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Figures du Nord

Éric Schnakenbourg

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1Frédérique Laget
An Unfortunate Experience of the North Sea: Venetians at the Lofoten Islands (c.1432)

2In November 1431, a Venetian ship travelling from the Mediterranean to Flanders veered off course and got lost in the North Sea, where it sank. The survivors drifted for weeks and eventually reached Røst, an island lying south of the Lofoten islands, without knowing where they were. They were then taken in for three months by the islanders. Three members of this unfortunate crew wrote down their adventures after their return to Venice: Pietro Querini, the master of the ship, Cristoforo Fioravante, the second officer, and Nicolò de Michiel, the board writer. According to their texts, during their stay they discovered a harsh environment that contrasted with the gentle people of this distant North. The Venetians noticed the marvels of nature, but what struck them most was the great honesty and moral pureness of the population on Røst; they considered these fishermen to be pious, simple, and friendly, in spite of their living in a very remote area at the ends of the earth. Meeting the inhabitants of Røst somehow meant meeting complete otherness. To the marooned sailors, the island looked like a kind of Eden and the experience turned their misfortune into an ordeal of faith. It changed them physically as well as morally.

3Alessandra Grillo
The First Italian to Reach the North Pole: Father Francesco Negri (1663-1666)

4Francesco Negri, a priest from the town of Ravenna, was the first Italian traveller to reach the North Pole in 1666. His travel stories, “Viaggio Settentrionale”, were very innovative considering the period in which he wrote them and especially considering the type of travel he wrote about. Francesco Negri was the only traveller who had stayed in Nordic countries for a period of three years, travelling the length and breadth of the interior regions, as well as the coast and making contact with Laplanders whose culture charmed the Italian priest, as he was already passionate and curious about the diversity of the world. Composed of eight letters, his travel writing describes Lapland and the customs of its inhabitants, with several illustrations and many quotations taken from classical Latin authors, as well as from Nordic writers who were contemporaries of Negri. These quotes testify to the thoroughness of the research carried out by the priest, both when he was already on site (where he learned several facts about the local culture through Norwegian priests who gave him accommodation) and after he returned to Italy.

5Pierrick Pourchasse
Trade and Knowledge of the North: the French Navy and the Baltic Sea in the Eighteenth Century

6During the eighteenth century, French ships did not sail on the seas of Northern Europe. This absence of the merchant fleet in the North was a constant issue for French authorities. Sending French war ships to these regions was an easy way to acquire a lot of information on the Baltic Sea, to provide training opportunities and to enhance the interest of the North for the national merchant fleet. Between 1783 and 1786, five ships passed the Sound to load hemp in St. Petersburg and wood in Riga. These trips were also hydrographical campaigns organized to increase knowledge on northern maritime routes, and were also missions that provided excellent opportunities to collect political, diplomatic, economic and commercial intelligence and information.

7Jean-Marc Besse
«Situ Autem Valde Inconstanti... »: Abraham Ortelius’ Representation of Northern Europe

8Sixteenth-century geography, as well as new spatial conceptions of the earthly world, developed a historical imaginary. The aim of this paper is to study the historical method and the philological work of Abraham Ortelius, and to stress his ambivalent attitude toward antiquity. The Flemish cartographer and antiquary not only published maps and atlases but also compiled huge dictionaries of ancient place-names, from the Synonymia geographica to the Thesaurus geographicus. In this paper, Ortelius’philological and lexicographical activities and methods will be analysed from the point of view of his interest in the northern regions of Europe.

