Are the Norseman being given the edge this year in the perennial controversy over who discovered America? After all, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is opening a major exhibition called "The Vikings" on Oct. 4, less than a week before Iceland and the United States celebrate Leif Erikson Day on Oct. 9. And someone has sent us a re minder of an antique map documenting that Erikson sailed the North Atlantic and settled brifly in the New World about the year 1000 -- well before the 1492 "discovery of America" by Christopher Columbus, whose day is Oct. 13 this year.
We won't believe Columbus has been displaced, however, until Erikson Day becomes as much of a legal holiday as Columbus Day has become in the United States. For presidents to proclaim Erikson Day for the past 15 years without telling everybody to take the day off is to leave questions in the air. Still there is no question about following President Carter's lead in honoring the Norsemen for setting "a new standard of fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance" -- to which might be added "art," if advance accounts of the Met exhibition mean anything.
What bothers us in the age of antichauvinism is the whole Western historical implication that no place was discovered until someone from a European country set foot on it. The people in America when the Vikings and Columbus came might have been excused for thinking their terrain did not need to be discovered.
Ah, yes, it's all in one's point of view. Don't take it serious, it's too mysterious, as the songwriter said. In the eyes of the hippopotamus, America may not be discovered even now. And there may be a point of view out there somewhere according to which Earth itself has not yet been found