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The Saga of Star Oddi (Stj√∂rnu Oddi)


Oddi Helgason was a farm labourer that lived and worked in Flatey, Skjalfanda, in northern Iceland in the twelfth century. Oddi differed from others in his skills in astronomy and was known as an educated man. He spent much of his time analysing the movements of the sun, moon and the stars. He was given the nickname Star Oddi, and was probably considered strange for spending his time on such studies. Oddi's observations of the motion and the relative changes in the height of the sun across the sky made it possible for the Vikings to extend their sailing period from the short summer months.
 
Star Oddi recorded his findings in table form, one gives the altitude of the sun for the entire year and another shows the direction of dawn and twilight; the way the light hits the horizon during sunrise and sundown. All the measurements of angles were made in what was called "half-wheel", kind of a half sun-diameter. This was something which was known to every viking at that time. This knowledge probably developed through the centuries, from generation to generation, from sailor to sailor, before Star Oddi linked the knowledge together with his technical work, documenting this skill of the Vikings.
At Flatey there is a hill that is considered to be the place where Star Oddi worked. On the hill is a formed circle which locals say Star Oddi placed a stick in the middle and then analysed the shadow cast from the stick to construct his table for the sun's movements.

 



Flatey-the enlarged part shows the circle where Star Oddi made his observations of the sun's movements.

From his studies, Star Oddi was able to predict very precisely the behaviour of the sun in relation to the earth's movement and calculate latitude position at a specific time. He did more than that, he developed the so called "sun stone" a stone that was able to gather week light penetrating through clouds or fog. This made navigation possible for the Vikings without a clear sight of the sky. His work is considered to be the greatest engineering achievement of the Viking Age, enabling the Vikings to travel over long distances and finding their way back home again. Later, scientists have shown that Oddi, although unable to have had instruments of any kind, made remarkably exact observations.

Viking culture and trade spread over wide areas in Europe and the discovery of America could probably not have been achieved without knowledge of navigation. On regular basis, ships sailed between Norway, the Faeroe Islands and Iceland. The isolation or the Faeroe Islands and Iceland were great but through sailing, contacts were made to the world outside the isolated North Atlantic area. The Vikings from Iceland, Norway and Faeroe Islands realised many adventures through traveling the world and they later brought stories home from the outside world. The Vikings were great story tellers, which forms the background for the Icelandic Saga, written in the Viking Age. These Sagas contain not only stories from Iceland but from other countries as well. The Sagas are a great source of history and their precision in telling have been verified on many occasions, even though the story tellers might have embellished the story in order to make the story more exciting and to amuse the listeners.

 



Map showing the countries where the Vikings sailed mostly between.