writers, concerning the same: and so take vpon me a thing very dangerous, and perhaps subiect to the sinister iudgement of many.

In this purpose the example of Cneius Pompeius hath likewise confirmed me: who being chosen procurator for corne among the Romanes, and in an extreme scarcetie and dearth of the citie hauing taken vp some store of grains in Sicilia, Sardinia, and Africa, is reported to haue had greater regard of his countrey, then of himselfe. For when he made haste towards Rome, and a mighty and dangerous tempest arising, he perceiued the Pilots to tremble, and to be vnwilling to commit themselues to the rigor of the stormie sea, himselfe first going on boord, and commanding the anchors to be weighed, brake foorth into these words: That we should sayle necessitie vrgeth: but that we should liue, it vrgeth not. In which words he seemeth wisely to inferre, that greater care is to be had of our countrey lying in danger, then of our owne priuate safetie.

This man doe I thus imitate,
If small with great as equals may agree:
And Flie with Elephant compared bee.

Namely that gathering together and laying vp in store those things which might be applied to succour the fame and credite of our nation, hauing now this long time bene oppressed with strangers, through the enuie of certeine malicious persons, I boldly aduenture to present these fewe meditations of mine vnto the viewe of the world, and so hoysing vp sailes to commit my selfe vnto a troublesome sea, and to breake foorth into the like speeches with him: That I should write necessitie vrgeth: but that my writings in all places should satisfie euery delicate taste, or escape all peeuishnes of carpers it vrgeth not. I doubt not but many will allow this my enterprise: the successe perhaps all men will not approue. Neuertheles, I thought that there was greater regard to be had of my countrey, sustaining so many mens mocks and reproches, then of mine owne praise or dispraise, redounding perhaps vnto me vpon this occasion. For what cause should moue me to shunne the enuie and hate of some men, being ioyned with an endeuour to benefite and gratifie my countrey?

The errors of the writers of Island intolerable.

But if I shall seeme somewhat too bold in censuring the errors of writers, or too seuere in reprehending the slanders of some men: yet I hope all they will iudge indifferently of me, who shall seriously consider, how intolerable the errors of writers are, concerning our nation: how many also and how grieuous be the reproches of some, against vs, wherewith they haue sundry wayes prouoked our nation, and as yet will not cease to prouoke. They ought also to haue me excused in regard of that in-bred affection rooted in the hearts of all men, towards their natiue soile, and to pardon my iust griefe for these iniures offered vnto my countrey. And I in very deed, so much as lay in me, haue in all places moderated my selfe, and haue bene desirous to abstaine from reproches but if any man thinke, we should haue vsed more temperance in our stile, I trust, the former reason will content him.

Sithens therefore, I am to vndergo the same hazard, which I see is commonly incident to all men that publish any writings: I must now haue especiall regarde of this one thing: namely, of seeking out some patron, and Mecoenas for this my briefe commentary, vnder whose name and protection it may more safety passe through the hands of all men.

But for this purpose I could not finde out, nor wish for any man more fit then your royal Maiestie, most gratious prince For vnto him, who hath receiued vnder his power & tuition our liues and goods, vnto him (I say) doe we make humble sute, that he would haue respect also vnto the credit of our nation, so iniuriously disgraced.

Yea verily (most gracious King) we are constreined to craue your Maiesties mercifull aide, not only in this matter, but in many other things also which are wanting in our countrey, or which otherwise belong to the publique commoditie and welfare thereof which not by me, but by the letters supplicatory of the chiefe men of our nation, are at this time declared, or will shortly be declared. For we doubt not but that your sacred Maiesties, after the example of your Christian predecessors, will vouchsafe vnto our countrey also, amongst other Islands of your Maiesties dominion, your kingly care and protection. For as the necessitie of fleeing for redresse vnto your sacred Maiestie, is ours so the glory of relieuing, regarding, and protecting vs, shal wholy redound vnto your sacred Maiestie: as also, there is layd vp for you, in respect of your fostering and preseruing of Gods church, vpon the extreme northerly parts almost of the whole earth, and in the vttermost bounds of your Maiesties dominion (which by the singular goodnes of God, enioyeth at this present tranquillitie and quiet safetie) a reward and crowne of immortall life in the heauens.

But considering these things are not proper to this place, I wil leaue them, and returne to my purpose which I haue in hand: most humbly beseeching your S. M. that yon would of your clemencie vouchsafe to become a fauorer, and patron vnto these my labours and studies, for the behalfe of my countrey.

