Category Archives: Uncategorized

Egyptian Ship Discovered, Herodotus Triumphant

From the Sunday Guardian: “In 450 BC Herodotus witnessed the construction of a baris. He noted how the builders ‘cut planks two cubits long [around 100cm] and arrange them like bricks.’ He added: ‘On the strong and long tenons [pieces of wood] they insert two-cubit planks. When they have built their ship in this way, they stretch beams over them… They obturate the seams from within with papyrus. There is one rudder, passing through a hole in the keel. The mast is of acacia and the sails of papyrus…'”

Scholars haven’t known how to handle Herodotus’s description of this ancient ship built for navigating the Nile River, because archaeologists had not uncovered any evidence of one or similar construction. Now they have, and they are saying the historical description is accurate in every way. (via Prufrock News)

Personal appearance advisory

I will be speaking at Union University, Jackson, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 9, on the subject: “When Christianity Came to the Vikings.” More information here.

Thanks to Ray Van Neste, Dean of the School of Theology and Missions, and Hunter Baker, Dean of Arts and Sciences, for putting whatever pressure was necessary on the right people to allow this event to happen.

A Little Irish

St. Patrick’s Day is Sunday, so here are some numbers and facts on Ireland and the Irish.

1.76 million = Irish who say they speak Irish on occasion, when filing an affirmative action claim, or when they’re drunk
73 thousand = Irish who claim to speak it daily (source)

Irish does not have yes and no as words. Instead they respond affirmatively or negatively, such as “Sure, we do,” or “I wouldn’t say that.” Many of them follow this pattern in English too. (source)

6 = Number of times more likely you will be murdered in Ireland than in England or Wales. (source)

“It would be great then if the Americans and the Germans who come to Dublin in large numbers, and claim to love the city, had [Karl] Whitney’s book in hand rather than, say, Ulysses, or some official guide book, and began to pay attention to the city’s underground rivers and its great unfinished estates, not to speak of the strange bus routes and the many holes in the ground, the hidden and essential life of Dublin.”

All Irish can sing; many can dance. “Most – if not all – people I’ve met can do at least part of the original Riverdance. They bring it out at nightclubs, weddings, funerals. They also stand on tables and sing the national anthem at the end of the night. In Australia this only happens at sporting events, school assemblies and anti-immigration rallies but here it’s just the bar’s way of telling you to bugger off home. “

Death is a big deal. “I’ve been to better Irish funerals than Australian weddings. ” (source – cautions)

And from 2017 Port Music Series on Trad Tg4 Irish Music Channel comes this marvelous piece of singing.

Photo by Diogo Palhais on Unsplash

Dispatch from the Barren North

Actual photo of my front yard. Photo, public domain.

OK, the picture above isn’t really from my place. But it expresses my personal truth.

I actually took a picture of my front yard for you, but then I thought, “Why give my enemies another clue about where to find me?”

In fact, the big snowstorm wasn’t that big. Six inches or so of heavy, wet snow. But on top of all the rest, it amounts to a lot of meringue.

I’d decided not to worry about ice dams this year – those little walls of ice that build up over the gutters, which freeze at night and often force ice up under your shingles – because my attic isn’t heated. But I talked to my neighbor the other day, and he pointed to the actual, existing ice dams on my house. He suggested I might want to do something about them. I should have gone to work with my roof rake that day, but I had a bad cold, and wanted to postpone it.

This morning I still had the cold, but decided I’d better get on it. My efforts proved ineffectual – the whole, thick layer of snow on top of my roof is hard as a glacier now, and I was only able to rake off the layer that fell over the weekend.

But I had further advice from my neighbor. “Those salt pucks work,” he said.

Salt pucks are pieces of salt you can toss onto your roof. They melt in place, and reduce the pressure overall (I guess).

I set out in search of salt pucks this morning. I thought, “I’ll bet everybody’s sold out.”

I was correct. (For a change.) But the local hardware store says they’re getting some tomorrow.

I tossed some sidewalk salt on the roof, and am hoping for the best.

Today was a nice day to be out and about, though. The temperature was still below freezing, but the sun is strong at last – like the mighty eagles at the climax of The Lord of the Rings – and thawing is going on wherever it shines.

Tomorrow will be warm, and the day after will be cold again.

It is not the end. But it is the beginning of the end.

