Oh dear. Startling truths about the Vikings emerge from a new, engaging but scholarly book about them. This will surely speed the day when Canberra must stop calling its rugby league team the Raiders and must drop the team's strong associations with Vikingery.
Professor Neil Price's The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings (Price is a professor of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, Sweden) is readably reviewed and discussed in the latest London Review of Books.
Perhaps the average Raiders fan is unlikely to read it there, but if he or she does they will find the reviewer is Tom Shippey, himself an authority on the Vikings.
Alas, at least some of the raiding of the Vikings did (from which activity our team takes its excessively manly name) involved the carrying away of women. Indeed, that may even have been a driver of the Vikings' raiding impulse.
"Price notes," Shippey tells us, "the significance of the Vikings' gender imbalance."
"Norse society was not exactly polygamous, for monogamy was normal, but it was polygynous. Rich men and royalty had wives, subsidiary wives and concubines, sometimes, according to an 11th-century treatise by Adam of Bremen, 'in unlimited number'. An unbalanced 'socio-sexual economy was probably made worse by the habit in warlike societies of rearing baby boys more carefully than girls, leading to female infanticide by neglect. Skeleton studies in Sweden show that about 7 per cent of Viking men were malnourished as children, compared to 37 per cent of women. Elite monopolisation and differential survival rates must have created an underclass of what we would now call 'involuntary celibates', disaffected young men, angry, desperate, and easy to recruit [for raiding voyages]."
All of this gives momentum to WOKE calls for the Canberra Raiders to change their name and associations to something more becoming, perhaps the Canberra Bluebells.
"If he [a typical involuntary celibate] went raiding he might in any case acquire a woman for free. DNA has shown, Price says, that 'a very large proportion - even the majority - of female settlers in Iceland were of Scottish or Irish heritage.' "
All of this gives momentum to WOKE calls for the Canberra Raiders to change their name and associations to something more becoming, perhaps becoming the Canberra Bluebells so as to chime with the ACT's dainty and blameless floral emblem.
Not that Price and his reviewer are blind to the Vikings' mystique and exciting strangeness.
"Price points out that the Vikings decorated everything that had a surface, including themselves. Ibn Fadlan, the Arab traveller who met a party of [Vikings] somewhere in Eastern Europe in the 920s, said that they were covered in what must have been tattoos.
" 'Each man, from the tip of his toes to his neck, is covered in dark green lines, pictures and such like.' No Viking skin has survived, but their teeth have. It seems there was a male fashion for filing horizontal grooves along the upper incisors, which were probably filled with coloured resin. A Viking smile must have looked very odd. But what the point of this fashion was, we don't know."
The art of corflutes
There is a sudden blossoming of election corflutes beside our roads.
Although Greens campaign spokeswoman Emma Davidson has just seethed to The Canberra Times that "most Canberrans" don't like seeing them this contrary columnist is quite fond of them.
After all they are only (like blossom on roadside shrubs) a short-lived phenomenon and while they are with us they give a thoroughfare (such as my local stretch of Hindmarsh Drive) a welcome, temporary, portrait gallery quality.
For, strangely, the majority of corflutes actually are portraits, larger-than-life photographs of candidates' faces. This intrigues.
It is a tactic that seems to say that a candidate's face necessarily advertises that person's sterling character, his or her vote-deserving qualities of sincerity and trustworthiness.
Is this really so? No.
It is as unlikely as phrenology quacks' claims that bumps on heads reveal all about the heads' owners. And even with any slight truth to it (to the idea that our faces usually tell the truth about us) in this political case the theory would be undone by the ways in which candidates' make sure their poster portraits artificially flatter them.
On Wednesday, for column-writing research, I drove along some of these pop-up portrait galleries.
Candidates' portraits are so flatteringly, professionally produced. Faces are scrubbed and polished and 'best sides' artfully emphasised and studio-lit to perfection. All warts and blemishes and any unbecoming cauliflowerness of ears are artfully photoshopped away. None of the things we know are really there in politicians' hearts and so are stamped on their natural, unphotoshopped faces (naked ambition, fanaticism, dreamy idealism, malice, etc) are ever there on their laundered poster faces.
It is time to renew my brilliant, corflute-prompted idea from the last ACT election. It is that ACT electoral law should require each candidate to decorate his or her corflute instead with (as well as their names and party affiliations) their favourite work of art. Preferably (thus enhancing the portrait galleryness of our streets) it would be a favourite self-portrait by one of the great self-portraitists, such as Rembrandt or van Gogh.
This, displaying a candidate's taste in art, would tell a typically discerning and arts-loving Canberra voter all he or she needs to know about a candidate.
What's more it would enable election corflutes to give our city a stunning, fleeting, six week's art galleryness that the online world would see and marvel at. This corflute festival of the uniqueness of Canberra's democratic expressions would go vivaciously viral. Canberra would be put on the map.
- Ian Warden is a regular columnist.