Denmark’s past of bloody Vikings has often been glamorized in recent times with movies such as Thor and the TV series (aptly named) Vikings making entertainment out of the country’s past. However its real history is barbaric, bloody, gritty and absolutely compelling. As I, like probably everyone seemingly ever, am captivated by all things Viking related I jumped at the opportunity to learn about all of this through the Danish culture course Norse Mythology. Although the title deals with the pagan religion that was practiced in Scandinavia for centuries it is a general class on all things Viking related.
Naturally the first lesson that takes place goes through dispelling all the erroneous mythology displayed in the Marvel Films. Well apparently Loki isn’t all that bad, unlike Tom Hiddlestone’s depiction of him in the pictures. He seems more impish and mischievous, like some sort of loveable rogue, compared to the downright naughty Marvel character. And Odin isn’t all that peace loving as he’s shown in the movies. In fact in true Norse tradition he loves war and unrest. Which is, as it may not surprise you, a very common theme in Nordic Mythology.
The course comes with two trips to ancient Viking sites that are pretty special. The first was to Southern Sweden (cheekily referred to as Eastern Denmark if you’re from the land of pastries and bacon) and the second was a trip to the amazingly intact remains of the Viking ship tat Roskilde. The first trip came in a few weeks into the course. We all hopped on a coach to head to Skåne (Southern Sweden) to visit some ancient Viking burial grounds including what is affectionately referred to as a the Scandinavian Stonehenge, which, if you’ve ever been to British Stonehenge you’ll understand, is fittingly ever so slightly disappointing. We also stopped off at an ancient burial ground, which was a lot more impressive. A thick layer of fog added a great deal of pathetic fallacy to the situation; the fog shrouded us and the ancient gravestones (basically huge stones) whilst the trip organiser discussed the importance of the funeral to the ancient Scandinavians. And apparently yes, the image of Viking ships on fire was accurate, but only for those wealthy or worthy enough for a burial at sea.
For the second trip we went to the Viking ship museum in Roskilde. Which is probably the second most famous attraction for the town, with the yearly music festival of course being the biggest. It was a great insight into the ships they used, which it turns out weren’t simply run on the oar power of hairy burly men. Some of them went incredibly long distances at a time when crossing the British Channel was incredibly treacherous and difficult for those living in the country. There’s a reason they were the first to discover the Americas some five hundred years before Columbus set sail.
All in all the course cemented my pre-existing conception that the vikings were a pretty innovative bunch of guys, also quite mental but wasn’t everyone a thousand years ago?