‘Ragnarok’ is coming

Once again, I’ve gotten clearance to tell you about a project I’ve helped to translate.

‘Ragnarok’ is a miniseries based on Norse mythology, set in the present day in a Norwegian high school (!).

You can read more about it here.

If you’re wondering what I think about the series… well, let me say this. Though it’s set in a high school, if I had high school kids, I wouldn’t want them to watch it.

In other news, we’re expecting about a foot (more) of snow this weekend.

I think I can speak for all Minnesotans when I say this has gone beyond a joke.

The finished product

And here’s the final poster produced by the 99th Infantry folks. I’m quite happy with it. No, that’s not true. I’m delighted.

What you can’t see in the original picture (below) is that I’m surrounded by snow. Lots and lots of snow. And it’s snowed a few inches since the picture was taken. I mentioned to someone that it’s kind of like living in the trenches in WWI (except for minor details like automatic weapons fire). We have trenches to walk in, and trenches to drive in. We generally don’t go anywhere without a trench.

The gas company sent an announcement that we should check that the vent pipes around our gas meters are clear. If they’re blocked, we could suffocate. But to get to mine, I’d have to plow through two or three feet of snow — more where the snow shoveling piles are. And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to do that. From a distance, it looks as if the snow isn’t drifted very high just at that point.

“Uncle Lars Wants you”

Sorry to post another picture of myself.

No, I’m not. I love it.

Anyway, you may recall my small involvement with the group devoted to memorializing the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), the commando battalion recruited from Norwegian expatriates and Norwegian-Americans during World War II.

I was recently asked to be their “spokesviking,” and they asked for some pictures of me in my kit, in the James Montgomery Flagg “I WANT YOU” style. I meant to get photos taken during our reenactment group’s Viking feast last week, but the forces of nature made that impossible, as is their wont in these parts.

So I got a friend over to take some yesterday. Here’s one. I sent several off to the 99th people, and I’ve seen a preliminary mock-up of what they’re going to do with it. It’s pretty cool. I look forward to sharing the finished product.

Alert the Media: Walker could be wrong

A while back, I blogged about a recent article declaring that a Swedish Viking warrior’s grave, long assumed to be male, was probably that of a woman. I cited Judith Jesch’s critiques of the article, which she considered over the top and under-authenticated.

A recent article in in the Journal Antiquity has addressed those objections. Researchers insist that the body in the grave was indeed that of a woman.

The barrage of questions from the public and other scientists was unrelenting: Were the researchers sure they had analyzed the right bones? Was there more than one body in the burial, of which one was surely a man? And if the warrior’s sex was indeed female, is it possible they were a transgender man? [See Images of the Viking Woman Warrior’s Burial]

Now, in a new study published online yesterday (Feb. 19) in the journal Antiquity, the researchers of the original study have reaffirmed their conclusion that this mighty individual was a woman. The new study addresses all the questions people raised, and more.

Living Science reports on it here.

I have to eat a small amount of crow in this case, but all in all I’ve decided to dig my heels in. I’m suspicious of this story. It doesn’t fit the textual accounts — either the contemporary chronicles or the Icelandic sagas.

I keep coming back to my “dog in the nighttime” argument. If Viking armies were full of fighting females, why are the monastic chroniclers silent about it? How could they resist denouncing “unnatural females” and “monstrous witches” in such a situation?

So I’m waiting for more information. Ms. Jesch seems not entirely satisfied as well.

However, I’ll admit I’m prejudiced.

Series preview

Sofia Helin (Crown Princess Martha) tries to persuade Kyle MacLachlan (Pres. Franklin Roosevelt) to support the Norwegian government in exile, in a scene from Atlantic Crossing.

I happened to check the IMDb page for Atlantic Crossing, the coming miniseries I helped translate, yesterday. I found the above picture there, and thought it might interest you. I happen to know, through my high-level personal connections in the industry, that this scene was filmed in Czechoslovakia, last month. My boss, who’s one of the script writers, sent me a picture of herself sitting at that desk, in the set replica of the Oval Office.

Don’t rush to pencil in a viewing date, though. The thing apparently won’t be released until early 2021 — and that’s in Norway. Heaven knows when it’ll be available here.

