Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Year 1000: What Life Was Like At the Turn of the First Millennium : an Englishman's World by Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger (1999)

Lacey and Danziger lit up a Dark Ages a bit, at least the English Dark Ages.  Watching Vikings recently has me more and more interested in that time period.  We know so little!  I like the Anglo-Saxons.  I'm particularly intrigued by Queen Emma of Normandy, who was married to two kings (King Æthelred the Unready and King Cnut the Great) and mother to two more kings (King Edward the Confessor and King Harthacnut).  My knowledge of English history gets very spotty in certain spots, and anything before 1066 was one of them - until now!  She sounds like a kick ass woman, and I'm surprised she's not more well known.  

"It only takes a morning to read all surviving Anglo-Saxon poetry."  I wonder what great ones didn't survive.  
I thought of another cool tidbit about the book. That while dog poop and other kinds of poop survive from this time period, people poop didn't. "Human stools, on the other hand, have not often survived in a similarly cohesive form, suggesting that bowels in the year 1000 were subject to significantly looser motions than they are today.  Recurring gut infections and a diet with a high vegetable content are the likely reasons for this."  Wow!  History about poop.  That's rare.

Those Anglo-Saxons had filthy minds too, which is wonderful to contemplate.  Cold, long winter nights had to be spent doing something in the truly dark ages before electricity and television and nearly universal literacy and video games.  So they told riddles, and some of them were delightfully dirty:

I am a strange creature, for I satisfy women...
I grow very tall, erect in bed,
I'm hairy underneath.  From time to time
A beautiful girl, the brave daughter
Of some fellow dares to hold me
Grips my reddish skin, robs me of my head
And puts me in the pantry.  At once that girl
With plaited hair who has confined me
remembers our meeting.  Her eye moistens.

It's an ONION!


A man came walking where he knew
She stood in a corner, stepped forward;
The bold fellow plucked up his own
Skirt by the hand, stuck something stiff
Beneath her belt as she stood,
Worked his will.  They both wiggled.
The man hurried: his trusty helper
Plied a handy task, but tired
At length, less strong now than she, 
Weary of the work.  Thick beneath
Her belt swelled the thing good men
Praise with their hearts and purses.


These were copied down by monks.  Great fun.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Lacey and Danziger make the Dark Ages a little less dark - at least the English side of the Dark Ages.  A quick read, quite interesting,and concisely but interestingly written.  Some interesting tidbits strewn throughout (I'm fascinated by Queen Emma of Normandy now, wife of two kings, mother of two more - she sounds fabulous).  Interesting stuff.

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