Ethics, Professionalism, Integrity And Corruption In The Work Of An Officer
When you think of a Viking, what image comes to mind? Is it a jolly fellow delivering sugar cookies to the local community, or rescuing puppies from tall trees? Perhaps an individual who sings in the local choir? Depictions such as these seem quite ridiculous when discussing these seafaring folks. Most people would speak on the barbarism of this group, from their pillaging of different villages to their bloodthirsty behaviour. Leading many to the misguided assumption that Vikings had little to contribute to history, other than their obscene deeds. Yet once you investigate early Nordic beliefs and practices, you find a truly immersive culture. A culture woven with artistic elements such as art, poems, and sagas. Sagas such as the one of Egil, that illustrates life during this period to be more than bloodshed, whilst still depicting deep human relationships. Another major part of their values was their deep religious beliefs. Cultural facets such as these prove that the Viking Era of the 9th to 11th century, was more than bands of deranged psychopaths voyaging the tides of Scandinavia.
Art played an integral part of Nordic society, from poems recited, to runes on shields and weapons that related to ancestral ties. It was a means of expressing the trials and tribulations of a person’s life, passing down knowledge, sharing humour, or giving praise to the Gods. Egil Skallagrimsson was a man who used the might of his axe to the same extent as his words help further this point. Throughout the Saga, the use of poems is utilized by Egil to give meaning to his life. A life plagued with misery and destruction, yet with the aid of poetry, Egil seems to overcome his circumstances. One poem that supports this claim can be found at the latter portion of his life.
“Time seems long in passingas I lie alone,a senile old manon the downy bed. My legs are twofrigid widows,those women need some flame.
This poem not only shows the status of Egil's life but also incorporates many of the functions of Viking poetry. The use of the phrase, "I lie alone" shows the emotional state Egil found himself in, as his family had either died or abandoned him. His state of depression leads Egil, the once feared, back to poetry, as his sole escape from his grim life. This can be seen to represent how Vikings applied poetry as a means of depicting the struggles of their lives. The line, “a senile old man” shows that even after Egil’s countless conquests and victories, in the end, his legend could not delay his physical deterioration and the eventual loss of his eyesight. Adding to this point is the line “on the downy bed. ” Downy meaning covered with fine soft hair or feathers, this line implying the wealth Egil acquired throughout his journeys, at this stage in his life was not as valuable and could not equate his health. This can be understood as a signal by Egil, to pass down knowledge to his children about life and the uselessness of material possessions. Lastly, the phrase, “My legs are two frigid widows, those women need some flame” can be viewed as a twist of humor. Even on his potential deathbed, Egil still musters the creative vision (pun intended) to add comedy to his poems. On the other hand, these remarks may be an illustration of the female goddess Freyja. Freyja being connected to wealth, magic, lust, and significant to Egil her ability to grant fertility. [footnoteRef: 5] Which bring me to the last aspect of Nordic poetry, a worship for the Gods. All these hidden messages can be discovered, by merely analyzing one of Egil’s poems. This strengthens our premise about the importance of poetry in uncovering various beliefs held by these Norsemen.
Trekking on, one cannot speak of the Viking civilization without mentioning their adventurous sagas, tales that mixed fiction with historical fact and aid in our current understanding of the early Scandinavian world. Even in our modern world, historians find some aspects hard to distinguish as being factual, and many continue to debate the various details. Leading some to question whether placing trust within the accounts of these authors is wise? Yet this belief fails to appreciate how well these stories shine a light on the world of the Vikings. Perhaps they were meant to be regarded as works of art rather than literal historical documents. For the same reason, it is absurd to judge an impressionistic painter and ask why their art is not “life-like. ” It should be fair to extend the same token towards authors of old, who in contrast exchange their paintbrush for the pen and the canvas for the page.
Furthermore, these sagas teach lessons on numerous beliefs. As well, they introduce unforgettable characters who serve as symbolic representations of the people of Scandinavia and their beliefs and practices. One such individual (as mentioned above) being Egil Skallagrimsson, who had the ability to drop fiery lyrical bars of poetry then proceed to slaughter your entire family. Comically, in many ways, he had the persona of a modern-day gangster rapper. His character showed the barbarity often associated with Vikings, yet at the same time a gentler stance. An example of this mixture of fiction in Egil's Saga is when Bard places a curse above a drink and then tells the serving woman to give it to Egil. He then stabs his own hand and proceeds to carve runes into the drinking-horn. Then later smears it with fresh blood, which in the tale shattered the drink and broke the omen.
To say this really happened would be quite a stretch and require little knowledge about the physical world. Nonetheless, it shows not the reality of the world, but rather the social beliefs that inhabited it. The author uses scenarios such as this one to create vivid images for the reader. These images show what Nordic people perceived the nature of the world to be. Not only does speaking about runes/magic demonstrate beliefs, but it also connects with different practices of the time. Evidence of this can be found by how casting curses and performing rituals held the ability to strike fear into the minds of some. A common practice of this time was the creation of Nithing Poles. The decapitated heads of animals were attached to such poles. These poles were used as means of casting curses on individuals who trespassed against them. We find an instance of this within Egil's Saga after Egil crossed King Eirik. When Egil returned to the Isle of Herdla, he took a horse’s head and placed it atop a pole. With his new-found magical device, Egil uttered the words, "Here I set up this scorn-pole and turn its scorn upon King Eirik and Queen Gunnhild…” This excerpt shows just how profound these practices were and their meaning to the culture. Some, in today's context, reflect on these ancient beliefs as useless due to their fictional background, yet this simple-minded examination fails to understand an entire layer, essential to viewing the complexity of this ancient group.
Lastly, Norse pagan religions served as a method of diversifying Vikings from the run of the mill brutes. Their religions were mostly oral traditions, which meant that they would differ from place to place. This variation gave the Gods numerous personalities and tales. With these new beliefs being accepted, came the Poetic Edda, a time between the 9th and 10th century.
The Gods were a vital part of the Norse culture, from their behaviour to the means in which they practiced their beliefs. The emulation of the Gods through personal action was a great motivator for Vikings. This can be seen in part by their raiding and the value of certain traits such as bravery. A case of this is how Vikings would rush into battle with little to no fear, a behaviour stemming from their belief in Valhalla. A place of famed legend where those who died in battle went and met the God Odin.
Pagan ideologies also continued onto their treatment of women, which when compared to other parts of Europe seemed revolutionary at the time. This can be looked at through two different lenses. Firstly, since men were gone on voyages that could last months, leaving greater responsibility falling on women within the household. Secondly, it can be justified that since female goddesses (Freyja) existed women were given a higher societal standing. Furthering this argument, women could communicate with the Gods, unlike men who did not share this power. may have lead to the general belief that they were somewhat equal.
In conclusion, with a combination of artistry that was present from poetry to runes and Sagas alike, that gave detailed lineages of entire family trees and provided in-depth accounts of Nordic beliefs and practices. As well as various religious ideologies that encompassed most of Scandinavia, we can find an amalgamation of fascinating aspects of culture. In the act of dismissing the Vikings for their sinister actions such as murder, rape, pillaging. We fail to appreciate the rigorous evidence that shows the Vikings were more then the cruel warriors' history portrays them to be.