It now remaineth (most gracious and mercifull souereigne) for vs to make our humble prayers vnto almighty God, that king of kings, and disposer of all humane affaires, that it would please him of his infinite goodnes, to aduance your Maiestie (yearely growing vp in wisedome & experience, and all other heroicall vertues) to the highest pitch of souereigntie: and being aduanced, continually to blesse yon with most prosperous successe in all your affaires: and being blessed, long to preserue you, as the chief ornament, defence and safegarde of these kingdomes, and as the shield and fortresse of his church: and hereafter in the life to come, to make you shine glorious like a starre, amongst the principall nurcing fathers of Gods Church, in the perfect ioy of his heauenly kingdome. The same most mercifull father likewise grant, that these praiers, the oftener they be dayly repeated and multiplied in euery corner of your Maiesties most ample territories & Islands, so much the more sure and certain they may remaine, Amen. At Haffnia, or Copen Hagen 1593. in the moneth of March. Y. S. M. most humble subiect,

Arngrimus Ionas, Islander.3

1 Christian IV. was the last elective king of Denmark and Norway. Frederick III. in 1665 changed the constituion to an hereditary monarchy, vested in his own family.

2 It is added that Midas raised an altar to Jupiter on the spot.

3 A celebrated Icelandic astronomer, disciple of Tycho Brahe, and coadjutor of the Bishop of Holen, died in 1649 at the great age of 95. His principal works, besides his Description and History of Iceland, (published at Amsterdam in 1643, 4to), are _Idea Vera Magistratus_ (Copenhagen, 1689, 8vo); _Rerum Islandicarum libri tres_ (Hamburg, 1630, 4to); _The Life of Gundebrand de Thorlac_, etc. He is remembered amongst the peasantry of Iceland as the only instance known in that country of a man of ninety-one marrying a girl in her teens.

Benigno & pio Lectori salutem.

In lucem exijt circa annum Christi 1561. Hamburgi foetus valdè deformis, patre quodam Germanico propola: Rhythmi videlicet Germanici, omnium qui vnquam leguntur spurcissimi & mendacissimi in gentem Islandicam. Nec sufficiebat sordido Typographo sordidum illum foetum semel emisisse, nisi tertiùm etiam aut quartùm publicasset, quo videlicet magis innocenti genti apud Germanos & Danos, aliósque vicinos populos summam & nunquam delendam ignominiam, quantum, in ipso fuit, inureret. Tantum Typographi huius odium fuit, & ex re illicita lucri auiditas. Et hoc in illa ciuitate, quæ plurimos annos commercia sua magno suorum cùm lucro in Islandia exercuit, impunè fecit. Ioachimus Leo nomen illi est, dignus certè qui Leones pascat.

Reperiuntur præterea multi alij scriptores, qui cum miracula naturæ, quæ in hac Insula creduntur esse plurima, & gentis Islandicæ mores ac instituta describere se velle putant, à re ipsa & veritate prorsus aberrarunt, nautarnm fabulas plusquam aniles, & vulgi opiniones vanissimas secuti. Hi Scriptores etsi non tam spurca & probrosa reliquerunt, quàm sordidus iste Rhythmista: multa tamen sunt in illorum scriptis, quæ illos excusare non possunt, aut prorsus liberare, quo minus innocentem gentem suis scriptis deridendam alijs exposuerint. Hæc animaduertens, legens, expendens, subinde nouis, qui Islandorum nomen & æstimationem læderent, scriptoribus ortis, alienorum laborum suffuratoribus impudicis, qui etiam non desinunt gentem nostram nouis conspurcare mendacijs, lectorésque noua monstrorum enumeratione & descriptionibus fictis deludere, sæpe optabam esse aliquem, qui ad errata Historicorum, & aliorum iniquorum censorum responderet, quíque aliquo scripto innocentem gentem à tot conuicijs si non liberaret, certè aliquo modo apud pios & candidos Lectores defenderet. Quare hoc tempore Author eram honesto studioso, _Arngrimo Ionæ_ F. vt reuolutis scriptorum monumentis, qui de Islandia aliquid scripserunt, errores & mendacia solidis rationibus detegeret. Ille etsi primò reluctabatur, vicit tamen demum admonitio, amórque communis patriæ, ita vt hunc qualemcunque commentariolum conscriberet, non ex vanis vulgi fabulis, sed & ex sua & multorum fide dignorum experientia, comprobationibus sumptis.

Ille verò, qui hanc rem meo est aggressus instinctu, vicissim à me suo quasi iure flagitabat, vt in has pagellas, vel tribus saltem verbis præfarer: existimans aliquid fidei vel authoritatis opusculo inde conciliatum iri. Quare vt mentem breuiter exponam: Ego quidem & honestam & necessariam quoque operam nauasse eum iudico, qui non modò scriptorum varias sententias de rebus ignotis perpendere, & inuicem conferre, nec non ad veritatis & experientiæ censuram exigere: Sed etiam patriam à venenatis quorundam sycophantarum morsibus vindicare conatus sit. Æquum est igitur, Lector optime, vt quicquid hoc est opusculi, velut sanctissimo veritatis & patriæ amore aduersus Zoilorum proteruiam munitum & muniendum excipias. Vale.

