I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!


Primary Literary Provenance For instance, there are plenty of hints of everyday conduct of business in the Icelandic sagas. Leaving aside the controversy, that I feel has been exaggerated, homely incidents in the sagas give an excellent view into behavior during the time, For example, in chapter 74 of Njal’s Saga, Gunnar has been exiled and is preparing to go abroad: “They ride down along Markfleet, and just then Gunnar’s horse tripped and threw him off. He turned with his face up towards the Lithe and the homestead at Lithend, and said, ‘Fair is the Lithe; so fair that it has never seemed to me so fair; the corn fields are white to harvest, and the home mead is mown; and now I will ride back home, and not fare abroad at all.’ “‘Do not this joy to thy foes,’ says Kolskegg, ‘by breaking thy atonement, for no man could think thou wouldst do thus, and thou mayst be sure that all will happen as Njal has said.’ “‘I will not go away any whither,’ says Gunnar, ‘and so I would thou shouldest do too.’ “‘That shall not be,’ says Kolskegg; ‘I will never do a base thing in this, nor in anything else which is left to my good faith; and this is that one thing that could tear us asunder; but tell this to my kinsmen and to my mother, that I never mean to see Iceland again, for I shall soon learn that thou art dead, brother, and then there will be nothing left to bring me back.’ “So they parted there and then. Gunnar rides home to Lithend, but Kolskegg rides to the ship, and goes abroad.” Citation Whether this the conduct espoused by the heaven Norse of the Vikings Age or by the Christian writers of a few centuries layer, it is a valuable look into the conduct expected during the time. The most immediate aspect is that the courtesy books have a tendency to inveigh against known behavior and tell the reader or listener how to behave. We can assume from the appearance in a courtesy book of a particular personal action that the action was itself very frequent, since there is no reason to warn against a behavior that is alien unless you are a modern bureaucratic society). The Babees’ Book, a compilation of medieval treatises on courteous behavior to be taught the young. In one section, it notes Do not carry your knife to your mouth with food, or hold the meat with your hands in any wise; and also if divers good meats are brought to you, look that all courtesy ye assay of each; and if your dish be taken away with its meat and another brought, courtesy demands that ye shall let it go and not ask for it back again. Citation From these warnings, we have a good idea of what conventional table manners were like during the time! The most prominent courtesy book during the Viking Age was The Havamal, or the Sayings of the High One (the God Oðinn), much the way that Proverbs is attributed to Solomon. It appears as a single poem in the Poetic Edda but was a combination of different individual poems that presents advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom. For example, it notes: 25 The unwise man thinks them all to be his friends, those who laugh at him; then he finds when he comes to the Thing (assembly) that he has few supporters. Citation From this, we can assume that many persons trust too much those who re friendly during good times, which must have occurred regularly. Reading, studying and appreciating the different stanzas of The Havamal can be illuminating! Kennings and Meanings Kennings are poetic phrases the are used to refer to other common phrases. “Kennings are like riddles, allegories, metaphors, and allusions rolled all into one.” They are listed in the Prose Edda of the Christian writer, Snorri Sturluson, and their meanings are often portals into the minds of the writer and the people of the time: Aegir’s daughters waves Baldur’s bane mistletoe blood-ember axe blood-worm sword breaker of rings King or chieftain breaker of trees wind As such, the Prose Edda should be read and studied! What it might tell you bout the mindset of the time—or at least that of a couple centuries later, based on a comprehension of previous times—is very fruitful! To Be Continued Probably the best courtesy book for Viking reenactors is The Havamal, a collection of sayings and epigrams that tells those—presumably but not exclusively the young—how they should properly behave.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s