9Monique Mund-Dopchie
Images of the Islands of the Far North in the Geographical Literature of the Renaissance: Confusion and Transference

10The emergence of an almost uniform representation of the northern-most islands can essentially be explained by two thought processes of the imagination: confusion and transfer of facts. Onomastic confusion stems from the first thought process and this confusion sometimes makes one write on the map as many places as there are onomastic variables–the variant spelling of Groenland/Grocland. Moreover, sometimes the characteristics of places are mixed-up, the names of which are semantically (Islandia/Frislandia) or phonetically (Ireland/Iceland) close. On top of these linguistic confusions can be added chronological confusions, as the authors of maps and textual descriptions confuse information relating to a different period of history of the island concerned. A third type of confusion stems from the usual method of accumulating data for encyclopaedias, when new data is regularly added to topics that have already been written without revising the entire entry; hence the feeling of vagueness that comes across when reading some of them. As for the transference of data, it is made either from one island to another (horizontal transfer), or from one period of history to another (vertical transfer). One example of horizontal transferences is the Icelandic appropriation of maps and topics devoted to Greenland, particularly the (hypothetical) existence of the Convent of Saint-Thomas in Greenland, which seems to have been superimposed on the monastery in Helgafell that really did exist. As for vertical transfers, we can note the importance of a tradition in antiquity which relates to the Northern barbarians and that of medieval discourse about the evangelisation of the northern islands in order to judge the degree of civilisation reached by the different islanders. Confusion and transfer therefore contribute to the integration of the northern islands into a powerful image already set in motion during antiquity: that of a wonderful place at the end of the world, where the inhabitants continue to maintain the way of life of the Golden Age and/or the savagery of primordial times.

11Antoine Chevereau
The Territory of Greenland in La Peyrère’s Relation du Groenland, 1647

12Isaac de La Peyrère (1596-1676) is most famous for his Pre-Adamite hypothesis, but he was also an important writer of French knowledge of the North, being the author of a Relation du Groenland and a Relation d’Islande. During a stay in Denmark, he used local archives to compile the first modern study of Greenland, based on medieval Icelandic sagas and recent navigation accounts. Far from the Arctic territory we know, La Peyrère actually depicted a “Green Land,” colonized by Norsemen. Comparing the Saga of Eric the Red to his text, some differences appear; first of all, the French author does not mention the discovery of Vínland, the most important event in Greenlandic sagas. This leads to the hypothesis that Vínland moved to Greenland, an idea which was made possible by the remaining theory of a hyperborean country and a temperate upper-North climate. New descriptions given by whalers exploring the North Atlantic resulted in La Peyrère’s image of the Green Land fading into insignificance in the geography books. Yet there is a point that never disappears about Norse settlements: the idea that they could take advantage of fertile territory in Greenland. Side by side, two images of this arctic island coexist, only separated by a couple of centuries.

13Gunlög Fur
From Strangers to Origins: Swedish Perceptions of Saami People in the Early Modern Period

14Swedish perceptions of Saami people in the Early Modern Period considered them both as strangers and as subjects of the realm. Increasingly over the period, their strangeness became exoticized and even characterized as noble, while they were incorporated in the realm through an understanding of history that described them as remnants of the past. Both views demanded that they convert to Christianity and accept a Swedish legal and cultural hierarchy. The Saami people, however, challenged such interpretations, thus demonstrating how these perceptions were vehicles of colonialism rather than neutral observation.

15Eric Schnakenbourg
Humans of the Borders and the Borders of Humanity: the Figure of the Laplander in the Anthropological Landscape of the Eighteenth Century

16Lapland was almost unknown in Western Europe until the second half of the seventeenth century. In France, this area and its inhabitants were the subjects of two books which were published in the 1670s, and several others in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. These studies were the roots of a description of the Laplanders who were represented as deformed, superstitious, cowardly, and debauched. With this pejorative image, these people integrated the anthropological reflection which was taking place at that time into the general context: first, of investigation about the hierarchy of humankind and, secondly, of the maturation of the notion of human races. That is why the Laplanders were used as a special feature in the scholarly reflection on the variety of mankind and in the discussions about the single or the multiple origins of Man. From the middle of the eighteenth century onwards, the way of considering the Laplanders began to change, as they were gradually seen with numerous virtues, and thus became increasingly closer to the Noble Savage. In the general context of the Enlightenment, which included a reflection on the organisation of mankind, the Laplanders became symbolic of a specific feature of alterity, in the same way as the recently-discovered inhabitants of other continents.

