Ironic Viking Expeditions

Gotta say, I was really into explorers when I was a kid. No,not Dora, that obnoxious kids' cartoon. And not Jacques Cousteau, the famous French oceanographer who waited for his wife to die before announcing to the world that he actually had a secret "other" family--a mistress and kids--that he'd previously failed to divulge to the missus (who does that?). And, likewise, I'm not referring to the slew of TV shows exploring the possibility of aliens, ghosts or the Abominable Snowman, Yeti, the mythical creature supposedly haunting the Himalayas. Nah, I'm talkin' about the big throwbacks, like Magellan, da Gama, those crazy Vikings, Erik the Red and his kid, Leif Eriksson. Guys like Sir Francis Drake or Hernan Cortes. Hell, even Columbus, although his blunders were legendary (i.e., thinking the Bahamas were the Indies; finding America instead of the intended westward route to the Far East?), but who am I to throw shade on Chris; I can get lost at the mall quicker than it takes a Kardashian to snap a selfie.

Indeed, reading about these courageous voyagers heading off on a ship with absolutely no GPS, no Google Maps and the real fear that--according to the prevailing theory of the time--they could sail right off the edge of a very flat world into oblivion, sparked a sense of adventure in me as a young lad. In looking back, especially when it came to the Vikings, it's obvious that the books I'd read omitted plenty of the gory details regarding the savagery of these marauding mariners, preferring to focus on the excitement of hitting land, making contact with the inhabitants and returning home to a hero's welcome, having successfully discovered a newfound trade route. Curiously, I have no recollection of any raping and pillaging. Seems all the murder and mayhem kinda got swept under the rug.

That being said, I decided to get to the bottom of the Viking exploits, utilizing all the internet had to offer, attempting to discover (ya' know, kinda like an explorer?) the reality of what actually transpired on the high seas back in the day. As it turns out, these extremely brutal men sailed to Britain via Scandinavian territories starting around the year 800 A.D. and continuing well into the 11th century, raiding and pillaging like there was no tomorrow. They were known as pirates, raiders, traders and, finally, settlers. Obviously, not your model citizens. But here's the thing: even with all the negatives, there was a plus factor; they were responsible for introducing silver, silks, spices and wine along with jewelry, glass and pottery to the United Kingdom. So yeah, we're talkin' a trade off, albeit crazily unfair, with the thought, "Okay, we're gonna wreak some serious carnage on you guys but just know that our parting gifts include a swag bag that's gonna blow you away!" Oh, and one other thing these Nordic interlopers passed on to the people of Britain?... sarcasm.

Surprisingly, that dry, ironic drollery the English are so well known for comes compliments of the Danes. Who knew? That's right, according to experts, Vikings had this really dark sense of humor, even joking in the midst of deadly battles. Examples of old Norse sagas include, "The hero’s brother, Atli, is stabbed fatally through the stomach, whereupon his dying words are ‘I see that broad spears are in fashion this year.'"... Say what? The man's gasping his last breaths and he's making spear jokes? Or how 'bout this: When the Viking Helgi gets his lower lip cut off in a battle, he responds to his opponent: "I have never been particularly handsome and you haven't exactly improved my attractiveness."... Dude, your lip's on the ground and you opt for the self-deprecating humor? Blimey, Ricky Gervais has got nothing on these guys!

Pretty enlightening stuff, for sure. Makes me wonder what it would've been like in Britain at the time. Imagine a husband coming home to his wife with the Viking bag of swag, exclaiming, "Check it out, honey, I've got spices, wine and sarcasm." "What in the world is sarcasm?" comes the response from the puzzled spouse. "Maybe if you got out more, you'd realize", replies the now sarcastically indoctrinated hubby. "All I know is it better go good with the spices and wine!" is the quick-to-catch-on wife's rejoinder as she exits with a sardonic eye-roll. "Right, blame the wrong spices and wine for another lousy dinner!" he yells after her. "Hey, this sarcasm's great; maybe next time you can bring home something that you, and not one of your conquerors, actually came up with!" chides the missus, getting the last word...

Funny, isn't it, how sometimes when you look for answers to a question, you discover something completely unexpected. Here I was concerned about all the murder and mayhem the Vikings unleashed on Britain and it turns out this perpetual sarcasm thing may have been the worst of their crimes... Kind of ironic, actually.