Monday, November 24, 2008

Vikings! effeminate moustache groomers

Now, when one thinks of Vikings, one usually thinks rape and pillage. Let's be honest, that's what comes to mind, obviously they're wearing those horned hats, drinking mead, and have fantastic beards. Sure, Vikings and Norse societies are more than that and a group at Cambridge University wants to correct some of those misconceptions.

The university's department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic has published a guide revealing how much of the Vikings' history has been misrepresented.

They did not, in fact, wear horned or winged helmets. And they appear to have been a vain race who were concerned about their appearance.

"It seems that the Vikings may not have been as hairy and dirty as is commonly imagined," the guide says.

"A medieval chronicler, John of Wallingford, talking about the eleventh century, complained that the Danes were too clean - they combed their hair every day, washed every Saturday, and changed their clothes regularly."

The guide reveals that Norsemen were also stylish trend-setters: "Contemporaries who met individual Vikings were struck by the extreme bagginess of their trousers.

"A tenth-century Persian explorer described trousers (of Vikings in Russia) that were made of one hundred cubits of material, and a number of runestones depict warriors with flared breeches."

The traditional view of the Vikings as "illiterate warring thugs" exaggerates considerably the reality of their life, the academics argue.

"Although Norse men and women may have sometimes liked fighting and drinking, and were sometimes buried with weapons, they also spent much of their time in peaceful activities such as farming, building, writing and illustrating."

No horned hats? What? What about all those productions of The Ring Cycle???
Life can't have been as violent as we sometimes like to imagine," it adds...

..."Many British children are quite likely to have Viking ancestry and we want to make them think about the reality of their past," she said.

"It's damaging to think that they were simply a violent society, and easy to undermine them as a people who have no redeeming qualities.

I'm just going to point out two things, most people today, at least those in western nations, can't image life being terribly violent at all, so I'll freely throw down with you Dr. Rowe. In the civilized would where vaccinations have even prevented horribly fatal disease from plaguing and killing us at every turn and people are pretty much insulated from constant wars because they're being fought elsewhere, Life in viking times was probably AT LEAST as violent as we can imagine.

Second point, the viking blood in those English children, I'm certain that all their English ancestresses took one look at those scrubbed and coiffed raiders burning down their town and said "What an amazing moustache you have, rip my clothes off and have your way with me, I consent to your violent ravaging."

Sorry, that's part of the history too. Tribes have raped their way into the British Isles for time immemorial. While I'll freely concede that not 100% of Viking life was spent raping and pillaging, enough raping and pillaging went on to make it worth a mention and no amount of copper broaches, jewelry or riding gear should eclipse the fact that many vikings were sea rovers. Advanced Society or no, noting that even advanced societies engage in practices of piracy and briganding, even encouraging it, is worth a mention.

An important part of my understanding of history included learning that things that were happening now (like say, rape used as a weapon in Rwanda by a government in ethnic conflicts), had happened to my ancestors (Vikings, Scots, Romans, using rape and interbreeding as an inroad to Britain).

I'm not necessarily suggesting that teaching that part of it to young kids is smart, but something about making light of that stuff to teenagers who should be smart enough to integrate that information rubs me the wrong way.

1 comment:

Anachronista said...

I was in grade school decades ago and already I knew history class was being dumbed down. I cannot imagine what it's like in schools now.

Aye, history SHOULD be taught 'rape and all.' Maybe if we all learned what real history is, we wouldn't be doomed to repeat it.