17Marc Belissa
Siberia and the Siberian people in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie

18The encyclopaedias and dictionaries of the Enlightenment provide an interesting image of the North. They allow us to understand what the general public reading those encyclopaedias during the eighteenth century knew about this part of Europe. Diderot’s Encyclopédie contains several articles concerning Siberia and the Siberians. These articles give us a rather accurate image of Siberia founded on recent sources (see the works of Gmelin). The description of the “savage” peoples from Siberia is to be understood in relation to the Enlightenment debate about human variety and “civilization.”

19Christian Frey,
Viking Raids and Saxon Historiography: The Inherited Fear

20Viking raids are an important part of Saxon historiography. The northern neighbours not only fought wars on the frontier, but also travelled the rivers with their ships to raid cities such as Hamburg. The reporters of Saxon history treated the experience of those attacks and narrated the stories of the fights, using narrative patterns inherited from Frankish examples. In addition, the Vikings performed certain tasks in the Saxon texts. They served as foreshadowers of bad events, accompanied bad times, and were part of the perceived Christian salvific history. This article examines the basic lines of the tradition of narrating Viking encounters–from the first contacts in England and France to the Saxon historians like Helmold of Bosau and Adam of Bremen. Constitutive for the Saxon reports was the perceived cultural and religious difference from the Scandinavians. Keeping all these in mind, a reinterpretation of medieval texts becomes possible–and the research on Viking history can be enriched with the history of contemporary perception.

21Jean-Marie Maillefer
The Vision of the Nordic Past among Scandinavian Historiographers from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Seventeenth Century

22In sixteenth century Scandinavia, historical writing played a significant role in establishing national identities, especially in Sweden—a country which did not have a medieval historiographical legacy as did its neighbours Denmark (Gesta Danorum) and Norway (Heimskringla). With the restored independence of Sweden in the 1520s, the new Vasa dynasty used both symbols of Biblical and Gothic heritage, so as to be considered as the new kings of Israel in order to match the pretensions of the Danish sovereigns to reinstate the Union of Kalmar for their benefit. It is also at this moment that patterns appear that are bound to the future image of the classical North, such as the love of Nature and Freedom.

23Alain Guyot
The Far North: a Model for the Eighteenth-Century Alps?

24In the second half of the eighteenth century, the fad for the Alps and in particular for Mont Blanc started a fashion for travelling from which stories would be written and which were amongst the first to describe a world where only a few men had yet dared venture: the high mountain peaks. However, in order to describe the emotions aroused by this unusual spectacle, travellers to Switzerland or Savoy often had recourse to make comparisons with another environment which was not necessarily better known: this environment would later be called the Far North, whether it was called Greenland, Spitzberg or New Zemble (‘New Earth’) before. Why did the first descriptive writers about the Alps frequently have recourse to this “Northern model”? More than a reference point enabling us to understand a neglected landscape, the Far North was rather a representation of a “fantasy machine” inspired by the traditional myth of Thule and alluring readers who were eager for powerful experiences on their doorstep.

25Thomas Mohnike
Geographies of Historical Knowledge: Paul-Henri Mallet between Gothic, Germanic and Celtic Dreams

26The works of Paul-Henri Mallet are considered to be a turning point in the European history of Images of the North. This article aims to show that this is partly due to his specific style of conceptualising an imaginative geography of origins that may in turn be explained as a result of Mallet’s specific place and travels in a geography of European knowledge production. The North is imagined to be the cradle of a European religion and form of government, original to all European people. Differences are explained by the influence of the climate that occurred when groups of people emigrated from the cold North to the warm South, and by the arrival of Christianity. This open imaginative geography, which offered a place for identification to intellectuals in most parts of Europe, was the product of combinations of different local knowledge and traditions of science. The Geneva uprising and education in a Protestant yet Paris-oriented intellectual milieu offered contact with Montesquieu’s desire for a theory of people based on climatic influences, which in turn was partly inspired by Tacitus and Jordanes and therefore by the humanistic Upper Rhine culture. These coordinates of cultural geography where combined with research results of the Scandinavian historical school of Gothicism.

© Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2012

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