Today we are going to take a brief look at one of the most prolific and significant Icelanders in our country’s history: Ari Þorgilsson. While much of the specifics surrounding Ari Þorgilsson have been lost to history, we still know a great deal of information about one of Iceland’s most instrumental historians and researchers. We are going to look at some brief facts about his life, and the effects he had on his society and the future of the country.
Ari Þorgilsson- Early Life
By all accounts, historians place Ari Þorgilsson’s birth around the year 1067 AD. Þorgilsson in his later years meticulously traced his heritage back to some of the most important original settlers of Iceland. According to his own investigations, his family was instrumental in the creation and development of Iceland in its youth.
Young Þorgilsson had the great fortune of being apart of the Haukdælir clan and received tutelage at the Haukadalur school. By chance, he would become a pupil of Teitur Ísleifsson. It should be noted, that Ísleifsson’s father was the first bishop of Iceland (Íselifur Gissurarson). You generally get a leg up on everyone else around you if you lived in the medieval ages and had any education at all. Þorgilsson not only had an education, but he received a stellar one at that. Through his tutelage in classical studies, Þorgilsson quickly became we versed in Latin (most notably within the focus of a chronicler). It was as if Þorgilsson had a preternatural ability to accurately document and chronicle events. By far his most prominent accolade has to be his creation of the Ísledingabók.
Þorgilsson and the Ísledingabók
If you are Icelandic, your mind probably immediately jumped to the more modern, more controversial www.islendingabok.is. The website, which honors the original Ísledingabók, in today’s society this website has a slightly different importance to Icelanders, as it is used to make sure that a potential love interest isn’t actually a distant cousin (with a country that has just over 330,000 people, you can never be too sure). However, Þorgilsson’s had far more noble intentions; the original Ísledingabók set out to document the genealogy of every prominent Icelandic family, while also providing written source material for Iceland’s oral histories.
And, Þorgilsson did just that. Historical accounts often praise Ari’s insanely meticulous and scrupulous interviewing techniques. He would often receive first-hand accounts of stories from eyewitnesses, and he even went so far as to quote the majority of the individuals he was interviewing. All the time. With no formal written record, Ari devoted himself entirely to document Iceland’s proud and sorted history concretely. He was the first Icelander to put quill to parchment to write the Ísledingabók in a common Icelandic vernacular. Sadly, his original work was lost to history (along with many other facts about him) and the only thing we have that remains of his, is a rewritten version of the Íslendingabók. His contributions though, to Icelandic culture and the advancement of the Icelandic language are still felt today.
Famous Icelanders: Ari Þorgilsson
Like I said: much of the facts about this literary pioneer have been lost to the annals of history. Here is what we do know: Ari was a passionate scientist, inquisitive historian, a dedicated priest, and a just Icelandic chieftain. The groundwork that Þorgilsson laid in the early 1000s has paved the way for Iceland’s well-documented and preserved, genealogical history. It isn’t uncommon to meet an Icelander who can trace their family history back to a single Viking forerunner. His methods for safeguarding data and fact-checking was centuries ahead of his time. While it’s sad that we may never know more about this fascinating Icelander, we should count our blessings that he was so dedicated to progressing our language and giving us the resources to track our lineage. Truly a fascinating Icelander.
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