12 August 2009

Men: The List of Rig

By Michelle Styles

Because of the two Eddas, poetic and prose, it is possible to understand more about the way the Vikings thought and acted--in particular how they viewed themselves and what traits they held to be important.

The so-called List of Rig, which only exists in an incomplete form. is probably the best saga to shows which traits were considered to desirable.

Rig most likely comes from the Irish word for king, or ri. This saga is supposed to be about the god Heimdall's creation of mankind and Viking society.

It explains the basic structure of society, dividing it into three parts: labourer, farmer and finally lord. In each segment certain traits are praised.

For example, the labourer is praised for making strong baskets, being able to work with swine, look after goats and dig turf. When his future partner arrives, they talk and whisper together then go to bed together. The farmer or thane is supposed to be able to build houses, make carts and ploughs, and tame oxen. It is also notable that the farmer gets married properly to his wife rather than simply setting up house like the labourer does. They also spread the bed coverlets before going to bed. The farmer is also constantly working and has no time for leisure pursuits. He whittles and works with wood.

For the lord, the making of bow strings and arrows is important as is the ability to hunt with hounds, to ride horses, to wield a sword and to swim as well as being able to play tafl. In short, he has leisure time and knows how to use it wisely.The lord also has to know how to use his wealth--offering his followers treasure and gifts. He also takes time out for romance as the list mentions looking into one another's eyes--something that is missing from the labourer's or the farmer's list.

When the lord marries, it is mentioned that Erna, the wife is radiant and wise and that they loved one another. Erna the wife brings embroidered coverlets rather than simply woven ones, again implying that she is not just spinning the entire time and has some time for leisure pursuits. It is also mentioned that lords drink wine rather than drinking ale.

Finally, anyone marked out for kingship must know their runes, as well as how to deaden sword blades and quiet oceans, only then will he be considered worthy.

What is clear from this particular saga is that it is not simply the arts of war that are prized for Vikings but also other traits such as being able to play strategy games, conduct a romance, help in childbirth (the mention of a man helping out in childbirth surprised me know end, but I suspect it also might be a reference to the practice of exposing sickly babies) and knowing how to correctly interpret signs and riddles.

Anyway, reading the List of Rig helped give me insight into those qualities that the Vikings considered important for their men to have.

Michelle Styles has written three historical romances about the Vikings. The third one, THE VIKING'S CAPTIVE PRINCESS, will published in North America in December 2009.