Gudbrandus Thorliacus Epìscopus Holensis in Islandia. Anno 1592. Iul. 29. 4

4 In the _original_ edition of the description of Iceland by Arngrimus, follow these lines:

¶ Authoris ad Lectorem.

Imbute Lector suauis arte Palladis,
Lector benigne, humane, multùm candide,
Qui cuncta scis collis sacri mysteria:
Has videris si fortè quando paginas
Non lectione síque dedignabere,
Fac, nos tuo candori vt hæc committimus
Et æquitati, fronte sic non tetrica,
Vultu legas nec ista quando turbido:
Communis vnquam sortis haud sis immemor,
Infirmitas quam nostra nobis contulit.
Obnoxius nam non quis est mortalium
Erroribus næuísque semper plurimis?
Quod si diu multúmque cogitauens,
Nostris eris conatibus paulò æquior,
Tuis & isto rite pacto consules:
Candore nam quo nostra arctans vtere,
En te legentes rursus vtentur pari:
Sic ipse semper alteri quæ feceris.
Æqualitatis lege & hæc fient tibi.

De gente multis prædicata Islandica
Authoribus quamuis probata maximis,
Nostro periclo hucúsque vulgò credita,
Licere nobis credimus refellere,
Non vt notam scriptorum muram nomini,
Nostrum sed à nota probosa vindicem:
Hoc institutum iúsque fásque comprobant:
Hoc nostra consuetudo léxque comprobant:
Hoc digna lectu exempla denique comprobant.
Ergo faue: nostris faue conatibus,
Sis mitis indulgens et æquus arbiter,
O lector arte imbute suauis Palladis,
Lector benigne, amice, multum candide,
Qui cuncta scis collis sacri mysteria.

The same in English.

To the courteous and Christian reader Gudbrandus Thorlacius, Bishop of Holen in Island, wisheth health.

There came to light about the yeare of Christ 1561, a very deformed impe, begotten by a certain Pedlar of Germany: namely a booke of German rimes of al that euer were read the most filthy and most slanderous against the nation of Island. Neither did it suffice the base printer once to send abroad that base brat, but he must publish it also thrise or foure times ouer: that he might thereby, what lay in him, more deepely disgrace our innocent nation among the Germans, & Danes, and other neighbour countries, with shamefull, and euerlasting ignominie. So great was the malice of this printer, & his desire so greedy to get lucre, by a thing vnlawfull. And this he did without controlment, euen in that citie, which these many yeres hath trafficked with Island to the great gaine, and commodity of the citizens. His name is Ioachimus Leo, a man worthy to become lions foode.

Great errors grow vpon mariners fabulous reports.

Moreouer, there are many other writers found, who when they would seeme to describe the miracles of nature, which are thought to be very many in this Island, & the maners, & customs of the Islanders, haue altogether swarued from the matter and truth it selfe, following mariners fables more trifling than old wiues tales, & the most vain opinions of the common sort. These writers, although they haue not left behind them such filthy and reprochful stuffe as that base rimer: yet there are many things in their writings that wil not suffer them to be excused, & altogether acquited from causing an innocent nation to be had in derision by others. Wherefore marking, reading, & weighing these things with my selfe, & considering that there dayly spring vp new writers, which offer iniury to the fame & reputation of the Islanders, being such men also as do shamelesly filtch out of other mens labours, deluding their readers with feined descriptions, & a new rehearsal of monsters, I often wished that some one man would come forth, to make answere to the errors of historiographers & other vniust censurers: and by some writing, if not to free our innocent nation from so many reproches, yet at leastwise, in some sort to defend it, among Christian & friendly readers. And for this cause I haue now procured an honest and learned young man one Arngrimus Fitz-Ionas, to peruse the works of authors, that haue written anything concerning Island, and by sound reasons to detect their errors, & falshoods. And albeit at the first he was very loth, yet at length my friendly admonition, & the common loue of his countrey preuailed with him so farre, that he compiled this briefe commentary, taking his proofes, not out of the vaine fables of the people, but from his owne experience, and many other mens also of sufficient credit.

Now, he that vndertooke this matter at my procurement, did againe as it were by his owne authority chalenge at my hands, that I should in two or three words at least, make a preface vnto his booke; thinking it might gaine some credit, and authority thereby. Wherfore to speake my minde in a word: for my part, I iudge hin to haue taken both honest & necessary paines, who hath done his indeuour not onely to weigh the diuers opinions of wrighters concerning things vnknowen, and to examine them by the censure of trueth, and experience, but also to defend his countrey from the venemous bitings of certaine sycophants. It is thy part therefore (gentle reader) to accept this small treatise of his, being as it were guarded with the sacred loue of truth, and of his countrey, against the peruersnes of carpers. Farewel.

Anno 1592. Iulii 19.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hakluyt/voyages/island/preface.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 22:01