Translator’s notes

Oslo, where I work. OK, remotely. But this is how it looks while I’m working. Photo credit:
Håkon von Hirsch@hakonvh

Sorry about not posting yesterday. That will happen from time to time, under the new regime. My schedule is not my own.

Last week I got zero assignments. Null, as we say in Norwegian. In the resulting vacuum, I went a little nuts. I developed a sudden mania I’d never had before – I went out to lunch every day, sometimes to restaurants I’d never visited. I felt I needed to discover my options, up my dining game a little. It passed, thank goodness. I ain’t made of money.

Yesterday a job came in – and, not surprisingly, it was a big one with a tight deadline. I always get a little nervous when I take one of those on, because I’m still uncertain of my powers. I live in terror of not meeting a deadline – causing my boss to fail to deliver on a contract, bringing the whole business down in ignominy. In fact, I’m better than I think, and I don’t generally have much trouble. I got this job done before I expected to.

And today, another job and another tight deadline. But I finished the first draft before supper, and I’ll give it a polish this evening and send it off, so they’ll have it in Oslo when business starts tomorrow. No sweat.

But I did sweat, a little. I’m a worrier.

General observations on the Norwegian film industry from my perspective: I’d say 60 to 80% of my work is on scripts concerning spunky single mothers trying to make it in a man’s world. (Even the one I can tell you about, Atlantic Crossing, is about a woman raising her children alone – though she’s a princess without many career worries.) That scenario appears to be what they think people want to watch just now. I suppose it indicates that the bulk of the audience, both for movies and TV, is women. Which is probably true. But is it cause or effect?

Not to say that these scripts are heavy with radical feminism or man-hatred. They’re generally pretty good in that regard. It just seems that the production companies want to see stories through women’s eyes.

Scott Sterling, Comic gold

Witness comic genius in these two skits about the epic Yale athlete Scott Sterling and his ability to block the ball. The first video featuring soccer penalty kicks came out in 2014 (though before this weekend I thought it was much older than that). It’s one of the funniest videos of the decades, only made better by the follow-up volleyball video released in 2016. The execution and pacing of these videos sells the comedy marvelously.

The unstoppable Scott Sterling, soccer goalie
The unstoppable Scott Sterling, volleyball team captain

Like the man said, when Armageddon comes I want to be in a bunker made of that man’s face.

A little tour of Avaldsnes

From time to time I talk to you about the parish of Avaldsnes in Norway, where my great-grandfather was born, and where one of the most dramatic events in Erling Skjalgsson’s career occurred.

They’re very aware of their Viking heritage at Avaldsnes, as you can see by viewing the short video below. This is the Viking farm they’ve built on the nearby island of Bukkoy. I’m not sure why they identify the naust (boathouse) as a great hall — except that that’s how it’s used in the TV series Northmen, which is filmed there. But still, this video will give you some idea of the place.

Lewis: Not Jack, but chessmen

I’m continuing to read (and enjoy) Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings, about the Lewis chessmen. In spite of my enjoyment, I’m making slow progress in reading. So I have embedded the short video above to give you some background, if you’re interested.

Fun fact from Brown’s book: The Lewis chessmen are the oldest we have with “bishops.” Earlier sets used other figures in that position. So they may mark a point of departure in chess history.

The sufferings of ‘S’

In this strange life I’ve stumbled into, I spend a lot of time living inside a foreign language. I think I’m beginning to develop a slight empathy for what foreigners encounter when they try to learn our very bizarre English tongue.

What struck me the other day was the way we use (or torture) the letter S.

At the end of a word, “s” can mean one of three different things in English:

  • It can mean a simple plural: “dog” becomes “dogs.”
  • If we precede it with an apostrophe, it means a possessive: “Edward’s” (except in the case of “its,” an unfortunate and confusing side effect of the very problem I’m complaining about).
  • Finally, when used with a verb, it means present tense: “This is the product Acme makes.”

This is all the result of bad table manners on the part of the English people – bolting down a Germanic language and Old French without chewing them properly (Old Norse for dessert).

Norwegian is much more rational (a final “s” means possessive. That’s all). I’ll bet Chinese is too.

And pretty much any other language you could name.

But I love English. It’s kind of like one of those exclusive neighborhoods with the winding, poorly marked streets: “Welcome to Pretentious Heights, Minnesota. If you can’t find your way around, it’s probably because you don’t belong here in the first place.”