Saturday, 19 November 2011

World Toilet Day 2011: Taking Our Baths and Our Women

Hooray, hooray, today is World Toilet Day!

Toilets and sanitation are very important, and, believe it or not, lacking in large parts of the world. Taps and toilets save lives! Today we'll be illustrating what happens when you mess around with sanitation.

A Jorvik Viking toilet. Read more about Viking hygiene in Jorvik here
We're feeling not only sanitarily minded but also ever so slightly intellectual today, and so we've decided to treat you all to a riveting story about a Viking toilet feud in 10th-11th-century Iceland! Below are a couple of extracts from chapters 4 and 9 of Eyrbyggja saga, the saga of the people of Eyrr, first in Icelandic, then the English translation. Both versions are from the Icelandic Saga Database.

Chapter 4

Þórólfur kallaði Þórsnes milli Vigrafjarðar og Hofsvogs. Í því nesi stendur eitt fjall. Á því fjalli hafði Þórólfur svo mikinn átrúnað að þangað skyldi engi maður óþveginn líta og engu skyldi tortíma í fjallinu, hvorki fé né mönnum, nema sjálft gengi í brott. Það fjall kallaði hann Helgafell og trúði að hann mundi þangað fara þá er hann dæi og allir á nesinu hans frændur.
Þar sem Þór hafði á land komið, á tanganum nessins, lét hann hafa dóma alla og setti þar héraðsþing. Þar var og svo mikill helgistaður að hann vildi með engu móti láta saurga völlinn, hvorki í heiftarblóði og eigi skyldi þar álfrek ganga og var haft til þess sker eitt er Dritsker var kallað.
(http://sagadb.org/eyrbyggja_saga)

(Now Thorolf called that ness Thorsness which lieth between Swordfirth and Templewick; on the ness is a fell, and that fell Thorolf held in such worship that he laid down that no man unwashed should turn his eyes thither, and that nought should be done to death on the fell, either man or beast, until it went therefrom of its own will. That fell he called Holy Fell, and he trowed that thither he should fare when he died, and all his kindred from the ness. On the tongue of the ness whereas Thor had come a-land he made all dooms be held, and thereon he set up a county Thing.
And so holy a place that was, that he would nowise that men should defile the field with blood-shedding, and moreover none should go thither for their needs, but to that end was appointed a skerry called Dirtskerry.)

 Chapter 9

Það var eitt vor á Þórsnessþingi að þeir mágar, Þorgrímur Kjallaksson og Ásgeir á Eyri, gerðu orð á að þeir mundu eigi leggja drag undir ofmetnað Þórsnesinga og það að þeir mundu ganga þar örna sinna sem annars staðar á mannfundum á grasi þótt þeir væru svo stolts að þeir gerðu lönd sín helgari en aðrar jarðir í Breiðafirði. Lýstu þeir þá yfir því að þeir mundu eigi troða skó til að ganga þar í útsker til álfreka.
En er Þorsteinn þorskabítur varð þessa var vildi hann eigi þola að þeir saurguðu þann völl er Þórólfur faðir hans hafði tignað umfram aðra staði í sinni landeign. Heimti hann þá að sér vini sína og ætlaði að verja þeim vígi völlinn ef þeir hygðust að saurga hann. Að þessu ráði hurfu með honum Þorgeir kengur, sonur Geirröðar á Eyri, og Álftfirðingar, Þorfinnur og Þorbrandur sonur hans, Þórólfur bægifótur og margir aðrir þingmenn Þorsteins og vinir.
En um kveldið er Kjalleklingar voru mettir tóku þeir vopn sín og gengu út í nesið. En er þeir Þorsteinn sáu að þeir sneru af þeim veg er til skersins lá þá hljópu þeir til vopna og runnu eftir þeim með ópi og eggjan. Og er Kjalleklingar sáu það hljópu þeir saman og vörðu sig. En Þórsnesingar gerðu svo harða atgöngu að Kjalleklingar hrukku af vellinum og í fjöruna. Snerust þeir þá við og varð þar hinn harðasti bardagi með þeim. Kjalleklingar voru færri og höfðu einvalalið.
(http://sagadb.org/eyrbyggja_saga)

(On a spring-tide at Thorsness Thing these brothers-in-law Thorgrim Kiallakson and Asgeir of Ere gave out that they would not give a lift to the pride of the Thorsness-folk, and that they would go their errands in the grass as otherwhere men do in man-motes, though those men were so proud that they made their lands holier than other lands of Broadfirth. They gave forth that they would not tread shoe for the going to the out-skerries for their easements.
But when Thorstein Codbiter was ware of this, he had no will that they should defile that field which Thorolf his father had honoured over all other places in his lands.
So he called his friends to him, and bade them keep those folk from the field by battle if they were minded to defile it.
In this rede were with him Thorgeir the son of Geirrod of Ere, and the Swanfirthers Thorfin and Thorbrand his son, Thorolf Halt- foot, and many other thingmen and friends of Thorstein.
But in the evening when the Kiallekings were full of meat they took their weapons and went out on to the ness; but when Thorstein and his folk saw that they turned off from the road that lay skerry-ward, they sprang to their weapons and ran after them with whooping and egging on. And when the Kiallekings saw that, they ran together and defended themselves.
But those of Thorsness made so hard an onset that Kiallak and his men shrunk off the field and clown to the foreshore, and then they turned against them therewith, and there was a hard battle between them; the Kiallekings were the fewer, but they had a chosen band.)

And so a feud kicks off that kills off most of the inhabitants of the entire district - because some dudes couldn't be bothered walking all the way to the very inconveniently located Dirtskerry, and so decided to do their business on some other dude's holy ground, instead!
And so you see, having somewhere clean, private and convenient to go to the toilet is extremely important!

A modern-day Viking toilet
 On a side note, may we add that a Very Special Friend of Intellectual Friend's points out that according to the 12th-century historian John of Wallingford, one of the reasons why the English carried out a foul and treacherous massacre of Danes was - wait for it - that they considered them too clean!
John of Wallingford says, in translation,

[The Danes] had also either seized, or prepared to seize, all the best towns in the land, and caused much trouble to the natives of the land; for they were wont, after the fashion of their country, to comb their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their garments often, and set off their persons by many such frivolous devices. In this manner they laid siege to the virtue of the married women, and persuaded the daughters even of the nobles to be their concubines. For these and other like causes there arose many quarells and wars in the realm.
(http://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/havhingsten-i-fortid-og-nutid/opgaver/kilder-til-opgave/)

The Vikings were, in fact, "coming over here, taking our baths and our women"!

In case you haven't had enough of Viking toilets (personally, we can NEVER get enough
of Viking toilets!), here's another one, from the Dublin Viking Centre
We would once again like to point out that, with Christmas drawing relentlessly closer, an Oxfam Unwrapped gift might be a planet-friendly alternative to the usual tie and bath salts. Our favourite, naturally, is the Build a Bog. Another good one to contemplate on World Toilet Day is the Safe Water for Ten People gift.

Happy Toilet Day!

Further reading:
Þorsteins Þáttr Skelks: Medieval Toilet Anecdote

Jorvik: In Rude Health

2 comments:

  1. Canadian Friend writes: "From this day forward, my loo shall be known as Dirtskerry Bog! So if you come to my house and ask to use the loo, you shall be frowned at and shown the door, but I will do so politely seeing as I am Canadian."

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Canadian Friend,

    We look forward to using Dirtskerry Bog or, alternatively, politely but firmly being frowned at and shown the door.

    ReplyDelete

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