Famous early Icelanders were Eric the Red (Eiríkur Thorvaldsson), who discovered and colonized Greenland in 982, and his son Leif Ericsson (Leifur Eiríksson, b.970), who introduced Christianity to Greenland and discovered the North American continent (c.1000). Two famous patriots and statesmen were Bishop Jón Arason (1484–1550), who led the fight for liberty against the power of the Danish king, and Jón Sigur<eth>sson (1811–79), Iceland's national hero, champion of the fight for independence. Vigdís Finnbogadottír (b.1930) served four consecutive terms as president from 1980 to 1996, becoming the first female elected to the presidency of any republic.
Prominent writers were Ari Thorgilsson (1067–1148), father of Icelandic historical writing; Snorri Sturluson (1178–1241), author of the famous Prose Edda , a collection of Norse myths; and Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–74), author of Iceland's beloved Passion Hymns. Leading poets include Bjarni Thorarensen (1786–1841) and Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807–45), pioneers of the Romantic movement in Iceland; Matthías Jochumsson (1835–1920), author of Iceland's national anthem; Thorsteinn Erlingsson (1858–1914), lyricist; Einar Hjörleifsson Kvaran (1859–1939), a pioneer of realism in Icelandic literature and an outstanding short-story writer; Einar Benediktsson (1864–1940), ranked as one of the greatest modern Icelandic poets; Jóhann Sigurjónsson (1880–1919), who lived much of his life in Denmark and wrote many plays based on Icelandic history and legend, as well as poetry; and the novelist Halldór Kiljan Laxness (1902–98), who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955.
Niels Ryberg Finsen (1860–1904), a physician who pioneered in the field of light (ray) therapy, received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1903. Stefán Stefánsson (1863–1921) was the pioneer Icelandic botanist. Helgi Pjeturss (1872–1949), geologist and philosopher, was an authority on the Ice Age and the geology of Iceland. Einar Jónsson (1874–1954), Iceland's greatest sculptor, is represented in European and American museums.