09/14/05 - vikings

In today's excerpt - the medieval Vikings, terrorists of their time,  fearless in battle because of their greater fear of the loss of name and reputation—of being forgotten:

"The supposedly fearless Vikings ... terrorists whom Europe feared most between the eighth and twelfth centuries ... managed to brave the seas to pillage, ransom and create havoc from Constantinople to Lisbon to Dublin, even though they carried inside them all the usual fears of poor peasants, as well as the loneliness of Scandinavia's long nights ...

"An immortal reputation became the Viking's goal: nothing could be worse than to be forgotten, the respect of others was for them the sweetest form of riches. Death in battle ceased to be frightening, when it was seen as an opportunity to show self-control in the face of danger, and accepted with equanimity, regarded as trivial compared to the glory that could be won by dying with dignity ...

"But this induced another fear, ... of [showing fear or weakness]. When King Harald the Ruthless (1015-66) wanted to pay a supreme compliment to someone, he described him as unmoved by sudden events: 'Whether it was danger or relief or whatever peril loomed, he was never in higher or lower spirits, never slept less or more, and never ate or drank, save according to his custom.' The Viking theory was that there could be no useful purpose in showing fear, which would mean that they had lost their independence."


Theodore Zeldin


An Intimate History of Humanity




Copyright 1994 by Theodore Zeldin


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