Thursday, June 14, 2012

The stupid should stay at home and other Viking wisdom

(Photos by your humble blogkeeper)
If the first bloom of this fellow's youth seems to have faded, consider:
— He has sixteen visible wounds.
— The wedge-shaped wound on his upper leg was caused by an ax.

— The cut on his jaw and the blow under his nose would have caused severe bleeding.
— Injuries to his arms suggest he defended himself against sword blows.
— He has two execution-style wounds to the back of his head.
— He probably was not wearing a helmet.
— He's almost a thousand years old.
Take all into account, and I should look so good.

The young man probably died around the time of the Battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge or during the Norman takeover of England, which followed shortly thereafter (1066, and all that). He sleeps today at the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, a museum and educational center at the site of spectacular archaeological finds in the 1970s that laid bare the history of Viking York and that today includes both traditional and "living" displays.

I studied the rich artifacts. I rode through an impressive recreation of how Jorvikers might have lived in the eleventh century. And I bought a small copy of the Old Norse collection of wisdom poetry, the Hávamál, which I left in the York train station before I had the chance to read it.

Happily, I found another copy, and initial reading suggests the Vikings were, indeed, wise. A few examples:
"Who travels widely needs his wits about him,
The stupid should stay at home"
"Less good than belief would have it
Is mead for the sons of men:
A man knows less the more he drinks,
Becomes a befuddled fool"
I showed the second example to the bartender at my local, where I was doing my reading, and her reply proved her as practical as her Scandinavian predecessors a thousand years ago: "I think two drinks, you know more; three drinks, you know less."

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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