Everyone knows there is a crisis of masculinity in Western culture. Even before feminist groups started attacking manliness in all its forms and teachers began telling kids that gender is a social construct, there was a tendency to look upon conventionally masculine attributes and activities as suspect.
Why? Concern with the male body could lead to accusations of homosexuality, which ironically we are all now supposed to celebrate as the crowning achievement of mankind. Anything but sickly inhibitions against violence can lead to accusations of fascist sympathies or even psychopathy.
We’ve lost something which must be restored.
The best way to do that is by looking at the wisdom of the ancient men of Europe; especially the ancient Greeks and the Vikings. These two cultures separated by hundreds of years and thousands of miles have much in common when it comes to manliness.
Each promoted a form of virile, physical and spiritual masculinity without self conscious apology. Let’s start with attitudes to women as that’s bound to rustle some jimmies.
Today young men are taught that woman are always right and would run the world perfectly if it weren’t for knuckle dragging men oppressing them. But men’s illusions are quickly shattered when they start dating and find that nearly everything they have been taught about how to treat women is untrue.
What did Vikings teach kids about women?
Lessons on Women From The Vikings
The speech of a maiden should no man trust
nor the words which a woman says;
for their hearts were shaped on a whirling wheel
and falsehood fixed in their breasts. – Hávamál
This sage advice was given to mankind by the god Odin himself. Let’s look 2000 years further back and see if the Greeks were any more feminist. Homer attributed the following advice to Agamemnon in his famous “Odyssey”.
“Never be too trustful even of your wife, nor show her all that is on your mind. Reveal a little of your plans to her, but keep the rest to yourself.”
Put aside all the pop psychology about trust and honesty and instead be honest with yourself and trust your instincts.
If you saddle a girl with your emotional baggage, she will resent you for it, fact. Every culture on earth has realised that women are prone to deceiving men, fact. Unpopular truths they may be, but truths nonetheless. Grow up and accept them.
It’s also true that men deceive women, especially when they are trying to seduce them. The Vikings knew that smooth talkers with a bit of gold are popular with the ladies.
Let him speak soft words and offer wealth
who longs for a woman’s love,
praise the shape of the shining maid —
he wins who thus doth woo. – Hávamál
The same sentiments have probably been expressed in a thousand rap songs, not that I’d know. But enough about women, the ancients have a lot to teach us about men too.
Lessons on Honor from The Vikings
Both the Greeks and the Norse were Indo-Europeans, which means that their languages and their pagan religions were related. It also seems that their cultures were similar, including their attitudes to manliness.
Both were honor cultures, meaning that everyone’s behavior was regulated by the fear of shame. Honor cultures still exist today in Asia. In honor cultures, when someone kills your relative, you have a duty to take vengeance but if you fail to do so, then you will be accused of cowardice.
The Vikings would specifically accuse you of niðing which is like calling you a sissy and implies passive homosexuality. In their culture, all forms of unmanliness were connected, so if you were not manly enough to take vengeance against your enemies, then you probably couldn’t satisfy your wife either and were most likely gay.
The only way to protect your reputation from such accusations would be through deeds proving them wrong. Thus the culture spurred men on to ever more courageous and heroic acts, resulting in a highly competitive hyper-masculine environment which was also very violent.
But don’t imagine these men were insecure about keeping up with the Joneses, for in Hávamál Odin advises against being “dependent on the feelings of your fellow man”.
Women did not oppose this culture, they perpetuated it.
It made their men stronger and made them safer as a result. A thousand years before the end of the Viking age, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about the tribes of Denmark and Germany who were the cultural predecessors of the Norse and the Anglo-Saxons. He described how Germanic women screamed encouragement at their menfolk in the heat of battle.
“Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses who each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes.
They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them. It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared bosoms.”
Lessons on Health from the Vikings
As for physical ideals, we know well enough from looking at their statues how the Greeks admired slender limbs and muscular bodies. The Vikings weren’t so interested in stone sculptures but the following description of the Icelandic hero Gunnar from Njal’s Saga shows us how they thought men should be.
“He was big and strong and an excellent fighter. He could swing a sword and throw a spear with either hand, if he wished, and he was so swift of a sword that there seem to be three in the air at once.
He shot with a bow better than anyone else, and he always hit what he aimed at. He could jump higher than his own height, in full fighting gear, and just as far backward as forward. He swam like a seal, and there was no sport in which there was any point in competing with him and it was said that no man was a match.”
These macho sentiments are echoed in the words of Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey.
“What I always loved was ships with oars and fighting, and polished javelins and arrows – terrible things, which make other people shudder.”
But neither the Greeks nor the Norse were mere muscle-bound simpletons. Unlike the modern gym where people only improve their bodies, the Greek gymnasium was a place in which both body and mind were honed (in modern Sweden the word gymnasium refers to a type of school with a focus on academic learning).
The modern assumption that physical and mental prowess are separate was alien to the ancient world.
“We (Greeks) are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness” – Thucydides, 460-404BC
You need more than translation services to understand the ancient texts of Iceland and Greece. We are divided not only by language and time but by the vast cultural abyss that widens as we proceed in error down a path of ideological falsehood.
The ancient Indo-European cultures were more in touch with eternal truth and were therefore less prone to defy the inviolable laws of nature. We are fortunate that the wisdom of these noble peoples has been preserved so that we can learn from them, and apply their lessons to our lives today.