A man named Asolf tried with great difficulty to build a life for himself in the Eyjafell District of Iceland. His trials and tribulations were recorded in the Sturlubók (produced c. 1275-1280), Sturla Thordarson’s version of the Icelandic Book of Settlements. In the Sturlubók, the oldest of five existent Book of Settlement texts, Asolf is presented as a Christian immigrant to Iceland who arrived on the island well before it adopted Christianity in the year 1000. As the Iceland of Asolf’s day was still staunchly pagan, he apparently had few friends and no community support. In fact, Asolf reportedly went out of his way to avoid his pagan countrymen, living a life both socially and economically isolated in the vicinity of Eastern Asolfsskali. Yet, when the Icelanders noticed that Asolf never came to them for food, they began to wonder how he was sustaining himself. The curious neighbors eventually started to spy on the recluse’s lifestyle and property. Before long, they discovered that Asolf had built his home beside a stretch of water that was packed with countless fish, and it was from that stream that he fed himself.
News about the fish spread quickly, and, before long, a posse of envious Icelanders marched into Eastern Asolfsskali to seize the impressive fishing site. Asolf was not one for confrontation, so he packed up his belongings and relocated to Midskali, where he built a new home by a river. Back in Eastern Asolfsskali, the posse that had seized Asolf’s original homestead soon depleted the region of its fish, or perhaps the fish simply moved on. When the locals, disappointed about the absent fish, heard that Asolf had set up a new home at a nearby river, they once again became curious and spied on his property. Asolf must have been instinctually skilled when it came to fish, for he had built his home beside yet another bountiful fishing spot. When the spies discovered that Asolf’s new location was teeming with fish, another posse was formed and the Christian recluse again packed up his bags to relocate before any fighting occurred.
Now, however, everyone knew Asolf was a man who could find amazing fishing grounds, and informants greedily kept an eye on wherever the hermit went. Asolf eventually settled down in a new location in Western Asolfsskali, which, of course, had a great abundance of fish. Yet, even quicker than before, a group of envious locals arrived to commandeer the fishing spot. This was finally enough for poor Asolf, and he fled to a sympathetic kinsman named Jorund “the Christian” of Gardar. With Jorund’s help, Asolf was finally able to live the rest of his life in seclusion on Inner Holm. When Iceland became Christianized, the converted Icelanders reportedly looked back on Asolf as a holy man, and a church was said to have been set up at the site of his death.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (“The Herring Net” by Winslow Homer (1836–1910), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.